Published on February 3rd, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


Renewables = 14.8% Of US Electricity In November

February 3rd, 2015 by  

Time for another monthly US electricity generation report. The general takeaway for those focused on our transition to renewable energy is that renewables were up to 14.8% of US electricity generation in November 2014, and 13.5% for the year through November. Unfortunately, that’s just a tad higher than the 13.2% they were at for January–November 2013. You may be wondering, “How could that be, when solar and wind power have grown so much?” The key reasons are: hydropower generation was down 11,502 gigawatt-hours (GWh), coal generation was up (19,603 GWh), nuclear generation was up (5,982 GWh), petroleum liquids generation was up (5,490 GWh), and natural gas generation was up (3,163 GWh). That almost offset wind generation being up 13,480 GWh, utility-scale solar PV being up 7,374 GWh, rooftop solar (estimated) being up 8,849 GWh, solar thermal being up 1,473 GWh, and wood generation being up 2,330 GWh.

In 2014 through the end of November, utility-scale solar PV passed the 15,000 GWh marker, almost double the total for the same period in 2013 (7,636 GWh).

With rooftop solar added in, solar PV is estimated to have already passed 30 GWh in 2014, but we need to wait another month for the EIA numbers and another year for NREL numbers.

If our estimate is correct, solar power hit ~1% of US electricity generation in 2014, which sounds small, but is a big number when you look at how disruptive technologies grow.

US Electricity Generation (All Sources)

US Renewables Electricity Nov 2014

US Electricity Generation from Renewables

US Renewable Renewables Electricity Nov 2014

Within the general sector of “renewables,” the big dogs are still hydropower and wind power. They each provided approximately 40% of the electricity generated by renewables in November (80% combined). All forms of solar combined provided approximately 6%. While that figure is small, however, the biggest takeaway point from it for me is: the solar industry is going to explode in the coming years. Nothing compares to solar when it comes to energy potential, and the recent drop in costs combined with still-dropping costs mean that solar can beat other sources in more and more markets. Just look at the percentage of new electricity generation capacity that is coming from solar.

Furthermore, rather than simply beating or replacing large fossil fuel and nuclear power plants when a utility decides it needs more or new electricity sources, rooftop solar is a consumer product that could destroy the entire utility business model at the right price. Rooftop solar is here and growing, and I am convinced that the biggest barrier to much faster growth is simply consumer awareness. Whether that will still be an issue in 5 or 10 years is yet to be seen.

If you look at individual renewable sources compared to the entire electricity generation mix, wind = 6% in November and 4.4% for the year through November, which means it is getting up to a notable level, beating hydro for the month (which was 5.8%) but still a bit below it for the year through November (6.3%). Nuclear is still around 19%, coal is around 39%, and natural gas is around 27%. They are all generating a tremendous amount of electricity, and their generation even grew by a large amount in the past year. In other words, the story remains the same: without disruptive and exponential renewable energy growth, we are digging our own graves.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Something fishy is going on with coal and natural gas. Natural gas was about to overtake coal in 2012. What happened to this momentum? The obvious is politics and coal’s push back the last couple of years. However, LNG overseas sales is gearing up in a big way. O&G can sell LNG at a better price to the Europeans than to domestic electricity generators.

    This information on generation by fuel is here:

    • Bob_Wallace

      The price of coal has dropped. The price of NG has doubled off its low.

      Your link shows both gas and coal use dropping Aug 2014 to Nov 2014. It shows a nice gain for wind (some of which might be seasonable).

      Annually coal is down and NG is up from 2010. Wind is up 177% and solar is up 744%. Sweet….

      • As succinct as your answer is Bob, it doesn’t answer my question. Coal price and gas prices haven’t moved much. Gas is still at the low low price around $2.50 to $5.00. The issue is, has gas conversions and new plants stopped? We’re over producing gas. To tje point of selling it over seas. My question had nothing to do with renewables. My link is simply eia, the only clearing house available.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Natural gas prices bottomed in April 2012 at $1.95 per million BTU. By January 2013 they were up to $3.33 and have stayed higher than that price since. Prices spiked to $6 in February 2014.

          Coal prices have been dropping for the last four years.

          Relative cost movements would be expected to change percentages burned. Overall coal and NG have been losing market share to renewables.

          • You’re still not answering my question. What is wrong with you ;-). I realize your position here on Cleantechnica is to be the shell answer man when commenters get off message, but jeesh. I’m not asking about renewables versus fossil fuel, I’m asking about coal versus natural gas. The question reframed: are there less gas turbine units being built and is there less coal to gas conversions. Has this momentum slowed down or stopped? This is not a cost of natural gas issue. The fluctuation is well below the price point of whether to stay or switch with coal or natural gas. Another question to ask is have we reached peak gas turbine construction due to reliability of feedstock? Utilities don’t like to compete for fuel. Natural gas has many interested in its product,especially in winter. And even more so if Europe will buy LNG at a premium.

            Basically it comes down to this: environmental protection. We as a country went crazy with shale fracking to get this natural gas. Bypassing environmental regs – just like Tesla did. Green groups backed the NG bridge so coal would get phased out. Sure November shows good generation for wind, but it also is the windiest month on average. This bridge thing is only about a quarter of the way out. Renewables still need catching up, which they will so please don’t go there. So why hasn’t gas surpassed coal?

          • Bob_Wallace

            The numbers I’ve seen say that we continue to install NG generation. In 2014 the US added about as much NG capacity as wind and solar combined.


            Why hasn’t gas passed coal? I’d have to speculate that we have enough paid off coal capacity to hold off larger installations of gas. As the EPA regs force coal plants to close we’ll probably see them switch places.

          • Now that is an answer I’ve come to expect from Mr. Wallace. The EPA regs on power plants, pending due chiefly to politics, may be slowing down natural gas builds and even renewables. I didn’t think of that. It’s an important piece of legislation and will impact the new generation mix going forward. Assuming republicans don’t turn it into a battleground of inaction like health care.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What the hell do you want?

            I’ve tried to answer your question, looking up stuff you should have looked up.

            The EPA regs are due to coal killing the climate. What about that do you not understand? It’s political only to the extent that we have ceded control of Congress to a bunch of dunderheads who go out of their way to do the stupid.

            Solar continue to accelerate. Wind has been jerked around by the lack of a consistent subsidy policy. I don’t know if one year’s change in NG installations indicates anything or even if NG installations did significantly slow in 2014. Did you look up those numbers?

            No. Here, I did it for you.

            6,861 MW of NG capaitywere added in 2013
            7,378 MW of NG capacity were added in 2014.

            Capacity additions increased 2013 to 2014.

            And here’s the best I’ve got for wind and solar in 2014.

            You take it from there. It’s very late where I am and I need to sign off.

          • You gave me a good and applicable answer finally, which I subsequently and graciously thanked you. If Cleantechnica is trying to push clean technology, in a highly contentious political environment, clean technology folks have to understanding the lay of the land: politically, technically and economically. I realize, like Putin of Russia and many techboys in Silicon Valley, aspergers syndrome makes it hard to empathise with others and weigh options outside the sphere of one’s interest. But come on man, get that EQ working just as hard as the IQ. I’m very much concerned about the environment. Hell, that’s what I do for a living. My comments on CT are usually basic. Sometimes I question the general premise of clean technology deployment. It’s kind of like dropping one during a sales pitch – and I’m sorry if it comes off like that. Given that, you and the other Cleantechnica certified comment section goons always try to run me off. Much harder than more fossil fuel friendly blogs. They’re actually more courteous. Not everyone is going to think you’re right, right off the bat.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry if I misread you. I’ve had a hard couple of days lately and was rather short of fuse.

            Aspergers? Well, there’s the morning laugh.

            Have you considered that the problem might be your questions? Perhaps if you broke your comments into paragraphs and stated your requests more clearly people wouldn’t have to struggle to understand you.

            Let’s look at your origninal question –

            ” Something fishy is going on with coal and natural gas. Natural gas was about to overtake coal in 2012. What happened to this momentum?”

            You don’t say anything about increased or stalling capacity builds. Since most of us know that no coal plants are being built I think the assumption would be about why coal jumped up a couple percent and NG went down.

            Had you, earlier on, asked whether the US had quit building new NG plants that could have been quickly answered.

          • You don’t have to apologize. Your comments/replies on whole are excellent. My question was truly sincere. I kind of assumed the push to replace coal with natural gas was going swimmingly, until I noticed a bump in the road around 2012/2013. The graph on the post seemed odd that coal was still that far ahead of gas. Sure there’s feedstock price fluctuation, but planning, design, and construction schedules for even gas turbine plants are pretty long. The silver lining in all of this is the pending US EPA power plant regs are being taken seriously, i.e. they have a chance of becoming reality. Power companies (utilities and others) maybe are waiting for finalization – as if the regs will stick. This bodes very well for wind and solar as well. How this all comes about is anyone’s guess.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It all goes back to my original answer. NG prices went up off their low, coal was cheaper, utilities that had a choice of what to burn burned more coal.

          • But that answer isn’t the complete picture, in my most humble opinion. Power companies don’t like Henry Hub pricing. Chicago’s CME Group loves it. They want to skim as much as possible for overseas LNG sales to Japan and Europe. For instance, there’s already alternative “hubs” for natural gas pricing. Marcellus shale, the nations biggest gas producing zone is selling gas much below Henry Hub. This should be good for eastern seaboard power generators and force as much conversion as possible. Many of the old coal plants are along the Atlantic coast and should have been replaced with gas by now. All this impacts the lay of the land for renewables – if cost is the only issue.


            Another interesting take on the cost versus political climate from the great Midwestern Energy News. Cost is important – so is pending regulations. Pending means in flux and given the republicans in power, they want all regs blocking coal stopped. So it’s all intertwined.


  • Shiggity

    Keep it going strong Zachary. Cleantechnica is going to be one of the most important news sites in a few years.

    • Thanks, man. Greatly appreciate that, especially from you. Now that our business model has allowed us to get up to ~15 posts a day, our focus is increasingly on improving the quality & originality of content, and adding in more and more analysis and original reports. Have a number of plans in that regard, but will take some time to roll them out… assuming we are able to.

      Thanks for bringing so much great information, context, and critique into the discussions. Imho, the comments section has now become one of CleanTechnica’s greatest assets.

      • Epicurus

        Yes, this is a terrific site. I look forward to it every day.

        One suggestion. You might consider devoting a section of the site to debunking the lies and myths that the fossil fuel lobby puts out about clean energy (too expensive, impractical, etc.), just like debunks the lies and myths about climate change.

        • I think you may have suggested this before, because it’s on my list of things to do… and has been there for a long time. It’s a long list, especially when getting to the daily tasks is a hug hurdle 😀

          • Epicurus

            Probably did. Perhaps one of the best contributors would take it on.

      • GraceAdams830

        I agree with Epicurus. But since money answers everything, I figure if it gets to the point where wind and solar with smart grid and energy storage are truly cost-competitive with fossil fuel before all subsidies to both fossil fuel and renewable energy, that is the biggest argument against fossil fuel. Once we get to that point, it might make sense for the federal government to buy packages of renewable energy and smart grid parts including storage and barter them for fossil fuel reserves and fossil fuel extracting equipment. It would be necessary for utilities to manage the new equipment, but it should be possible to get the return on investment to go to the fossil fuel firm.

  • RobMF

    We need to get ready for the fight of our lives in 2016. The anti-renewables Koch bros are preparing to dump 889 million on the upcoming election. However, I honestly think the money would be better spent investing in renewables 😉

    • Marion Meads

      Agreed, and then they’ll have more money to fight the renewables! What a great idea but I just hope that they wake up to the new reality. We no longer need to destroy the planet to earn money.

    • Epicurus

      How twisted does someone have to be to have that much money and devote it all to destroying the earth we all share? Think how much good could be done with all that money, yet they devote it all to trying to expand their fossil fuel empire. It’s just evil, pure evil.

      • sault

        Saw a good video yesterday discussing how the Kochs and other oligarchs like them probably believe they are doing the right thing. To them, we are constantly on the brink of Socialism and they need to secure their freedom to pollute / take all the money to keep the Bolsheviks at bay. To them, Ayn Rand was absolutely right and it just so happens that their efforts to secure “freedom” also benefit them personally. Funny how that works out:

        • Epicurus

          Sure. Hitler thought he was doing the right thing too.

          Brink of socialism. Seems like they would have had the time to take an introductory economics course and to learn what a mixed economy is.

        • globi
        • GraceAdams830

          Ayn Rand aims to be a great excuse for selfishness–even better than Adam Smith and his invisible hand that made each individual’s enlightened self-interest contribute to a sum that was really good for society as a whole in the end.

      • Didn’t know anything about their upbringing. Sad. Curious to read about it further, but think it’d be better if I just restrained myself. Can only imagine…

        • Epicurus

          It was reported on a TV news magazine piece.

          It is sad, but most tyrants seem to have had a toxic parent or two.

    • GraceAdams830

      Question–what drives the Koch brothers–simple greed or ideology? Simple greed can be well answered with money and cost/benefit analysis. If ideology –what ideology? Originally the idea of libertarianism was “That government is best that governs least.” — like just enough to avoid being displaced by the Mafia or its near equivalent. Now libertarianism seems to more resemble fascism–government of by and for BIG business. So the uber rich should be able to do whatever they want–regardless of what anyone else wants.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Their father was one of the founders of the John Birch Society. A far right wing group who feared a Communist was under every bed.

        They picked up the anti-socialism theme and spun it into the Tea Party.

        It might be a little hard to break apart their political and economic thinking, one serves the other. It all comes down to greed is good and anything that might take a penny away from the very rich in order to further society is bad. To them any political systems that aims to spread things around in a more even fashion is evil.

        • GraceAdams830

          So the answer is all of the above, and their great wealth makes them untouchable. Again, so the uber rich should be able to do whatever they want–regardless of what anyone else wants.

      • RobMF

        Oh it’s pretty clear the ideology and power-seeking of the Koch brothers is a toxic brew that is poisonous to a healthy American political system. But in this case, I think greed and power seeking fuel the ideology here.

        • GraceAdams830

          I feel that we need to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy badly enough to make it worthwhile for us to buy a LOT of fossil fuel reserves (mostly coal but also some tar sands) as mineral rights at a generous price to buy too big to fail fossil fuel firms cooperation in accepting the transition so we can go ahead and do what we need to do to mitigate global warming.

  • matthew Adams

    Looking at the data for energy generation, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that anyone that wants to end nuclear isn’t serious about capping our warming at 2c. Almost 724 GWh is generated by nuclear which is more than water, wind, solar and geothermal combined. Which is it?? The chance with nuclear or stopping 4 or 5c of global warming? I support and love wind and solar, but think about what this is saying for a second.

    • RobMF

      Shut down coal first, then nat gas. Nuclear has always been a tough sell due to risks. And we can increasingly deal with base capacity with storage. Germany is shutting down both nuclear and coal which is pretty amazingly ambitious.

    • Neptune

      The problem is nuclear is pricing itself out of the market. It’s really unfortunate.

    • Two key things from my end:

      1) *new* nuclear doesn’t make any sense: it’s extremely expensive, has a massive waste problem, takes a long time to build, doesn’t fit into a 21st century grid that needs flexibility. however, i’d definitely retire all coal & natural gas before retiring still-functioning and safe nuclear reactors.

      2) As @Neptune notes, one of the problems with nuclear is that even existing nuclear is getting priced out of the market. A carbon price would help with that, and it’s insane that we still don’t have one on the federal level in the US.

      • GraceAdams830

        I agree–keep what nuclear we have until we have replaced all our coal and gas. Part of the reason nuclear is being priced out of the market is that it is so much base load and so difficult to turn off for the low demand wee hours of the morning that nuclear plant owners keep it going pretty much full speed all the time except for one week in either spring or summer for an annual cleaning and maintenance– even though it means paying a utility to take the power off their hands. It might help to put a utility size battery next to each nuclear power plant to soak up excess electric power when the price goes negative and then sell it later in the day during a period of peak demand.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The cheaper storage technology that now seems to be coming on line may help save some of the ~25% of US reactors which are in financial trouble.

          If it comes on line fast enough.

          But that may be only a postponement. As more wind is added storage will buy cheaper wind and leave nuclear in danger once more.

          The reactors that are going bankrupt are also getting long in the tooth. It’s probably not worth the cost to refurbish then for another 20 years of service.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Nuke plant owners are probably hoping for a big expansion of electric car use, since most of them would be charged overnight.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, but EVs won’t come on line fast enough to save the ~25% that are already in deep trouble. And wind is likely grow faster than EVs come on line.

            A very thin thread of hope for reactor owners.

          • They should jump in and enable that, too!

          • GraceAdams830

            Maybe hydrogen fuel cells can be cost-effective energy storage. Even when the nuclear reactor is too worn out to repair and maintain, the hydrogen fuel cell might have some service life left in it and continue to serve its purpose. And a few wind turbines might fit on the nuclear power plant campus to partially replace base load power with intermittent power–both base load and intermittent power sources need energy storage to make good efficient use of them–neither is dispatchable.

  • Janine

    “Rooftop solar is *here* and growing…” …not ‘hear’. Interesting article, otherwise though! I point people to articles like these showing why renewables aren’t a huge slice of the pie yet but they will be!

  • globi

    Denmark produced 39% of its electricity last year already. link

    The US has much better wind resources than Denmark and has quarter of Denmark’s population density.

    There’s no technical or economic reason for the US not to be able to produce over 50% of its electricity with wind power alone before this decade is out.
    As opposed to going to the Moon it’s easy and not hard.

    • vdiv

      Anyone who quotes Kennedy’s Moon speech gets a +1 from me, not because it is easy, but because it is hard 😉

    • Shiggity

      Denmark has 5.6 million people. The United States has 316 million people.

      Stop comparing Denmark to countries 50x their size please. The comparison isn’t even close to the same.

      • globi

        The US has 50 times more people, so install 50 times more capacity, please!
        Also, as opposed to Denmark the US doesn’t even need to go offshore.

  • Will E

    USA needs the Energiewende.
    for the rest agree.

  • Michael G

    So Coal generates 97X more kWh than utility solar (Nov. YTD). If utility-scale solar grows 2x every two years (which it seems to be doing lately) it will equal (displace?) coal in very roughly about 14 years ~ 2030.

    With (gas + coal) 13.3X (all solar + wind) a piddly 19% growth annually for (wind + solar) puts wind+solar replacing gas+coal in 2030. 19% growth is definitely doable. (math part: 1.19^15 = 13.6). Yeah!

    I must respectfully disagree about the potential explosion of rooftop solar. Once it starts making serious inroads, the argument will be made that since transmission and distribution make up 42% of the US annual electricity costs there should be a fee to pay for your connection. This will seriously slow (but not stop) rooftop solar’s adoption. Getting home storage won’t get you out of that because the (perfectly reasonable) argument will be made that we can’t stick the poor and apt./condo dwellers with the bill for this since it will make electricity unaffordable for them. So there will be a tax to pay part of the cost of transmission/distribution for the 50%-60% who aren’t in a position to have rooftop solar. This obviously doesn’t apply to utility scale solar so still looking to 2030 for coal and gas to mostly go away.

    link for costs – see page 2 of:

    • Jan Veselý

      There is plenty of “no money down” for poor. The condo problem is a bit harder. It is a classical split incentive. But when SolarCity, Sun Edison or whoever will crack that nut you can bet on landslide.

      • RobMF

        Easy. Micro grid + storage services for apartments/condos. Done.

        • sault

          Not easy. Apartment owners will be unwilling to pay for solar or shoulder the risks of installing it unless they see a direct return on their investment. There is little incentive to do so right now. And given economies of scale, we would have to see lots of bigger energy consumers (compared to apartment buildings) like big-box stores or whatever take the plunge on being their own power companies first before apartment owners will do the same for their tenants.

          Condo owners will be a different story, and might actually be a tougher nut to crack since getting 10, 20, or even 100 people to agree on something, especially when it has up-front cost, is nearly impossible. It will depend on the people living in the condo, its location and local electricity prices of course, but as above, you’ll see bigger energy consumers putting in solar + storage long before smaller-scale residential installations. Policy can have an influence, but I don’t see too much movement in this area any time soon.

          • JamesWimberley

            Condos must be a prime market for leasing companies. Homeowners do the math and those with savings or good credit ratings will choose ownership over leasing; those without either will accept leasing. In a condo, the collective decision is at the mercy of those who can’t afford an ownership solution. So a no-cash-down save-money-now lease is a perfect Florida product.

          • Michael G

            I have lived in a condo and the owner assoc. squabbling makes Mid-East politics look like a kindergarten class. Part of the problem is that condo owners really own only the airspace inside their condo. The walls, roofs, and exterior is owned by the assoc. Small (4-8) condo assocs. will go first, but divvying up the costs when the benefits are unequally shared will be difficult. Once that nut is cracked it will go quickly. The problem is solvable, just not easily.

    • Will E

      I always link for profits. not for costs.
      lots of jobs and money to be made.
      Germany citizins make 20 billion dollar a year. Solar and wind creates money and not cremates money as burning of fossil does.

      • Good point. And something those of us writing about this topic should have engrained in our heads. The clean energy revolution is exploding and going to explode further because of profits… not cost.

    • Marion Meads

      “So Coal generates 97X more kWh than utility solar (Nov. YTD). If
      utility-scale solar grows 2x every two years (which it seems to be doing
      lately) it will equal (displace?) coal in very roughly about 14 years ~

      You are a bit off on this one. A utility scale solar growing 2x every two years means that it’s yearly growth is 100%*(Sqrt(2)-1) or 41.42% per year.

      (1+0.4142)^x = 97

      x = 13.2 years

      Sometime in 2028, but I think it would be earlier than that.

      I propose to convert the coal plants of California into desalination power plants instead, and using solar thermal with saltwater as feedstock.

      Heating the saltwater to produce steam, would have solar to heat conversion energy of more than 90% efficiency for this step in the process. Then use the steam to run turbines (when coated with waterproofing surface etched by lasers, efficiency of turbines dramatically increase) to generate electricity, and in the process the steam condenses, collect as freshwater, the condensate is warm, but it can be cooled by heat exchanging with the incoming stream of seawater. The hot remaining saltier water after which steam has evaporated, use it to preheat incoming water already warmed by the condensate. This way, the electricity production has very good efficiency and the by product is distilled water for the thirsty California.

      • Michael G

        It was an approximate informed guess, not a 4-decimal place measurement. Hence the terms “very roughly” in the first paragraph and also why I put in “14 years” and “~2030” when 2030 is 15 years away. The second paragraph’s calculation is even rougher just to put an outer limit on when we can look for coal and gas to go away. Of course I hope and expect it will be faster, but anything can happen.

      • sault

        “I propose to convert the coal plants of California into desalination power plants instead, and using solar thermal with saltwater as feedstock.”

        We can barely get these dirty, old plants to clean up their mess with better air scrubbers, ash pond containment and thermal pollution mitigation technology. There’s no way this would work. Plus, you’d probably be better off just building the desalinization plants from scratch because retrofitting the coal plants in the manner you suggest would not make much use of the existing old coal plant anyway.

        In addition, none of California’s old coal plants are anywhere near the ocean:

        Finally, California only has one operational coal boiler rated just above 100MW. The rest are mostly at steel mills, cement factories and smaller-scale industrial facilities rated between 5 – 30MW, not GW-scale power plants:

        We should just build new solar capacity instead.

        • Marion Meads

          Did you just ignore the part of solar to steam thermal energy conversion or you can’t understand any of it?

          • sault

            No, I understand all too well. You plan is still not going to happen. Do you object to any of the points I brought up or do you accept them? What don’t you understand about all of California’s large coal plants (all retired, btw) being at least 80 miles from the ocean? Seriously, the closest locations are Bakersfield or Stockton, take your pick. Do you know how much energy it would take to pump seawater to these locations (let alone the cost for pipelines and pumping stations…)? And of the coal boilers in operation, only one is above 100MW, probably the minimum size you’d need to start up a demonstration desalinization plant. I didn’t bother to mention that these plants probably don’t have the open space or the land availability to install a large field of mirrors or troughs to collect solar energy or their potential for solar thermal in general might not be the best.

            But reading the rest of your plan, it just keeps getting less and less realistic. First of all, to get 90% efficiency, even with all the pre-heating you describe that power plants already do, you’d have to get that steam to about 3,000K (2727C). Run the numbers for yourself:


            The steam would be more of a plasma at those temperatures and you’d be hard-pressed to find materials that could stand up to those conditions for decades at a time. It doesn’t matter if the “laser etched water proofing” that is only very early in its development pans out, thermodynamics don’t lie.

            Secondly, while the salt from the seawater could be sold as a byproduct, you’d have to carefully design the plant to keep the salt from fouling up your solar collectors and boiler. And you’d still accumulate super briny water according to your description of the plant. You can’t just sell this off or discharge it since it’s basically toxic waste. Fracking companies have gone to great lengths to dispose of their briny wastewater out of sight of the public and regulators by injecting it into waste disposal wells. You’d face the same problems they are and their solutions aren’t pretty.

            Finally, the areas that need the most fresh water aren’t going to be clustered around these old coal plants, so you’d have to pump the water to where its needed. You’d might luck out and be able to dump the water into the existing aqueduct network, but you couldn’t count on that.

            Like I said, let’s just allow solar thermal power to do what it does best and generate electricity. Please read up on basic engineering and think through things before posting grandiose plans that won’t work.

          • GraceAdams830

            So you are saying that it probably isn’t feasible to move the one 100MW from where it is to the coast and then pump the solar-distilled water from there to the Imperial Valley where California’s agriculture is. I believe it is possible to do solar distillation of seawater, possibly using wave power to pump cold seawater up into a heat-exchanger to condense condensate faster.

          • sault

            Yes, the 100MW coal boiler is located in Trona, CA and it would cost much more that the whole plant is worth to dismantle it, ship it and re-install it n the coast. Just not going to happen.

            The thing about using seawater as a heat transfer fluid is that it has many inherent problems, which is why power plants prefer to pump fresh water through it, rather than pump salt water through the expensive power plant machinery. First of all, it is corrosive. Secondly, like I mentioned before, the excess salt and super briny water left over from distillation is hard to get rid of. You can’t just keep accumulating salt wither in the boiler, the lines or in brine pools and you can’t really discharge it anywhere that won’t have hugely negative effects on the environment.

            We can save water by using renewable energy to displace fossil fuel usage since coal, oil and gas power plants use a lot of fresh water for cooling. We can also stop eating so much beef since 70% of water use goes towards agriculture and a significant chunk of that agriculture goes towards growing cattle feed. In addition, maybe we could come up with a heartier strain of grass for golf courses or find something else that doesn’t require so much water, especially in the deserts of California.

          • GraceAdams830

            AstroTurf since golf course grass is purely decorative anyhow. Beef is already out of my price range; and poultry is a festive treat when my sister and brother-in-law invite me down two flights of stairs to their place about five times a year.

      • Steven F

        Last year in my Pacific Gas and Electric bill (I live in California) showed that they didn’t purchase any coal power in the previous year. All of it was nuclear, natural gas, and renewables. 22% came from renewables (excluding large hydro).

        • No way

          So now you just need to get rid of that natural gas to have all fossil free energy. That should be your goal for the this year. =)

      • GraceAdams830

        Whoopee! Get solar distillation of seawater making good use of boilers of old coal plants. I like that idea!

        • GraceAdams830

          Sorry–see this doesn’t work now.

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