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Published on December 8th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


Renewable Energy Is Possible, Practical, & Cheaper (Than Nuclear Or Fossil Fuels)

December 8th, 2015 by  

Since I spent so much time writing the addendum to this article, I figured I should better highlight the key points in a separate post. They tackle various myths regarding renewable energy and nuclear energy. Slightly edited from that addendum, below are key notes on renewable energy’s ability to take over in the electricity sector (and that basically includes transport as well, since the expectation is that most passenger transport will switch to electrification). The financial/economic side of this story is, of course, critical, so that is also brought into play. Enjoy, and share with colleagues.

Some highly respected and accomplished climate scientists have jumped into activism in the energy field. However, they seem to be out of touch with rigorous research that has been done by trained energy researchers and are spreading unhelpful myths regarding renewable energy, just as Richard Muller was out of touch with the research that had been conducted in the climate science sphere and arrogantly thought he would correct climate scientists… only to later find they had done their jobs well. Perhaps there is a tendency for esteemed researchers to think they can jump into another realm and quickly know the full story based on a handful of disconnected-from-the-big-picture stats or statements that they are handed. Or there’s something else at play, but I’m not sure what it would be. It would be an interesting topic for CleanTechnica to research.

70–100% Renewable Electricity With Current Technology

One of the world’s preeminent energy scientists (not climate scientists) — Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson — has led research teams that have analyzed electricity demand and potential supply from renewables in every US state and nearly every country in the world in 15-minute segments all throughout the entire year. They have found 100% renewables is indeed a practical possibility. Disagreeing with Jacobson and his team of researchers is akin to disagreeing with Hansen and his team on comprehensive and in-depth climate science research.

Energy researchers at the University of Delaware (UD) and Delaware Technical College (DTCC) have found that, “by 2030, renewable energy could power a large electrical grid a stunning 99.9%, and at close to today’s energy costs!”

A NOAA study found that renewables could supply the US with 70% of its electricity needs by 2030. The lead researcher was Sandy MacDonald, director of the earth system research lab at NOAA. Do the climate scientists spreading anti-renewable myths not realize that NOAA has done this research? Or are they blatantly disagreeing with NOAA, just as global warming deniers have blatantly disagreed with NASA regarding climate science? From our article about the NOAA study when it first came out:

“NOAA embarked on the renewables project three years ago, collating 16 billion pieces of weather data derived from satellite observations and airplane observations and weather station reports,” Scott Simpson of the Vancouver Sun writes.

“Then it designed a program to filter the information to remove unlikely venues for wind or solar power arrays – such as national parks and urban areas – and came up with a map showing robust wind resources in the middle of the continent and decent ones in the northeast Atlantic states, as well as strong solar production areas in the desert southwest.”

But here’s where the NOAA researchers stepped beyond the good to the great, research-wise: they balanced potential power production and electricity demand to determine, how, where, when, and to what extent clean energy could produce the electricity we need. The end result — 70% of electricity demand — is huge (although, not much of a surprise to CleanTechnica readers, I imagine).

A WWF study has shown how to get Europe to 100% renewable energy by 2050 (this includes transport).

An analysis published in Energy Strategy Reviews by three researchers with PhDs in physics — Kees van der LeunYvonne Deng, and Kornelis Blok — has found that 95% of the world could be powered by renewable energy with no technological breakthroughs.

An in-depth NREL study has found that we could power 80% the US with already commercially available clean, renewable energy technology by 2050. Again, no technological breakthroughs needed.

More studies coming to similar findings can be found here.

All of these energy researchers are wrong, eh? Because… well, it’s unclear even where the claims against these findings come from. It’s unclear what studies these climate scientists are referencing when they say renewables can’t do the job.

I’ve seen no research comparable to the research above that makes their argument. If anyone has anything like this, I’d love to have a look and I’m sure CleanTechnica readers would be happy to explore it as well.

Renewable Energy Is Cheaper, Too

Jumping over to cost, since that’s what it comes down to in a market-driven economy, let’s first recognize that nuclear subsidies have dwarfed renewable energy subsidies, even in Germany, where solar and wind now account for much of the country’s electricity. Nonetheless, nuclear power is approximately 2–3 times more expensive than wind energy and approximately twice as expensive as utility-scale solar.

On average, wind power sold for 2.5¢/kWh in the US in 2013, which would be 4¢/kWh if you removed subsidies (but why would you do that when nuclear has received several times more money in subsidies?).

Utility-scale solar now averages 5¢/kWh in the US, which doesn’t even hold the record for the cheapest solar power bid on the planet.

Nuclear is approximately 10–14¢/kWh… as long as you don’t count the hundreds of billions of dollars it costs to decommission nuclear power plants, among other things. Add everything up and nuclear may well cost 46¢/kWh, a good (er… bad) 9 times more than solar and 12–20 times more than wind.

Ah, but that is only from the dominant type of nuclear power that we all think about when we think about nuclear power — that’s not the different type of unproven nuclear that these climate scientists and Bill gates are pushing. If we would just prioritize this, we could perhaps have competitive nuclear in a few decades, right?… Er, what?

Aside from the absurdly long delay for what is still an unproven and expensive solution, by 2030, solar panels are expected to drop from 62¢/watt today to 21¢/watt in 2040… with no technological “breakthroughs.” Conservatively, we could expect the average electricity price of utility-scale solar power to drop to 2.5¢/kWh. Wind costs are also expected to keep dropping, so it is likely to remain the cheapest electricity option (beyond negawatts, that is — which are essentially impossible to beat).

Is nuclear energy somehow going to drop from 46¢/kWh to 2¢/kWh? Should we prioritize a unicorn nuclear energy option that was developed decades ago and has never been able to compete with conventional nuclear energy, let alone fossil fuels or today’s solar and wind?

Honestly, how can anyone who knows the energy landscape well not be a little bewildered by the push for expensive, impractical, slow-to-deploy nuclear from people who clearly want to address global warming?

Again, I’m genuinely curious where these rightfully esteemed climate scientists who I love have obtained their electricity-related information. Perhaps we’ll dig in and see if we can resolve “the case of the renewable energy deniers.”

Since I included Mark’s Renewable Cities PechaKucha speech above, I’ll also include mine, which delves into the cost side of the equation a little bit:

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About the Author

Zach 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.

  • Jens Stubbe

    “On average, wind power sold for 2.5¢/kWh in the US in 2013, which would be 4¢/kWh if you removed subsidies (but why would you do that when nuclear has received several times more money in subsidies?).”

    Not really true since the PTC only covers the first 10 years and the bulk of PPA contracts are for 20 years.

    If you do the math then ($0.025/kWh x 20 + PTC $0.023 x 10) / 20 is $0.0365/kWh. The 2014 number also reported by Cleantechnica is by the same calculation $0.035 unsubsidized.

    However the design life of a wind turbine is 25 years so if it is in working order after the PPA contract it could be producing and fetch the spot market electricity price between 2033 and the day it is finally decommissioned. quite likely the price in those years will be lower simply and thus contribute to a lower unsubsidized wind electricity price.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Digits. $0.04 is a rounded up $0.0365.

  • Jens Stubbe

    “Disagreeing with Jacobson and his team of researchers is akin to disagreeing with Hansen and his team on comprehensive and in-depth climate science research.”

    I am a proponent for 100% renewable energy not only for the electric grid but for all energy generation but I do not think that Mark Z. Jacobson has done a particularly good job. Further is is frankly speaking idiotic to sanctify anyone like is it done in the article. To the contrary we need to be innovative and creative to establish how to get the cheapest and fastest roll out of renewables.

    Zachary you can do better.

  • ROBwithaB

    He doesn’t really raise his credibility by showing a farm of Pelamis wavepower devices in the first few minutes of the video. Even tidal isn’t really going to be contributing much, at current prices. I’m not convinced of the 99.99% assertion.
    I suspect that more long term “dumb” storage might be required than pumped hydro can deliver.
    Hence the Gravelty Train idea…

    • Jenny Sommer

      Have you seen the hydraulic rock stoagez?

      • ROBwithaB

        I struggle to imagine how it would be viable to actually make one. And creating a watertight (and near frictionless) seal against rock wold require a level of accuracy in construction that I’ve not seen myself in real life. I’ve seen guys polishing flat granite headstones, on a flat work surface, in a suitable warehouse. It’s difficult and time-consuming work, even with all the right machinery on hand and an ample supply of water etc. There’s a reason that those nice gravestones (or kitchen countertops) are so expensive. Now imagine doing that on a scale of square kilometres.
        Or maybe the whole thing would be encased in a concrete sleeve? (Which would probably be necessary anyway to prevent rockfalls. How are we going to get off-shutter concrete to be smooth enough?
        I also struggle to imagine any rock that would be suitably free of imperfections to prevent the water from simply seeping up through the “plug”.
        And why even bother. The specific gravity of most hard rocks is only around 3X water. Why not just take an existing hole in the ground (like a quarry) and use it as the reservoir for conventional pumped hydro.
        Perhaps I just don’t understand the idea properly. A small sample prototype would be great, as proof of concept. Unfortunately, the scaling advantages inherent in the system mean that you kinda have to “go big or go home”.
        Maybe it is doable. Maybe not.
        My gut feeling is that it’s one of those “solutions” that would require a technological leap or two, and a decade to construct.
        “But it could SAVE THE WORLD by making 100% renewables possible!”
        YAY. Sounds AWEsome.
        (Insert Caveat) “In thirty years time.”
        Less yay.
        (Insert further caveat) “Maybe”
        Okay…. so ummm…. maybe we’ll just concentrate on something easier in the meantime. Something that might actually start working next year [or maybe “early 2018” if Elon is involved 🙂 ] And where we can actually calculate the costs before we start.

        But I’m in no way the final arbiter of success. Any opinion I might have would need to be heavily qualified by my general ignorance.
        What I like to see is technologies that:
        1. can be implemented without the need for massive capital investment just to get proof of

        concept. Can you show me how this works by pointing to something I can touch and understand?
        2. are easily scalable. If one works, how quickly can we have 100?

        3. have already been substantially refined through a process of evolutionary development in a different industry (e.g. lithium-ion batteries. Or, for that matter, regenerative braking and trains))

        4. are substantially open-source. We don’t want to be holding the world’s future to ransom for the next twenty years whilst we wait for one dude’s patent to expire.

        But what do I know?
        Whenever I’m pessimistic, I love to be proved wrong.

  • Go Zach! Great presentation (even the 2nd time around). We’re proud of you.

  • Mmmm! Wind and solar fanboys gale ahoy! Apparently, there is no decommissioning (landfill) costs for solar and windmill (because they last only 20 years)? Right? No mining pollution (and its cost) needed for them either? Electrical lines? Storage?

    • Quite a challenge but definitely doable.
      It’ll be a global grid powered by no moving parts when complete. FFs, and all other generation based on moving parts (including wind) will become obsolete up to the point where solar coverage exceeds a still to be determined amount of land deemed “environmentally safe”.
      Recycling will be no problem in 20 or so years. By that time, the EROEI on solar and batteries (or ultracapacitors) should be higher to make up for that, too.
      Further into the future, all landfill “trash” will be returned to basic elements via plasma arc recycling. Thus it might be easier to use the fusion (that should then be developed) to deal with all the stuff we convert to “trash” now.

      Let not the future of energy be based on its past and you call me a “fanboy” for innovation.

    • vensonata

      “Because they last only 20 years” Wrong. I don’t have the strength to answer this question from the dark ages…just educate yourself before you waste everybody’s time. You are not asking sincerely at all, you are simply a nuke flake. The study is from a highly educated and trained group of scientists and engineers. The information is developed systematically over time from one of the great Universities in the technical domain. These are not a bunch of guys shootin’ the breeze over a beer. Do you really think they never thought about “electrical lines” or that nobody ever thought about what to do with PV panels at the end of their lifecycle? Ah well, it is a open forum for commenters anywhere on earth, sometimes I forget that as I read truly thoughtful, positive, informed and sincere comments. When I come across the likes of yours, it is like biting down on some sand in a salad.

      • ” … thoughtful, positive, informed and sincere comments.” INDEED! I will need more data than “wrong”! Thanks for the great show of respect and lack of sarcasm. Keep those thoughtful, positive, informed, and since comments coming! lol

        • Hans

          Since you were the one making a claim, why don’t you deliver the data?

          • Ulenspiegel

            That would mean our peter has to do his homework. A little bit posting and insulting is much more fun, esp. when he gets the data provided by others. “Clever” guy our peter. 🙂

        • vensonata

          I rest my case.

      • Calamity_Jean

        “…like biting down on some sand in a salad.”

        Could be worse. Could be a worm.

    • Hans

      Sigh. Every form of electricity generation has some impact on the environment. It is naive to think that you can have electricity generation without it. There is a lot of scientific literature on the life cycle analysis of renewables vs that of fossil fuels. All the studies show the same thing: fossil fuels are way worse than renewables. Are you suggesting we should go on with the dirtiest form of power because the cleanest is not 100% clean?

    • Hans

      Regarding decommission cost: In most European countries windfarm operators are obliged to remove the wind turbine after its service life. Often this can be done at a profit, because there are quite a lot of recyclable and valuable materials in it.

      There is also a recycle program for PV modules in place in the EU. So there will be very little landfilling and a lot of recycling.

    • eveee

      Exaggeration is not helpful. You can compare costs and impacts. One can easily look up the many lifetime cost and impact analysis available for all sources. Which measure do you want? Take your pick. Wind compares quite favorably compared to fossil fuels, particularly on ecotoxicity and pollution.


      Better picture here.


      You should read up on electrical lines and storage. 80% renewables by 2050 only requires 10% storage by 2050. No storage is needed to 40% solar and wind integration. Really, we don’t need storage at all, but it helps. Flexible sources are all thats needed to integrate variable renewables like wind and solar.


      It turns out this won’t cost us any more than business as usual, replacing old power plants and building new ones.

      “The conclusion: 80 percent renewable energy in 2050 is technically feasible and economically neutral compared to a business-as-usual case.”


    • Calamity_Jean

      “…costs for solar and windmill (because they last only 20 years)?”

      Your question is unclear. What are you claiming lasts only 20 years? Solar PV panels, wind turbines, or both? Actually both of them last more than 20 years.
      Solar: http://www.presse.uni-oldenburg.de/einblicke/54/files/assets/downloads/page0009.pdf
      Wind turbine: http://cleantechnica.com/2015/05/21/oldest-operating-wind-turbine-world-turning-40/

  • Shiggity

    The forward thinkers are already thinking of what will come next, i.e. after solar PV and wind control >75%.

    Genetically engineered micro-organisms for power production is interesting. Joule Biotechnology uses sunlight + micro-organisms to make a complex liquid fuel product. The Hydrogen economy is similar in principle.

    Renewable energy -> Liquid fuels.

    Liquid fuels similar to fossil fuels aren’t going away, they’ll just be farmed / engineered instead of mined / drilled.

    There’s just too much infrastructure to stop using liquid fuels all of a sudden.

  • vorten

    What is the alternative fuel for jet airplanes?

    • Ronald Brakels

      The main options for low greenhouse gas emission flight are (1) Biofuels. (2) synthetic fuels produced using renewable energy. (3) Electric flight using batteries. (4) Use fossil fuel derived fuel but remove the CO2 that is released from the atmosphere and sequester it.

      Right now, at this point in time, it is looking like (4) is the cheapest option.

      • vorten

        Are there any prototypes or proof of concept models for each item on the list? I have heard of the item (3) the Solar Impulse airplane, Also the electric MagLev trains seem like they could be scaled up to replace jets.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Flights have been made with jets using biofuels. A Tu-154 passenger jet was modified to run off hydrogen back in 1989. Methanol is commonly used in teeny tiny planes. Battery electric light aircraft are being produced in small numbers. And there are a wide range of methods for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it. Some examples are reforestation, afforestation, adding biochar to soils, and the dumping of biomass in deep ocean waters or cold water lakes.

          • vorten

            Thanks, for the information.

    • ROBwithaB

      The solution proposed in the video was cryogenic hydrogen.
      I seem to remember that was the preferred solution for the space shuttle program.
      I remember the fiery news footage very clearly. Not going to catch me sitting on top of THAT fuel tank. Although maybe that’s the point… “Travellers avoid new hydrogen jetliners, prefer to walk.”

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Are there any utilities offering spot prices for their customers yet? I’m thinking of a website constantly reflecting their prices for buying and selling electricity. The idea being that as long as the customers are logged in they agree to the pricing that may change by the minute. Then customers could decide when and for what to use their electricity. This has obviously got to be the future but I don’t see any articles on this being used anywhere.

    • I think this exists on the German grid (and I presume others in Europe), but always forget the site.

      • Hans

        Only very large electricity user can buy at the spot market in Germany. Normal consumers might see the spot price at a website, but their price is constant throughout the year.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Generally speaking only very large electricity users Australia pay spot prices (or a price based on spot prices) at the moment, although people with energy storage can use software that will enable them to buy and sell electricity at spot prices, within limits. So as home and business energy storage and electric cars become common so will spot price based prices for consumers.

      • ROBwithaB

        I believe that one of the main duties of energy regulators will be to FORCE utilities to share the real-time spot pricing, and to ensure that consumers can take advantage of such spot pricing.
        Knowledge is power. At the moment there is an imbalance of power, which monopoly utilities are able to exploit to the detriment of consumers.

        If there was a “smart box” in every house, that was able to communicate in real time with multiple “traders”, is there any reason not to have multiple “traders” on the same grid? I’m not an electrical engineer, but my understanding of the grid is that it is indifferent to generation type (except for frequency and voltage regulation). As long as there has been a “digital handshake” between myself and the supplier at a certain price, would it be possible for me to buy a certain number of units of electricity from that supplier and then switch to another contract with another supplier in an hour’s time?

        Ideally, there should be more than one “virtual utility” per market, and they could compete openly for any electricity supplied, and also to buy any electricity produced.
        In fact, maybe I should be allowed to offer my OWN buy and sell prices, and my neighbour (or the local factory or whatever) could buy my excess production, as long as it is within the local distribution area.

        The actual distribution would probably be in the hands of a completely separate entity, perhaps a public utility, who would be responsible for maintaining voltage and frequency, with perhaps batteries to level out any millisecond-level discrepancies.

        Is it even possible for electricity markets to function as efficient free market if there is only one centralised grid and only cable running into my house, connecting it to that grid?

        I would greatly appreciate it if someone more knowledeagble than myself could chime in on this and provide some free education…

        • Ivor O’Connor

          There’s no cheating. It’s more a way of allowing the utilities to fully make use of their energy. A means of saying please take this excess energy at a reduced price so we don’t have to pay some load bank or give it away free.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Well, we have the National Electricity Market in Australia which is the longest synchronised grid in the word and is carefully designed to maximise competition and provide Australians with the lowest electricity prices possible. And, along with other reforms, it has been successful in increasing retail electricity prices by 250%.

          So the moral is, great care has to be taken when separating generation and distribution to avoid people with lots of money ripping off the public in order to get more money. While in theory splitting generation and distribution may seem like a great idea, in practice it can be done terribly.

          To be fair, the market for wholesale electricity in Australia works fairly well. It used to get gamed at times California style for example by power companies reducing output during a heat wave to push up electricity prices, but that is getting harder to do as wind and solar capacity increases.

          • ROBwithaB

            I did LOL merrily at your humorous twist at the end of that first paragraph.
            Until I realised just how sad it should be making me.

            There are very good lessons to be learned from the Australian experiment.
            The most important probably being: “Be careful how you incent.”

            (Have been waiting ages for an opportunity to be all “on trend” and use “incent” as the verb du jour rather than the stodgy “incentivise”. I feel all hardcore economics-nerd now. Might need to go off to the local library and deface some Adam Smith textbooks… Nah, too old school. I need to go find myself an online forum where I can ridicule Friedman.)

          • Ronald Brakels

            Dude, do not deface Adam Smith books. The guy punches so fast he has invisible hands.

          • ROBwithaB

            I have awarded your comment two (invisible) thumbs up.

    • mike_dyke

      I don’t think there are any – yet Ivor, but I was reminded of this article:-
      I think that this has roughly what you want but it’s not live yet.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Nice article. thanks.

    • JamesWimberley

      Sorry, this is dystopian. Only crank Chicago economists think that it is a proper use of the human mind to dedicate itself to constantly optimising an ever-changing basket of prices. Even it if were desirable, it isn’t cognitively feasible. The trick is to design simple price signals that will get you most of the benefits of a more elaborate optimisation. I reckon three price bands and two seasons is already more than most people will want to handle.

      The cop-out is that continuously variable prices can be handled by a computer. An intelligent home controller (Nest five generations ahead) could deal with it. What you tell the janitroid is your constraints and objectives.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        lol, yeah, no human would dedicate themselves to this. However as intermittent renewable energy comes on strong home and business controllers will be needed. Say excess power that would normally be shunted aside or put into a load bank would be sold for very little. All these controllers would see it and start picking up on the excess. Start charging the powerwalls, EVs, turning on the heating or cooling, etc.. We need to start preparing for the intermittent energy now.

        • ROBwithaB

          Ah, I should have read through all the comments before posting my “bright idea”.
          Pleased to see that others are thinking along the same lines.

          The more accurate and frequent the price signals can be, and the more responsive each consumer and/or supplier can be to those signals, and the more numerous and distributed the individual suppliers and/or consumers, the more stable the balance will become between supply and demand.
          In practice, the swarm will have a collective brain of its own, even though individual pricing decisions will be based on very simple instructions. There’s always SOMEONE responding to a pricing signal, at any point in the graph. A system like this would be massively responsive, and the incentives to use/produce/store energy more efficiently would be completely transparent and obvious.

          Someone could even start selling software that takes the info from your smartbox and analyses it in terms of other data available online, so that it can answer questions like “Would it be sensible for me to get a more efficient refrigerator?” or “How long would it take for me to pay off a powerwall?”

    • ROBwithaB

      Yes. This.

      Coupled with a smart device in the house that you program (then train) to respond to shifting prices by selectively turning off power to specific devices. And also smartly allocating any production to either consumption, batteries or sold back to the grid, depending on most efficient return.
      These devices, if networked, would quickly build up a very accurate spatial and real-time picture of changing prices and production, to the extent that it would be possible for them to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, what was GOING to happen over a time frame of anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
      The swarm of smart devices, would actually be able to “see” a storm rolling in from the East, with increased cloud cover and increased wind speeds over a wide geographical area. Based on data from multiple previous years, the central “brain” would be able to decide what the ideal strategy would be, and communicate this back to the individual devices.

      The big moral conundrum is: Who owns all this data? And who gets to profit from the enhanced ability to “cheat” the market?

      • eveee

        The utility centric model creates the need for Big Brother data collecting. Its all rather unnecessary and silly. Right now, the utility needs to follow loads that it tries to predict and are not controlled. If we can do that, we can do this:

        Broadcast real time wholesale energy prices. Couple the user features to the energy prices. In a well tuned economic system, the energy prices reflect generation/load realities and lower peak demand and costs for both consumer and generator. No big brother. No problem.

        Some have claimed the system might be unstable. I say, if the utility can keep the system stable when it has to guess how much demand there will be today, and this system will lower peak demand, how is that more difficult than today when there is no control of load? Its not.

        There is a lot of tom foolery and self serving propaganda coming from the utilities. They are no longer restrained from using public money to propagandize and lobby and they are doing so liberally and sometimes in a dirty way. Dirty deeds done dirt cheap.



    • Matt

      For small player the hope would be a standard interface that your control system could talk to. Break the retail price into 5 min periods. You get like 36-48 hour ahead predictions, with the allowable change reducing as the time approached by the time it is 6 to 2 hours out the price is getting very close to final. Then need a layer for special requests, this is caused by unplanned events. Power plant equipment failure type thing. So I might run on the normal plan, or get special rates if I can drop/increase demand/supply when requested.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        The possibilities are endless. However we need to start getting this in place to handle the highly variable intermittent renewable energy. This, like battery storage, is obviously the future.

  • vensonata

    Some of these studies aim at 99.9% renewables, others go as low as 70% by 2050. That is quite a range of ambition. Certainly the general world aim at the moment is no higher than an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. 80% leaves a lot of slack for cleaner type fossil fuels such as natural gas. In fact it really isn’t a proper challenge for those of a gaming spirit. The real problem solving comes with the last 3%. If we want an A+ on this IQ test we need to focus only on that slippery part above 97% reduction by 2050.

    • Let us figure on making solar cheaper, making a global grid and use NG for the time being (cutting coal emission by half). Of course, upscale science and materials research, too. We’ll be able to better focus on the last 5% or so of emissions MUCH better by 2050. What could cost us trillions now might only cost a few cents by then (because we might have fusion on a chip by then).

      • Bob_Wallace

        A global grid is an unnecessarily large reach. Perhaps continental grids, more likely something a bit smaller.

        • I want everyone to be able to charge the car at night (with solar). It’s just powerlines, and the ability to trade energy with countries at the speed of light. Political obstacles must be the main problem at this time. Hopefully, the global warming summits are discussing the potential of global grids.
          The more connected the global energy supply is to renewable energy sources, the more resilient. Probably a better EROEI than using very large scale utility scale batteries for bulk solar PV.

          • Tim

            Hi Robert, I love your enthusiasm, but you need to let electrical engineers frame the correct answers to these ever evolving problems. I am one, btw. Your idea of moving electricity around the globe several timezones to, in effect, allow solar panels to charge cars that are thousands of miles away in darkness in real time is disconnected from reality by your lack of understanding of the R in voltage = current X resistance. It actually can be deeply rewarding to study science and math. Try going through the basic college level physics of electromagnetism. Some of the most elegant concepts in the universe are to be found there.
            Keep your ideas coming!

          • Ohms law states that the higher the voltage, the lower the resistance. I work with it even doing something as simple as making a solar light.

            China is building HVDC to help make up for such long distance. Real engineers and inventors are also still continuing the development of thyristors, etc needed to make longer power lines. The line loss would be slightly more than the battery efficiency losses (if stored in an expensive li-ion bulk storage setup, and less than from current reflow setups), however, the Eroei should be far greater for the lines than for anything but perhaps pumped hydro. Since there seems not to be a public interest in building lots of dams, I’d figure a global HVDC network would be the way to go.
            More important than mere concerns with Eroei is the fact that the under developed nations would love this idea – along with the ability for all nations to meet climate targets without having first to invent the much longer lasting battery or nano tube ultracapacitor, bulk electricity setups.
            I say “mere” because it won’t matter as long as it’s a positive Eroei and being that the power for such manufacture will eventually come from non fossil anyways.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The big question is whether we need a global grid. Renewable grids need to be larger than grids operating off large central generating plants, but as large as the entire planet?

            There’s a basic question of how large is large enough? Would, for example, the Western grid, the area between the Rockies and Pacific save any money by bringing in Florida or Saudi Arabia solar? Scandinavian hydro? Or are there sufficient resources within the scope of the grid to provide what is needed?

            Jacobson’s group is doing the research that should provide those answers. They’ve already finished a study of resources for all 50 US states and are now doing single country analyses.


          • Bty, harsh judgments has karma.

          • Ok, I’ll learn more about it, however, from just glossing over the internet, I found that HVDC requires even less amount of thickness per amount of current (assuming same high voltages).

          • Bob_Wallace

            Check UHVDC as well. China is upping the voltage.

    • JamesWimberley

      Plant trees. Can I claim my Nobel prize?

      • neroden

        Less effective at carbon sequestration than you might think — for quick action you want algae.

        • Matt

          Duck weed!

          • Tim

            Why do waterfowl need to get toasted?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Peking duck, of course.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      We’ll be over producing by 2050. No need stopping just a few points short.

      • JonathanMaddox

        Significant overbuild and overproduction is necessary to reach the 95% mark if most of the energy is to come from intermittent sources. There’ll be some curtailment (or at least significant zero- or negative-price dumping) of energy during the frequent periods when storage is full; conversely there’ll be times when storage capacity isn’t sufficient to cover overcast and still periods from stored renewable energy alone and we’ll dip back into fossil reserves for a few days. Until storage capacity *is* sufficient and we reach and exceed the 100% mark.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I highly question the idea that there will be near zero or negative pricing on the future grid.

          Right now that occurs because we have a significant amount of thermal generation which can’t be easily/quickly turned off/on and because much of our wind generation is receiving a production subsidy.

          The 10 year 2.3 cent PTC makes the price artificially low. If a wind farm can generate electricity and sell it at a profit for 4c/kWh the subsidy lets them sell for 1.7c/kWh and make the same profit.

          If someone is running a coal or nuclear plant they don’t want to do a stop/start cycle if the period that they’ll take a loss is a couple of hours. They’ll lose more money by cycling than by selling for less than what wind is bidding.

          Those subsidies will go away. Ten years which means a lot of wind farms have less than ten years left.

          Those thermal plants will go away. They are being replaced by NG and RE.
          Wind and solar have operating costs. And their owners want to make profits. They will not sell for less than their variable operating expense plus a reasonable profit. That will be the absolute price floor. Something higher than zero.

          Wind and solar will act like gas plants do now. If they can’t get a price that covers their costs and give them a profit then they won’t turn on. We’re likely to have some solar farms that operate little to none during the low demand season and then charge a premium when they are needed to supply during the high demand seasons. Same with wind farms. If they can’t sell for a profit during late nights then they’ll curtail. And then they’ll raise their price when they’re needed.

          Of course a large EV fleet will likely suck up any cheap electricity available. EVs will probably raise the price floor.

          • Jenny Sommer

            If there is a market for energy storage I don’t see a reason why wind farms wouldn’t also operate onsite storage.
            Maybe DC fast chargers with batteries.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I expect we’ll see some storage installed at wind (and solar) farms. At least a couple of wind farms already have some storage.

            Having storage close by would allow them to sell blocks of electricity and sell those blocks ahead of time. Plus it would allow lower transmission costs.

          • Tim

            I don’t know if I agree with you that older wind farms will go away. Sunk costs on older wind farms are 75% from what I reading and the “O&M costs are related to a limited number of cost components, including:
            Regular maintenance;
            Spare parts, and
            Now I can’t imagine that insurance or administration are going to be too much more for older wind farms and should be orders of magnitude less than any plant that burns stuff day and night like NG. So the delta of O&M costs for a new plant versus an old plant can’t be too much more than a half cent per kWh. Sunk costs of new plants would have to beat that to make any older wind farms retire early.

            Also, I can’t see any condition under which shutting down a solar farm is economically sensible since almost all of the O&M costs wouldn’t be avoided anyway. Shutting off a solar farm does not stop scheduled maintenance, insurance, property taxes and management costs; and could in fact cost a little bit more than letting it run in just calculating when to close it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I said nothing about older wind farms going away.

            Clearly they will once the cost to keep them operating exceeds the price at which they can sell their electricity.

            Wind and solar farms are not going to put electricity on the grid unless they can make some money. There may be some rare occasions when they will sell cheap in order to cover fixed costs but more likely they’ll price product at a cost plus some profit level.

          • Tim

            Sorry, Bob. When you said, “Those subsidies will go away. Ten years which means a lot of wind farms have less than ten years left.” I guess I read that to mean older wind farms would go away when subsidies went away. Perhaps a conversation I had with my father this weekend was still fresh in my mind. We discussed how wind farms created during Carter’s prescient subsidizing actually stopped working when Reagan, the President who said trees cause pollution, a man elected on rage and ignorance and greed, decided to stop completely RE subsidies and take the solar panels off of the roof of the White House.

            Carter good.
            Reagan bad.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yeah. That seems to be where the disconnect happened. I was talking about how most of our wind farms have less than ten years of PTC subsidies remaining. Certainly that won’t cause them to be shut down. Only their ability to sell at zero cents per kWh and make a profit disappears.

            I’m not aware of any wind farms stopping when subsidies went away during the dark years of Reagan. Altamont Pass and other farms stayed in operation. What may have happened (I’ve not seen data) is that new wind farm builds slowed or stopped.

          • ROBwithaB

            It’s going to be interesting to see how this turns out.
            As you point out, the fixed costs to operate a solar farm are going to have to be paid in any case. Interest on capital, land rent, rates and taxes, insurance, panel cleaning, repairs and maintenance, labour etc.
            What ARE the variable costs, dependent entirely on production? I’m not even sure that there are ANY costs directly associated with actually producing electricity rather than just letting the panels stand there.

            Also, it’s my understanding that big switches don’t like to be turned on and off. If you’re pushing megawatts of power through a system, turning the “main switch” on and off in response to multiple pricing signals is surely going to put some wear on your components.

            So I don’t see any compelling reason to curtail production until you have to start PAYING to export power. Unless…..
            Of course, if you’re a monopoly (or part of a cartel) it makes an enormous amount of sense to curtail production to establish a floor price. Especially if demand is fairly inelastic. Think how OPEC got away with this for decades.

            But of course I’m not an electrical engineer, so maybe my perceptions is poorly informed. I’d love to get some input from someone with experience in the field.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You’d need enough solar online to supply 100% of demand. Otherwise the strike price will be set by the last selected supplier.

            Capital is not going to build additional solar once market saturation is reached. If you’re looking at a market in which you’d get no return for a significant amount of your production you’re going to take your money to another investment.

          • Jens Stubbe

            For a few hours every year the spot price for electricity is below or at zero in Scandinavia. On average it is a little less than three US cent.

            Wind farms curtails production when the price go below the marginal cost and this is also only for a few hours.

            If you operate on a PPA contract then you do not give a damn about you just produce.

            The new wind turbines in Denmark get a FIT for a specific number of full production hours and they are curtailed when the price is less than zero.

            If at some point owners of batteries can make a profit helping to improve economy of electricity producers by creating a market for surplus electricity. The very same goes for owners of HVDC grid lines.

    • neroden

      Depends on timescale — the 70% studies are mostly looking in the 2025-2030 range, the 99.9% studies in the 2050 range.

  • I’m starting to see no need for nuclear, as machine automation enables the diffuse and intermittent to power the world. We already have the technology to charge up the car with solar – at night!
    Let’s build the global renewable energy power grid! Solar is best captured in the deserts because their are lots of trees (and wrong angles) at the residential level. Still, solar will become cheap enough to make up for shadows (put it on every roof, too). I believe that solar and solid state batteries (and nanotube like ultracapacitors) will become cheaper than all the moving parts of wind, CSP – and even assembly line produced nuclear.
    Of course, we’ll need ALL the coal we could get our hands on – not for mere burning, but for the building material of the not so distant future – carbon graphene.
    By 2050 most all fossil fuels combustion will be obsolete. Solar will be so “big” that we won’t be able to afford to subsidize it, thus, it’s growth will, at first, slow down. However, continued materials research and cheaper machine automation will make it cheap enough to exponentiate past even today’s high growth rates.

    • JamesWimberley

      “Of course, we’ll need ALL the coal we could get our hands on – not for
      mere burning, but for the building material of the not so distant future
      – carbon graphene.”

      What have you been smoking? Global coal consumption in 2013 was 7.9 billion tonnes. Graphene is one atom thick; potential applications in semiconductors – still potential, there are SFIK no industrial uses yet – are in microgrammes per device, tonnes for an industry. Even carbon fibre, the previous generation technology that has been around for a while with significant industrial uses, had a global output of only 46,500 tonnes in 2013. We are as likely to run out of coal for materials as sand for glass and silicon devices.

      • Joseph Dubeau

        “What have you been smoking?” — coal

      • I’m smoking what… No, not yet…

        Graphene, I would think, will eventually be used as a building material for just about ALL things.

        The following is actually worthy of the old “smoking something” catchphrase…

        We will most probably build cities out of it. In space, too!
        The old space elevator concept made from carbon graphene or nanotubes could be the cheapest way to ship materials out of Earth’s gravity, however, may prove too cumbersome for a civilization powered by fusion.
        There is an upper limit to the size of rotating space cities built with a material 100 times stronger than steel, so I try to imagine just what it is that can’t be built even with that strength…

        I believe it would require a structure 2.2 million miles in diameter just to spin only once per 24 hours – at a 1g centripetal force (possibly in Earth lagrangian points 4 and 5).
        This “Earthring” would require graphene that’s much thicker and more supporting than anything structure built “down below” (if at all possible on purely structural premise alone).

        Will we have enough coal to build all the cities (and much of everything inside of them) hundreds of years into the future with what could still be the strongest known material?

        Obviously, there’s other reasons not to burn coal…

  • sjc_1

    Fast reactors use the depleted uranium from decades of enrichment. No long term waste and will provide power for centuries without mining any more uranium.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Right. How about getting back to us when there’s actually one of those producing affordable electricity?

      Until then you’re just talking dreams.

      • sjc_1

        Russia has been selling power for decades.

        • Ronald Brakels

          The original Russian breeder reactor, the Bn-600, was converted from breeding plutonium to being a plutonium burner. In other words it was deemed there was more value in burning up plutonum than producing it. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

          But we really should judge the success of the Russian breeder reactor program on its successor, the Bn-800 which may actually produce power in 2017 after 30 years.

          Hopes are high it will do better than the $10 billion Japanese Monju fast breeder reactor completed in 1995 that managed to produce electricity for 3 months before being shut down for good.

          • sjc_1

            The BN600 has been delivering 300 megawatts to the grid since 1980. Go to Wiki and look, the last post had a link and was blocked.

          • Ronald Brakels

            I am given to understand that providing electricity to the grid is the main purpose of a nuclear power reactor.

          • sjc_1

            You implied it was for breeding plutonium and Bob said none had been producing electricity. I don’t really need the sarcasm.

          • Ronald Brakels

            I don’t think I can imply strongly enough that a fast breeder reactor operating off enriched uranium was breeding plutonium.

          • eveee

            It did produce electricity. And so did the Monju reactor and the French reactors. Just not enough. There were so many reactor fires and sodium leaks at Monju and the French reactors that they couldnt generate that often.

            BN-600 had 27 leaks and 14 fires. Its designed with two loops, so that it can continue operating with a fire in one of them. That explains its 74% capacity factor.


            I need not point out why such a technology is not embraced warmly in the West.

    • eveee

      Fast reactors have never worked. Fast reactors don’t have zero waste. They tend to have different waste with different half lives. There are many unsolved practical problems. Fast reactors operate at higher temperatures and neutron fluxes and use different cooling media. That all tends to be hard on materials. Ultimately, they rely on the biggest achilles heel of nuclear, reprocessing. That has been a complete failure.


      • sjc_1

        Fast reactors have been operating in Russia for decades. I said no long term waste, no plutonium for thousands of years.

        • eveee

          Operating? Like the BN-600? It has two sodium loops so the reactor can still keep operating while one of the loops in on fire. There were 27 leaks at this plant. You do realize that short term waste is hazardous, because the decay happens at a higher rate?
          Or do you mean the Fermi reactor of “we almost lost Detroit” fame?

          I can’t say it better than this writer.

          “The International Panel on Fissile Materials says, “A large fraction of the liquid-sodium cooled reactors that have been built have been shut down for long periods by sodium fires. Russia’s BN-350 had a huge sodium fire. The follow-on BN-600 reactor was designed with its steam generators in separate bunkers to contain sodium-water fires and with an extra steam generator so a firedamaged steam generator can be repaired while the reactor continues to operate using the extra steam generator . Between 1980 and 1997, the BN-600 had 27 sodium leaks, 14 of which resulted in sodium fires… Leaks from pipes into the air have also resulted in serious fires. In 1995, Japan’s prototype fast reactor, Monju, experienced a major sodiumair fire. Restart has been repeatedly delayed, and, as of the end of 2009, the reactor was still shut down.

          France’s Rapsodie, Phenix and Superphenix breeder reactors and the UK’s Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR) and Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) all suffered significant sodium leaks, some of which resulted in serious fires.” If FBRs had such problems even in normal conditions , imagine what could happen in an unanticipated disaster like Fukushima.

          We cannot trust safety assurances from the nuclear establishment because it cannot be expected to reveal the skeletons in its cupboard . In the US, private sector companies operate nuclear plants while a government agency regulates them and makes sure they are safe. But in India, the same nuclear establishment that designs and operates reactors also handles safety assessment, monitoring and evaluation. Notions of patriotism and secrecy override transparency.

          This has to be terrible for safety. We must have an independent body for nuclear safety that can publicly take the nuclear establishment to task. If it finds FBRs are unsafe, so be it. Fukushima has opened our eyes. Let not our monolithic nuclear establishment close them again.”


          If that doesn’t chronicle the failure of fast breeder reactors, I don’t know what does. I get the impression that these white elephants are the dream play toys of physicists who are not used to dealing with the messes they create.

          One of the most dangerous man made radionuclides are Cs-137, a major contaminant at Chernobyl, with a half life of 30 years. While it may be mostly gone in 300 years, its radiation is intense while it is around.

          • ROBwithaB

            Sodium + Fire.
            Two words you don’t really want to hear mentioned in the same breath.

          • eveee

            Or nuclear + fire? How about the BN-600 with two sodium loops so it can keep operating while one of them is on fire. Gotta admire the ingenuity of the Russians, if not their sheer brazen disregard for safety. Somehow I don’t think this technology or operational method is likely to be utilized in the west.

  • Marion Meads

    It is so easy to get a cheaper price quotes for renewables such as from wind and solar, but what are the details surrounding these low prices, the caveats?

    One that I could think of in such a contract is that the utility has to buy everything that is generated, peak demand or no demand, at such a cheap flat price. The cheaper flat price does not include the storage and smart grid management.

    I just like to point out that the cheaper prices of the renewables quoted in many articles needed to be qualified. There is a big role of storage when it comes to energy generated by wind and solar versus the peak demand. Remember the duck curve, and I was looking for at least a paragraph qualifying the lower prices while dealing with the supply and demand. As of the last time I’ve checked, battery energy storage isn’t cheap. Battery energy storage make sense for the retail prices of electricity but not for the wholesale prices.

    • sault

      Utilities agree to buy the renewable energy at a locked-in price for 10, 20 or even 30 years. If you look at the study Zach posted about 2.5c / kWh wind, it goes into all the caveats for you. Just take a few minutes to go and look. Long story short, storage isn’t an issue until you start approaching 30 – 40% penetration and “grid management” is 1.2c per kWh at most and often much lower.

      A lot of utility-scale solar is single-axis tracking, meaning it can have a capacity factor of 25% or higher and can generate into the late afternoon. That bites off some of the head and tail of the “duck curve”. Smart demand management approaches can eliminate a lot of the wasted energy used when people aren’t at their homes or after they’ve left their place of work. And energy efficiency plus better passive architecture can shave off even more of the late afternoon peak. The rest can be filled in by region-specific energy sources. In the Northwest and other places blessed with hydro, dams can fill the gap, especially since withdrawals to generate electricity will get lower and lower as more wind an solar come onto the grid. In the interior and Midwest, wind can be overbuilt in places where it makes sense and sensible biomass can make a difference in this area too. Offshore wind on the coasts can have fairly reliable production and there’s space for a few nuclear plants here and there to pitch in, especially since some of the newer ones will make even less economic sense if we shut them down early.

    • vensonata

      Storage would be more of an issue if we were talking about pure solar running the country. Then you would need at least 50% storage for night use. That kind of thing is quite common off grid. I live that way. Even at that, it is quite reasonable if one has first done a complete energy efficiency overhaul before trying to provide electricity. My costs per person in residence are lower than any average American on the grid.
      However, the national grid should only require about 14% storage, if I recall the Rocky Mountain Institutes estimate, because of nightime wind resources. So commercial scale battery storage is available now at 10cents or less kwh, at 14% it would add 1.5 cents kwh to solar at 5cents kwh. Total 6.5 cents kwh. Basically unmatchable by any but very old coal plants (but why compare it to coal plants, since even if they were free we simply can’t use them!).

      • Bob_Wallace

        IIRC, the number for Germany is about 20%.

        I don’t think many people realize how many hours per day the wind blows.

      • neroden

        Substantially less than 50% of energy is used at night. Most businesses close at night. And most people sleep at night. So nearly all electrical loads are lower at night — heating is really the only one which goes up at night.

        I think old estimates were that only 25% of energy is used at night? That’s old, but you get the idea.

      • Jens Stubbe

        14% storage ??? In Denmark a 100% wind study based on the current wind turbine fleet average capacity factor required 10 days storage capacity or 2,7% of annual generation or 1000% of daily generation. With optimally distributed current state of the art wind turbines and slight over provision the storage requirement drops to 0,6% or 200% of daily generation (The main difference is the near doubling of capacity factor). In Denmark we already curtail wind turbines a few hours annually when the electricity spot market price goes below zero and the annual average spot market price was little less than $0.03/kWh in 2014. If you use a reasonable amount of biomass, solar and biogas powered generation in the grid and increase the use of ground heat pumps with heat storage and smart meter technologies the grid will never ever need battery storage. Moreover as we are connected to Nordic hydropower we will never need storage. Those who can profit from behind the meter solar/battery should have an option to join a virtual grid scale battery with centralized control. What the world need is not a battery balanced grid but a world where renewables takes on the other 80% of energy consumption that is not related to electricity generation and that entails Synfuels.

        • Bob_Wallace

          14% is a number for the US. Denmark is not a stand-alone grid. You can offload surplus and take back electricity from surrounding grids. The proper comparison would be to generate a storage number for all Europe.

    • eveee

      Wrong. The renewable costs don’t need to be qualified for storage. Renewables economics includes all of that. The grid is designed to accommodate the more than 4:1 annual variation and 2:1 daily variation. Thats all that is needed to accommodate up to 40% renewables now, which we are not at yet. So the economics does include that. In the future, 10% storage, transmission lines, and demand management is needed. But that won’t change the cost. Renewables costs are still declining.

      • JamesWimberley

        There’s a reason standard LCOE calculations don’t include grid integration. It arises at the system level, as it depends on the entire fleet the grid manager has, the load profile and variance, and any interconnect resources. For example, put yourself in ECOT’s shoes in Texas, at present isolated. Then open the Tres Amigas interconnect. Everything changes. It’s a bespoke calculation, applying to all sources, including nuclear.

        • eveee

          Yes. Its dynamic. A change to the system changes the costs of all the contributing sources. Really, we need to compare different mixes of sources. LCOE is an artificial abstract way of determining relative costs to allow system designers some concepts of how to mix the sources together.

          By the way, Texas integration costs for wind are lower than nuclear. Compliments of blogger globi.

          “Studies show nuclear and large fossil plants actually have “far higher integration costs than renewables,” Goggin said. “Contingency reserves, the super-fast acting energy reserve supply required of grid operators in case a large power plant shuts down unexpectedly, are a major cost. Comparing the incremental cost of wind to those costs that ratepayers have always paid, the wind cost looks even more trivial.”


          • John Ihle

            Why do you say LCOE is artificial and abstract?

          • eveee

            The reason I call it artificial and abstract is because assumptions are made about use factors to determine LCOE. Its an engineering and financial figure of merit to get a reasonable idea of relative costs and best use for different sources. Thats one reason agencies like Lazards often give LCOE with a range of numbers.

            For example, the LCOE of wind will vary with location because wind speeds vary. The LCOE of a gas peaker will vary considerably depending on its capacity factor. Its still a useful number, but it has to be handled with some disgression.

            In addition, we cannot perfectly predict how system operators will dispatch loads in the future. The loads change and sources change. If newer, cheaper sources are found, existing assets may be underutilized. Witness the stranded assets in Australia and Germany, mostly base load coal and nuclear plants.

            “Despite these time limitations, leveling costs is often a necessary prerequisite for making comparisons on an equal footing before demand profiles are considered, and the levelized-cost metric is widely used for comparing technologies at the margin, where grid implications of new generation can be neglected.”

            “Many scholars,[specify] such as Paul Joskow, have described limits to the “levelized cost of electricity” metric for comparing new generating sources. In particular, LCOE ignores time effects associated with matching production to demand.”

            “the LCOE for a given energy source is highly dependent on the assumptions, financing terms and technological deployment analyzed.”


            These applications greatly determines the payback. The statement I made is that all the sources will operate in a mix, being dispatched according to the needs of the system operator. Adding any source will change how the rest are used changing the economics of all of them. Not only that, demand patterns will change, particularly as time of use metering gets implemented. Thats what I mean by dynamic.

          • John Ihle

            There needs to be, for a ratepayer, a reasonable way to compare purchasing your own system vs continuing to purchase utility power.. this (pv) system or that pv system.. using expected life cycles.. etc.
            I see a lot of gobbleygoop with super nuanced numbers based on all sorts of assumptions. Assumed inflation, npv, .. risk, hedge…??, as well as all the nuance with the things you mention all factor in. You typically don’t get rate projections for 20 years from a utility and it would be next to impossible that they’d be accurate if they were available.
            It’s the value proposition to many homeowners that hasn’t caught on, yet, or maybe isn’t very well understood by many. I think there should be some effort put into that in terms of how that should be communicated. Among other things a standard.

          • JonathanMaddox


  • Freddy D

    Great points in this article. To solve climate change will require 3 things:
    1) Technical feasibility
    2) Economic feasibility
    3) Political will

    10 years ago all three were serious question marks. Today, #1 is solved – check. #2 is solved – check. (Per the points in this article, also see recent Lazard research and BNEF work). So what gives? It should be a no brainer to accelerate this transition. The lack of political will may be a combination of lack of understanding of the technical and economic facts as well as certain industries are threatened. The more we can help people understand the technical and economic facts the faster this changes. The message must be simple, clear, and blunt. Renewable energy is cheaper than traditional.

    • Martin

      As for 3) that is slowly changing as well (maybe not so much in the US, yet).
      Once people and politicians understand the money savings there will be no going back, to FF, nuclear.

      • sault

        People understand the environmental benefits of renewables fairly well, but explaining the money savings is challenging. Don’t expect the incumbent energy sources and the billionaires that have profited handsomely from their use to go quietly into the night, though.

        • Martin

          Yes I understand your point. But how many of them, billionaires, incumbent energy sources and how many of us, the general public.
          We can adapt much faster, just like a small boat, plane, car is much more agile on turning than a much larger one.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Throw in the years of misinformation from fossil fuel and nuclear industries.

          “We must have baseload.”

          “Renewables cannot do the job by themselves.”

          “Nuclear must be part of our energy mix.”

          “For a reliable grid we must include nuclear.”

          That propaganda has stuck in people’s heads. We see that pretty much every day here. In general people do not know about the potential of a 100% renewable grid and cheaper energy.

          There’s a tremendous amount of education that needs to be done.

          • Karl the brewer

            Good Lord! For a second i thought Amber Rudd had joined Disqus.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change[edit]

            Following the 2015 general election, she was promoted as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.[15] In May 2015 she was appointed as a member of the Privy Council.[16]

            In July 2015, Private Eye reported that Rudd faces a potential conflict of interest because she is to decide on the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station whilst her brother Roland is chairman (and founder) of Finsbury, which represents a construction company with a £100m contract to help build the nuclear plant. The Private Eye report noted that despite the MPs’ register of interests including a new category of ‘family members engaged in lobbying’ Rudd “makes no mention of her brother or his interests”, and added, “The Eye asked the Department of Energy & Climate Change if Rudd had told its permanent secretary about Roland and Finsbury (another conflict of interest procedure) but it did not reply”.[17]


        • True, but we can also expect other billionaire entrepreneurs to NOT be deterred by the entrenched industries.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Part of the problem is that governments (and many people) can be slow to take on new information and adjust their thinking.

      We, the folks who read and comment here, keep ourselves current as much as possible. Many of us saw the route to cheap solar well before it became cheap. What we see today won’t be obvious at the governmental levels where decisions are made for a while longer. And while we can change our attitudes instantly when presented with new information governments must be more cautious and take a while to make sure and adjust.

    • Great summary. Thanks.

      “The lack of political will may be a combination of lack of understanding of the technical and economic facts as well as certain industries are threatened.”
      – I definitely think that’s part of it. The other part is the influence of “Big Fossil” money.

    • Steve N

      Political will in the US will continue to be a problem.
      I realize this sounds quite nasty (which it is) but we need to change the oil argument to terrorism. If we want to reach the Republicans we need to be talking about how oil is funding terrorism and how renewable energy can help take away their money.
      I am very anti fear mongering, but hey it works.

    • Brent Jatko

      Political will is going to be the hardest of all, especially in the USA.

      • Jens Stubbe

        I think you are too pessimistic about that. There is a lot of votes in good economy and many rightwing states are among those to benefit the most from wind power. Once the politicians see a roadmap to economic benefits for their constituencies they will swing. And also the fossil fuel industry across from coal, fracking gas to Shale oil is in severe crisis and will run out of cash for campaigns. The more enlightened business tycoons that can afford to fund campaigns and have decided that the world needs clean energy will influence US policy more going forward.

        • Brent Jatko

          Indeed, Texas has a great deal of wind power (not just from the politicians).

          Plus a lot of oil companies.

  • JamesWimberley

    Not to mention the Giant Vampire Squid! The ethics of the guys working for Goldman Sachs may be questionable, but you wouldn’t want to be betting against them in a high-stakes poker game.

    Among the numerous studies concluding that 100% renewable electricity is feasible (the number on 100% renewable energy is smaller), it’s worth highlighting the one by AEMO in Australia. It’s a few years old so the costs are obsolete, but the feasibility stands. AEMO are the grid operator, run by conservative engineers. You can’t accuse them of wearing green-tinted spectacles.

    As to why the climate scientists get energy wrong: one factor is the slow pace of scientific publication and peer review. You and I get our numbers from the likes of BNEF, IHS, NREL, and trade associations. These aren’t fully reviewed, but they are up to date. When things are changing fast, “second best tomorrow” is the way to go.

    • Martin

      Never mind all the studies about going full, for all energy, to RE.
      What about real life applications:
      People who have gone totally off grid decades ago and the speed of people going off the grid now.
      Municipalities who have gone “off grid” into micro grids and some have been totally energy independent for several years and more and more are going into that direction.
      Whole states who are moving into the direction into full 100 % Re for electricity and planning for almost all energy use to be RE.
      But in all of those cases it is not just doing one thing but a number of things to get you to your goal!

  • Guest

    Nuclear fanboys gale ahoy!

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