Air Quality

Published on July 11th, 2016 | by Michael Barnard


7 Factors Show Why Wind & Solar Are The 1st Choices

July 11th, 2016 by  

Discussions of electrical generation technologies frequently fall into the trap of considering a single factor. One way this occurs is with advocates of a specific legacy technology pointing out a single downside of wind or solar generation as if it’s a gotcha. This is equally true of wind and solar advocates who point at single-factor issues with nuclear or coal, as examples, making the comparison to the more virtuous renewables.

However, there is no single technology which will prevail on all grids in the future. There will be multiple generation technologies at any given time, the mix will change over time, and the specific mix will vary for specific geographies.

The following is my multi-factorial assessment as of 2016 for different forms of electrical generation. The assessment is a simple scale of 1 to 5, and is based on my judgment of each of these technologies which is informed by my background, knowledge, research, and systemic perspective. It is not a quantitative evaluation.

It is unweighted because my weighting would be roughly equal on these points for North America or Europe, but the explicit weighting would vary substantially based on geography. The strict market cost of generation has far outweighed the other factors historically, and only wind and solar’s plummeting costs have made them expand as rapidly as they have recently.

energy sources comparison

Unsurprisingly, coal falls near the bottom of the rankings. Its challenges in terms of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, relatively low flexibility, and liabilities make it non-viable in a multi-factorial assessment, with only its position as a form of legacy generation and lower price point making it as dominant as it is. If someone suggested coal as a new form of generation today without its history, it’s hard to imagine the idea would gain traction.

Nuclear’s poor ranking is perhaps more surprising. It’s gained a good deal of favour among various former opponents over the past few years due to its lack of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. However, its inflexibility, the high impact of any failures, its high economic cost, and the limitation to roughly 30 countries globally make it much less attractive. In countries where it already exists, in general, very few new reactors are being considered compared to the amount of wind and solar being put on grids. Only China is expanding its nuclear fleet in any substantial way.

Each of these factors is explained below with examples of the reasons for many of the rankings. Not all rankings are explicitly explained, but nuances which would assist in weighting for specific circumstances are discussed.

Economically Viable

This is straightforward. Society runs on energy and money. Given a choice between something which costs 3 cents per kWh (LCOE) and something which costs 15 cents, pretty much everything will favour the 3 cents option. (This is why it’s perplexing that the UK conservatives are still pushing for the Hinkley nuclear choice, which costs 15 cents USD per kWh.)

The least expensive forms of new generation today in strict market terms are wind, solar, and methane generation.

Low Negative Externalities

A negative externality is a cost of something which is not included in the dollars paid for it. With fossil fuel electrical generation, negative externalities include CO2 emissions and methane leaks which cause global warming, particulate matter and nitrous oxides emissions which impact lung health, and sulphur oxide emissions which kill trees and lakes. With wind energy, they make a little bit of noise, which some people who live close to them find annoying part of the time. With solar energy, there’s some mining and manufacturing pollution. Hydroelectricity in desert areas or the far north or south can be very low carbon, but may impact fish stocks or require population dislocation.

Negative externalities are dealt with by finding ways to include them in the cost of the product through regulation requiring that they eliminate the negative externality (e.g., sulphur scrubbers and low-sulphur coal for coal plants), or through market mechanisms which burden the cost of the externality and let people figure out how to deal with it (e.g., carbon pricing). In both cases, the cost of the negative externality needs to get added to cost of the form of generation so that market mechanisms can do their job, but in both cases, regulation is required in order to have that happen.

The best forms of generation today in this respect emit no CO2, particulate matter, NOx, hydrocarbons, or SOx during operation (e.g., wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and nuclear). Large-scale carbon capture and sequestration has proven to be an economically non-viable pipe dream, as basic analysis of the underlying physics and economics made clear to dispassionate observers long ago, so fossil fuel generation will never be carbon neutral at any reasonable costs.

The best forms of generation today for negative externalities are wind, solar, tidal, and nuclear.

Broadly Deployable

3t_global_windThe wind doesn’t blow equally everywhere, but can be harvested in every country in the world economically. The sun doesn’t shine as strongly in Alaska as in Florida (or in Germany as in most of the US, despite what some people say), but is a viable resource in most countries of the world.

There aren’t effective sequestration sites under most parts of the world that would make it somewhat cost effective to put coal plants there and capture the carbon emissions. There aren’t good hydroelectric sites in many countries. Natural gas isn’t cheap everywhere. Landlocked states have no option for tidal energy. Islands have lots of waves, but less land and expensive grid connections, so wave energy starts to be viable. Nuclear is restricted to 30 or so stable regimes which are already part of the nuclear club, and expansion of the club is unwise.

What this all means is that there will be different mixes of generation that make sense in different places. This is mitigated massively, however, by the emerging continent-scale grids, high-voltage DC transmission which vastly lowers transmission losses, and energy markets. Basically, it’s getting easier and easier on more developed continents to generate electricity almost anywhere on the continent and get it to the major consumers at a reasonable price.

Given the above, in terms of broad deployment, the best forms of generation today in most countries of the world are wind and solar.


There are forms of generation which must run at 90% capacity factors in order to be economically viable (e.g., nuclear). There are forms of generation whose technology makes them very slow to respond to changes in demand or supply (e.g., nuclear). There are forms of generation which come onto the grid or fall off of the grid only in major increments of a GW or so, requiring substantial hot backups and contingencies (e.g., nuclear).

Then there are forms of generation which ramp up and down easily (e.g., wind, solar, gas, and hydro).

duck-curve-california-electricity-demandAs economies develop, they go through a stage where 24/7 heavy manufacturing provides a very stable baseload demand which is easily met by inflexible generation. After that stage, they enter a consumer and knowledge worker economy where demand is much lower in the troughs and higher in the peaks. Too much inflexible generation, historically known as baseload generation, causes conditions of surplus baseload generation regularly for these economies. That occurs today in places like France and Ontario, with their large nuclear fleets, requiring them to pay neighbouring jurisdictions to take their electricity on a regular basis.

Given the above, on a flexibility basis, the best forms of generation in most places in the world are wind, solar, and methane generation.

Rapid to Build

There is a pressing need globally to decarbonize electrical generation, and in China, India, and many other places, to reduce pollution from electrical generation. A solution which takes 15 years on average to put in place from conception to commissioning (e.g., nuclear), isn’t a viable choice given the significance and urgency of the challenges. A solution which takes 1–3 years to put in place in utility scales (e.g., wind and solar) is much preferable.

Given the above, the best forms of generation in most places in the world are wind and solar.

Reliable & Predictable

A form of power which has a high likelihood of producing a certain number of MWh of generation in a certain period is reliable. A form of power whose availability can be determined with reasonable accuracy at longer time frames and high accuracy in shorter time frames is predictable. Grids require reliability and predictability.

Most classical forms of generation are reliable and predictable (e.g., coal, nuclear, gas, and hydro). Hydro is predictably better in the spring than fall, and reliable over the year.

ElectricityUCTE.svgNew renewable forms of generation have proven themselves to be both reliable and predictable. Wind and solar are the fastest-growing forms of generation on every grid in the world today because they are sufficiently predictable and reliable that they do not destabilize grids in large volumes of generation. Their purported challenges in this regard are massively mitigated by wide area synchronous grids and markets. It’s only in isolationist and small grids that this is a challenge, but to be clear, there are enormous numbers of people living in archipelagos where this is a greater issue. High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission offers a solution for archipelagos such as Indonesia due to its much lower losses underwater.

The most reliable and predictable generation in most places in the world today are wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and methane gas. Coal is predictable and reliable, but at such great cost otherwise that it is impossible to recommend it.

Low Liability

Forms of generation which have operational or failure modes which cause massive economic disruption or health challenges, or which include potential for significant misuse of materials for terrorist ends, are high in liability in the event of a problem. Nuclear is the most obvious example of this, with very rare accidents on a per TWh basis, but very high impacts of those accidents. Fukushima is likely to cost closer to a trillion dollars (USD) for cleanup, economic disruption, replacement by expensive fossil fuels, etc. Coal has so many negative health and climate repercussions compared to alternatives that it must be considered a high liability form of generation.

The best forms of generation in most places in the world from this perspective are wind and solar.

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About the Author

For the past several years Michael has been analyzing and publishing reports and articles on decarbonization technologies, business models and policies. His pieces on electrical generation transformation and electrification of transportation have been published in CleanTechnica, Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, RenewEconomy, RenewablesInternational and Gizmag, as well as included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews with Mike have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. Much of his work originates on, where Mike has been a Top Writer annually since 2012. He also has published a climate-fiction novel, Guangzhou Future Tense.

  • Jens Stubbe

    Well that is preaching to choir I think. Unless something never really detailed happens then by 15 years all grids in all parts of the world will run 100% renewable provided that the long term trends that have been prevailing for decades now continues.

  • Nice analysis. In my opinion, it would be better to not use “methane gas” as a category because that includes natural gas and biogenic methane from waste in the same category, but they have very different qualities. Capturing the methane generated from a pig farm or from a municipal dump is actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whereas extracting natural gas from the ground is increasing it. Biogenic methane is renewable, whereas natural gas is not, so I would separate them into two different categories.

    Minor quibbles:
    1. It also would have been nice to include biomass and waste burning in the analysis.
    2. Tidal energy is like hydroelectric and is not “rapid to build”, so it should be lowered from 4 to 2 in that category. If you are thinking about experimental tidal energy ideas which only have a few test projects, then you need to specify.

    • I should have included biomass I agree. I would have likely included animal methane in that category as its closer to wood chip thermal than natural gas generation from a negative externalities perspective.

    • Biomass added to at least the ranking. Thanks again.

  • Swanson Corners

    The “new” DC long haul transmission lines that are being proposed by companies like Clean Line Energy Partners consistently refuse to factor in the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of landowners that are not interested in giving up a 145′-200′ swath of their land to host a 200′-plus tall transmission line. Clean Line owns no right-of ways so they “need” brand new ones. They drew their proposed routes not on public lands but almost entirely upon privately held lands. Clean Line’s projects move wind energy from inland resources to places that have much better and closer wind resources. These resources are all located offshore but our coastal citizens do not want turbines in their views. Are we a country that uses vast amount of eminent domain or infringing on the views of the wealthy?

    • Jens Stubbe

      Above ground systems are not relevant for HVDC or UHVDC. Besides it is of national security interest to get a resilient grid, so you should put the legislation forth and get it voted through so you can secure right of way. Alternatively you need to use road and rail corridors.

      • Swanson Corners

        A resilient grid is interconnected. Clean Line Energy is proposing thousands of miles (some as long as 720 miles) of glorified extension cords that would be vulnerable at every mile. DC only has one on-ramp and one off-ramp. I think you misunderstood. We got legislation passed to block this line, not to secure a right of way for them.

        • Jens Stubbe

          In that case we are more likely to be on the same page. Powerlines belong in the ground. At some point we had 40.000 power line towers in Denmark (4-5.000 wind turbines) but the power line towers are being replaced with power lines below ground.

          In USA you should be extra careful with power line towers due to your more erratic climate and the closer proximity to the magnetic north, which means you are far more exposed to outburst of charged particles.

          The added cost for a below ground transmission line system is not even going to be visible in anyones meter bill so by all means get the legislation passed to ensure you are not cluttering the view.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The added cost for a below ground transmission line system is not even going to be visible in anyones meter bill”

            Is that true?

            Remember, in the US the distance between buildings can be large. We bury local lines in cities and some suburban neighborhoods but not in rural areas.

    • OneHundredbyFifty

      You are mistaken. Offshore wind is being developed off of the East Coast and the pace is accelerating. The first offshore turbines are being built as we speak. And over 5GW are expected to be operational by 2020 – You can read about it here –

      However the amount of wind required along with the need to decorrelate production necessitates that we build a significant amount in the Great Plains and that we have a grid that aggregates wind power across the continent.

      BTW, I think that your number for landowners with power lines across their land is high. Can you explain where you came up with it?

      • Swanson Corners

        The first 5 offshore turbines are being developed behind an island. All the new articles about offshore wind talk about putting turbines far enough out to not ruin anyone’s view. We can see wind farms equaling about 500 turbines from our home. There are 50,000 onshore turbines ruining someone’s view. Offshore wind development offer 10-15 mile setbacks when we have to fight for setbacks of 1200′ feet from our land. Turbines interfere with aerial applications and our tiling systems.
        The power line number comes from the 5 proposals of Clean Line Energy Partners that equal thousands of miles of transmission with new right of ways. In Iowa, the 500 mile Rock Island Clean Line at roughly 6 transmission towers per mile would equal 3000 towers affecting 1800 landowners directly and of course anyone adjacent. Most of the line runs through farm fields (many times right through the center of fields!) and every inch runs entirely on private property.
        Between the oceans and Great Lakes there is enough energy to power the entire US and then some.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Clean Line’s offer is to pay landowners either $500 annually or a one time payment of $6,000 per monopole footing on their property. There is no way someone could farm those few square feet and make $500 per year.

          Clean Line also offers to pay 100% of the land market value over which their transmission lines pass. The land would still be available for original use, farming or grazing.

          Someone stated that they would have problems cultivating around the footing in their field and using crop dusters to spray cornfields. Clean Line has also offered to take additional factors into considerate and compensate farmers for any loss.

          I would guess that the guy who says he couldn’t grow corn under the transmission lines might be paid the difference between a corn a soybeans crop, for example.
          Here’s a sad fact. Few of us own our view. Unless we own the land we look at then we can do little nothing about someone building an airport, open pit mine or Walmart in our view.

          I’d like to see a picture of your view of 500 wind turbines from your house.

          Color me skeptical.

          • neroden

            I know people who own easements for their view. It is true that most people do not own their view. If you want to own it, *you can*, by buying view easements from neighbors.

          • Swanson Corners

            I may not own my view but we do own our land. Clean Line wants a 145′-200′ easement that they would control.They would let us use it. They ARE NOT planning on using monopoles either. They will use “whatever they deem necessary”. We don’t want a 200-plus foot tall power line through our farm. We don’t want to work under it, we don’t want our kids playing under it and we do not want the incessant hum of it. After 3 years of CLEP’s antics we wouldn’t sell them a cup of water no matter what they would pay.
            Clean Line is a private company, not a public utility. The people they would be supplying energy to (if they had any customers- which they don’t) already both have electricity and access to renewable energy.
            500 turbines within 25 miles can be seen because the red flashing lights on turbines can be seen for 25 miles. I mapped it. Obviously you do not live in turbine country.
            Yes, Clean Line says a lot of things but after 4 years they only have about 5% of the easements that they need to make their line happen. This last year our legislature imposed a clock on them because of our grassroots efforts. Tick-tock.
            Oh and what is it to you anyway?

    • OneHundredbyFifty

      Sounds like you are very concerned about views. Are you a farmer? How big is your farm?

      • Swanson Corners

        I am more concerned about an out-of-state private company being able to use eminent domain to take a big chunk of our land for a 200′ tall power line to send wind energy to a place that has more than Iowa does which is the base of Lake Michigan. Yes, we farm, normal size.

        • neroden

          No, Iowa has more wind potential than the base of Lake Michigan. Try again.

    • neroden

      The big HVDC projects are mostly underwater cables.

      The NIMBYs of Iowa are an issue but they’ll figure out something eventually; probably follow the railroads.

  • Roger

    The graph is a nice starting point as it opens up the type of exchange that can be seen in this thread, where people talk about pros and cons in a way that can then be expressed in the graph.

    It may also be worth considering a graph that has grid level storage as a base line expectation. While adding to the overall cost it does make a major change to the question of dispatchablity and supply/demand. This true not just for Solar and Wind, but also things like Nuclear.

  • Freddy D

    Great factors – love it. I disagree with the “flexibility” scores on wind and solar. I’d give them perhaps “2”. This is why gas has been deployed so broadly – it can dispatch when the demand is there not just when the resource is there. And it’s cheap, low liability, flexible, etc. Main issue is the co2 externality is subsidized, giving it some artificial advantage, but even if it had to pay, it would be the choice for some time.
    Thanks for the analysis.

    • Wind and solar are going to be just like gas, which is to say overbuilt because they are cheap and run at lower capacity factors than maximum possible. Wind is already being used as very fast response backup in at least one US state simply because it can be run sub optimally and turned up with SCADA pitch control instantly.

      Wind is being curtailed regularly in Ontario because nuclear can’t be curtailed and during regular surplus baseload generation conditions, wind is one of the parts of the puzzle that has high technical flexibility in terms of being turned off.

      Solar is the same. It’s very easy and fast to turn solar off using SCADA interfaces and as solar is built in strings, it’s very easy to get a specific number of MW out of a solar farm.

      • Freddy D

        Recognizing that wind and solar will be overbuilt and curtailed is important to recognize. The interesting question is how quickly will overbuilding diminish the ROI of the plants and limit deployment. Wind is particularly well suited to what you describe because of the full daily coverage. Solar simply will not produce about 18 hours every day, thus its flexibility is likely much lower than wind. Storage is a whole different conversation and economic model.

        • neroden

          It won’t limit the ROI much. It’ll drop a little. But as soon as the curtailing starts, *batteries will be built* to grab the “cheap excess power”. The *batteries* will be overbuilt, for various technical reasons…

          We’ll go into an alternating cycle:
          — solar overbuilt, causes battery construction to boom while solar sags
          — batteries overbuilt, causes solar construction to boom while batteries sag

          The only thing which will prevent this alternation is the sale of solar + battery systems as a single unit, which will have to be priced at a sort of discount to the peak-year price for either (== “boom” solar price + “bust” battery price or “bust” solar price + “boom” battery price”)

          I really expect that we’ll see a double cycle like this. I could be wrong, but I’m expecting it.

      • OneHundredbyFifty

        The benefits of the controlability of renewables would be a great article Mike, hope you consider writing it. It would be great if you could clarify why this approach which appears uneconomical on an a la carte basis is actually economical when considered on a system wide basis.

  • JamesWimberley

    Good overview. A few quibbles. The main problem with the whole approach is that the factors are not of equal weight. To the sane, climate externallities that threaten civilisation count for much more than costs, within the ranges we see today. But that sort of difficulty is inherent in any simplified and accessible analysis.
    – Coal should be 0 on negative externalities not 1. It has no external merits.
    – Reliability and predictability should be split. A nuclear power station is generally reliable, but its outages are not well predictable. Wind and solar are unreliable in the sense of availability (mechanically they are highly reliable), but very predictable. A simultaneous mechanical outage of a high proportion of a solar or wind fleet in a utility’s area has the odds of winning the lottery.
    – Tidal energy should be 5 on reliability and predictability. The Rance barrage has been operating without major problems since the 1960s. Tides can be predicted centuries ahead, and won’t ever fail.

    • Freddy D

      Yes. “Wind and solar are unreliable in the sense of availability”. Hence they are not “flexible” – the power is available on the conditions’ schedule not users’ schedule. The whole industry is wrestling with getting this language correct now and using the term “reliable” and “predictable” properly.

      • Jens Stubbe

        Hornsrev 3 with Vestas 164 8MW turbines will have a capacity factor near 60% with significantly higher output during winter where the electricity demand is the highest in Northern Europe and hydropower and solar deliver the less.

        The general trend for both solar and wind is towards higher capacity factors.

        • Freddy D

          Absolutely. The “flexibility” metric, though to dispatch any time of day/night, either up or down, gets better then, but not as good as gas.

    • I agree that the factors aren’t equally weighted in all circumstances and call that out in the body. It’s an acknowledged limitation of this brief summary of the state of the art in generation. But weighting depends on location and circumstances. That’s why Jacobson’s work provides different mixes for each of the 50 states of the USA for example, something I wasn’t trying to replicate for this brief summary.

      Regarding scale, I agree that coal sucks, but the scale is 1 to 5, not zero to five. 😉

      I’m comfortable with the reliability and predictability. It’s an issue that is frequently conflated by those disparaging renewables and it’s not accurate. I agree that a sudden loss of generation from nuclear is a significant concern, but that’s covered in the Flexible category. It was a choice, and as Freddy D points out, there’s a lot of language redefinition going on. For example, I basically redefine baseload as inflexible, which a lot of people would argue with.

      Re tidal, those are reasonable statements.

      • Jens Stubbe

        Is there any reason that for the technologies you have chosen and those you have left out ?

        Osmotic power is coming very strong, OTEC could be changing gear and especially biomass already contribute a lot both in terms of energy and saved GHG emissions.

        • Biomass would have been worth including. That’s a miss on my part. OTEC and osmotic power aren’t worth mentioning in terms of current capacity or likely potential.

          • Jens Stubbe

            I think it would be worth while your time to enlighten yourself on Osmotic power. The owner of Danfoss and 20% of SMA is currently building an Osmotic power plant where the target is $0.0139/kWh (that is probably among the cheapest ever base load power technologies) and he calls it the third major renewable power (after wind and solar). Since he owns companies that are supplying the wind power business and solar power plus the global leading company in heating thermostats and a strong position in thermo compressors I suggest that he knows what he is talking about.

            As for OTEC I agree that progress have been slow but to me it looks very much like the technology could be developed into a massive scale because the present day technical limitations inhibiting the economy are being lifted by general materials science and Tribology development.

          • Matt

            OTEC has one limit that is like Nuke, large cost because of size. The use of the cost water for district cooling has been cost effective. And the US government proved the tech possible (see plant in HA), then said since it was proven that industry should do the next step. We will have to wait a bit longer for Osmotic power to prove out costs. The good news it that while location limited (river dumping into ocean) it is coastal where most population is.

          • I’m a big fan of district cooling with coastal waters. But it’s not electricity generation, which is the point of this article.


          • Jens Stubbe

            Osmotic power targeting $0.0139/kWh is being constructed now. So within the next few years everyone will know whether or not they were able to pull it of.

            That is significantly cheaper than most energy sources.

            OTEC has just been neglected and would under the correct circumstances becomes much cheaper than new nuclear par example.

            Another difference is that the work needed to be done is in development labs and simulation tools. I think the neglectance is down to the fact that the proper circumstances for OTEC requires a constantly hot sea surface and cool depths, which up until recently was not found in nations with developed economy, science and industrial base.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Something that is only now being developed shouldn’t be priced out that many decimal places. That’s “now online” math.

          • Jens Stubbe

            Correct I just did the conversion from DKK to dollars.

            Anyway this technology has huge potential for further optimization so if you want a comprehensive understanding of the energy market you should at least familiarize yourself with the technology.

            Originally the idea was proposed to Danfoss by Peter Holme Jensen CEO and founder of Aquaporin that used to have offices right next to mine. His membranes could very well increase the energy yield for a given osmotic gradient.

            Danfoss however understandably went for a Japanese supplier of less perfect membranes but with solid track record in the reverse osmosis freshwater industry.

            The only thing Danfoss has added to the technology is economic muscles and will power everything else has been understood and tested for decades. This very general applicability and the lack of prohibitive IP port folios means that any corporation could start competing in the field.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m familiar with the technology. It’s just that my threshold for getting excited about an idea has risen over time. I’ve allowed myself to get excited about things that have gone nowhere.

            I am 100% behind researching promising ideas, even if they don’t pan out we often learn other useful things in the process. But I don’t think we should be talking about ideas as solutions until they have been proven to work in the real world.

          • Jens Stubbe

            We are talking about an actual project targeting $0.014/kWh planned almost next to the Danfoss head quarter and kick of with the cash required.

            The same guy flunked with a wave power project and a project to develop and market artificial muscles (a good friend developed the technology for them and it worked but they did not succeed in the marketing and have chosen to pack it in for the time being) but their solar inverter business went really well and was part of the deal where they acquired 20% of SMA.

            Even if they meet the usual obstacles and are unable to realize the projected cost targets I think this one is quite interesting because there are not that many renewable base load technologies around (also dispatchable if you accept lesser capacity factor).

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s hope it works and is that cheap.

            If it’s that cheap then it doesn’t make sense to use it as dispatchable fill in. Use it 24/365.

        • Biomass added to the ranking at least. Thanks again.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      The author covered the weighting right from the get-go.

      It is unweighted because my weighting would be roughly equal on these
      points for North America or Europe, but the explicit weighting would
      vary substantially based on geography. The strict market cost of
      generation has far outweighed the other factors historically, and only
      wind and solar’s plummeting costs have made them expand as rapidly as
      they have recently.

      I wondered though why the numbers were not totalled. Then thought it best not to because the weights would then matter. Now however I realize the graph does in a way weight the numbers. so…

  • Ivor O’Connor

    I like how it is broken down but something still seems missing. Maybe it is the need for batteries until solar and wind can be overbuilt so that even the lows cover 100 percent of the need? Or how to incorporate the need for a smart grid as solar and wind become the dominant form of energy?

    • JamesWimberley

      A full analysis would include grid integration costs. These vary with the starting point, the scenario for future demand, the mix of generating sources and in particular the penetration of variables, and the supply curve for despatchable backup like pumped storage and long-distance imports. It’s not reasonable to expect a survey blog post to cover all this.

      • I included grid integration costs into economic viability. It’s a relatively minor cost compared to the cost of generation and it’s proven in multiple jurisdictions globally to be a non-issue. Germany sees 100% renewables supply occasionally, Denmark sees over 100% from wind alone regularly, and transmission links and new lines add perhaps a cent to the cost of great plains wind energy.

        I completely agree that I had no interest in replicating the work of Jacobson and Diesendorf with this brief summary of the current state of generation. They’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for various jurisdictions to show best mixes, etc, although I haven’t seen anything from either on archipelago nation challenges yet.

    • sjc_1

      Pumped hydro and CAES can store lots of energy. Replace old light water reactors with Fast gas cooled combined cycle.

    • Storage is an end game requirement for decarbonization, not a near term requirement. It’s going to be increasingly important in a couple of decades, but it’s fairly irrelevant now. Basically every MWH of renewable generation displaces a MWH of fossil fuel generation today, but gas generators still run as backup on a diminishing capacity factor.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Storage will always be needed but in the short term much more than in the long term. Reason being in the long term intermittent wind and solar, with HVDC lines, will always be producing more energy than needed by the grid. Until we are over 100% we’ll have to be covering the gaps with storage of some sort.

        Once solar and wind are producing over 100% there will be many load bank type applications to take up the excess energy. For instance the charging car batteries, freezing blocks of ice for use in air conditioning the next day, running the factories at 100%, producing hydrogen/methane, running carbon sequestration and water desalination plants, etc.. These extras can be thought of as dynamic load banks and almost totally eliminate the need for any storage.

        That’s what I meant and why storage is not an end game requirement but a short term requirement.

        • Jens Stubbe

          Storage makes sense behind the meter or for particular sensitive applications where power outages are mission critical events. For the grid it makes much less sense.

          When the Tesla Gigafactory is up and running it will produce about as much battery capacity in just one year as mankind has done since the beginning of time but it is still just about one minute worth of grid scale storage.

          Storage is competing against over supply and unless you are totally rigoristic then in the short timespan where peak power plants will be needed occasionally these power plants are already grid connected.

          Solar inclined pro renewables individuals probably emphasize storage a lot more than wind inclined individuals and clearly much more than individuals inclined toward biomass and hydro that is perfectly capable of load following.

          Besides if storage is a short term thing then it makes absolutely no sense economically or more importantly ecologically because production of storage involved mining, manufacture, installation and maintenance that has to be earned back charging and discharging a lot electrons for a lot of time.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            I meant batteries make very little sense to fill the gaps between energy needed and what is being generated. Batteries won’t be needed as peaker power plants.

            Batteries will still be needed in many other applications. For transportation, for power substations, etc.. Just not for grid stability via peaker power plants.

          • neroden

            Batteries are already being used for peak shaving at individual homes and businesses, and at remote substations, to avoid the need to upgrade transmission and distribution lines. I think this will happen a lot.

            Once all those batteries are in place at the edge of the grid, the peaks which the “big grid” sees are gonna be a lot smaller. So I think they are going to be used for peak energy, but distributed, not as a “peaker power plant”.

          • Ivor O’Connor


  • Ivor O’Connor

    I’d rate nuclear power as 1 in the externalities department. After all they nearly all leak into the ground and they all don’t have any safe place to put their nuclear poisons so they stockpile them on-site. Waiting for the day they have a pro-nuclear political climate that will bury the poisons out-of-site and out-of-mind to kill off future generations.

  • Frank

    Didn’t even use the dreaded D-word. Dispatchable, though he did hint at the fact that it is unimportant, which it is. If it doesn’t allow you to varry output to match load, it’s kind of useless. Kind of ranting, but it is one of my pet peeves.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Why is dispatchable unimportant?

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      • Frank

        You want two kinds of things, cheap power, and control, as in the ability to match supply to demand. Nuclear is dispatchable, but it gives you no control over the supply/demand balance. How is that any better than PV or wind power?

        • Ivor O’Connor

          Not following you. Nuclear is not dispatchable. And why would you ask if nuclear is any better? Nuclear sucks.

          • Frank

            The EIA does not agree with you. I think by dispatchable, they mean you decide when you run it. Look at the tables.

          • nitpicker357

            I can’t tell what the two of you are talking about. Nuclear in the U.S. generally tries to put out maximum power, for the same reason as solar and wind: once you’ve got the plant, you get the best ROI if you run it as much as you can. France had a large enough nuclear fleet that they varied output to match demand. Nuclear is not quickly dispatchable anywhere, AFAIK.
            If you turn down a nuke plant, it takes quite a while to ramp it back up again. With hydro, if your reservoir isn’t full, turning it down now allows you to run it more later. With NG, much of your cost is for fuel. With wind, turning it off produces very minor savings in wear. With solar, you’re just throwing energy away.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            I believe France buys lots of energy to cover their dispatchable needs. And has nightmares at night about the excess.

          • John_ONeill

            You can believe what you like, or you can look at the real-time data.
            I randomly scanned dates in different seasons over the last year, and couldn’t find any power imports at all. Hydro, including pumped hydro, handles most of the demand variation, with some nuclear ramping – on the order of 53 up to 57 GW. Power exports continue day and night, at around 5 to 8 GW.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Why bother when one of the top experts has already summarized it up the data so nicely:

            France has 63 GW of installed nuclear capacity, but its record peak demand topped 100 GW.

            In a nutshell, France relies on Germany to cover its peak demand, not
            vice versa. There is, however, a risk of Germany decommissioning so much
            coal and nuclear capacity over the next seven years as to endanger the
            security of supply, but there is also enough time for the country to
            prevent this outcome. Right now, Germany imports nuclear power from
            France when the French need to dump excess nuclear generation at low
            prices – not in order to prevent blackouts in Germany.


            You referenced a good source. It just takes a lot of effort to squeeze out the details from it.

          • John_ONeill

            ‘ France has 63 GW of installed nuclear capacity, but its record peak demand topped 100 GW.’
            Well, the French do have 25 GW of hydro.. They’ve got 5 GW of PV as well, but it was as much use as mammary glands on a bull when they hit 102 GW of demand – that was at 7 pm, December 14, four years ago. Since then they’ve shaved their extreme peaks down a bit – over the last year it was only 61GW..

          • Bob_Wallace

            2015 numbers have not been posted yet. Here’s what France’s imported electricity numbers look like through 2014…


          • Frank

            We were arguing about the definition of dispatchable. I accept eia’s definition. Seems the three of us agree that that fact is not very useful, since it doesn’t help match supply with demand. I think that wind and pv are natural competitors to nuclear power for the reasons you mentioned.

          • Bob_Wallace

            My take is that, year back, the electricity industry had two categories – dispatchable and non-dispatchable. The difference is that one type of generation could be turned on at will (coal, gas, hydro, nuclear) and one couldn’t (wind, solar).

            There’s a need for a third category which could be called “rapidly dispatchable” which would include fast to start sources such as gas turbines, hydro and storage.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            The EIA doesn’t agree with itself. The only safe way to use the EIA is for historical data.

            It takes half a day for nuclear to ramp up or down. It can’t be dispatched as needed to follow the usage curves. Furthermore nuclear needs to run 90% of the time for it to be as economical as possible. Otherwise instead of costing ten cents a kWh it would cost maybe 20 or 30 cents. So the nuclear industry likes to call itself “base load power” and make a big deal of how steady it is. Now if you had big load banks to burn the excess power it produces then it could be thought of as “dispatchable”. But the load banks would cost even more. Totally out of the question.

            EIA… Perfect example of a government mess.

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