Let's do it.
Sounds good, let's do it!
A group of researchers has released a study that claims to shoot down the common perception that clean, renewable energy from wind and solar sources is all well and good, eco-wise, but that it's too uncertain, sporadic, and pricey for widespread use. "These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too …
"Sounds good, let's do it!"
I'm quite sure that you meant to say "Sounds too good to be true, and it probably is, so let's do it and - assuming with no real reason that this is not merely another example of Schneiderism or that these people are not out-and-out shills - let's see in how many ways it turns out to be the most expensive and spectacular failure ever produced by the stupidity of academics."
That's what you meant, right?
A person has got to be pretty damn credulous to believe research like this.
The obvious weakness, from a British point of view, is that the USA is big. This may well work out for mainland Europe, but the variations in weather over the UK may not be enough to keep everything going.
It isn't hard to see the other assumptions, but I think this is done well enough to be a counter to "we can't afford it". A power plant built today will be needing replacement by 2030. Whatever the replacement is, it will cost money. And renewables, done right, look a plausible choice.
But this sort of large-scale planning isn't something that a fragmented, privatised, electricity generation system is likely to do well.
"We quite often import electricity from France at the moment, and that won't change"
It may well. The German nuclear shutdown will eliminate surplus capacity in the one market that historically was Europe's largest exporter of power, and the swing producer. Factor in the large combustion plant directive closures across Europe, and the likely closure of most French fossil fuel capacity, and there is going to be a distinct lack of surplus capacity in most markets. The Swiss have opted to close their nuke plants, the Belgians have, Italy is building no more....
As for connected to North Africa, that's a pipe dream - the Desertec consortium have proposed this idea, but the rapidly growing Arab world is probably going to want power for local needs, creating big political risks of expropriation even if they built the thing.
Industry AC back again, replying from a UK perspective.
I doubt that this really stacks up. There's caveats in here about carbon taxes and other eco-optimism that simply don't seem credible. UK electricity industry was asked by DECC to look at how much wind power actually contributed on the 100 coldest days of the year in aggregate. The answer, to DECC's horror was 6% of rated capacity. So although wind works, it doesn't work when you might really want it, which also tends to be night time, or in winter when the low azimuth of the sun reduces the capacity of solar even when the sun does shine. Geographic distribution helps a little, but the problem with low wind is that it is routinely associated with relatively stable high pressure systems, these can be large enough to cover most of Europe and persist for many days (hence the 100 day study above).
The US study accepts fossil back up, but given that you need to cover combinations of peak winter demand with virtually no wind or solar, and the claim is that they can normally run the system entirely off renewables what you need is the following recipe:
- 100% of peak demand covered by fossil or nuke plant (or cutting off industrial users)
- A combination of wind and solar that can actually deliver around 150% of peak demand (so enabling this to cover normal demand, and feed into storage at the same time). Note that because wind is always intermittent, the load factor is at absolute best 35%, so to cover half of the 150% with wind means you'd need to build 3x75%, or more than double the peak network demand capacity.
- Storage capacity of around (and I'm guessing this) 40-60% of peak summer demand.
If you look at that on a very rounded basis that approximates to paying for your electricity capacity four to five times over. So, yes, it could be done. But it will not be "at the same cost as fossil plant", but rather at the "same cost as fossil plant after we've rigged the system to pay for the EPA's eco-toys of which we'll need huge amounts more".
Two minor points of further detail:
One, a power plant built today (even a cheap and cheerful CCGT) could still expect to be working in 2040 or even 2050. Power plant CCGT are much bigger and slower spinning than aircraft engines, and built for long life and durability.
Two. You comment that a privatised electricity business won't plan this well. In the UK network performance has been far better since privatisation, and there is a single central system operator, National Grid plc. It isn't a set of random power stations being built and generating when they feel like it. In terms of the mess of energy policy, that is the fault of government. But unfortunately government are taking more and more control (despite their proven incompetence in all such things), so expect the situation to get worse, not better.
This study really does need say it's specific to the USA, it really doesn't work elsewhere in the world.
Friends in the 'States tell me that their electricity consumption is higher in SUMMER than in winter. Air conditioning is considered a necessity and is expensive to run - a situation that simply doesn't feature in the UK or wider: in continental Europe. Given that is when solar PV is most plentiful, the american model doesn't fit a european climate.
Secondly, take a look at the power generation prediction website http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvgis/apps4/pvest.php
This allows you to click a point on the map and get an estimate of the amount of leccy a "1KW" solar array will generate. Even in the sunny south-east of the UK, you'll get on average 1kW*Hr per day per kW of installed capacity ... and on half the days, less than that! Brrrrr.
Thanks to the power company, we know that chez Pete 2 uses about 10 kW*Hrs of electricity a day. A quick peruse of last winter's gas bill shows that from October - March, we used just over 9,000 kW*Hr or 50 kW*Hr per day for heating/HW & cooking. So reckon on about 60kW*Hr of energy usage per day that would have to be supplied by solar and wind. And then let's ignore wind power as there are many windless days.
Going back to the aforementioned website and selecting Daily Radiation tells us that an average day in January will produce PV electricity for 8 hours at a maximum rate of 100W / m², or roughly 400Watt*Hours of electricity per day. Thus, we'd need 150m² of PV panels to supply our daily needs - assuming the sun shines during January. That figure would require the entire back garden to be filled with solar panels, plus a few more on the roof. Even if the PV generation is located remotely (rather than each household having their own), this would double the amount of land needed to support each house - and then more to supply industry and yet more for power conversion / storage and transmission.
Somehow, I don't think this is going to work ...
>This study really does need say it's specific to the USA, it really doesn't work elsewhere in the world.
It doesn't need to say that, because it made it clear that the data came from the US grid and weather.
>Air conditioning is considered a necessity and is expensive to run - a situation that simply doesn't feature in the UK or wider
Even termites can construct structures that only vary by 1ºC over a 24 hour period, and they're insects. Can't we build a little smarter? If we looked at Moorish architecture, with courtyards, water features and thick walls, we would be doing better than just erecting another condo with a hundred Mitsubishi air conditioning units hanging out of the windows. I'm not saying we currently have the solution, but we can do better than "we need air con, so let's give up now". Still, what with Florida being filled with AC-dependant senior citizens, and their enthusiasm for voting, it could be a struggle...
Whilst agreeing with your other comments, I'd just comment on the US specificity. They have indeed limited it to the US, and the data is as well, but Europe is a larger area than the US, covering similar latitudes. If the claimed solution will work in the US, we might reasonably expect it to work in Europe. Equally, if this is pumped up pseudo science aiming for a good headline and a pat on the head from the EPA, then it won't work in the US, and it won't work in Europe.
So I think this is relevant to Europe - just a pity it isn't going to work.
"@Turtle: and a person has to be damn bullheaded and close-minded to dismiss research before reading it, merely because he's already decided that he knows all he'll ever need to know."
The very first comment in this thread was very enthusiastic about the report. Yet you failed to write "a person has to be damn gullible to believe research before reading it..." but I suppose you didn't write such a comment because 1) you yourself were gullible to believe this "study", and 2) you're a hypocrite.
Would that be about right?
" ... cost sweetener in their calculations, however: their cost estimates for that comparison includes the costs related to the human health effects of fossil fuel–caused air polution. "
This meme has been showing up lately. Projections ( for which read modelling ) of putative death-rates associated with any activity is now calculated at $2.5 meeellion per head. This makes really stupendous sounding ecocomic propaganda. Without deprecating the ascription of that value to a human life I'd be interested to see a take on the impact of, say, electric vehicle accidents, latte-induced kidney failure, fugu fatalities, bicycle doorings, solar-panel installer accidents to say nothing of open fires - I think you see where I've headed here. Ignoring duplication cost, networking is the problem with renewables as they stand.
If CO2 is the problem, the answer is nuclear.
" Each of those 28 beeeelion combos were tested against four years of actual hourly weather data, along with electricity-demand data .... Big enough sample for ya?"
And they found how many were able to handle the job? One? That could equally generate the following heading:
'Billion to one chance of renewables powering a country'... which is about right....
Separately, I notice that the whole process was a model, with assumptions like 'renewables will drop greatly in price'. Let me run a billion variations of a model while allowing me to input assumptions, and I'll 'prove' to you that I can power a country from unicorn droppings, all the way from North Korea...
I'm not sure if this is how they did it, but when I read "28 billion combos" my first thought is that it's probably easy to arrive at this solution by using a genetic algorithm. Probably more likely that they had some big, un-environmentally friendly compute cluster brute-force searching the entire solution space, though :(
I'm not sure how to react to your criticism of their models, to be honest. Yes, models can be unrealistic, but on the whole I'd rather have them than not. Then you can start picking apart the basic assumptions (the one you mentioned "renewables will drop greatly in price" wasn't even in the article text, so I don't know if you're just making that up or not) or otherwise criticise/falsify it. But to what end? Just to be negative, or to make a better model? In either case you can't criticise a model just for being a model...
Frum, the Reg article mentions that one of the study's assumptions is that the capital cost of both wind and solar will drop by 50% by 2030. That sure seems like "renewables will drop greatly in price".
Sadly, the article is behind a paywall; not being able to read the article, here are a few other likely problems with the study:
1) Does it also assume natural gas prices will drop by 50% by 2030? This is certainly likely due to the fracking revolution, but I would guess the study authors didn't include that assumption.
2) It's plausible to claim that distributing wind generation over a large geographical area will even out the peaks and troughs of the availability of wind-generated electricity, but we now have some years of real-world data from actual windfarms. Did they use the real-world wind-generation data (which seems to indicate much less even availability than predicted), or just simulate it from a single value?
3) What is the dollar value of the assumed credit for avoiding air pollution and how does that compare to the predicted dollar cost of the wind/solar power? If the credit were small, that would strengthen the study's conclusions; since the authors find it necessary to include it while excluding most other externalities, its magnitude is likely large compared to the actual cost of the electricity, thus weakening the study's robustness.
Solar dropping in price by 50% is not at all unreasonable. Solar had dropped by much more than that from 1980 to 2005 when interest in it was renewed (no pun intended) due to rising oil/gas prices and there has been a lot of investment in it lately. Prices have fallen enormously thanks to that added investment and economies of scale. According to this, module prices have dropped by around two thirds since 2009. Installation tends to dominate pricing for smaller installations (but not the type a utility would install) but that is now getting more attention and it will eventually be integrated in building materials, at least for commercial/industrial scale buildings.
Is it so unreasonable think solar prices will fall by half again in the next 18 years considering how much they've fallen over the past three decades, and especially the past three years? Wind should benefit from economies of scale if production were ramped up massively as would be required if you wanted to replace all usage with solar and wind. But I have no idea if that helps it by enough because of their size and the logistical issues to transport and assemble them on site.
As for your first point from your list of three: Natural gas prices have a floor, and are already at a place in the US where some wells are shutting down because their cost of production exceeded the cost they could sell the gas for. The US had record gas inventories after last year's warm winter, and there were fears that if production continued at then-current rates, storage capacity would run out and its market price would drop to near zero. That never happened, but the market can't sustain gas prices half of what they are currently in the US. Per unit of energy it is far cheaper than oil, which is what matters for switching parts of the transportation infrastructure from diesel to natural gas (i.e. trucks, trains, buses)
Will prices fall by half in the UK? Definitely, once they get cracking with fracking (pun intended that time)
Good points, thanks! My general objection was that the article seems to assume arguably possible price drops for the modes (wind and solar) it is arguing for, but not for those (gas/oil/coal) it does not favor. Fair is fair, especially since it seems that at least some of the benefit from wind is assumed to come from having it replace some gas use; if gas prices are lower than assumed, that savings is also reduced. Again because of the paywall, I don't know what level of gas prices were assumed in the article. I'm sure you would agree that whether they chose 2005 prices, 2010 prices, or some other value would make a big difference in the analysis.
I think it's reasonable to assume price drops for technology that is not widespread and should reasonably have some benefit from greater economies of scale, which is true for both wind and solar. Additionally for solar in particular, there is a lot of money being poured into research to make it more efficient and/or cheaper to manufacture beyond those economies of scale. I suppose that's true for wind as well, but the gains from making a better windmill are rather more limited than the gains from making a better solar cell.
On the other hand, I think it is reasonable to assume not only lack of price drops for fossil fuels, but increases in price over time. A considerable amount of money has been applied to it for decades, so there is less chance of a major breakthrough in either finding massive undiscovered reserves, ways to get it out of the ground more easily, or better efficiency from engines, turbines and boilers. There are certainly future breakthroughs possible here, as the fracking revolution demonstrates, but as it is by definition not renewable, it faces continual pricing pressure as every bit you use reduces the amount remaining. It is only if you reduce usage (via efficiency or use of renewable energy) or can increase reserves (by finding more or being able to produce more from existing reserves) that this pricing pressure lets up.
I believe it's safe to make a general assumption that renewable prices will trend down in the future, strongly in the best case and down a little even in the worst case, while non-renewable prices will trend up, strongly in the worst case and down only in the best case possibly due to some major technological advances but more likely simply because we eventually use less of it.
That "using less of it" is kind of the devil in the details for renewable energy. If renewables are "too successful", they make fossil fuels more competitive by reducing their price. We'd need an order of magnitude increase in renewable energy before that even became a possibility, and I think just about everyone except those heavily invested in Exxon or BP stock believes that would be a nice problem to have.
Doug, fracking DOES massively increase reserves of gas (and less massively for oil IIRC), because those gas deposits were previously thought not to be produceable, and now they are produceable quite cheaply. This has happened already in areas in the US where it has been used, and should similarly happen in other areas of the US and world when fracking is used there. The fact that a given fuel isn't renewable over human timescales doesn't really matter in practice if new supplies are accessed that will last for many decades or even hundreds of years at current consumption rates.
"1) Does it also assume natural gas prices will drop by 50% by 2030? This is certainly likely due to the fracking revolution, but I would guess the study authors didn't include that assumption."
The last thing I saw for fracking said it would last 15 to maybe 60 years for the UK. What then? Is it just me that sees that as just enough time to get a decent non-fossil fuel based system in place rather than "hey, cheap fuel for everyone, let's party!"?
..hen you can start picking apart the basic assumptions (the one you mentioned "renewables will drop greatly in price" wasn't even in the article text, so I don't know if you're just making that up or not)
"While the idea of a large, geographically diverse renewable-energy grid might seem heinously expensive, the paper's authors contend that if current estimates are correct that by 2030 wind and solar capital costs will be about half of what they are today.."
That seems clear enough to me. And it's in the text.
..In either case you can't criticise a model just for being a model.....
It may have escaped your attention, but I was criticising the model because it was unrealistic. We have actual data about the performance of 'renewable-energy' systems, from Denmark, Germany, Spain.. All these show that initially there is no difficulty adding these systems, but, as the proportion of renewables mounts, a whole set of problems arises - typically due to dispatchability.
If you pick a lot of different inputs and demand scenarios, you can probably find some that can match, which is what they appear to have done. But this does not show that renewables can work in reality, and presenting this as proof when we actually have real data which shows the opposite is ludicrous...
Oops. I just reread the article and I see the point you were making about greatly reduced costs. It was late and I guess I glossed over that entire sentence/paragraph just reading is as "all without government subsidies". Sorry about that.
Still, I'm heartened by what another commenter said above that the assumptions might be reasonably realistic for the US states the model was looking at, even if it's probably not applicable here in the west of Europe. It's nice to get some positive news on this whole issue, even if it is only applicable there.
No, it isn't a billion-to-one chance. Now that we know the right combination, we can use it. Apparently, their discovery is that to have just barely enough wind and solar generation capacity to meet average demand would require too much storage - so, instead, have lots of excess capacity, so there will have to be a great lack of wind before one needs to turn to batteries.
But, hey, even if they're all wet, there's still nuclear, so it is true we don't need carbon.
I look forward to your other headlines based solely on the number of unworkable combinations of components - "Trillion to one chance of heavier than air flight", "Infinitely small chance of life evolving", "Five to one chance of using correct orifice when eating" and so on.
Uh,huh, another set of modelling and estimates. Proof ? Improving efficiencies, great, but what is not stated is how long are warning lead times to flash up the fallback coal/gas/nuclear units to fill in gaps. If greenies allowed hydro-electric plants short lead times are fine. Coal plants take a long time to fire up, as do current nukes. Gas turbines take a lot less,so would be feasable. Any mention of the cost of keeping this hardware on standby ?
Already NIMBYs are stopping windmill farms and no doubt, solar farms of whatever kind eventually.
Given the unarguable depletion of conventional power fuels, getting cost effective alternative supplies of energy is a sensible priority. However, relying on hope and estimates is not good enough for serious multi-decadal planning. I want engineers doing real sums on real known costs and benefits before getting that most verminous of emotions, enthusiasm, loose in the political sphere. I can't believe I am typing this, but, where are the competent cost accountants/ quantity surveyers and auditors when you need them ?
Um.. Do you mean 'which has had the most money spent on it?'
That would obviously be Nuclear, because money has been being spent on that since about 1944, while money only started being spent on Solar and Wind in the last few years.
Or do you mean 'which provides the cheapest energy per pound put in?'. That would be Nuclear again, without a doubt.
Or do you mean something else? You should note that, all other things being equal, the most successful, practical and useful method of generating energy will tend to attract most investment...
>Natural gas is quite clean, so doesn't cause any significant health problems.
Not directly, but it has kept Putin in power in Russia. Natural gas didn't directly lead to a man dying of polonium poisoning over the best part of a month, or a female journalist being shot dead as a birthday present to dear Vladmir...
Okay, we in the UK have other sources of natural gas, as does the US, but much it does give Russia some clout in Europe.
Be careful about subsidies. Some of the subsidies for fossil fuel are quite well-hidden. If the pollution causes health problems, who pays that bill? In the British system, everyone ends up paying a little more, even the power generator. In the US system, the power generator hardly pays any of that bill. Either way, you can call it a hidden subsidy, because the power generator doesn't pay anything like the full costs of the pollution.
Yes, I know the customer pays, in the end, but the way it works today, it never gets onto the books, and so the costs of fossil fuel are reduced when making plans.
Natural gas is quite clean, so doesn't cause any significant health problems. Also remember that the benefit to plant growth of increased CO2 starts immediately, while climate consequences take a long time to appear. Thus, on a multi-decadal timescale, fossil fuels benefit world-wide agriculture, and deserve a credit for that if we're going to try to analyze net externalities.
"Whose idea was it to use reporters from San Francisco? The Reg has really gone downhill since."
Environmentalism is a religion, a kind of Doomsday Cult. It is probably the most popular religion in San Francisco.
It is Evangelical by nature - the Faithful can't stop preaching, and the Faithful need to keep reassuring each other. Computer models come in very handy since you can "prove" anything with modelling.
The entire article is a triumph of Faith over reason. The giveaway in the headline is "all power" - which implies transportation (air, car) energy will be provided by renewable sources. Battery powered planes and fighter aircraft. Uh, huh.
Leave the Faithful like Rik to their fantasies. They probably can't hear us laughing at them.
>Environmentalism is a religion, a kind of Doomsday Cult. It is probably the most popular religion in San Francisco.
Do you mean that ALL people who are concerned about the issue are zealous nutters? I'm an atheist, yet I do not kill, do not steal, and keep the clean separate from the unclean (food safety). Similarly, I'm not a member of Greenpeace or whatnot, yet if I were a town planner, I would sooner approve a building that was kept at the desired temperature through the use of design and materials over one that relied purely on fuel heating and powered air-conditioning.
Just as there is a lot of common sense in the scriptures, (on how not to get food poisoning, on how not to depress yourself by coveting your neighbour's wife's ass, or creating ill-feeling over the above) there is some common sense in being less wasteful and at least studying potential alternatives. This isn't faith- how long have aluminium smelting plants been built near hydroelectric plants? For decades.
Trying to tar all environmentalists, or even the the yet-undecided, with the same derogatory brush is like comparing your local vicar with Jim Jones of suicide cult infamy or the Spanish Inquisition. Not every concerned citizen is a Swampy, just as not every climate change doubter is a Koch brother. If your argument can be made on it merits, lets hear more of you, and often; but please don't pollute the discussion with name calling.
"Do you mean that ALL people who are concerned about the issue are zealous nutters?"
No, that's a straw man argument you invented.
I know sensible environmentalists who are not prepared to sacrifice human welfare for "the planet". Many back nuclear power, for example.
There is also a strand within environmentalism that sees humans as the enemy and wants people to be wiped out, so the planet can survive. There are others who engage in wishful thinking, like the author of this article, and advance dishonest or innumerate arguments for "the cause". This is cult-like, religious, and irrational.
It is you who is trying to tar all environmentalists - try advancing an argument in its merits.
I always gotta ask the naysayers... what's the plan? Well-meaning biologists rack their brains to come up with schemes like oil-producing algae, or alcohol-producing bacteria, and they're just like... pssh, that'll never work, but oil lasts forever!
Are they waiting for fusion to pan out, or what?
Waiting for something that is actually grounded to reality and could possibly work. With this the requirement is a world wide grid requiring all countries in the world to sing Kumbaya in a drum circle,.as a country in the chain could throw everybody else awry. Countries would have to give up their ability to manage their energy policy and have one that everybody will just "play nice", most countries maintain their own oil, coal, etc repositories so when a country starts going crazy it won't throw their country into complete chaos.
That doesn't even go into the possibility of a global wide electrical brown out, which would be a distinct reality. What caused half of the entire US to lose power in 2003? A mistake by a single human forgetting to not restart a monitoring tool in a small powerstation in NY... That small powerstation malfunction caused a ripple affect throughout the entire US. Just recently think about what occurred in India a failure in a relay occurred that ended up taking the power out from over half a billion people.
"Are they waiting for fusion to pan out, or what?"
There is no plan. But there is also no shortage of hydrocarbon fuel sources, some more difficult to collect than others. Gas hydrates contain unimaginable energy reserves, but we currently don't have a scooby about how to collect it (as we didn't have for shale gas a decade or two back). There's massive coal reserves, particularly offshore, again a few problems around gathering it in (although surmountable at a cost). North American oil shales contain volumes of oil that compare to the Middle East - waiting on a means of getting it. Tar sands and oil sands are viable at present round much of the world, although the EROI is worryingly low with current technologies (meaning that too much energy is used collecting the stuff). Oil producing bacteria are feasible but not at current fuel prices.
When you talk about the naysayers, you seem to assume that everybody likes fossil fuels and wants to use more. On the contrary everybody would be delighted if renewable/sustainable energy were available (even oil companies, because who do you think will run, for example, biofuel synthesis plants?). But at present the technologies we have don't amount to a solution and rather than do more science to get a better solution (and this report isn't science IMHO), the powers that be are building out windmills and solar panels that have no benefits unless we crack the storage problem.
Fossil is heavily subsidized too. We invest trillions annually in maintaining "stability" at gunpoint in fossil fuel producing regions around the world in order to keep the prices sane. We build and maintain infrastructure to transport the fuels. We build infrastructure to refine the fuels, we build... None of that is listed versus the cost of fossil fuels used for comparison with "subsidized" renewables.
V - certainly all the infrastructure costs for transport, refining and so forth are directly added to the retail costs of the fuels.
As for global stability costs, it's just as valid to charge it to food, trade, or health care as to charge it to fossil fuels. In any case, since the US pays the lion's share, it's really the US subsidizing the rest of the world, so all those future carbon tax revenues are belong to us!
"Fossil is heavily subsidized too. "
The opposite is true - it is heavily taxed and makes a huge net positive net contribution. Without fossil fuel taxes and duties, either you would have higher taxes to compensate, or lower public spending, or a combination of both.
Only if you consider a lower duty or tax to be a "subsidy" does your argument hold. But to assume that, you must assume all wealth belongs to the state in the first place.
I've read that the US gets the largest share of their oil from Canada. Apparently, they could drill their own oil and be self-sufficient -- they choose not to due to environmental concerns.
You could say that the green lobby has forced to the US to go overseas for its energy supply. Or to put it another way, Green Peace is to blame for the Iraq War.
China is big in Africa. However, instead of using the threat of arms, they build stuff for the locals in exchange for exploiting their natural resources.
Should we stop subsidizing all the research in to Nuclear Fusion too?
Will something better come along if we don't put money into it? Would we even have fission if it weren't for massive government research budgets?
Where would Rolls Royce Trent engine have been without subsidies to get them off the ground?
Granted, the Aswan dam only creates local problems (I.e. Egyptian problems), however those problems are severe and multiplying
1. The Aswan dam is silting up and without major dredging will become useless.
2. Water borne parasites prefer still water and the Aswan has created a population explosion of Bilharzia.
3. Countries on the upper Nile have begun to lay claim to the Nile's water, and will eventually reduce the flow reaching Egypt and the Aswan. The developments in Egypt based on the expectation of power and water from the dam will either wither for lack of those resources, or Egypt will go to war to force her neighbors to relinquish their claims.
It appears that Egyptians agree with you that the only renewables worth having are those supplied by the Aswan dam, and they are prepared to kill for them. Renewable yet scarce, not a good combination.
"their cost estimates for that comparison includes the costs related to the human health effects of fossil fuel–caused air polution"
In other words, they fudged the figures by carefully selecting the inputs to their model. As someone else pointed out, I bet they didn't feed in expected reduced costs from fracking.
This is a good point almost universally overlooked. People say "batteries" and don't realize that they are not willed into existence by the proprietors of your local-and-pop shop. The amount of mining, smelting, refining, and processing that go into the production of batteries, along with the attendant pollution and environmental and occupational health hazards also produced as a necessary by-product of battery production, might well have consequences at least as bad as the problems which they are meant to ameliorate.
Their estimates of the cost of solar in 2030 seem to be incredibly conservative. Capital costs of installation have fallen in the UK by two-thirds in the last two years, without any fundamental changes in technology.
Several times a week there are reports on phys.org of yet another research breakthrough that will significantly increase efficiency/reduce cost or improve the physical requirements of solar power generation - many of the methods won't make it to market, but some will. (A big problem is that the research is moving so fast it's not economically sensible to move to full production: six months after that $1B plant is producing some clever new cheap/efficient cell, someone else will start producing something cheaper/more efficient!)
Storage is still a major problem. However many researchers are now starting to give it serious thought and coming up with interesting new combinations of materials to reduce cost/increase lifetime/increase power density. Possibly it will never be feasible to have several days worth of electricity stored in batteries on the grid, but a few years down the line it may well be feasible for individual dwellings to have enough cheapish, compact batteries to store their requirements for a few days.
I can't see any reason why solar pv hardware won't be cheap enough and flexible enough (literally, i.e. no need for large rigid units - some people are working on PV paint!) by 2030 so that the norm is to cover every available surface with pv, and couple it with a moderate amount of local storage. That will allow the majority of domestic power (including heating - if it's cheap enough then some of the present oil/gas heating load can be switched to electric) to be produced locally with surplus feeding into the grid.
It will be complicated - office blocks and shopping centres etc may well not have enough space to generate their requirements from solar, ditto blocks of flats, and an aluminium smelter that needs 200MW isn't going to get it from local solar and a few windmills. BUT if the costs work out (as they probably will) then with every roof (and road and car park?) feeding cheap solar into the grid, coupled with an element of storage, some wind/tidal and a few gas turbines for emergency backup then their projection is far from unreasonable.
18 years is a long time in renewable energy research!
Part of the plan involves a smart grid that extends right into the home. When the wind isn't blowing the sun isn't shineing, the grid would need the ability to transmit a signal telling appliances to postpone their duties for a short time.
Remember the reaction in the US to even the new efficiency standards? I lost could how many 'Obama wants to take your lightbulbs' and 'CFLs give babies cancer' posts I've been annoyed by. It's a very individualistic culture, where people don't like being told what to do - and they won't like having their air conditioner told to let the temperature rise a little bit. There will be political opposition to something like that.
No, but they are absolutely beholden to 'capitalism' and 'the free market'. Which means if you tell 'em "Yes, you can run your air conditioner during times of low generation/peak demand, but the cost per unit will be double or triple, so it's your choice..." they'll be all "Woo! Let the free market decide! Only poor people will be affected so I'm fine!" Even if they happen to be one of the poor people. Go figure.
Thing is, some power companies have been caught in predatory pricing schemes to raise profits. So now people would call out for those increased prices as charges of predatory pricing. Not saying it's right or not, but the perception is already there, so people will jump on it.
Someone mentioned plants like smelters (especially aluminum smelters which demand lots of electricity). These places demand lots of concentrated power. Which is why they're typically built close to power plants. You have to wonder if a distributed grid would be able to aggregate enough total power to let those plants run. Otherwise, plants may have to start factoring in the cost of an in-house plant to provide the power. That's why the thought of Generation IV microreactors pique my curiosity. A small reactor might be worthwhile to an energy-demanding business.
The Severn has some of the strongest tides in the world, so while it may be viable there it's not typical - I would imagine investment would gravitate (ho ho) towards a scheme that was more universally applicable.
Also they also only generate for (at most) half the tidal flow, and salt water is a vicious environment on anything mechanical.
...distorts the market.
"includes the costs related to the human health effects of fossil fuel–caused air pollution"
This is one of the main points of a state, to ensure that the harm caused by A is borne by A and not passed on to B. Without this there are exceedingly perverse incentives and a severe misallocation of scarce resources resulting in sub-optimal use of resources and lower economic growth.
Having watched the output of the UK's renewables over the last week ... just how big might the batteries need to be?
The "if it doesn't look right" adage has pinned the credibility meter to zero - I see no mention of how many elves in hamster wheels are going to be required. It's clear that these modelers definitely started out with the required answer and worked backwards.
The Obamah administration has already hosed billions down the toilet on now bankrupt renewable crony state capitalism (Soylyndra et al, ethanol etc., etc.) and the Americam system has been spectacularly prone to scams - The Whiskey Ring, Teapot Dome, erm Soylyndra .....
The only thing renewable here is the credulousness of the average greenie and the sticky fingered-ness of researchers who will - sadly - say anything for money.
This lot aren't related to renowned solar research Professor Craig Grimes are they?
"American system has been spectacularly prone to scams - The Whiskey Ring (1875), Teapot Dome (1920's), erm Soylyndra"
You're going back one hundred and thirty five years. If you think that the US record for the last 135 years is worse than other countries, I'd like to see the research your basing you opinion on. Comments like yours are just stupid.
Has anyone calculated the pollution/emission "costs" of all this solar PV and windmill construction?
What about the reaction of the econuts when an area the sized of Texas is covered over with solar PV panels?
Can anyone point me at a solar PV factory or a wind turbine factory which is managing the perpetual motion trick of not just eating their own dogfood but actually surviving and thriving on its own dogfood without "supplements" for dirty old cola/gas/nuclear?
How much more copper do we need to run big thick distribution cables from remote windy or sunny areas to the places where the power is actually needed?
So, they start by assuming it's possible install three times overcapacity of wind and solar in order to offset the intermittency of these sources.
Then they assume that the grid will be reinforced to distribute power from areas that are windy or sunny to those that aren't. (Transmission lines alone are likely to be more expensive than local regional nuclear power stations providing similar power.)
Then they assume that hydrogen storage can make up for the times when there's no sun and no wind, apparently ignoring the intrinsic inefficiency of splitting water. (Currently 'round trip' efficiency with hydrogen is maybe 40%. Hydro is about 75% but obviously has limited capacity.)
Then they assume that gas or other conventional power will also be available on standby for backup when the storage runs out. (Even if CCGT capacity is already built, its capital costs still need to be amortised and there are maintenance costs to keeping it on standby.)
Are these people being serious or what?
Hydrogen conversion and storage was 80% efficient in the early 1990's. That's just storing the hydrogen and using that in fuel cells.
If you use the oxygen as well you can improve thermal efficiency of coal/oil/anything organic from 40% to over 60% too. Its a bit of a win win situation unless you are involved in making your money a different way.
@Tom7: Round trip efficiency for hydrogen is not good. Wikipedia's reference from 'Solar Novus Today' puts it at 21% to 43%
@Pen-y-gors: Peak power from solar or wind could well become cheaper. But these sources requires a threefold over-capacity to cope with intermittency so would have to be extremely cheap to compete on price. Even then the costs of storage and additional distribution capacity alone are likely to be more than the cost of nuclear.
It all depends on the costs. I'm not an expert on the efficiency of splitting hydrogen from water, but even if it's only 40%, then if we're producing electricity from solar, wind, tides or whatever at 1p/kWh then it really doen't matter that the hydrogen storage is inefficient. If the leccy costs 20p/kWh then it's a different story.
Efficiency doesn't really matter if the costs are low enough. If a PV unit is only 5% efficient but is only 10% of the cost of a 20% efficient unit then you just buy more of the cheap ones, and you're still quids in.
So yes, this combined solar/wind/power cell system works out as cheap as current power sources IF there is a national grid to channel the stuff around the country. Now, not sure totally on this but the US doesn't have one of those does it? so creating that would be an added cost. And on top of that, since this is a grid issue not about generation issue, there is also loss in the distribution also. So yes, each combo power source is not that expensive, getting the rest up and running is going to make the scheme hugely more expensive.
Nice idea though.
Are there any studies out there that look at what would happen to oil, gas, coal, photovoltaic and wind prices under a significant change of demand?
If America were to move from burning 'stuff' to renewable energy, wouldn't that lead to significantly cheaper 'stuff'? Supply and demand, etc? On the flip side - if you needed that many cells and sails, plus ongoing replacements, you'd certainly get economies of scale but would you also meet supply constraints? Don't PVCs use rare earth metals in their production? The name leads me to wonder if they're hard to come by.
Don't PVCs use rare earth metals in their production? The name leads me to wonder if they're hard to come by."
Not rare as in hard to come by. But "cheap" processing of the rare earths to get them out of the ground/rocks is very very dirty and toxic. That's one of the reasons China almost has a monopoly on rare earth production. The more developed countries, naturally, don't want all that pollution and so legislated for the cleaning up and safe disposal of the toxic waste products. That put up the price up such that production is more or less dead except in China.
But the huge demand for rare earth metals for PV panels, magnets, glass coatings and numerous other applications along with China wanting to limit exports "to keep more for their own uses" means it's becoming economic for a/some mine(s) to open/re-open in the USA and the Japanese to be planning on mining in Thailand??? Vietnam???
The huge amount of hardware required will not be cheap, to put it mildly, higher demand will cause significant price inflation for raw materials and product, especially for vital materials like Silver (Solar panels etc.) which is hard to extract and the above grown stocks are being rapidly depleted and is still grossly under priced; of course I already know this for other applications, so I am already heavy Silver!
We have to consider replacement and maintenance costs because the power generation density will be much, much lower, so a lot more hardware. A lot of this hardware will not last as long as conventional power generation gear, so significant rollover of hardware. Solar arrays will also need to be cleaned regularly to remove light obscuring material. Disposal or recycling could be quite costly, especially for larger structures like wind turbines; this will be quite amusing give the cost criticisms for dismantling extremely power dense nuclear power stations.
There will also be external 'pollution' costs which need to be considered, wasted space, higher maintenance costs for structures which power generation gear is retrofitted to, higher deaths of birds and clean up of the carcases etc.
There is a new wind generator design in development which looks to be much more efficient, more reliable, can directly drive pressure based energy storage, so much better than archaic wind turbines, and as a bonus has not blades to kill birds; it will likely wipe out the wind turbine industry and require a lot of costly disposal and recycling of obsolete wind turbine installations, and cause a lot of political fallout!
Just build loads of distributed small Thorium salt fission reactors, and stop wasting time on low tech 'eco' nonsense, and the pointless and hugely costly wars in the middle east, so that we can look at/for more exotic even higher power density energy sources like fusion reactors. Mr Fusion already!
That's a *very* cogent analysis of the hidden costs and factors involved in all renewable/sustainable energy schemes. It's easily more enlightening than the original "study" which was the focus of the article that prompted this thread.
Thanks for taking the time to write it.
The study is totally invalid just from the 3 graphs in the Reg. article. The proposed system requires 33 GW That's GIGAWATTS! of reserve fossil fuel generation capability that will be used ONCE a year for a few days. The cost of creating and maintaining that backup capability is as high as the cost of the primary renewable generation capability which DOUBLES overall cost of the plan and your electric bill. Also, the fill-in power will have to be natural gas or (filthy) coal generation. It takes weeks to get a nuke plant up and running to capacity so they are not suitable for peak fill-in.
Rant #2 - Batteries have a 2 year life in high cycle applications such as proposed. Fuel cells have their own issues, such as cost and slow warm up times, which means they can't handle surge demand well.
Credentials - I'm a nationally known power systems engineer who got sick of rolling black outs in the southwest during the summer and decided to study all available options for use in a home backup system. Findings:
Renewable energy does not work with high peak demand.due to storage technology limitations.
Renewable energy is land intensive which means Europe and the Northeast USA can forget it.
Renewable energy generation locations are typically half a continent away from peak demand centers.
The USA distribution grid is 50% efficient and already stressed to the failure level already.
Renewable energy? Hell yes, but not with any foreseeable technology. We need cheap, room temperature superconductors and a storage system orders of magnitude cheaper, longer lived and more reliable than what is in production or even on the drawing boards.
As someone who has worked in the electric power industry, the scenario that this paper envisions is going to be back-breakingly expensive. Building renewables, plus storage to store off-peak renewable power, plus fossil-fired plants for when the renewables and storage are tapped out due to unusual weather conditions, plus all the transmission required to move renewable power from windy and sunny areas to less sunny and windy areas is going to be really, REALLY expensive.
Their methods seem dubious (including health costs of CO2 emissions is a BS move), but this may just pan out anyway.
Another thing to consider is that, yes, batteries and fuel cells are danged expensive. Flywheels, however, are much less so. They may not be good for cars, but a massive stationary flywheel could easily store a significant amount of energy from peak times for later use.
Why don't we just build a massive solar array in the sahara, its 3 million square miles of dessert where the sun shines almost guaranteed every day of the year. We could then use the electricity generated to make hydrogen from sea water which can be transported on ships to wherever its needed.
Its won't be cheap to setup but Google, Amazon, Starbucks can afford to pay for it with the tax they have managed to avoid paying the last few years
This is bogus! Simple secondary school math will show how ridiculous this claim is. It's called combinations. We have, according to the report, 2 categories of items to choose from for the number of combinations. Those are energy sources and storage techniques. If there are X different possible energy sources and Y different storage techniques, then the # of combinations of the 2 items is X multiplied by Y. For those #'s to be a minimum they have to be the same, so the solution to the problem becomes a staggering 167,332 energy sources and 167,332 storage techniques. If either group is smaller then the other must be larger to maintain the product as 28 billion. I defy anyone to enumerate that many different energy sources or storage techniques.
Molechaser - Ithink they also looked at the proportions of each source. By that I mean looking a 1% solar contribution 98%wind 1% carbon producing vs, 2% solar contribution 97% wind 2% carbon producing vs, 1% solar, 97% wind 1% carbon producing etc.
Scary big numbers of combinations can be produced that way!
I defy anyone to enumerate that many different energy sources or storage techniques.
I think it also includes wind scenarios. So we have:
15 wind farms and a dam when the wind is blowing at 5 mph from 120deg.
15 wind farms and a dam when the wind is blowing at 5 mph from 125deg.
15 wind farms and a dam when the wind is blowing at 5 mph from 130deg.
15 wind farms and a dam when the wind is blowing at 5 mph from 135deg.
15 wind farms and a dam when the wind is blowing at 5 mph from 140deg.
You get the picture...
Does anyone here have any actual experience with creating models of any complexity? If you do, you'll recognize this "research" for what it is immediately: pure rubbish. Creating models of processes that are several orders of magnitude less complex and chaotic can be an extreme challenge. Lack of precision in variables is cumulative -- it only takes a few variables to be a bit off before the whole thing is utterly useless. Think about this for a few minutes. How precise do you think the assumptions are going in to this model? How precise COULD they possibly be?
The entire Green ideology is doing more damage to science from a public education point of view than the creationists and UFO-ologists could ever hope to do.
...The entire Green ideology is doing more damage to science from a public education point of view than the creationists and UFO-ologists could ever hope to do.,,
On the contrary. They are contributing massively towards the Public Understanding of Science - as evidenced by your piece...
When you think about the peek demand for Power is also the peek demand for water / waste water
Advert brake/show/match ended on TV people go into the kitchen Fill the kettle and switch it on then go use the toilet then flush.
Now if you retro fit a few Archimedes Screw Generators
to the Sewage system you can both make use of Sewage Tide's to generate the surplus needed for all them kettles Plus also control the tides so there bit more tamed for the sewage plant to mange the waste
When the kettles are done the remain surplus can go into cryo of gases for long term storage
Sewage has more than one way to be useful
You can make Organic Bactria battery's where as the Bactria brake down the waste into other chemicals (ones that can be used as a battery different electrolyte's ) DC AC Inverters can make this low voltage useful and the Bactria gas generated can be stored and power a gas engines or cryo stored
You also have the Solid waste that can be used a Fuel / fertilizer You can even make use of the Bactria in the solids to still make power
Archimedes Screw Generators can also be Put on rivers and streams
You can also blend them in with the natural surroundings as if they weren't even their
They aslo keep water on the land for longer so more water will make it into water tables plus also stop flooding due you can now control the water flows into rivers
Archimedes Screw Generators also don't hurt fish so a big help to sea fish stocks due you have more ponds to breed them in
There also self clearing to any jam and it will auto chew it up
Wind & Solar outputs are not predictable in the medium term, let alone the long term. Extrapolation is not the same thing as a trend.
Unpredictable acts of nature such as volcanoes, meteorites & global warm changing climate could arise at any time to render extrapolations redundant.
Would you want to bet your future, possibly your life, on a model? I would not.
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