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My provocative title represents the increasing awareness that we don't need to believe in climate change to do the right thing when it comes to energy. Of course, climate change is a real threat to us and our environment. But there are many highly valid reasons to become more energy efficient, conserve energy through behavior change, and transition to renewables -- entirely independent of climate change concerns.
I raise this point because there is an increasing backlash to the idea of climate change as a serious threat. Concern about climate change has been diminishing rapidly in the US over the last few years, for a variety of reasons, including the poor economy (and the wrong perception that mitigating climate change will harm the economy), the "climate-gate" affair resulting from hacked emails from climate scientists, and a very aggressive campaign by corporate and conservative interests that just don't want to believe that humans can impact global climate.
A Yale 2010 survey found that those who believe human activities are primarily responsible for climate change dropped from 57 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2010. And it's probably dropped further since. US News & World Report mused about this trend in a recent article, asking rhetorically whether Americans care about climate change anymore.
Now for the good news. I believe that declining public belief in climate change as an important issue doesn't matter because there are many very positive trends with respect to energy that are here today and will only increase in the future. These trends will mitigate climate change, but will also greatly enhance energy independence, reduce traditional air pollution, create millions of new jobs, and will actually save us all a lot of money through lowered electricity costs.
These very encouraging trends are: 1) an ongoing improvement in global energy intensity, leading to far fewer emissions per dollar of GDP in coming decades; 2) price-induced conservation; 3) a dramatic increase in global wind power over the last decade; 4) and, perhaps most importantly, the growth in global solar power may lead to an incredibly rapid transformation in how we produce energy.
Energy intensity is a relative measure. It is defined as units of energy required for each unit of GDP. The Energy Information Administration projects that global energy intensity will improve by almost 100 percent by 2035. This means that we will be able to produce goods and services with half as much energy by 2035.
The US has been a great example in recent years of how improved energy intensity can make a real difference in emissions. US greenhouse gas emissions actually fell 7.5 percent from 2008 to 2009 due in part to improved energy intensity. The recession was also a substantial factor, but only accounted for about 1/3 of the improvements, according to the EIA (Fig. 2 and 3). The other 2/3 came from improvements in energy intensity and carbon intensity (more renewables and natural gas, less coal).
But energy intensity is a relative measure, not an absolute measure. So even if we improve energy intensity dramatically, current global economic growth projections result in greenhouse gas emissions growing substantially by 2035, all else being equal.
This is where the next three trends can help a great deal. "Price-induced conservation" refers to the fact that as energy prices go up we often see remarkable changes in how much energy is used because people and businesses change their behavior to adjust to the high prices (conservation refers to behavior change, whereas efficiency refers to technology improvements).
A good example of price-induced conservation is US reduction in gasoline consumption as prices approach or exceed $4/gallon. Since 2007, US net gasoline consumption has declined, due to both the recession and price-induced conservation (which are closely related trends, of course). A 2004 meta-analysis of studies on gasoline consumption elasticity found that a sustained 10 percent increase in gas prices leads to a 2.5-6 percent decline in consumption. Price does matter.
US gas prices have increased far more than ten percent in recent years and exceeded the seasonal record this spring. Prices remain very high, though below the records reached in 2008. It is very likely that prices will continue to rise in coming years due to the ongoing structural imbalance between supply and demand, which is partly masked by the ongoing global economic problems. As the global economy continues to recover, prices will rise further, and conservation will increase.
The third key trend is the remarkable growth in global wind power over the last decade. Average annual growth has been about 25 percent. A 25 percent rate of growth leads to a doubling every 3.1 years. 2010 was a relatively bad year for US wind power, but a very good year globally. We now have about 200 gigawatts of global wind capacity, enough for the equivalent of about 60 million California homes and about 300 million Chinese homes. Wind power growth rates are projected to diminish but even at an annual growth rate of 20 percent, the installed capacity doubles every 3.8 years. At this growth rate 200 gigawatts becomes about 1,600 gigawatts (1.6 terawatts) by about 2030 or so. That's almost enough to power the entire US under today's demand for electricity.
The last trend is perhaps the most exciting. Where global wind power has grown about 25 percent per year in the last decade, global solar power has grown an average of 68 percent each year over the last five years (including Bloomberg New Energy Finance projections of 28 gigawatts of new solar in 2011). This is a doubling literally every 1.3 years. So today's 40 gigawatts of capacity becomes, under the same growth rate, an astronomical 1.3 million gigawatts by 2030. Obviously, the recent rate of growth won't continue because, among other reasons, this is far more power than we need for the entire globe! But even if solar power's rate of growth drops in half to 35 percent over the next two decades, this produces a doubling every 2.3 years and we get 16,000 gigawatts (16 terawatts) by 2030 -- almost as much as the entire world will need by then.
Balancing variable renewables like wind and solar -- the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine -- becomes an important issue as high penetrations of these technologies are achieved. It won't be that difficult to deal with, however, as numerous reports in the US and elsewhere have found on average that balancing renewables adds about 10 percent to the cost of power even when penetration exceeds 20 percent. I'll address this issue in more detail in a future essay.
Under solar's recent rate of growth (68 percent), it would surpass global wind power capacity before 2020 even if wind continues to grow at an average of 30 percent per year. But more realistically, solar power surpasses wind power by about 2024 if solar grows at an average 35 percent rate and wind at a 20 percent annual average growth rate. At that time, both wind and solar will be about 2,500 gigawatts -- up from 40 for solar in 2010 and 200 for wind. 5,000 gigawatts of wind and solar is enough to provide more than 1/6 of the entire world's electricity demand, just 13 years from now!
At the same rates of growth (35 percent for solar and 20 percent for wind), these power sources could provide the entire global demand by 2030. Will this actually happen, even at half the rates of growth that we've seen for wind and solar over the last 5-10 years? There is in fact a real limit to how fast electricity infrastructure can turn over due to sunk costs in existing power plants like coal, nuclear and hydro -- so even if solar and wind become highly cost-effective in coming years, they won't displace all other forms of power by 2030.
As for the real rate of growth we can expect, I don't know and no one does because, as Yogi Berra stated, forecasts are difficult -- especially about the future. But solar power growth, in particular, seems likely to continue to grow rapidly because the backlash against rapid growth in solar power will generally be far less than that for wind.
For wind power to scale beyond the approximately one percent of global power it represents today (but as high as 25 percent in Denmark, approaching 20 percent in Spain and almost 10 percent in Germany), it will probably have to go offshore in a big way. And offshore wind, particularly deepwater wind, poses a set of very difficult problems that are solvable but not yet solved.
For solar power to scale to a significant portion of our power base, however, there is no need to go offshore (which isn't feasible for solar anyway) and no necessary public backlash because solar power is more modular than wind power. Solar power doesn't have to be mega-scale at each installation to make a big impact (and nor does wind, but solar is more suited to smaller installations in many ways than wind).
Due to the growing backlash against mega-scale projects, the medium-scale market for solar power is particularly promising -- what is referred to as "community-scale" solar or "wholesale distributed generation," generally between one and twenty megawatts. This type of project requires between five and 160 acres, generally not large enough to provoke major opposition. One study of California's potential in this size range found enough existing transmission capacity and readily available land to interconnect about 28 gigawatts -- though the actual potential is far higher.
Today's wind turbines are getting bigger and bigger because of economies of scale -- and this is a good thing in many ways because bigger means more power at lower prices. But because the turbines are so big (up to 500 feet high now), and because the wind resource is not as widespread as solar power, as well as the rapidly falling cost of solar power, I predict that we'll see solar power increasingly out-compete other renewables -- as well as fossil fuels and nuclear, of course. This is already happening in California, with the large majority of new renewable energy contracts signed by the big utilities coming from solar power instead of the previously far more popular wind power.
Cost is obviously very important when it comes to renewables and mitigating climate change more generally. But cost is increasingly becoming a non-issue as technology costs continue to fall. I recently wrote about the cost trends for renewables in California and elsewhere, demonstrating that these renewables can often be cost-effective today. Wind power has been cheaper than fossil fuels for some time in the US and other places around the world. Solar has historically been quite expensive but is fast approaching grid parity. The United Nations recently issued a major report recognizing these very encouraging cost trends, finding that many renewables can now compete with fossil fuels on cost alone.
The future looks increasingly bright -- despite my ongoing concerns about peak oil and climate change -- what I call the "twin crises." While the looming threat of peak oil is very real, it seems we may be on a path to mitigation of both climate change and peak oil in time to avoid major economic disruptions -- at least insofar as electricity is concerned. The far larger problem with peak oil occurs in the transportation sector, however, because there are fewer scalable options when it comes to replacing petroleum. The improved energy intensity and price-induced conservation trends I've discussed apply as much to transportation as to electricity, but the wind power and solar power trends only apply if we can rapidly electrify the transportation sector though electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids -- and that is far more difficult than switching from fossil fuels to renewables in the electricity sector. I'll address this additional set of issues in a future essay.
To wrap up, we seem to be on a path toward a far more sustainable future because of the momentum finally pushing wind and solar, as well as increased efficiency and conservation, to ever greater heights. So while climate change itself is obviously an important issue, it is increasingly unimportant with respect to the policy debate surrounding our energy sector's transformation. And that's a good thing given the public's refusal to take the threat seriously.
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I should have had this article a few months ago Tam. I would have discussed in in the last chapter of my forthcoming new energy economics textbook (ENERGY AND ECONOMIC THEORY). The title of that chapter is 'The Final Countdown' , and I would have given it the same attention that I gave to a Q&A featuring the brilliant US Energy Secretary. In other words I would have agreed with some, and laughed at the rest.
Len Gould 8.4.11
I find the spectre of even Tam admitting that the fight for climate change mitigation in the US is lost to be very disturbing. Those stats may apply in the US, but in places where science education is still done in schools, they fortunately don't. "Believe" in climate change is all about propaganda and nothing to do with science. A scientist "accepts" facts after a strict peer review process, which result in a given probability (in the case of GHG induced climate change, very high). Hacking into an email server to prove that the scientists are touchy and short temperred has nothing to do with those facts.
Solar energy is very rapidly approaching competitive cost unsubsidized. Once it gets significantly below (not wholesale market but retail market) you'll see an explosion of growth, tied to battery autos which can store and feed back significant amounts. The game hasen't even started yet, but soon.
Bob Amorosi 8.4.11
Although I had effectively retired from commenting on this website, I still read the articles and their comments occasionally. Your comments here about solar rapidly coming down in cost with huge growth looming in the future are particularly stunning, or so they should be, to Fred Banks and many other readers. For this story unfolding is exactly what the purpose was for solar’s massive subsidies being doled out by governments - to get them into the game such that over time substantial investments are made in R&D of their manufacturing and improving efficiency. This ultimately leads to their costs steadily coming down to the point subsidies won't be needed anymore, and bingo we end up with a significant alternate energy source for the electricity grid.
You Len and others had much faith in solar thermal as a new source many years ago. As it is turning out solar PV is leading today but it along with solar thermal will likely be the biggest alternate sources of choice in the future. I’ll bet you didn’t realize just how visionary your faith was.
This story unfolding about solar should be a good lesson in economics, or rather how subsidies and substantially investing in R&D can ultimately change the economics over time for sources on the electricity grid. Nuclear will probably always stay the biggest bang for the buck in terms of energy output per installation, but sad to tell Fred that won’t be as important in the future with large numbers of smaller distributed solar plants that emerging on the grid.
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.4.11
Your faith in solar is not warranted without there being corresponding developments in electrical storage capacity and I very much doubt that solar will ever be more than a bit player in the electricity business. Recently large barn rooftops in my region have been built to support large 250 Kw solar electric installations. The price being paid is 80 cents per kilowatt hour - that is almost 14 times the price of nuclear. Quite a subsidy.
In order to replace a single 1000MW power plant simple maths says you need to build 4000 of these structures or equivalent roof areas. However the output of the 1000 mW power plant is controllable and can be operated any time of the day or night. The solar plants do not operate at night so let's assume a perfect climate where it is sunny during the day every day of the year and the solar plant can operate at maximum output during the day. It will have a 50% capacity factor. That means to produce the same number of MW hours of power you need twice the number of solar panels AND a means of storing it overnight. Who is going to pay for the storage and how exactly is that going to be done. Lead acid batteries with 1000 MW capacity? Large capacitor banks or new technology using exotic materials like rare earths that the Chinese now has a total monopoly of. Currently such storage is not included in the subsidised price of 80c/Kwhr because the grid is acting as the de facto storage device. Thus the overall costs are much higher. Now lets add the small problem of weather. So now we need to build 8000 of these roof top panel installations plus a storage capacity and that is only if the sun shines all day all year. It doesn't.
In Santa barbara, California where Tam lives and works the case for solar PV is substantially stronger than in northern climates. I am waiting to see how the barn roof arrangement I mentioned earlier fares when it is covered in snow and ice - conditions which are never seen in California but are very prevalent for much of the year in Northern climates where incidentally a disproportionate chunk of the US and all of the Canadian population lives.
So we will see what the growth rate becomes when this expensive experiment meets reality as it certainly will do.
Perhaps like the Global Warming fiasco people will realize they have been had. That is the real reason for the change in public opinion Tam. Those whom they trusted told them lies. People don't like that.
Len Gould 8.5.11
As per typical criticisms of solar, Malcolm, you're using yesterdays prices to argue against tomorrows technology. It doesn't apply. And for storage, we need not develop anything new. As Jim Beyer has pointed out, present Ni-Cad battery technology is already good enough and cheap enough, in case nothing else pans out though I think it probably will. Now if we could just wrest the Ni-Cad patents away from Shell Oil.
Len Gould 8.5.11
" told them lies. People don't like that." -- If I had a nickel for every time I've been lied to by the GW denier bunch......
Bob Amorosi 8.5.11
I also believe your recent posts about solid oxide fuel cells and natural gas will enjoy a similar economic boom in the years to come. I can picture futuristic residential houses and commercial buildings having either a rooftop solar thermal or solar PV generator, plus an SOFC generator - when their prices have come down further and the technology is refined furhter with more R&D. And these customers of course be off the grid as such.
Storage for solar electricity generation is still a big problem, but Len and many others see the electric vehicle as part of the solution for widespread distributed storage on a huge scale. We'll see how this pans out in our lifetimes I'm sure.
As this stuff gets going over time, Malcolm and and Len should get together and market this stuff. I'll bet your local home builders would love to showcase these sort of installations in new houses, and the retrofit market will be even bigger if they come up with decent retrofit products for existing houses and buildings.
Jerry Watson 8.5.11
I hope you are all well as are me and mine are.
Ok, All in I thought solar was between 10-20 cent/kwh and Nuc 10-12 cent/kwh with Nat Gas and coal whipping them both at around 5-6 cent/kwh.
Your scenario is way off. Loads drop to around half of the peak loads at night. The load pattern itself is very complex but predictable based on weather. Summer and southern is typically afternoon peaking with a little spike when the lights come on. Cold weather the peak moves to the morning with lower load as heating load drops. Solar should produce the most when needed the most when comfort cooling is a draw and be a little out of sync on colder days. If a system had enough Nucs to carry the nightly mins and enough solar to cover the daily peaks seasoned with enough gas and coal to cover the variable nature of load as it relates to weather it would likely be pretty economical, and extend or resources far into the future and require little storage of energy. Maybe we should all consider being flexible in our approaches, who knows storage my become more attractive.
On the other hand I am not a visionary like Tam and still believe the private sector is capable of R&D without subsidiary. Humans generally like money as fossil fuels become more expensive other forms of generation should look more attractive.
Besides we all have our biases, I really like the concept of breeder reactors fueled with thorium but if it can’t compete on the economics then it can’t compete. Being generally moderate I do not have a issue with coal being taxed to correct for its environmental impact but I do have a problem with it being taxed to simply make wind and solar more attractive or feed in tariffs that pay a premium for green power. Or even simply being labeled as bad. My conjecture is there are some folks out there smart enough to come up with the approximate environmental cost impact per KWH for coal if it is another 6 cent/KWH add it on to the price then coal and Nuc would be at parity and solar would be getting real close.
It is often said it is not all about money, my response to that is me and many others have traded a large portion of our waking hours for money. Life is finite, and I have had the good fortune of having some miserable jobs that makes one appreciate a good job and the value of money. Do as you please with your money and allow me to do the same. The real irony of all this is that my electrical energy cost is less than my insurance cost and only a fraction of my tax load. My interest in this industry is fueled by my 28 years of experience in it rather than the economics. Power generation seems to get a lot of press even though it is not really a key economic driver to most families. I guess it is a good distraction from more pressing issues like population growth.
One last thing, if Tam could come up with a nonprofit insurance society it would likely do more to improve the quality of life of his constituents than his renewable agenda.
Ferdinand E. Banks 8.6.11
In Sweden they have some things going with wind, and there has been some talk about solar. This talk won't come to much, but even if it did I dont have any problem with it as long as they do not mkae fools of themself by doing away with with the entire nuclear sector - which is what the anti-nuclear people want.. I also don't have any problem with subsidies for renewables and alternatives. In the kind of world in which I would like to live, smart people would be capable of telling our political masters exactly what renewables and alternatives to subsidize, but as we know , many smart people are making a practice of talking - and perhaps thinking - like fools,
Jerry Watson likes breeders fueled with thorium. So do a lot of other people, only they don't know it. But don't worry: breeders are a certainty. The economics of breeders will make them irresistable in the long run, although there are a few negative aspects about them that certain people will have to learn to accept.
Jim Beyer 8.8.11
FWIW, I'd LIKE to share Tam' sentiments. However, I think many in the power industry still think coal is too cheap to ignore, so they will continue to use it. They might be wary of future CO2 regulation w.r.t new coal plants, but that is played off against the reality of the regulation nightmare that surrounds nuclear power.
As to solar or wind, they are just too small and intermittent to register with these mindsets. I'm not saying they shouldn't or couldn't play a role, but it's a different one compared to the "major utility" mindset.
On the other hand, how cheap is coal, really? Can we increase coal usage that much without sinking the infrastructure (rail) needed to support it? I'm not sure the long term cost of coal is really all that favorable.
And Len: small difference, but it was NiMHs that I thought were "good enough". Pansonic built a 95-amp-hour cell in 2002 which was powerful enough to run the RAV4-EV. Some of these battery packs are still working today. Like you said, they will probably get Lithium to work (and the worldwide shortage scare is bogus) but even if they didn't, there is no technical reason why we can't have batteries in our (electric) cars today.
Michael Keller 8.9.11
I think it is inevitable that climate change will be found to be a non-issue for a variety of reasons, including ever increasing doubts on the veracity of the underlying science as well the poorly thought out solution of “renewable energy” (as in renewable energy is fundamentally irrelevant to reducing greenhouse gases) .
The increasing doubt about climate change coupled with ever increasing funding cutbacks caused by government deficits further strongly suggests that it is a leap of faith to believe renewable energy will be much more than a minor player in future energy production.
I believe another trend will be phasing out "renewable portfolio standards" because it simply makes no economic sense to build an unneeded power plant that is unable to provide reasonably priced power.
I believe the majority of current renewable technologies will not survive the upcoming transition because they still cost too much, especially when compared to natural gas fired power plants. For somewhat similar reasons (chiefly financial) I believe the expansion of nuclear power in the US is highly unlikely.
While the general future of renewable energy is likely suspect, I believe a niche may develop in California & Arizona for solar powered charging stations for electric vehicles. This prediction is not so much based on the economics but on the novelty of the application and fact there is money to be made in new fads (at least for awhile).
Bryan Leyland 8.9.11
Climate change is indeed a non-issue. The climate has not changed for 10 years and none of the computer based climate models predicted this. Which confirms that they are worthless.
The renewable energy industry would not exist without enormous subsidies both direct and indirect. All these subsidies are based on the false assumption that man-made carbon dioxide causes dangerous global warming. Quite clearly, it doesn't.
Even if it did, squandering huge amounts of money on an expensive and intermittent source of electricity is crazy. If solar power has a capacity factor of 25%–the maximum that you can expect–just under four solar power stations are equivalent to one nuclear power station. (But not really equivalent, because the nuclear power station delivers electricity day and night.) Even if we ignore that, it is obvious that solar power is enormously more expensive than nuclear power.
Recent research tells us that the safe limit for radiation is above 200 mSv. Many people in the world are living healthy lives with natural background radiation levels higher than this. (e.g. Iran and France) The allowable radiation from nuclear power stations is 1 mSv. If it was increased to 100mSv, the cost of nuclear power would be less and the perception of danger would be much reduced.
Storage is a huge problem. All the storage technologies mentioned are for no more than one day. But what is needed is storage for weeks and even months. There is no technology available–or on the horizon–that can provide efficient low-cost storage over this timeframe. Without it, renewables cannot play a major part.
America and Europe are in a desperate financial situation. It is crazy to continue squandering money on useless and expensive technologies.
Herschel Specter 8.9.11
When evaluating solar systems you have to consider both the diurnal variation (the sun doesn't shine at night) plus the seasonal variation. In the Desert Rock, Nevada station where incident solar energy has been measured for many years, the data show that winter insolation is about half the summer peak value. To compensate for this low output one would either have to have massive storage systems or use other sources of electricity as back-up systems. If you need to build a fully functional back-up supply of electricity, then the actual costs are the sum of the costs of these two systems. Wouldn't two systems always be more expensive than one system that can operate 24/7 all year long at a capacity factor near 90%? If you check into the water needs of solar thermal systems in desert areas you quickly realize that their growth may be severely limited by the limited water available to act as an ultimate heat sink. One could try using air as the ultimate heat sink, but what are the economics of solar thermal systems when desert air temperatures exceed 100 degrees F? Herschel Specter firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Ellis 8.9.11
Whether solar is competitive depends in part on the application. Grid-scale systems are probably not competitive with the alternatives. However rooftop systems are getting close, at least in more southerly climates, and especially in locations (think California) where on-peak rates are extraordinarily high. I know a number of folks who are installing PV systems to avoid the higher rate tiers.
I don't agree that EV batteries are a viable source of storage for residences. For one thing, I doubt EV owners are going to be willing to forgo the use of their vehicle in order to avoid being connected to the grid. For another, even the largest EV batteries won't tide a home over for more than a day or so. Consumers who go off-grid are going to expect the same level of reliability they enjoyed when they were on the grid, and that probably means enough battery storage to last a few days, if not longer. I don't know enough to say whether a device that can store a week's worth of energy can be built for reasonable cost, but that's likely what will be required.
For those who doubt the world is warming, just look at the receding glaciers. Even better, remember that the earth has been coming out of a well-documented ice age for the last 15,000 years. The question is not whether the climate is changing, because that's a given - the earth's climate has been warming and cooling since our planet was formed and I challenge anyone to demonstrate otherwise. The questions are, 1) what role, if any, does human activity play in that change, 2) to the extent human activity is at least partly responsible for warming, are there natural processes that might reverse the trend, 3) to the extent human activity is at least partly responsible, what should we be doing about it?
bill payne 8.9.11
Video of Sundance calibrated solar cell raised and lowered to surface of 75 watt cfl on Tuesday August 9, 2011.
You know of some folks who are installing solar PV on their rooftops to avoid very high on-peak grid rates during the day in places like California. I presume during the off-peak rate hours they switch back to using the grid, certainly they must do so at night time... This proves consumers have varying degrees of tolerances to on-peak to off-peak billing rate ratios before they pursue alternative sources to get off the grid. Indeed those folks installing solar would stay off the grid 24/7 if they could do so practically i.e. if they had practical affordable storage for solar, or some other alternative source to utilize when solar was down.
Herein lies the opportunity I mentioned above for homes to someday have dual alternative generation systems to get off the grid permanently. That second alternative when solar is down might be a natural gas generator like Solid Oxide Fuel Cell technology that Malcolm describes here from time to time.
Given a homeowner must raise substantial moneys to invest in their own private generation to get off the grid, climate change issues will probably be the LEAST important factor in deciding to do so.
In the meantime, just wait another few years. There is so much money being spent on R&D worldwide for solar and other renewable source generation, costs are likely to continue to come down for solar and the others. And, there is a very good chance for some breakthroughs in battery storage and/or in making that second alternative generation system for homes more affordable and practical than it is today.
For those who like to invest in the stock market, these industries stand to grow much faster and make a far bigger return than investing in any grid utility companies.
John Jauregui 8.9.11
Exactly! What are the chances 4 atmospheric (CO2) molecules in 10,000 (i.e. 400 PPM) hold sway over our planet's climate. Answer: ...about 4 in 10,000
Peter Platell 8.10.11
Tam I like your way to put the words , right on. But you forgot to mention the potenial to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel ( A superior energy storage ) . Instead of Carbon Capture Storage we have the option of Carbon Capture Recirculation and using the CO2 as a feed stock and put it together with H2 and form liquid fuel. Indeed it takes energy ( Solar ), temperature differences and surfaces. But we have all this resources to go towards distrubuted free energy society
Richard Goodwin 8.10.11
Economics Support Energy Efficiency and Fuel Switching
When Natural Gas prices spiked to almost $14/MMBTU in 2008 – triggering electric utility rates increases – energy efficiency programs were implemented. Similarly, low Natural Gas prices reflect a growing trend toward Base Load Power Plants.
As a result on peak Natural Gas prices [almost $14/MMBTU in 2008], several Electric Utilities considerably raised their rates. In turn, energy efficiency programs plus alternate energy (e.g. Solar Hot Water Heaters, Geo-Thermal, Bio-Mass Energy Conversion) showed savings and were implemented. Lower rates, however, have altered the Pay-Back Period – concomitantly reducing the economics of such programs. The reduction of private sector investment in Renewable Projects and Companies has dropped, in part, due to the lower electricity rates.
Electric Utilities are relying more on Natural Gas for base-loaded plants. As long as Natural Gas prices stay below $6/MMBTU (i.e. $4-4.5/MMBTU) these plants’ operating costs are 50% less than Nuclear and at least 30% less than Coal. Shale Gas has changed the Natural Gas pricing structure for the short-term. For example, AEP (dominant coal user) cancelled plans to pursue Carbon Capture and Sequestration Demonstration Program, in part, due to lower Natural Gas Pricing.
In the Carolina’s, Progress Energy, realizing the economics of Natural Gas, has decided to switch from Coal to Natural Gas for Base Loaded Power Plants. Progress decided to phases out 11 coal-burning power plants, reducing the coal-fired electrical energy to a fourth, down from half of its power. At the same time, reliance on natural gas will increase to about 25 percent, from less than 4 percent, matching coal within several years.
Richard W. Goodwin West Palm Beach FL
Douglas Lemmo 8.10.11
"Of course, climate change is a real threat to us and our environment." I stopped reading right after I read that. You don't know that and in fact, I am one of the people who do not believe it and based upon a recent article by NASA, they don't believe it either. People like you, unless stopped, are going to ruin this country all in the name of Global Warming and the few dollars you will make at the expense of the rest of us who happen to have a clue and a realistic understanding that all of your windmills and solar panels are never going to come close to supplying the energy needs of a modern society. Instead of getting subsidies from the government to support "'green jobs" and installing windmills, money should be spent on breakthrough technologies that might actually solve the problem of more cost effective, plentiful energy supplies.
Len Gould 8.11.11
Ahhh Douglas. Belief has nothing to do with science.
Jim Beyer 8.11.11
The odd thing is, I don't WANT to believe in Global Warming either. I accept the evidence because it needs to be accepted. (Yeah, yeah, I guess this is my opinion.) Even all the revelations from 'Climategate' did not reveal any evidence of bad science. Perhaps some unprofessional behavior, but that's about it.
John J.'s comment is typical of the denial mentality. Stringing together a laughable analogy to boost a belief (desire, really) that skilled scientists in the field are wrong and he is right. Yes, scientist botch things sometimes. But not all of the time, and most of the time, they are right. Instead of creating a false analogy, why not say what you ACTUALLY think which is: "I really don't want Global Warming to be true." [NOTE: If I add just 4 drops of Arsenic for every 10,000 drops of your drinking water, I don't think you'd be all that happy about that. And you shouldn't be, as this is an unsafe level.]
I think the broader truth is that Climate Change doesn't matter because Peak Oil will affect us sooner and more comprehensively. I s'pose there are Peak Oil deniers as well. Warren Buffett seems to be convinced, however, which is why he's buying all of the railroads he can in the U.S.
Peter Boisen 8.12.11
Tam, Congratulations. A good article. Renewable power is not a problem, only the future supply of fuel for aircraft, ships and vehicles. Looking forward to your article on this subject.
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.15.11
Jim, You highlight the very reason why all of us should be wary of the global warming fraternity. Science requires theories to be proved. If it cannot be proved then it is a belief and it is only religion that requires believers prepared to go along with the theory without any proof.
Of course there is no proof of global warming and none of the predictions so far made have been accurate which is cause enough to be concerned that the models do not work very well. As noted above even NASA is raising doubts about the validity of the theories.
Scientific theories must be able to predict an outcome and that outcome should be repeatable by others. Of course none of the global warming nonsense can be proved therefore it is a religion based on belief not science.
As I recall a few short years ago climate science was predicting a new ice age and the world was about to be covered in ice sheets. I wonder what happened to those theories? They will be in the same bin as the global warming theories will be in a few years.
Albert Pope 8.16.11
Your article makes several good points, although in future you might expand on... -The difficulty and cost in integrating and transmitting wind energy, -The distributed energy advantages of solar, -Solar generation's correlation to peak demand.
You might also discuss strategies to integrate solar with existing generation assets so as to leverage off of existing infrastructure, mitigating the risk of stranded assets.
Len Gould 8.19.11
"Scientific theories must be able to predict an outcome and that outcome should be repeatable by others. Of course none of the global warming nonsense can be proved " -- Not exactly factual Malcolm. For example, Einstein's gravitational theory has failed to accurately predict the orbital motions of several farflying satellites, the rotation of stars in a galaxy, and several other issues, yet it is the only one we have as yet and is used all the time to calculate orbits to nearby objects like the nearby planets and the moon.
If we took your approach, we would never orbit a single satellite until we had a theory of gravity which could precisely predict all motion in the universe.