Wind and solar power are even more expensive than is commonly thought ... SUBSIDIES for renewable energy are one of the most contested areas of public policy. Billions are spent nursing the infant solar- and wind-power industries in the hope that they will one day undercut fossil fuels and drastically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere. The idea seems to be working. Photovoltaic panels have halved in price since 2008 and the capital cost of a solar-power plant—of which panels account for slightly under half—fell by 22% in 2010-13. In a few sunny places, solar power is providing electricity to the grid as cheaply as conventional coal- or gas-fired power plants. ... But whereas the cost of a solar panel is easy to calculate, the cost of electricity is harder to assess. It depends not only on the fuel used, but also on the cost of capital (power plants take years to build and last for decades), how much of the time a plant operates, and whether it generates power at times of peak demand. To take account of all this, economists use “levelised costs”—the net present value of all costs (capital and operating) of a generating unit over its life cycle, divided by the number of megawatt-hours of electricity it is expected to supply. ... The trouble, as Paul Joskow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has pointed out, is that levelised costs do not take account of the costs of intermittency.* Wind power is not generated on a calm day, nor solar power at night, so conventional power plants must be kept on standby—but are not included in the levelised cost of renewables. Electricity demand also varies during the day in ways that the supply from wind and solar generation may not match, so even if renewable forms of energy have the same levelised cost as conventional ones, the value of the power they produce may be lower. In short, levelised costs are poor at comparing different forms of power generation. ... the most cost-effective zero-emission technology is nuclear power.
Coal? Or the Sun? The power source India chooses may decide the fate of the entire planet. ... Already Earth’s fastest-growing major economy and its biggest weapons importer, India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation (probably by 2022), to have its biggest economy (possibly by 2048), and potentially to build its biggest military force (perhaps by 2040). What China was in the American imagination in the 1990s and 2000s, India will be in the next two decades—a cavalcade of superlatives, a focus of fears. ... officials and academics have long argued that Western nations are demanding that India industrialize without burning even a fraction of the fossil fuels that developed nations consumed when they industrialized. And Indians resent that Western nations insist on the right to judge Indian performance while refusing to help with the cost of transition. ... India’s demand for electricity is widely expected to double by 2030. …= Soon after being elected prime minister in 2014, he announced that India would produce 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 (the US now has about 20 gigawatts). ... To generate electricity from it, India plans to build 455 new coal-fired electric power plants, more than any other nation—indeed, more than the US now has. (India’s existing 148 plants, which provide two-thirds of its electricity, are among the world’s dirtiest and most inefficient.)
Producing hydrogen now costs less and emits less carbon than ever before. In part, that is the result of the United States’ newfound abundance of natural gas, the source of most of the hydrogen produced. But it is also the result of technological improvements in the process of "reforming" natural gas into hydrogen. It now costs around as much to produce a gallon of gasoline as it does to produce the energy-equivalent amount of hydrogen with natural gas. Meanwhile, another method of producing hydrogen-electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen-has seen major cost reductions as well. What makes electrolysis particularly attractive is that when powered by renewable sources such as wind and solar power, it directly emits zero carbon. ... Hydrogen storage has also improved. Prototypes used to feature bulky containers that were retrofitted into vehicles designed for conventional engines. But the latest tanks save space by being better integrated into the design of a car and by safely storing hydrogen at a higher pressure, leaving more room for passengers and their belongings. This new generation of containers allows a car powered by hydrogen fuel cells to travel as many miles on a single tank as a gasoline vehicle can and take about the same amount of time to refuel. ... The obstacles to distribution are beginning to fall away, too. True, with relatively few dedicated pipelines in existence, hydrogen has yet to show up at the vast majority of gas stations. But there are promising work-arounds. Most of the developed world does have good natural gas distribution infrastructure, which could feed smaller reactors that produce hydrogen. Hydrogen could also be produced on-site through electrolysis. ... estimates of what it would cost to mass-produce fuel-cell systems have decreased tremendously, from $124 per kilowatt of capacity in 2006 to $55 per kilowatt in 2014. The durability of these systems has improved dramatically as well, and they now meet the expectations of customers used to conventional automobiles.
A critical part of any analysis of high-renewable systems is the cost of backup thermal power and/or storage needed to meet demand during periods of low renewable generation. These costs are substantial; as a result, levelized costs of wind and solar are not the right tools to use in assessing the total cost of a high-renewable system ... High-renewable grids reduce CO2 emissions by 65%-70% in Germany and 55%-60% in California vs. the current grid. Reason: backup thermal capacity is idle for much of the year ... High-renewable grid costs per MWh are 1.9x the current system in Germany, and 1.5x in California. Costs fall to 1.6x in Germany and 1.2x in California assuming long-run “learning curve” declines in wind, solar and storage costs, higher nuclear plant costs and higher natural gas fuel costs ... The cost of time-shifting surplus renewable generation via storage has fallen, but its cost, intermittent utilization and energy loss result in higher per MWh system costs when it is added ... Balanced systems with nuclear power have lower estimated costs and CO2 emissions than high-renewable systems. However, there’s enormous uncertainty regarding the actual cost of nuclear power in the US and Europe, rendering balanced system assessments less reliable. Nuclear power is growing in Asia where plant costs are 20%-30% lower, but political, historical, economic, regulatory and cultural issues prevent these observations from being easily applied outside of Asia ... National/cross-border grid expansion, storing electricity in electric car batteries, demand management and renewable energy overbuilding are often mentioned as ways of reducing the cost of high-renewable systems. However, each relies to some extent on conjecture, insufficient empirical support and/or incomplete assessments of related costs
Warren Buffett controls Nevada’s legacy utility. Elon Musk is behind the solar company that’s upending the market. Let the fun begin. ... SolarCity’s success is partly because the government provides subsidies and enables an arrangement called net metering, which allows homeowners with panels to sell back to the grid any solar energy they don’t use. This helps offset their cost of power when the sun’s not shining. Like more than 40 other U.S. states, Nevada forces utilities to buy the excess energy at rates set by regulators—usually the same rate utilities charge (hence, the net in net metering). In Nevada, it’s worked well. So well, in fact, that NV Energy, the state’s largest utility, is fighting it with everything it’s got. ... In just a decade, solar has gone from an enviro’s dream to a serious lobby that will be fighting these kinds of battles nationwide for years. ... Power companies may not be winning any popularity contests, but they’re developing their own renewable energy to keep up with changing attitudes and to meet state mandates.
“From the first 12 hours, decisions were issued,” says Prince Mohammed. “In the first 10 days, the entire government was restructured.” He spoke for eight hours over two interviews in Riyadh that provide a rare glimpse of the thinking of a new kind of Middle East potentate—one who tries to emulate Steve Jobs, credits video games with sparking ingenuity, and works 16-hour days in a land with no shortage of sinecures. ... The prince plans an IPO that could sell off “less than 5 percent” of Saudi Aramco, the national oil producer, which will be turned into the world’s biggest industrial conglomerate. The fund will diversify into nonpetroleum assets, hedging the kingdom’s nearly total dependence on oil for revenue.
Biodiesel scams are puny compared with Medicare and Social Security fraud. For sheer moxie, though, it’s hard to beat Phil Rivkin. ... He started Green Diesel in October 2005, two months after President George W. Bush signed legislation creating the Renewable Fuel Standard program. The law directed the EPA to oversee a regulatory regime designed to foster production of alternative transportation fuels, including corn-based ethanol, as well as biodiesel derived from vegetable oils, animal fats, and used cooking grease. ... The statute was a boon to renewable fuel makers—and an irritant to gasoline and diesel refiners—because it required refiners to blend at least 4 billion gallons of ethanol (for gasoline) and biodiesel (for diesel fuel) into their products in 2006, with the amount rising to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. The program now calls for 36 billion gallons in 2022, with varieties of ethanol representing the bulk of the requirement. Each year, the EPA sets obligations for individual refiners. Most years, ExxonMobil is on the hook to blend the largest amounts of renewables. ... Making biodiesel is simple enough that high school students do it in chemistry class. In a process called transesterification, producers use a chemical catalyst such as methanol to separate methyl esters—the scientific name for biodiesel—from glycerin in such feedstocks as poultry fat. ... Per EPA rules, each gallon of ethanol or biodiesel produced is assigned a 38-digit number—a renewable identification number, or RIN—that travels with the product as it moves from producer to refiner to end user. Ethanol RINs generally remain fixed to their respective gallons throughout the process. But the EPA allows biodiesel makers to strip RINs off their product and sell them separately as tradable credits. Refiners who fall short of blending the statutory minimum of biodiesel into their refined products must buy RINs to make up the difference or pay penalties. ... It isn’t hard to see how Rivkin was able to snooker Fortune 100 companies. To them, Green Diesel—or some equally innocuous broker that had bought RINs from it—was merely an entry on a computer offering to make a problem go away. The refiners needed RINs, Rivkin was selling, and the price was trifling.
Since launching in 2006, it has raised billions of dollars and installed hundreds of thousands of home solar systems, more than anyone in America. But lately SolarCity is in deep trouble. Customers aren't signing up in the numbers they did two years ago, back when oil was trading at more than $100 a barrel. U.S. lawmakers are investigating the company's financial practices. Earlier this year, in the span of two months, the company's stock lost 70 percent of its value. ... The company, in fact, could be one of the most risk-laden in operation today. To install solar systems across 27 states and Mexico, SolarCity takes on gobs and gobs of debt — billions of dollars a year. The eventual goal is to create a massive network of home solar systems. The problem is, if customers stop paying their SolarCity energy bills or investors stop lending, the company will blow up like the subprime housing bubble. ... As they built solar systems on one rooftop after another, they also burned through more and more cash. To attract more lenders, the company packaged and resold the debt to banks as complex bonds and other financial products that handed the financiers shares of SolarCity's tax credits.
In the industrialized world, the power grid is so reliable that we take it for granted. But in India, where blackouts are a sad fact of daily life, being connected to the grid is no guarantee of reliable electricity. In a 2015 study of villages in six Indian states [PDF], for example, the vast majority reported having fewer than 4 hours of electricity per day; nearly half of the households that reported having a grid connection nevertheless had effectively no electricity. Chief among the reasons they cited were poor reliability, quality, and affordability. In many parts of the country, even middle-income households still find themselves held hostage to frequent power cuts that can last anywhere from a few hours a day to most of the day. Those who can afford to often install diesel generators, an expensive and polluting option. ... Then, too, roughly a quarter of a billion Indians, or one-fifth of the population, live without access to any electricity at all ... The Indian government has taken a traditional approach to electrification, which focuses on building up generation, transmission, and distribution. But there’s a better way that’s more affordable, more efficient, and much faster and easier to deploy.
During the 2003–15 commodity supercycle, spending on resources including oil, natural gas, thermal coal, iron ore, and copper rose above 6 percent of global GDP for only the second time in a century before abruptly reversing course. Less noticed than these price gyrations have been fundamental changes in supply and demand for resources brought about by expected macroeconomic trends and less predictable technological innovation. Our analysis shows that these developments will have major effects on resource production and consumption over the next two decades, potentially delivering significant benefits to the global economy and bringing change to the resource sector.
-Rapid advances in automation technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, analytics, and the Internet of Things are beginning to transform the way resources are produced and consumed.
-Scenarios we modeled show that adoption of these technologies could unlock cost savings of between $900 billion and $1.6 trillion in 2035, equivalent to the GDP of Indonesia or, at the upper end, Canada. Total primary energy demand growth will slow or peak by 2035, despite growing GDP, according to our analysis.
-The price correlation that was evident during the supercycle is unraveling, and a divergence in prospects between growth commodities and declining ones may become more significant.
-Policy makers could capture the productivity benefits of this resource revolution by embracing technological change and allowing a nation’s energy mix to shift freely, even as they address the disruptive effects of the transition on employment and demand.
-For resource companies, particularly incumbents, navigating a future with more uncertainty and fewer sources of growth will require a focus on agility.
There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady. A World Bank report, released in May, predicted that, given current trends, there could still be half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without power by 2040. Even those with electricity can’t rely on it: the report noted that in Tanzania power outages were so common in 2013 that they cost businesses fifteen per cent of their annual sales. Ghanaians call their flickering power dum/sor, or “off/on.” Vivian Tsadzi, a businesswoman who lives not far from the Akosombo Dam, which provides about a third of the nation’s power, said that most of the time “it’s dum dum dum dum.” The dam’s head of hydropower generation, Kwesi Amoako, who retired last year, told me that he is proud of the structure, which created the world’s largest man-made lake. But there isn’t an easy way to increase the country’s hydropower capacity, and drought, caused by climate change, has made the system inconsistent, meaning that Ghana will have to look elsewhere for electricity. “I’ve always had the feeling that one of the main thrusts should be domestic solar,” Amoako said. “And I think we should put the off-grid stuff first, because the consumer wants it so badly.” ... Electrifying Africa is one of the largest development challenges on earth. Until recently, most people assumed that the continent would electrify in the same manner as the rest of the globe. ... Solar electricity, on the other hand, has become inexpensive, in part because the price of solar panels has fallen at the same time that the efficiency of light bulbs and appliances has dramatically increased. ... It will be years before it makes financial sense for solar companies to expand to the most remote and challenging regions of the continent.
- Also: Ars Technica - Solar energy has plunged in price—where does it go from here? 5-15min
- Also: Motherboard - We’re a Cheap Battery Away From Phasing Out Fossil Fuels < 5min
- Also: Quartz - IIT: An Indian berry contains a crucial ingredient for creating cheap solar cells < 5min
- Also: Los Angeles Times - China has conquered Kenya': Inside Beijing's new strategy to win African hearts and minds < 5min
- Also: Stanford - Bringing Online Shopping to Rural Africa, One Shopkeeper at a Time < 5min