Benjamin Zycher on solar power

by on January 5, 2018 at 12:47 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

From my email, if you would like to read a more negative than usual take:

“A couple of observations on your Bloomberg column on solar power:

  • There is nothing “clean” about solar (or wind) electricity, primarily because of its intermittent nature.  Because it is unreliable, it cannot be scheduled (it is not dispatchable), and so must be backed up with conventional (usually gas, sometimes coal) plants.  The latter units must be cycled up and down depending on whether the sun is shining or not, which means that they must be operated inefficiently (they experience rising heat rates), increasing their emissions of conventional effluents and greenhouse gases.  Engineering studies for Colorado and Texas, for example, estimate that this adverse effect becomes important when the market share in terms of capacity reaches around 10 percent (combined with the guaranteed market shares and must-take regulations enforced by many states).  I have been beating on this drum for years, but the press and many others continue to describe solar and wind power as “clean.”  No, it is not.
  • That emissions pattern is separate from the problem of solar panel disposal, vastly underpublicized in my view, in a world in which solid-waste disposal is priced inefficiently.
  • The Independent System Operators generally are forced to take renewable power when it is available, and the PUCs are forced to roll their high costs into the rate bases, spreading the costs across all consumers.  (The same is true for the high transmission costs attendant upon renewables.)  There has been some reform around the margins in a few states, as the PUCs have trimmed the net metering subsidies for rooftop solar systems, but this is a minor adjustment in a system characterized by vast inefficiency, cronyism and interest-group rent-seeking, upward transfers of income, feathering of bureaucratic nests, and increased pollution.  Such are the fruits of government wisdom.”

1 Ryan Reynolds January 5, 2018 at 1:06 am

Ever wondered why there are so many private equity funds raising and investing in renewable energy projects? Because the returns for many have been excellent, courtesy of government programs aimed at growing renewable energy investment.

Is this a bug or a feature? Depends on who you ask.

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2 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:52 am

A feature in Germany, as decided (and still supported) by a majority of German voters.

It helps that most of that German renewable energy investment went to German companies, a number of which now export their products in this area, employing Germans.

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3 Alex from Germany January 5, 2018 at 7:00 am

„Employing Germans“ … at an ever decreasing rate (as subsidizing runs out uncompetitive companies close, Jobs go to China ).

The only reason we „export“ energy is because high-fluctuating green energy volume can‘t be stored during over-production (e.g. Storms), so to keep the energy grid from collapsing the energy must be sold at any cost. Prices even go negative.

We basically dump our systemic risk on our neighbouring countries, who repeatedly threaten us to cut us off.

And mind you that by no means are negative energy prices passed on to the consumers. The German workers all have to foot the bill of ever increasing electricity bills.

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4 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 8:21 am

‘at an ever decreasing rate ‘

Yep, due in major part to Chinese dumping.

‘The only reason we „export“ energy is because high-fluctuating green energy volume can‘t be stored during over-production ‘

True, but that is still a net export, and not an ‘export.’ Germany is the world’s largest net electricity exporter, after all, to the tune of something like 2.5 billion dollars.

‘We basically dump our systemic risk on our neighbouring countries, who repeatedly threaten us to cut us off. ‘

Have a recent source for that? (German is fine, but it would be interesting to see). Especially considering that German electric wholesale rates can be extremely very low compared to neighboring countries rates.

‘The German workers all have to foot the bill of ever increasing electricity bills.’

Let me repeat some information concerning that, from 2017, pointing out just how much more expensive electricity is today compared to the mid-1980s, as measured by percentage of household disposable income – ‘Despite being certain to see further price hikes, a stable majority of Germans support the Energiewende and consider it generally beneficial for the economy. A possible explanation would be that electricity consumed only 2.3 percent of households’ disposable income in 2015, up from 1.78 percent in 1998 and back to mid-1980s levels, before the liberalisation of the power market in 1998 lowered prices.’ https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/what-german-households-pay-power

Would the entire world like to pay less for electricity? Yes. Have (West) German energy prices risen in a generation in terms of how much of household income is required to pay the bill? No. Obviously, East Germans have a completely different perspective on this – however, I doubt too many commenters here are fans of how the DDR decided on how much its citizens paid for energy.

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5 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 2:50 pm

Mention subsidized solar and a true believer shows up, just like clockwork…

6 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:59 pm

The Energiewende has been the expressed will of the majority of German voters for more than 17 years, but those voters seem invisible to most commenters here, regardless of what calendar year one uses.

7 Alex from Germany January 5, 2018 at 4:42 pm

“The Energiewende has been the expressed will of the majority of German voters for more than 17 years”

Not entirely correct: the issue hasn’t been on the ballot each year the last 17 years. It has been once. And as hot button issues often go, once they’re passed, they in turn become unrepealable (see Obamacare). Also: that one time we were asked to vote for it, the leading green politician at that time sold us the Energiewende with the now infamous claim that it wouldn’t cost “each household more than a scoop of ice cream per month”. Turns out, it is more like a scoop of ice each day!

Surveys about the Energiewende are almost always ordered by interest groups with the goal of yielding numbers that allow for catchy headlines. But even the pro-Energiewende backed surveys can’t find a majority of support as soon as the costs of the Energiewende are mentioned in those survey questions. The support drops even more, once the questions aren’t phoned in but instead are asked in anonymity on paper (same thing happened with the Trump voters).

“Germany is the world’s largest net electricity exporter […] Especially considering that German electric wholesale rates can be extremely very low compared to neighboring countries rates”
The source is already mentioned: Any basic understanding of rationale or logic should kick in at the mentioning of “negative energy prices”. We basically beg foreign energy merchants to buy our electricity because it would melt our grid otherwise. We thus lower the gains of foreign energy producers via letting the German households pay for the dumping.

Proofs of the headaches this gives our Neighbours?
“Austria is the third country that will cut off Germany from its grid. The Netherlands and Poland already installed phase shifters [blocking devices]”
http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/deutschland-errichtet-strom-grenze-zu-oesterreich-a-1118545.html
(As of today Belgium is also using phase shifters)

“Neighbours declare Energy-War on Germany” … “The last year we had to cut off the entirety our windmills on 77 days to prevent a blackout”
http://www.manager-magazin.de/magazin/artikel/energiewende-nachbarlaender-erklaeren-deutschland-den-stromkrieg-a-915433.html

“Dutch power plants have to show down during German excess production […] with some producers facing being forced out of the market” “Our highly volatile energy outflows into our eastern neighbors risk their countries mains operation”
https://www.focus.de/immobilien/energiesparen/tid-33861/energiewende-absurd-wie-deutschland-seine-nachbarn-mit-strom-ueberflutet_aid_1117590.html

8 poorlando January 5, 2018 at 10:32 pm

“The only reason we „export“ energy is because high-fluctuating green energy volume can‘t be stored during over-production (e.g. Storms), so to keep the energy grid from collapsing the energy must be sold at any cost. Prices even go negative.”

This happened in California too, where Arizonans have been paid to take California’s excess power.
http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-electricity-solar/

https://www.marketplace.org/2016/06/07/world/excess-solar-power-ca-pay-arizona-take-it

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9 Juan January 6, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Advnaced battery technologies combined with better weather prediction would accelerate the dismissal of electrical power generation based on fossil fuels.

Virtual EnergyHow might extremely accurate wind and solar forecasts help us use enough renewable energy to reach climate goals of significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions? Researchers at NREL’s new Energy Systems Integration Facility start by looking at how well wind and solar power can offset each other. To what extent, for example, can wind blowing at night make up for the lack of sunshine? But they are also looking at how to couple forecasts with smart dishwashers, water heaters, solar-panel inverters, water treatment plants, and electric-car chargers, not only to accommodate shifts in the wind but to ride out inevitable windless periods and weeks of cloudy weather without resorting to fossil fuels.

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10 Juan January 6, 2018 at 1:30 pm

Text from a post by Cloggie at the following website:
http://peakoil.com/alternative-energy/myth-news-articles-2018-01-01

…rapidly declining cost for renewable infrastructure (wind turbines, panels) and storage facilities: H2, methanol, NH3, pumped hydro, biomass, to the name the most important ones.

Zero fuel cost will outweigh extra cost for storage.

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11 Anonymous January 5, 2018 at 1:21 am
12 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:37 am

Really? Skeptical? They are being charitable, aren’t they? I will read the link, but I won’t be surprised if the skeptic is also behind the curve compared to daily reality in Germany.

For example, Mr.Zycher’s concerns about old PV panels seems utterly laughable in a country where proper electrical appliance disposal is mandatory – and since 2015, when you buy something like a new hair dryer or cell phone or microwave, the store selling it must take back the old one, if the customer so wishes. And the store is also required to take back smaller electronic equipment even if you do not buy anything new.

So, just read the link – from 2012, so yes, clearly behind the curve. So, this guy has been peddling this sort of stupidity for years? Unsurprising, but to see such dedication in looking like an idiot in public is likely balanced by being well compensated in other ways.

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13 So Much For Subtlety January 5, 2018 at 3:35 am

You mean that because Germans are mildly impoverished by being forced to pay for the inefficient recycling of everything, they will not be further impoverished by being forced to pay for the recycling of solar panels? Or just that in the general impoverishment no one will notice?

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14 Axa January 5, 2018 at 5:40 am

Germany has large industrial and mining pollution problems. They’re trying to cleanup issues from the last 150 years or so. Just read a little about river pollution and its solutions. Perhaps recycling tries to avoid the same mistakes of the past. They don’t have another country to live, it’s not a bad idea to keep it clean.

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15 livingspace January 5, 2018 at 5:45 am

although now you mention it, perhaps they could find some new living space ….

16 athEIst January 5, 2018 at 5:44 pm

They don’t have another country to live in.

H may have been right about that lebensraum thing.

17 So Much For Subtlety January 5, 2018 at 7:09 pm

Obviously this not an answer. Recycling is more likely to cause more pollution that simply burying the stuff. Or exporting it so that it can be recycled cheaply elsewhere.

Take a second had fridge. You could sell it in Africa and someone would get another few decades of life out of it. Or you could rip it apart, leaking fluids all over the place, smelt down the good bits, releasing all sorts of things into the atmosphere, and then sell it to someone else. The former is a lot better for the environment than the second.

This is virtue signalling and any damage it does to the environment is beside the point.

18 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 6:32 am

‘Perhaps recycling tries to avoid the same mistakes of the past.’

That is a part of it, of course. The other reason is why import iron or copper when you can easily mine the already refined steel and copper found in a typical washing machine or refrigerator? One can be absolutely confident that this business model actually exists in the U.S. – here are some prices http://www.scrapmonster.com/scrap-metal-prices/united-states

Do note that even various used electronic components have a market price in the U.S. Is anyone here naive enough to think that no one is interested in paying for your old washer or refrigerator – well, OK, they may not be interested in paying you, actually, as they put the money into their own account.

This might be hard to grasp, but Germans basically recycle roads and buildings too. In the case of buildings, by separating out the various metal fittings separated into basic groups (such as iron or copper wiring) and concrete – that is then normally ground up for reuse (there are actually two local plants down the road that do just that, combined with two other plants creating building materials – the asphalt plant near here reuses the stone from road projects too). That is cheaper than finding space to simply dump it, as strangely enough, Germans don’t have a high opinion of wasting land by piling trash on it. (With a nod to the joke below, Germans broadly seem to think that the previous method of dealing with their fairly crowded country leads to bad results.)

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19 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 6:32 am

Or joke above, as the case may be.

20 Doc at the Radar Station January 5, 2018 at 7:42 am

” …why import iron or copper when you can easily mine the already refined steel and copper found in a typical washing machine or refrigerator?”

Maybe we should tax poor quality? I bet a lot of appliances and electronics are tossed because they fail in some way, rather than people buying the newest thing just because.

21 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 7:47 am

‘Maybe we should tax poor quality? ‘

Why – it is easy enough to let the market (at least in Germany) decide. After all, that is what Walmart discovered before losing an estimated billion dollars before leaving the German market completely. Germans don’t like trash – starting with not buying low quality things.

22 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 2:55 pm

To really make that work you would have repeal the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

And you thought tax law was tough.

23 Mulp January 5, 2018 at 2:04 am

Battery storage is in its infancy and solves much more than time shifting solar.

Today several firms sell utility grade lion storage for power factor correction, peak power reduction, surge protection, and transition to backup power. Tesla is merely the highest profile.

Cheaper flow batteries and liquid metal batteries are being tested in grid applications.

Note that every thing said about solar and wind applies to nuclear because nuclear power plant output is fixed in most of the US requiring standby power plants to follow the load, traditionally coal, but increasingly gas turbines. But combine wind and gas and power is cheaper than nuclear and gas. And nuclear construction was highly subsidized. In a decade, no wind power will be subsidized more than current nuclear power.

And coal burned more than a hundred miles from the mine depends on the subsidized 19th century rail construction. As rail lines are abandoned, coal is foreclosed in that region – full fare is too costly. A few years ago, coal could not compete in Minnesota due to high rail fares. Lots of investment in rail capacity, but not for coal.

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24 So Much For Subtlety January 5, 2018 at 3:39 am

The term “battery” was coined by Benjamin Franklin. In 1749. But mulp thinks that batteries are in their infancy.

That is not only before the Declaration of Independence, it is about the same time that James Watt got his steam engine working.

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25 Robby January 5, 2018 at 10:39 am

From wikipedia:

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the first attested use of “computer” in the “1640s, [meaning] “one who calculates,”; this is an “… agent noun from compute (v.)”. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that the use of the term to mean “calculating machine” (of any type) is from 1897.”

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26 Mark Bahner January 7, 2018 at 10:58 pm

“The term “battery” was coined by Benjamin Franklin. In 1749. But mulp thinks that batteries are in their infancy.”

Yes, and photovoltaics were recognized by Becquerel in 1839, and the first cell built in 1883. But that doesn’t mean that photovoltaics prices haven’t dropped rapidly in the next decade, and won’t likely continue to drop in price.

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27 dan1111 January 5, 2018 at 6:26 am

Having a fixed output is not nearly as big of a problem as having unreliable output. Duplicate generation capacity is not required to manage this, it just increases the amount that the non-nuclear generation sources must vary with demand (something they must do anyway).

Also, while this is true of a lot of existing nuclear plants, there are modern nuclear power technologies that don’t have the limitation.

A number of countries have a large portion of their power coming from nuclear, with France leading the way at more than 70%.

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28 jmdesp January 5, 2018 at 8:56 am

Also as it’s not nearly as big of a problem as having unreliable output :
– it can perfectly be solved with batteries too (including the specific kind of batteries that is pumped hydro)
– it requires a much smaller amount of batteries to solve than does solving the reliability problem of renewable sources. And since the cost of batteries is the major factor currently, this means solving that problem with batteries is much cheaper than solving the reliability problem of renewables.

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29 Daniel Weber January 5, 2018 at 10:59 am

When someone tries to sell you on “Stable production is hard to work around!” it just tells you what we already knew about someone’s intellectual dishonesty. Given that there is a very large floor below which demand never falls, there is a perfect place to slot in nuclear power.

A stable and reliable source, if anything, makes it easier to incorporate more unreliable sources.

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30 albatross January 5, 2018 at 11:26 am

Right. I’m not an expert, but I thought the problem with nuclear power was the very large up-front investment and somewhat high operating cost.

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31 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:43 am

Mostly the problem is hysteria

32 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Mostly the problem is massive cost overruns. Hinckley Point and Olkiluoto, for example.

Then there are the minor slip-ups, like in France – ‘The third-generation “European Pressurized Reactor” (EPR), built by EDF and Areva, was supposed to be in operation by 2012 and is meant to be one of the safest reactors in the world, and the most energy efficient.

It was commissioned as part of France’s nuclear renaissance programme that will see the country’s aging nuclear plants replaced over time.

However Flamanville 3, as it is known, is unlikely to start producing power anytime soon after being hampered by a litany of problems and incidents, including the death of a construction worker in 2011 (see below).

Before the explosion the most recent setback came in April 2015 when it was revealed that “a very serious fault” had been detected in the steel of the “pressure vessel” – a key component of the reactor, meaning another delay of at least a year was likely.

“It is a serious fault, even a very serious fault, because it involves a crucial part of the nuclear reactor,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of France’s nuclear safety agency (ASN).

That “fault” meant construction is unlikely to be completed before 2018 at the earliest and more worryingly, the budget, initially set at €3.3 billion, was estimated at more than €9 billion. And that was last year.’ https://www.thelocal.fr/20170209/flamanville-frances-own-nuclear-nightmare

Of course, those are just examples that involve the French, apparent world leaders in nuclear technology and power generation. Undoubtedly, the Chinese with their world renowned dedication to the highest possible quality standards will do better at containing costs.

33 William January 5, 2018 at 12:26 pm

#1 problem is fear and bad image. This leads private companies to avoid nuclear investing. The consequence is inefficient government spending with no competition.

Nuclear is not prohibitively expensive, only comparatively expensive to alternatives.
If coal doubled in price, then nuclear becomes more feasible.

We will get nuclear power around the same time as:
-the DMV becomes enjoyable
-the budget is balanced
-Corps of engineers learn to do math- Michael Grunwald, “GAO Details Errors in Army Corps Project,” The Washington Post, June 11, 2002.

34 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:03 pm

If nuclear is not expensive it’s opponents will sue until it is, and they do.

We will have to wait until the boomers (me 🙁 ) die off. Energy policy improves one funeral at a time.

35 derek January 5, 2018 at 8:43 pm

Nope. Nuclear doesn’t fit with solar and wind because you can’t spool it up or down quickly. It is base load.

Hydroelectric works well because it is simple a matter of closing the gates. The governors do it automatically already.

Gas plants are ok, but a waste of energy keeping the stuff hot and ready to go.

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36 TradersCrucible January 5, 2018 at 4:46 pm

It’s like nobody has ever thought that technology moves forward relatively predictably even over decades.

http://rameznaam.com/2015/10/14/how-cheap-can-energy-storage-get/

Batteries are going to be comically cheap in 20 years. Hilariously cheap.

And batteries aren’t competing with average power costs – just peaker

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37 lanigram January 6, 2018 at 12:52 am

Batteries are the technology of the fyoochah, always have been, always will be.

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38 Mark Bahner January 7, 2018 at 11:06 pm

“Batteries are going to be comically cheap in 20 years. Hilariously cheap.”

Even better, they can absorb the comically cheap surplus power that will be produced by photovoltaics at midday…and also provide a much less expensive alternative to internal combustion engine autos.

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39 yo January 5, 2018 at 2:21 am

This assumes you want power when the sun isn’t shining. In rural south america though, I know people adapt to the solar cycles (they are forced to – no TV in the evenings! Your portable computer battery must last from sundown to sunrise!)

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40 dan1111 January 5, 2018 at 6:36 am

Feel free to run for office on a platform of “No more TV in the evenings” 🙂

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41 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:23 am

‘There is nothing “clean” about solar (or wind) electricity, primarily because of its intermittent nature. Because it is unreliable, it cannot be scheduled (it is not dispatchable), and so must be backed up with conventional (usually gas, sometimes coal) plants.’

Spoken as if grid operators in Germany have no clue about that. It is true that wind and solar may not displace 25% of German fossil fuel electrical generation, but only 23% due to the need to keep the grid stable (no sources, this is just an example – and if anyone wishes to make the figure 20%, be my guest, though there is no way that any German electrical utility is routinely throwing money away like that in 2017). As long as we talk about that necessary 2% (or 5%) reserve generated through burning gas/coal, why yes, solar/wind is not as clean as the total generation figure would suggest. To make that argument, however, you need to ignore the 23% (or 20%) of total electricity generated by not burning gas/coal.

Can one even call that 2% or (5%) ‘wasted’? Sure. But to ignore the actual amount generated when talking about how solar/wind is ‘dirty’ involves either willful ignorance, or a willful attempt to deceive. And this is not theoretical – the German grid operators actually have gained years of experience in maintaining stability while reducing the costs of that necessary reserve. It is a cost, after all, and they are all businesses extremely interested in profit. After all, the Energiewende is being financed by the same people that voted for it, not the utilities, which would love to have their old monopoly model pre-1998 (when the German energy market was liberalized) return.

Almost as if the idea of being able to forecast conditions is unknown to someone beating their drum (believe it or not, German grid operators do not plan on any PV power at 3am), or that a grid operator can not track wind as it move through an entire region filled with wind farms. He may have been pounding on his drum for years, but clearly, the reason he can be so easily ignored in Germany is because, charitably, he is simply far from accurate. If one cares to look at such an actual concrete example, the people beating such drums look uninformed – or utterly unwilling to look around at what has been happening with the Energiewende.

Gas plants do not need to running the whole time, which is why such plants are often described using a term like ‘peaking.’ As for coal plants, time to link again to how engineers do not beat drums, they build – ‘The Lünen hard-coal-fired power plant owned by Trianel Kohlkraftwerk Lünen GmbH und Co. KG has been on line in continuous operation since December 2013. The plant was built as a turnkey unit under a consortium arrangement between Siemens and IHI Corporation. It has an installed electrical capacity of 750 megawatts. With 7,000 full-load operating hours predicted for 2014 the Lünen plant can provide electricity for around 1.5 million households. It also supplies the city of Lünen with district heating. With an efficiency of almost 46 percent, Lünen is the cleanest and most efficient hard-coal-fired power plant in Europe. Using leading-edge Siemens-technology makes it possible to save up to a million tons of CO2 every year.

Lünen steam power plant is equipped with a model SST5-6000 steam turbine and a model SGen5-3000W generator from Siemens. With an electrical capacity of 750 MW and an efficiency of nearly 46 percent, it is the cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power plant in Europe.

The Lünen power plant lies on the Datteln-Hamm Canal, a major inland waterway in North-West Germany. The core feature of the plant comprises a model SST5-6000 steam turbine, a model SGen5-3000W generator, the complete electrical installations, and the SPPA-T3000 instrumentation and control system. The SST5-6000 high-performance steam turbine guarantees not only highly efficient operation in base load; but thanks to its design characteristics it is also ideally suited for highly responsive ramping. These properties are crucial to meeting changing demands due to the increasing importance of power from renewable resources.’ https://www.siemens.com/press/en/pressrelease/2013/energy/power-generation/ep201312013.htm

Further, the plant is used for district heating (Fernwärme) which means that heating/hot water is provided in the nearby area (this is quite common in Germany – why waste the heat that can no longer be used for electrical generation when that ‘waste’ heat can be sold to customers?). So keeping the plant ready to generate power means that any ‘wasted’ burned coal can simply be used to provide heat/hot water instead, though undoubtedly there is a loss from a theoretically perfect state.

Identifying problems is the first step in solving them. Engineers understand that, and when given the chance, are likely to do a good job. Somewhat like how pumped storage involving abandoned mines seems to make it much easier to find suitable sites to build pumped storage sites.

Replacing older 35% efficient coal plants with 46% efficient coal plants that can operate efficiently in a grid that includes significant renewables generation also saves CO2, by the way (along with reducing the amount of coal being sold to the utility, obviously). Coal undoubtedly will be in the electrical mix for a while, after all – that now almost 5 year old example of a state of the art coal burning electricity generating station likely has a planned lifespan of a couple of decades, for example.

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42 So Much For Subtlety January 5, 2018 at 3:52 am

I suspect that German grid operators are perfectly aware of the problems with solar. That is why they have to be massively bribed and bullied or occasionally forbidden by law from following a sensible energy policy.

To conflate the issues of grid stability with solar’s pollution is, as usual, to miss the point. Germany is next door to Norway which has a lot of fjords they have dammed. So it is a massive battery waiting for the German wind not to blow and the German sun not to shine. Very profitable for the Norwegians. But as the German companies are forced to do it, and as they can pass the costs on to the consumer (who are paying what is it now? Three times American power prices?) what do they care?

Gas plants do not need to running the whole time, which is why such plants are often described using a term like ‘peaking.’

No, they are often called peaking because they are there for the peaks in power demand. Gas plants do not need to be kept running all the time but they are a cost even when they are not running. So it is probably a good idea to have as few of them as possible.

‘The Lünen hard-coal-fired power plant owned by Trianel Kohlkraftwerk Lünen GmbH und Co. KG has been on line in continuous operation since December 2013.M

You have a real love affair with this generator. It is, of course, irrelevant to this conversation. Yes, the Germans have many excellent engineers and they can build lovely coal fired power stations. When they are allowed to. You know why this is irrelevant to this conversation? Of course not! You just need to post something so you post this.

Replacing older 35% efficient coal plants with 46% efficient coal plants that can operate efficiently in a grid that includes significant renewables generation also saves CO2

So you mean the Germans are running a pretend-renewables policy that looks like it depends on solar and wind but actually uses more coal? Excellent. They are not as stupid as they look.

Coal undoubtedly will be in the electrical mix for a while, after all – that now almost 5 year old example of a state of the art coal burning electricity generating station likely has a planned lifespan of a couple of decades, for example.

That is what they said about nuclear too. The three still-completely-running German nuclear power plants were all commissioned in the mid-1980s. So they are not even a third of the way through their useful lives.

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43 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 7:33 am

‘To conflate the issues of grid stability with solar’s pollution is, as usual, to miss the point.’

Tell that to Zykler, or at least understand what he wrote here – ‘not dispatchable, and so must be backed up with conventional (usually gas, sometimes coal) plants.’ He is absolutely correct, by the way. Except for not mentioning the percentage displaced by wind/solar is considerably higher than amount of fossil fuel being burned to allow that 25% to not impact grid reliability in any way, shape, or form.

‘Three times American power prices? what do they care?’

Actually, German voters care a lot, which is part of the reason that the last established party to question the Energiewende/Atomaussteg, the FDP, found itself out of power at the federal level as voters rejected them (Fukushima didn’t help the FDP make the argument that Germany should not abandon nuclear power, as agreed to). German voters are the ones that demanded the Energiewende, not the government, and they were fully aware that it would come with costs. Why, German retail prices have now risen to the level (West) Germans were paying in the mid-80s, as measured by percentage of disposable household income. Not to repost the apparently ignored breakdown of German retail electric bill, here is the link for anyone interested in actually informing themselves – https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/what-german-households-pay-power

‘Gas plants do not need to be kept running all the time but they are a cost even when they are not running.’

Amazing – so the totally normal function of a peaking plant seems to have been too subtle to grasp. Or do you think that there are actually more peaking plants in Germany now than 5 or 10 years ago? Leaving aside the modern coal fired ones, that is, though they do not really fit the gas turbine ramp up profile – see above in case that information was too subtle also.

‘It is, of course, irrelevant to this conversation.’

Yep, it seems that the information was too subtle. Apart from being a plant designed to burn coal efficiently, it also designed to fit into a grid with significant renewable power generation. And a plant that has been running for several years now – this coal plant is not a design study, and the design work on adapting coal firing to rapid generation ramp up is easily 15 years old. Some place continue to invest in R&D and their infrastructure, after all.

‘So you mean the Germans are running a pretend-renewables policy that looks like it depends on solar and wind but actually uses more coal’

What is pretend about having 25% of your electricity generated through renewables? Even if it comes at a cost of using 2% (or 5%) of wasted fossil fuel generation that was previously included in the 25% of all power generated through fossil fuels? Does that mean it would be more accurate to say that the contribution of the grid should be measured at 23% (or 20%) in terms of replacing fossil consumption. Yes, of course it would, being completely accurate, obviously. And something basically all Germans know is happening over the last decade – none of this secretl. And Siemens, to give one concrete example, sees a market opportunity in selling coal plants that fit well into a grid that includes a significant amount of renewable electric generation. Whether a highly efficient coal plant capable of satisfying both baseload and quick ramping up function is an example of ‘pretend renewables,’ what can one say? You can define things as you wish, of course, but to me, such a modern plant is clearly part of what a reliable electric grid with 25% renewables generation encompasses. Does that disturb you, because it is not a ideologically strict Green position? I’m not a Green, so no problem for me.

‘The three still-completely-running German nuclear power plants were all commissioned in the mid-1980s.’

If you say so, and all of them are planned to be turned off by 2022. If that does not happen, it is extremely likely, based on past experience, that the German government responsible for not following the clear will of the voters since 2000 will be replaced with one that does. Strangely enough, some nuclear plants are going off the net ahead of schedule, at least in the couple of years (in Bavaria, for example). Here is what happened with the nuclear station in this region over the past few years in terms of its operating life – ‘Final disconnection for both units was scheduled for 2011 for unit 1 and 2017 for unit 2, but as of 2010 had been changed to 2026 and 2032 respectively.

Following the incident at the Fukushima plant in Japan reactor 1 was closed on 17 March 2011 for a three-month moratorium on nuclear power. The outcome of this moratorium was announced on the morning of 30 May 2011 and Philippsburg-1 was named as a plant that would not be returning to generation at the end of the moratorium.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippsburg_Nuclear_Power_Plant

Oddly enough, the politics surrounding such plant life extensions is what ensured that the FDP lost power at the federal level in the following election.

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44 So Much For Subtlety January 5, 2018 at 7:18 pm

clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 7:33 am

Tell that to Zykler

I see. So you posted your usual long irrelevant press release for a power plant you really love in order to prove he was right? Good for you.

Amazing – so the totally normal function of a peaking plant seems to have been too subtle to grasp.

It is ironic that you, who post nothing of factual value except your past complaint with GWU, complain about someone else’s understanding. Especially as you do not seem to understand what a peaking power plant is for.

Leaving aside the modern coal fired ones, that is, though they do not really fit the gas turbine ramp up profile

So you admit that this nice shiny thermal plant you love so much and keep posting about is not actually a peak power plant? Which is not a surprise as coal is poorly suited to this end. Expensive when people have to do it too.

Yep, it seems that the information was too subtle. Apart from being a plant designed to burn coal efficiently, it also designed to fit into a grid with significant renewable power generation.

Too subtle? Keep telling yourself that. How was it so designed? You mean they planned to let it sit around doing nothing most of the time?

Whether a highly efficient coal plant capable of satisfying both baseload and quick ramping up function is an example of ‘pretend renewables,’ what can one say? You can define things as you wish, of course, but to me, such a modern plant is clearly part of what a reliable electric grid with 25% renewables generation encompasses. Does that disturb you, because it is not a ideologically strict Green position? I’m not a Green, so no problem for me.

It is cute how you think this makes you sound knowledgeable. Most people are forced to keep coal fired power stations spun up. It is not a particularly interesting form of technology. Cheaper with gas.

If you say so, and all of them are planned to be turned off by 2022.

And so it is obvious that German power policy is so poorly thought out and capricious that they do not build power plants with an assurance of decades of life. Whatever you claim.

Oddly enough, the politics surrounding such plant life extensions is what ensured that the FDP lost power at the federal level in the following election.

The FDP held power? News to the CDU I suspect.

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45 Merida January 5, 2018 at 4:09 am

I like how you get revved up. On my long road cycle trips I am always fascinated that the windmills are standing there in the landscape in utter beauty. Er, mostly idle.

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46 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 6:39 am

Oddly enough, in my experience riding a motorcycle in this region in southern Germany over many years, I find it unsurprising to see how rarely they spin. Er, mostly not rarely, since they are often spinning (though not always, of course). You do realize that wind turbines are sited in the places with the best wind conditions – well, at least in Germany – because that brings the most profit for the owner, right?

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47 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:08 pm

You can do anything if you can sell enough beamers, and MBs and pollution cheating diesel VWs, and have a piggybank the size of the EU.
You import the money and export the pollution costs. Perfect!

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48 jdm January 5, 2018 at 3:41 am

If the reason for pushing variable renewables is the desire to drastically reduce carbon emissions, there are much bigger problems than inefficiency of running the gas peaker plants (which are pretty efficient) intermittently. The main problem is that absent cheap long term storage it’s almost impossible to get the total energy contribution of variable renewables much past their capacity factors, say 15% for solar and 30% for wind in areas which are favorable to these sources. There have been many studies on this, for example some of the papers here: https://www.mcc-berlin.net/en/institute/team/hirth-lion.html. That means that the renewable “solution” (which is the solution that all the green groups have convinced the public is a solution) to drastically carbon emissions is optimistically a half solution – say half renewables, half gas. Given the large number of people in the world who want a lot more electricity, and given that transport will be electrified, and given the other sources of carbon emissions such as heating and agriculture, the half renewable half gas solution won’t be enough to cut carbon emissions to where they need to be to prevent the worst effects of global warming. Additionally, following the expensive half renewable, half gas investment path precludes investments in the one technology that we know can quickly decarbonize energy system. (And yes I am aware of the current expense of building reactors in the US and Europe, but not in Asia). No one would build a reactor unless the main goal were to genuinely and relatively quickly decarbonize the energy system. On the other hand, if the main goal is to signal green virtue, then solar and wind are good choices.

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49 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:10 pm

+1

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50 Ted January 5, 2018 at 3:56 am

To Tyler and to all commenters: beware mood affiliation.

It can simultaneously be true that (1) solar technology has substantial environmental and economic downsides, (2) very few people are aware of these downsides, and (3) solar technology is a great boon to humanity’s present and future (i.e., the world we live in is superior to a counterfactual world with no solar).

Also keep in mind that in the grand scheme of things, today’s decisions matter more in terms of the technological path they put us on rather than the actual kWh generated today. If solar is generating 50% of Earth’s electricity in the year 2100, then a 5-year acceleration or deceleration in the technology/market/regulation environment could be worth trillions of dollars.

Lastly, many ‘arguments’ seem to occur where one person makes a true claim with a certain mood. A commenter disagrees with that mood, and makes a different true claim. A second commenter disagrees with THAT mood and makes a third true claim. This pattern of discussion is not always healthy. We should hold ourselves to a standard higher than saying things that true. We should say things that build useful generalizeable mental models. If we only say the counterintuitive hipster ‘facts’ we can in fact paint a misleading picture even though we share only facts that rigorously true. (Tyler, I love you and your work, but this is one of the ways that I think your writing can improve. Contrarian statements, even when true, can sometimes be less good than other true statements. I understand this is vague, but I hope you understand.)

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51 dan1111 January 5, 2018 at 6:40 am

+1

I’m a renewable energy skeptic, but this is an excellent post.

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52 rayward January 5, 2018 at 8:05 am

Cowen has assumed the mantle of contrarian, once held by Michael Kinsley, now shared by Cowen and his friend Peter Thiel. Of course, they are provocateurs, but on a much more civil level than, say, Richard Spencer. Kinsley did it to annoy his liberal friends. Thiel does it because he can; Thiel, who identifies as a libertarian, founded Palantir, which would provide data-mining services to government intelligence agencies and business. Why Cowen does it I’m not sure. Of course, the distinction between a contrarian and a hypocrite is often difficult to determine; indeed, having the reputation as a contrarian is useful if one is a hypocrite. I recall Megan McArdle in her early days as a blogger, who, by expressing contrarian views, got lots of attention and rode the attention to become a highly popular contributor to Bloomberg. I suppose being a libertarian necessarily makes one a contrarian; thus, Cowen and Thiel and McArdle.

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53 Hopaulius January 5, 2018 at 10:55 am

And Cowen, Thiel, and McArdle are nothing more than civil Richard Spencers, i.e., white supremacist Nazis. Well played.

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54 Al January 5, 2018 at 10:37 am

“ If solar is generating 50% of Earth’s electricity in the year 2100, then a 5-year acceleration or deceleration in the technology/market/regulation environment could be worth trillions of dollars.”

Haha. What?

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55 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 11:04 am

“If”

No one has ever predicted technology 20 years hence, let alone 80.

It is a complete unknown whether batteries will be cheap and bioengineered in 2100, or if after the 2037 heat wave everybody demands nukes.

All we can do now is make incremental decisions about marginal demand and marginal capacity.

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56 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:12 pm

+1

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57 Daniel Weber January 5, 2018 at 11:37 am

I’d like that spelled out a little more, too.

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58 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 11:59 am

We can only do what has worked in the past, to spread basic R&D bets widely, and commercialize winners as they are proven.

(And try not to do what has failed in the past, to commercialize contestants before they are proven.)

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59 Transnational Pants Machine January 5, 2018 at 1:50 pm

>If solar is generating 50% of Earth’s electricity in the year 2100…

… then I will eat the entirety Hillary Clinton’s vodka-stained wardrobe.

We’ve been at it 50 years already and we’re up to one half of one percent — FOR THE USA. And that’s with taxpayers footing the bill.

But sure, 50% of EARTH in the next 80 years! No problem!

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60 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Haha, u right. How many coal plants are China and India building worldwide? I’ve seen numbers like 1/week and 700 total. Iac, many.
How soon are they going to retire those plants after such an investment?

Not soon.

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61 Solar Developer January 5, 2018 at 4:20 am

I’m obviously biased as a solar developer but a couple of proposed arguments against;

Solar and wind are not unpredictable. Over an entire grid it’s actually not difficult for grid operators to plan almost exactly how much power they’ll get from the portfolio of systems on a daily basis. While an individual system is difficult to predict over the short term, 1000’s spreadout geographically substantially mitigate the risk and make it relatively easy to predict production.

Also, all power sources are intermittent. There is no plant in the world that doesn’t have unplanned shutdowns.

In addition, I’m not sure what the carbon emissions comparison is but I highly doubt that in CA for instance, that the 30% renewables penetration doesn’t more than offset the added emissions of the various inefficiently run peaker plants.

As for panel recycling, First Solar can recycle, I believe, up to 95% of their panels at this point. More traditional polysilicon panels will likely take the same route but maybe not. That said, we won’t need panel recycling for decades. Most of the panels degrade at about .5% each year so it will be 40-50 years before customers even consider replacing them. There are modules manufactured in the 70’s and installed ar NREL that are still operational today.

Can’t argue that net metering isn’t a large subsidy but I’ll gladly trade that for a more accurate location based and value add incentive if oil and gas companies agree to forego the substantial tax and depreciation credits they get to encourage riskier and riskier drilling around the country.

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62 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 8:00 am

‘Over an entire grid it’s actually not difficult for grid operators to plan almost exactly how much power they’ll get from the portfolio of systems on a daily basis.’

Especially after gaining years of experience when doing just that. It isn’t 2011 in Germany anymore, and the last 6 years of experience have been incorporated in apparently maintaining the world’s most reliable electrical grid. Just as future experience will also be used.

‘There is no plant in the world that doesn’t have unplanned shutdowns.’

Like a plant in Japan, though many people don’t like to talk about Fukushima when pointing out how reliable nuclear electric generation is.

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63 Meets January 5, 2018 at 11:46 am

“Also, all power sources are intermittent. There is no plant in the world that doesn’t have unplanned shutdowns.”

This is ridiculous.

That’s not the definition of intermittent.

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64 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 12:12 pm

True enough – how about ‘interruptible’?

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65 Meets January 5, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Yes that works

66 Transnational Pants Machine January 5, 2018 at 1:59 pm

No, still patently ridiculous (as is most of the post, for that matter).

When someone points out that solar power has absurd uptime problems, and you answer “Well NO power supply is completely uninterruptible!!,” you have revealed yourself to be an idiot.

67 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:14 pm

‘solar power has absurd uptime problems’

No, solar power has quite predictable uptime problems in the main.

68 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:56 am

Fukishima was installed in 1971 and are boiling water reactors (50-year-old technology!). Totally meaningless to a discussion of modern reactors.

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69 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm

And completely relevant to the idea that any generating facility, regardless of how large or small, can go offline suddenly, as no facility is able to generate power 100% of the time, both in terms of scheduled maintenance, and in terms of unexpected events. For example, an ice storm snapping the power transmission lines leading directly from a power plant also effectively takes that facility offline.

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70 anon January 5, 2018 at 2:22 pm

That idea is completely irrelevant to the discussion, so please stop playing hide the ball. You are comparing a wind turbine where no one knows if it is going to be generating power at any given moment in time to a 10,000-year event where buried cables coming from a nuclear power plant are breached by a meteor impact?

71 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:50 pm

‘That idea is completely irrelevant to the discussion’

What, you mean no ice storm has ever taken an electrical generation station offline? Not familiar with this? ‘The North American Ice Storm of 1998 (also known as Great Ice Storm of 1998) was a massive combination of five smaller successive ice storms in January 1998 that struck a relatively narrow swath of land from eastern Ontario to southern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Canada, and bordering areas from northern New York to central Maine in the United States. It caused massive damage to trees and electrical infrastructure all over the area, leading to widespread long-term power outages. Millions were left in the dark for periods varying from days to several weeks, and in some instances, months. It led to 35 fatalities, a shutdown of activities in large cities like Montreal and Ottawa, and an unprecedented effort in reconstruction of the power grid.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_1998_North_American_ice_storm

All electricity generating plants have downtime, both scheduled and unscheduled. Fukushima was just an example of an unscheduled shutdown involving a nuclear plant. Along with a number of others, actually, as major earthquakes (above 8 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_earthquakes_in_Japan ) – are not a 10,000 year event in Japan. ‘Japan’s prime minister has declared a “nuclear emergency” after a number of reactors shut down in the wake of a massive earthquake hitting the country.

Eleven reactors at four nuclear power stations automatically shut down, but officials said one reactor’s cooling system failed to operate correctly.

Under Japanese law, an emergency must be declared if a cooling system fails.

In total, the country has 55 reactors providing about one-third of the nation’s electricity.’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12711707

Do note that the reporting is from March 11, 2011, as it includes this now inaccurate information – ‘”Since emergency diesel generators at the Fukushima-1 and -2 NPPs are out of order, (energy company) TEPCO sent the emergency report to Nisa. There is no report that radiation was detected out of the site.”

The reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power station that triggered the emergency alert was the 40-year-old Reactor 1, one of six on the site.

Reactors 1, 2 and 3 automatically shut down when the Magnitude 8.9 quake shook the plant, while reactors 4, 5 and 6 were not in operation as they were undergoing scheduled inspections.’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12711707

72 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:21 pm

What is the relevance????

73 Carlo January 5, 2018 at 12:13 pm

Why’d they ban that Brazil maniac but not the German maniac?

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74 Transnational Pants Machine January 5, 2018 at 1:59 pm

I guess that’s what Marginal Revolution has come to.

(see what I did there?)

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75 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:58 am

“the substantial tax and depreciation credits they get”

You mean the exact same business deductions you also get and every other business gets? Or is there some special subsidy I don’t know about?

“riskier and riskier drilling around the country”

What’s the risk exactly?

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76 Solar Developer January 5, 2018 at 12:29 pm

Sorry should have clarified. Risk to investors (private, shareholders, etc.). It’s getting costlier and costlier for oil and gas companies to extract equivalent amounts of product and still maintain similar returns, mostly because the easier areas are tapped or hyper competitive. That’s why you see a substantial amount of activity around deep sea or artic drilling. They’d go somewhere easier if they could.

With respect to the tax credits, part of the way we mitigate this risk as a society (and I’m not not necessarily against this but it is a subsidy) is through a number of specialized tax credits, including allowing oil and gas companies to deduct intangible drilling costs at 100% in year one, as opposed to more traditional depreciation schedules. In addition, we allow oil and gas companies to deduct depletion of oil and gas deposits. The logic being that similar to manufacturing equipment, if you can deduct the age of equipment, you should be able to deduct the resources you’re pulling out of the ground. I don’t necessarily disagree with these credits, as we need these products, but it does artificially keep the price of natural gas down and create an unfair market place for solar and wind.

I’d say right now solar and wind get more in tax credits (ITC and PTC are huge drivers of economics) but over the last 50 years it’s not even close in favor of oil and gas.

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77 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:25 pm

That is a risk investors take, hoping to make money. Not the same as imposing risk on ratepayers.

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78 Sandia January 5, 2018 at 4:28 am

One way to cut through think tank posturing is to ask yourself this question: Are the Chinese really concerned about green virtue signalling? Also one shouldn’t move the pea by conflating residential rooftop and utility scale solar. Finally, arguing against all solar because it can’t currently be more than say 25 pct does’t mean the allocation should be zero. The think tank posturing is reverse engineered from the position that CO2 doesn’t matter or that nuclear is the answer. If you believe that then just say that.

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79 Hopaulius January 5, 2018 at 10:58 am

Think tank posturing works in multiple directions, including pro-anthropogenic-climate-change hysteria.

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80 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Robert Hanson supports nuclear. Just thought I would try “appeal to authority”. 😅

I like nuclear energy. True!

Post hoc rationalization: It produces electricity day and night every day with nearly 100% uptime. Here in CA two plants on 960 acres produced approximately 7% of our electricity for 40,000,000 people in the sixth largest economy in the world.

Hard to beat those numbers.

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81 Jan January 5, 2018 at 5:23 am

The first bullet does not support the writer’s point that “there is nothing clean” about these alternative energy sources.

They are of course clean, and very much so in comparison to coal. His point does not refute that. The author is simply pointing out a downside that perhaps some are not aware of, though it is hard to believe that many people aren’t aware that clean energy sources must be backed up by traditional dirty energy sources.

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82 albatross January 5, 2018 at 11:32 am

Most people don’t know anything about electric power generation, so I expect most people have no idea that with current technology, you need gas turbines to cover for when the wind’s not blowing and the sun’s not shining but people are still using power.

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83 peri January 5, 2018 at 11:41 am

“… it is hard to believe that many people aren’t aware that clean energy sources must be backed up by traditional dirty energy sources.”

I agree. The emperor is actually wearing his clothes on this one. A nice warm cardigan in fact, because he’s not going to sacrifice hygge just to be a hater.

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84 Jan January 5, 2018 at 5:44 am

If you google a bit, you can see that Zycher has said a lot of stuff that isn’t true, like claiming that renewable energy costs had risen when in fact they’d come down, and is often debunked. https://thinkprogress.org/aei-economist-zycher-makes-head-exploding-claims-about-cost-of-renewables-b073ac7bc519/

His organization, Pacific Research Institute also gets money from Exxon, Koch, various Koch dark money groups, and other orgs opposed to efforts that could slow climate change.

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85 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Good point!

I am so glad that “thinkprogress” does not have a bias. It is my new fact checker.

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86 lxm January 5, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Of course Thinkprogress is biased. But tell us what is wrong with their analysis in this particular case, please.

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87 Roger Sweeny January 5, 2018 at 8:34 pm

Referring to “Koch dark money groups” may make you sound sophisticated at ThinkProgress but here it sounds more like conspiracy thinker.

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88 ABV January 5, 2018 at 6:20 am

There are so few new coal plants in America. And running old ones intermittently is a recipe for high costs. Once coal plants move to seasonal and intermittent operation they aren’t long for this world. And it is usually gas plants that push them out of baseload operation since a new CCGT plant is 60%+ efficient while our old coal plants are doing good to be in the mid 30s.

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89 rayward January 5, 2018 at 6:44 am

Should government encourage the use of alternative fuels? Norway is at the forefront in the conversion to electric cars: “[A]bout 52 percent of the new cars sold in the country last year ran on new forms of fuel, according the data released on Thursday by Norway’s Road Traffic Advisory Board, OFV. . . . The country’s embrace of electric cars has been hastened by hefty government subsidies and tax breaks that make the technology more affordable. The authorities have expanded the nationwide network of charging stations. They also offer electric car drivers a bevy of other benefits: cheaper parking, the use of bus lanes for car-poolers during rush hours, and exemptions from the vast majority of road tolls.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/04/business/energy-environment/norway-electric-hybrid-cars.html Even as Norway looks forward, America looks backward with subsidies for oil and gas: “The Trump administration said Thursday it would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/04/climate/trump-offshore-drilling.html

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90 rayward January 5, 2018 at 6:57 am

I’m not naive. Oil and gas companies don’t intend to go gentle into that good night: they intend to recover their sunk costs first, something being facilitated by the Trump administration and a cooperative Republican Congress. And I’m not naive about the unreliability of alternative sources, including solar: we just experienced an ice storm in the low country, an ice storm! We’ve gone from a major hurricane to an ice storm in a matter of a few months, so I am well aware of the benefits of a reliable source of power. And climatologists predict more of the same for our future; indeed, they predict even more extreme weather events for our area, from more frequent and intense hurricanes to more frequent and chilling snow and ice storms. Having experienced Hurricane Irma in September and then the ice storm on Wednesday, I can confirm they are very much alike, my knuckles having turned white from the stress during both events.

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91 TMC January 5, 2018 at 12:16 pm

“Oil and gas companies don’t intend to go gentle into that good night:”

Hope not, we’re going to need them for a while.

“Having experienced Hurricane Irma in September and then the ice storm on Wednesday, I can confirm they are very much alike”

I’d like to disagree, but I’ve never been in a hurricane. I can’t imagine they are anyways as benign as an ice storm.

“my knuckles having turned white from the stress during both events.”

Hike your panties back up and you’ll get through the ice OK.

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92 rayward January 5, 2018 at 3:44 pm

Winds 70-90 mph make a howling sound, a sound that never lets up and goes on hour after hour, interrupted only by gusts that are followed by the sound of a tree falling, maybe on the neighbor’s house, maybe on my house next. In the middle of the night, with no power and in pitch black darkness with two dogs and my friend in the hallway of her house, I discovered the force and fury of a hurricane. Before Wednesday, I had no experience with an ice storm. Sure, lots of snow, mostly in places like Colorado on ski trips. But the ice storm was altogether different from what I expected. At first, the ice, like snow, had a certain appeal. But as the ice accumulated on the trees, on my roof, the cold wind blowing the ice against my windows, I had the same feeling as during the hurricane. And soon enough, the limbs on the trees began to fall from the weight of the ice, the trees began to splinter and fall, the ice accumulating on my roof began sliding off the roof and falling on my patio and deck making a sound like chains. Hour after hour, the wind and ice unrelenting, as I waited for the next tree to fall on my house, to fall through the window, opening my house to the cold winds, ice, and rain outside.

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93 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:23 pm

I eagerly await the next chapter of your book

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94 Hopaulius January 5, 2018 at 11:06 am

And over 99% of Norwegian electricity is generated by: hydroelectric power plants, which in my state of Washington is excluded from the definition of “renewable,” so as to force utilities to use wind and solar, mostly wind in our area. From Wikipedia: “Electricity generation in Norway is almost entirely from hydroelectric power plants. Of the total production in 2005 of 137.8 TWh, 136 TWh was from hydroelectric plants, 0.86 TWh was from thermal power, and 0.5 TWh was wind generated. In 2005 the total consumption was 125.8 TWh.[1]”

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95 anon January 5, 2018 at 2:07 pm

What are the subsidies?

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96 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Norway. Oh, the irony. Norway was one of the poorest countries on the carbon threatened planet until they discovered oil, a lotta oil. You can be really green if you got a lotta fossil money! Green is green!💰

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97 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 7:59 am

In a past life I actually studied hour by hour emissions of gas and coal plants, including at startup.

Cycles are expected. Every darn day, as homes and factories fire up. And of course “unexpectedly” on a hot day when everyone runs the air conditioning harder.

So I think (1) the idea that we used to have steady demand is oversold, and (2) the ability of solar to work with that worst hot weather demand is under appreciated.

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98 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 8:15 am

If you want more than my experience,

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=830

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99 Daniel Weber January 5, 2018 at 11:41 am

the ability of solar to work with that worst hot weather demand is under appreciated.

Solar has a sweet spot, but when I look at graphs of European energy production, it looks like that sweet spot has already been eaten, and then some. Energy load minus solar production is lowest at midday.

I’m glad we’ve gotten solar to perform where it’s best, but that doesn’t mean it should be pushed out everywhere.

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100 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 11:55 am

Not everywhere, no.

But if there are good roles for current RE production, that gives us our task for 2018-2020.

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101 Mark Bahner January 7, 2018 at 11:27 pm

“Solar has a sweet spot, but when I look at graphs of European energy production, it looks like that sweet spot has already been eaten, and then some.”

Europe is a far, far poorer location for photovoltaics than the U.S., particularly the U.S. Southwest.

“Energy load minus solar production is lowest at midday.”

That’s why charging battery vehicles will be good. That will flatten out the daily demand minus production.

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102 Meets January 5, 2018 at 11:57 am

No one has claimed demand is perfectly steady.

The problem isn’t that wind and solar can’t be forecast, the problem is sometimes they don’t blow or shine.

It is common in hot Texas summers to get 10+ GW of wind generation overnight and under 1 GW during the peak load hour.

So you need all the conventional dirty generation available anyway.

The math is complicated on how much on net emissions are reduced and at what cost, which is where the debate should be.

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103 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 12:14 pm

The power plants I visited still have the old control walls as manual backup. Analog dials to read, knobs and wheels to turn. But for the most part no one touches them. The real “operator” sits at a computer station and watches the control software work.

The control software is already using weather forecasts.

https://www.siemens.com/innovation/en/home/pictures-of-the-future/energy-and-efficiency/sustainable-power-generation-neural-networks.html

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104 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Sorry. Isn’t/can’t confused me at first reading.

We agree that this is an active engineering problem, but .. with differing optimism on net reductions.

I agree that net savings matter, as well as the roadmap for future adoption.

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105 Meets January 5, 2018 at 12:27 pm

No problem, I’m fairly agnostic because I’m still not sure whose math to believe.

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106 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 8:02 am

(I was working for the power companies, and so saw all the raw private data before it was prepared and reported to the EPA.)

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107 Dan January 5, 2018 at 8:24 am

I don’t get his claim about solar not being clean. His point seems to be you have to run regular plants when solar isn’t working (fair enough). But why wouldn’t increased solar usage still result in a net decrease of carbon emissions?

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108 Dan January 5, 2018 at 8:38 am

Just to put a finer point on my comment, every day demand goes up and down, and every year demand goes up and down. Is he telling me electrical generating machinery is not equipped to handle this variability in demand? Engineers can’t figure out how to turn on a turbine efficiently? I mean this “ramping up” problem has existed in some form since the dawn of electricity generation. If the “start up” inefficiency problem is genuine and as bad as he claims, wouldn’t it also reduce carbon usage if everyone kept their lights on all time? So why not recommend that as well?

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109 Dustin January 5, 2018 at 10:20 am

His claim is that intermittently spinning up non-solar plants causes them to run inefficiently and thus emit more carbon.

Of course, assuming that is true, that is not sufficient evidence for the case that solar is bad from a carbon emissions standpoint. We also have to prove that the solar + non-solar carbon emissions are greater than the traditional carbon emissions.

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110 Dustin January 5, 2018 at 10:21 am

That means the non-solar plants have to be REALLY inefficent whilst spinning up!

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111 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 10:31 am

For what its worth, I recall excess emissions as more random events, plant problems, than part of the daily cycle.

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112 Meets January 5, 2018 at 12:03 pm

And gas plants are in fact much less efficient when they are ramping up or running at minimum vs. running at baseload.

It can be a 7 heat rate running at full vs. 10 heat rate running at minimum.

That’s not even taking into account startup gas.

There is all also the issue of wear and tear from cycling resulting in the need for more maintenance outages.

Also, there is additional need to procure ancillary services to keep the grid reliable when there is more intermittent generation, adding to cost and emissions.

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113 Mark Bahner January 8, 2018 at 1:07 pm

It can be a 7 heat rate running at full vs. 10 heat rate running at minimum.

Here are historical average heat rates for various power plants.

https://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_08_01.html

In 2016, coal was 10,493 Btu/kWh versus natural gas at 7870 Btu/kWh. And coal has more pollution per Btu. (Much, much more pollution for criteria pollutants and hazardous air pollutants.)

Benjamin Zycher is mostly peddling statements that are outdated (his book was published in 2011)…and some were spin even when he wrote his book.

114 Mark Bahner January 7, 2018 at 11:36 pm

“We also have to prove that the solar + non-solar carbon emissions are greater than the traditional carbon emissions.”

Good luck with that! Displacing coal-fired electrical generation will lower emissions…of greenhouse gas equivalents, and definitely of criteria air pollutants and hazardous air pollutants.

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115 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 8:41 am

So, it is possible to find data concerning what percentage of household disposable income is spent, per state, by Americans. The methodolgy used for the calculated percentage is explained with supporting data. Obviously, to what extent is fully compatible for comparison with the German figure of 2.3 percent of households’ disposable income in 2015 is open to reasonable discussion.
https://www.electricchoice.com/blog/percentage-income-electricity/

Especially considering that it appears that people living in 13 states pay more for electricity, 2 states pay the same, and 6 states pay 2.2%, not 2.3%. The cheapest state is Iowa, at 1.6% – a figure that does not appear to be 3 or 4 times less than the German household cost. Oddly, Iowa is also a state with a large windpower presence, as noted here – http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/06/states-moving-green-energy-quickly.html

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116 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 8:53 am

Mea culpa, the cheapest state was Washington at 1.2% They probably don’t have a lot of wind capacity compared to Iowa, but then, Iowa probably doesn’t have much government funded hydroelectric capacity.

Meaning that the poor citizens of NJ, South Carolina, and Alabama (yep, another miscount – mea culpa again) are just as poorly off in comparison to Washington state retail electric customers as German citizens. That is, paying a bit less less than twice as much as a Washinton state resident for retail electricity.

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117 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 9:01 am

And of course it is easy to design a household that runs much lower, especially if you can pass on the backyard pool and air conditioner.

(And this might be why pool and air conditioner folk were first adopters for home solar. It can be matched to their peak demand. Run the filter and crank the AC at noon.)

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118 JWatts January 5, 2018 at 11:09 am

The US average is around $0.12 per kWh, Germany is around $0.35 per kWh. The only reason you are attempting to use “disposable household income” as a metric is to obfuscate those basic facts.

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119 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 11:39 am

The reason I am using household disposable income is twofold.

First, (West) Germans are paying as much for electricity as a part of their household budget today as they did in the mid-80s. If the price of something increases along with your income, followed by making intelligent choices concerning something like fuel consumption, the fact that gasoline costs more today than in 1970 is not precisely relevant if the amount of your household income going to pay for gasoline has remained stable. The same applies to comparisons between households in different countries too, of course – hard as this may be to imagine, gasoline in Germany costs 3 times as much as in the U.S. too.

Second, the idea that a household in Alabama has more money to spend as part of its household budget due to lower electric rates is simply wrong. You are welcome to argue that people in NJ are wasting electricity compared to Germans because the rate is cheaper, of course. And yet, a household in South Carolina and a household in Germany have precisely the same 97.7% of their household budget to spend on other things.

Of course the price per kilowatt hour is higher in Germany – just like it has been over decades compared to the U.S. There is nothing new about this, and it has never been a secret. Much the same way that the Pacific Northwest has lower electricity rates than New England, in large part due to massive government intervention in power markets – who do you think built the hydroelectric facilities? Or do things like Grand Coulee or Bonneville not ring any bells? – http://fwee.org/nw-hydro-tours/time-line-of-electricity-hydroelectricity-and-the-northwest/

‘The Bonneville Power Administration is a nonprofit federal power marketing administration based in the Pacific Northwest. Although BPA is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, it is self-funding and covers its costs by selling its products and services. BPA markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydroelectric projects in the Northwest, one nonfederal nuclear plant and several small nonfederal power plants. The dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The nonfederal nuclear plant, Columbia Generating Station, is owned and operated by Energy Northwest, a joint operating agency of the state of Washington. BPA provides about 28 percent of the electric power used in the Northwest and its resources — primarily hydroelectric — make BPA power nearly carbon free.’ https://www.bpa.gov/news/aboutus/Pages/default.aspx

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120 anon January 5, 2018 at 2:13 pm

Or, you know, maybe the Germans waste a ton of time and money making their households more energy-efficient because of the astronomical expense of electricity there. Germans are too poor to afford washing machines, dryers, toasters, microwaves, even refrigerators. So of course their electricity consumption is lower. However, many might disagree that life is better when you can’t afford a clothes dryer or a toaster, but not you I’m sure.

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121 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:24 pm

‘Germans waste a ton of time and money making their households more energy-efficient because of the astronomical expense of electricity’

Absolutely right – but that was just as true in 1982 as today. Apart from the ‘waste’ part. In similar fashion to how Germans build and buy cars that deal with the reality that German gasoline is 3 times more expensive than the cost in the U.S. Amazing how Mercedes can build a full size station wagon today that has the same fuel economy as my 23 year old 750cc motorcycle – about 6 liters/100 km. But then, Germans also waste their money buying such cars too, right?

‘Germans are too poor to afford washing machines, dryers, toasters, microwaves, even refrigerators.’

Really? Fascinating to read – I’m sure you have a link, right? (Just to play along.)

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122 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:43 pm

For example: http://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/data/2009/hc/hc3.1.xls

Your excuse for energy prices being triple what they are in the U.S. is that Germans spend no more as a % of household income because they use less energy. But being super energy efficient to avoid high energy prices is not costless. Too poor to afford A/C, Germans go without and die by the thousands in heat waves, uncared for by their brusque neighbors

123 Floccina January 5, 2018 at 9:39 am

The last point is why I think Government should do a co2 tax and pollution regulation and get rid of most of their other efforts at clean energy.

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124 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 9:57 am

Ideally.

But at this point the wider “systems engineering problem” is the one that includes people, existing laws, existing contracts. That reduces degrees of freedom. It might even make some “stupid” things the only available path. Like say a solar home tax credit.

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125 albatross January 5, 2018 at 11:35 am

+1

Long term, the solution to AGW that makes sense is to put a price on CO2 emissions (and emissions of other greenhouse gasses, lest we convince people to stop burning off the waste CH4 before putting it into the atmosphere….)

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126 chuck martel January 5, 2018 at 9:56 am

In the US, at least, consumption of electricity seems to rival that of Russia and vodka. Why does every square inch of urban freeway need to be illuminated when all automobiles are required to have and use headlights and very effective reflective materials are available? The American obsession with comfort means millions of air conditioners are grinding away in ambient temperatures as punishing as 78F. (School administrators maintain that keeping classroom temperatures and humidity within a tight parameter greatly reduces truancy. If that’s the case future Americans will have a difficult time competing with people that have never been near an air conditioner.) Empty sports stadiums are lit up as if a championship game were taking place. So the focus is on developing equipment and techniques that produce electricity without the invisible “carbon footprint” (expensive) but not elimination of use that’s far from essential (cheap).

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127 peri January 5, 2018 at 10:42 am

“Such are the fruits of government wisdom.”

Indeed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsCqDIjtbbU

I’m not sure there’s much appetite for more pumped-storage hydroelectric.

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128 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 11:11 am

So, here is the wikipedia entry on that –

‘2005 upper reservoir failure

In 2005, a large section of the upper reservoir failed, draining over 1 billion U.S. gallons (3.8 gigalitres) of water in less than half an hour.
A broad swath of dense forest was washed away and scoured to bedrock by the escaping flow. Source: FERC

At 5:12 a.m. on December 14, 2005, the northwest side of the upper reservoir was overtopped when water continued to be pumped from the lower reservoir after the upper was full. This led to the catastrophic failure of a triangular section of the reservoir wall and the release of 1 billion US gallons (3.8 Gl) of water in 12 minutes. The sudden release sent a 20-foot (6.1 m) crest of water down the East Fork of the Black River.

A combination of design and construction flaws, continuing to operate the dam when the primary system for gauging the water level was known to be inaccurate (gauge pipes had become detached), moving the “failsafe” secondary gauging system above the actual height of the dam to avoid false positives, and operating the dam in an unsafe manner by routinely overfilling the reservoir caused the upper reservoir dam to overtop. There was no overflow spillway in the original reservoir.

A memo from Richard Cooper, superintendent of Ameren’s Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Plant, indicated that the reservoir had a “Niagara Falls” style overflow on September 27 at the same spot that was breached (caused by wave action related to winds from Hurricane Rita). Another Cooper memo had also indicated that Cooper had warned that gauges used to monitor the water height in the reservoir were malfunctioning in October.

No one was killed by the failure.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taum_Sauk_Hydroelectric_Power_Station#2005_upper_reservoir_failure

So, sounds like another example that ignoring basic safety rules and procedures leads to disasters. And considering how the operator of the world’s largest pumped storage facility is looking to build more in 2017 in Virginia, not really all that notable as a roadbump.

And this current project manages to avoid the basic problem anyways -‘A coal-mine that powered German industry for almost half a century will get a new lease on life when it’s turned into a giant battery that stores excess solar and wind energy.

The state of North-Rhine Westphalia is set to turn its Prosper-Haniel hard coal mine into a 200 megawatt pumped-storage hydroelectric reservoir, which acts like a battery and will have enough capacity to power more than 400,000 homes, said state governor Hannelore Kraft. The town of Bottrop, where people worked the 600 meter (1,969 foot) deep mine since 1974, will keep playing a role in providing uninterrupted power for the country, she said.

—————————-

The plan to reinvent Prosper-Haniel envisages creating reservoirs above and below the closed mine, according to a blueprint posted on the group’s website.

When needed to compensate intermittent wind and solar power, as much as 1 million cubic meters of water could be allowed to plunge as deep as 1,200 meters, turning turbines at the foot of the colliery’s mine shafts. The mining complex comprises 26 kilometers (16 miles) of horizontal shafts.’
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-17/german-coal-mine-to-be-reborn-as-giant-pumped-hydropower-battery

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129 peri January 5, 2018 at 11:38 am

That’s cool about the mine conversion.

But whatever we do, let’s not put sweaters on.

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130 Chip January 5, 2018 at 10:55 am

Hmm, 50 comments fussing over the true cost of solar but not one pointing out that the underlying function of massive spending on solar – to mitigate global temperature – does not exist.

The trend of studies about temperature sensitivity to CO2 is steadily pointing to lower and lower sensitivity. The predictive models don’t work. The current cycle of moderate warming is beneficial. Large sums of money are being wasted.

I’m optimistic about solar as a future energy source. It’s getting better and cheaper all the time. But when a province like Ontario spends tens of billions trying to cool the planet while its suffering through record freezing and carrying one of the largest sub-national debts in the world, well, it’s borderline insanity.

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131 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 11:18 am

Where is your good model that produces this “no problem” output?

Because obviously to say “predictive models don’t work” and then to follow that with your own prediction would be deeply conflicted.

You can only properly follow “predictive models don’t work” with “nobody knowz!”

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132 JWatts January 5, 2018 at 11:22 am

“Hmm, 50 comments fussing over the true cost of solar but not one pointing out that the underlying function of massive spending on solar – to mitigate global temperature – does not exist.”

That’s not really a driving concern for me. I want us to transition to a more economic source of electricity that doesn’t pollution as much.

Frankly, I think the incessant conversations on Global Warming are silly. It’s pretty clear that the long term economic trends for solar/wind combined with power storage is going to result in the replacement of most fossil fuel plants over the next 30 years.

The US is phasing out the primary wind/solar subsidies now. We’ll know within 2-3 years if renewables can stand on their own feet.

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133 Lanigram January 5, 2018 at 3:44 pm

Nuclear can do that in the time it takes to build a plant, without getting sued by nutcases with anxiety disorders.

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134 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 5, 2018 at 6:35 pm

Nuclear is like a serial wife beater .. “trust me honey, I can change.”

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135 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:45 pm

Where are the examples of recent nuclear technology that has had a problem? If you’re still running a reactor that is 50 years old and it melts down how does that reflect negatively on a 30-year old design, let along a modern design which literally cannot metldown?

136 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ January 6, 2018 at 10:09 am

Remember that my local nuke is San Onofre. We were promised a dozen times that it was fixed “this time” until they gave up and started a multibillion dollar teardown.

If it had just met the standard nuclear promise of “clean, safe, too cheap to meter” any one of those dozen times I’d be a fan.

Instead I have a bad experience, and hear the same promises. “This time, honey.”

137 carlospln January 6, 2018 at 9:39 pm

“Nuclear can do that in the time it takes to build a plant, without getting sued by nutcases with anxiety disorders”

So why was the N-reactor in South Carolina abandoned, after spending $B’s and years of work on it?

Awwww……….

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138 Mark Bahner January 7, 2018 at 11:46 pm

“Frankly, I think the incessant conversations on Global Warming are silly. It’s pretty clear that the long term economic trends for solar/wind combined with power storage is going to result in the replacement of most fossil fuel plants over the next 30 years.”

Indeed. At least in the U.S.

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139 peri January 5, 2018 at 11:45 am

So, is this fellow Zycher more of a Prophet or a Wizard? For a second the other day I thought Tyler was suggesting the doomsayers only come from the conservation side.

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140 Boonton January 5, 2018 at 1:04 pm

There is nothing “clean” about solar (or wind) electricity, primarily because of its intermittent nature. Because it is unreliable, it cannot be scheduled (it is not dispatchable), and so must be backed up with conventional (usually gas, sometimes coal) plants.

By this logic, there’s nothing ‘clean’ about someone who turns off the lights in rooms they aren’t using. Because they are making their electricity use ‘intermittent’, their demand peaks have to either be backed up by conventional plants OR existing conventional plants have to be run inefficiently.

But I have two objections:

1. Surges in electric demand are the same ‘problem’ and quite often many surges in demand (very hot sunny days) also happily align with when you would expect surges in solar power output.

2. Accounting for who ‘owns’ the ‘dirty’ output here seems most sensibly connected to the output itself. If I have solar panels that supply so much power but I have a bank of gasoline generators that supply my extra-solar needs…that’s very dirty. If I hook up to the grid the power I pull will come from a mix of coal, nuclear, gas and other sources, that would be much cleaner. But how does that make any sense if you’re linking the solar panels to the non-solar power generation? My solar panels have remained the same so how could they suddenly get ‘cleaner’ by choices I make for my non-solar power generation?

Solar panel disposal is important but unless you are talking about burning used panels, at the end of the day they are going to end up in land. At the end of the day someone owns the land which means you have property rights that can create proper price signals. No one owns the air so a coal plant pays nothing more than a gas or nuclear plant for what they put into the air barring a system like cap-n-trade which creates something like property rights when it comes to the atmosphere.

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141 collin January 5, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Are you getting paid by the Coal industry? There is a lot of good reason to suspect renewables but that does not mean it does not have potential. I still say your Great-Grand children are going to rewrite the Batista parable about the sun energy against oil jobs.

Otherwise, living in California the biggest reason why solar is growing so much is the prices of our energy companies charge during peak hours. (Im with SCE and it is $.34.) So consumers are moving because it is economical to the consumer even if gas/coal generation is cheaper for SCE.

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142 Buckyballas January 5, 2018 at 2:46 pm

From a 2013 NREL study on this very topic: https://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/55588.pdf

tl;dr: lots of wind and solar increases cycling costs of traditional plants, but increase is more than offset by decreases in fuel costs; decreases total emissions. Report contradicts Mr. Zycher’s first bullet point.

In this study, we found that up to 33% of wind and solar energy penetration increases annual cycling costs by $35–$157
million in the West. From the perspective of the average fossil-fueled plant, 33% wind and solar penetration causes cycling
costs to increase by $0.47–$1.28/MWh, compared to total fuel and variable operations and maintenance (VOM) costs of
$27–$28/MWh. The impact of 33% wind and solar penetration on system operations is to increase cycling costs but also to
displace annual fuel costs by approximately $7 billion. WWSIS-2 simulates production or operational costs, which do not
include plant or transmission construction costs. From the perspective of wind and solar, these additional cycling costs are
$0.14–0.67 per MWh of wind and solar generated compared to fuel cost reductions of $28–$29/MWh, based on the generator
characteristics and modeling assumptions described in this report.

This study finds that up to 33% wind and solar energy penetration in the United States’ portion of the Western grid (which is
equivalent to 24%–26% throughout the western grid) avoids 29%–34% carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, 16%–22% nitrogen
oxides (NOx) emissions, and 14%–24% sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions throughout the western grid. Cycling had very little
(<5%) impact on the CO2, NOX, and SO2 emissions reductions from wind and solar. For the average fossil-fueled plant, we
found that wind- and solar-induced cycling can have a positive or negative impact on CO2, NOx, and SO2 emissions rates,
depending on the mix and penetrations of wind and solar.

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143 clockwork_prior January 5, 2018 at 2:54 pm

‘displace annual fuel costs by approximately $7 billion’

A public choice economist should have fun with that little nugget alone.

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144 lxm January 5, 2018 at 5:12 pm

All these comments and not one that points out this obvious point: Whatever the cost if I have solar panels and battery backup, when the local utility fails to provide power, which happens too many times, my lights are still on, my heater still heats, my air conditioner still cools. My neighbors come knocking at my door.

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145 lxm January 5, 2018 at 8:08 pm

And if my neighbors have solar panels and their neighbors have solar panels, then it will be much more difficult for our enemies to shut down our electrical grids.

We will be safer.

We are at risk now.

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146 anon January 5, 2018 at 11:46 pm

Generator is the same but cheaper and more reliable

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147 Crikey January 5, 2018 at 5:35 pm

The efficiency loss from running hydo power at less than full capacity is trivial.
Efficiency loss from running gas turbines at less than full capacity is also trivial. While it takes energy to warm up a gas turbine from a cold start, it’s not much.
Efficiency loss from operating a typical older coal power station at around 60% of capacity, which is generally around as low as they can go, and 100% of capacity is around 6% or about 2 percentage points. That is, efficiency may drop from around 33% to 31%.

So in a worst case scenario where a grid is entirely entirely powered by coal power plants that always magically operate at full capacity until adding wind and solar power magically cause them to all operate at minimum efficiency, then the maximum increase in emissions would be around 6% when the first wind turbine or solar panel is added. Once wind and solar are supplying over 5.7% of electricity demand emissions start to decline. If wind and solar supply 20% of electricity consumption then emissions will fall by 15.2%.

Of course, this doesn’t happen in real life, wind and solar power cut emissions by substantially more, but even if we assume magic works in its favor, Zycher’s argument makes no sense.

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148 Crikey January 5, 2018 at 11:36 pm

It varies according to the grade used, but generating one kilowatt-hour of electricity from coal it will produce, very roughly, about 70 grams of fly ash. Fly ash is dangerous, toxic, and contains heavy metals. We generally deal with it by wetting it down, covering mounds of it with dirt and trying to grow plants on top of it so the wind doesn’t blow it around.

A 19 kilogram solar panel in a solar farm will produce around 1.5 kilowatt-hours a day depending on location and whether or not it is fixed or mounted on a tracker. In one year it will have generated around 550 kilowatt-hours. The same amount of electrical energy generated from coal will result in around 38 kilograms of fly ash or twice the weight of the solar panel. Over the 25 years coal power will produce around 100 times the weight of a solar panel in solid waste.

Since we deal with fly ash by making mounds out of it and covering it with dirt, we could deal with old solar panels the same way. Or recycle them. Either one. But even if just the aluminium frames are ripped off the and panels piled up and covered in dirt, it would still be less of a hazard than fly ash. For a start, there’d be about 100 times less of it.

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149 Crikey January 6, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Or 50 times less. Writing was 100 was sloppy of me.

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150 Crikey January 6, 2018 at 1:28 am

I don’t know the details of US electricity markets, but wind and solar are price takers. While they could bid in prices the same way as other generation, they generally just accept whatever price is set by fossil fuel and hydroelectric generation. This is because they have zero fuel cost and so can always undercut fossil fuel generators. It is worthwhile for wind and solar to always bid in a price equal to the lowest bid by conventional generation or the smallest possible increment lower provided the amount is a fraction of a cent above zero. And electricity markets would be doing it wrong if they didn’t accept the cheapest electricity on offer.

If there is concern about market distortions caused by subsidies then the obvious solution is to replace them by pricing in externalities with a carbon price equal to the cost of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. (Under $70 US per tonne of CO2 may be sufficient.) In addition, coal should pay for the health costs and suffering that results from its use.

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151 Alex from Germany January 6, 2018 at 8:00 am

Since Germany has been repeatedly used here in the comments as an example of how well renewables work, just this week „Tennet“ (the German energy grid authority) issued a Press Release to inform the public that it costs us 1 bn € Last year to prevent a collapse of our energy grid (by in the north: paying foreign energy merchants to take our excess energy, paying windmill operators for shutting down, in the south: paying conventional power plants for turning up and also southern neigbouring countries to provide extra energy) and those costs will rise to 4 bn € by 2022.

It’s a complete failure .

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152 Mark Bahner January 7, 2018 at 11:56 pm

“Since Germany has been repeatedly used here in the comments as an example of how well renewables work,…”

Germany is a terrible place for photovoltaics and wind. In contrast, the U.S. Southwest is a great place for photovoltaics, and the middle of the U.S. is a great place for wind.

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153 Alex from Germany January 8, 2018 at 2:28 pm

I agree.

And disagree: although some places are better than others, almost no place is perfect for wind energy. Energy is not something a society needs once every while, but rather something that needs to be available at any given time. Not 100% are constantly needed but at least 40% of the mean demand must always be available to have a functioning first world grid.

The same is true for photovolatics.

But more importantly: functioning solar production in NV doesn’t help nyc or Chicago, since you can’t effectively transfer that energy across the whole nation. If tiny Germany doesn’t get it right, sending energy from Cali to Brooklyn won’t be easy either.

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154 Mark Bahner January 9, 2018 at 11:19 pm

I agree that New York and Chicago are never going to get substantial amounts of their electricity from photovoltaics located within a couple hundred kilometers of them. In the second half of this century, nuclear might make a comeback in the U.S. (Before that, it will disappear almost completely.)

But before that happens, I expect photovoltaics and wind (as a junior partner) to supply more than half the electricity in the U.S.

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155 A. U. Contraire January 6, 2018 at 1:47 pm

A note on the debates. In a recent article in Technology Review some battery developers are rueing the recent drop in price of lithium-ion batteries. They claim that the transient economics is crowding out infant technologies that have a much better chance in the long run of breaking through the price barriers that would be required in order to make intermittent sources affordable enough to provide 100% of energy needs.

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156 Mark Bahner January 8, 2018 at 12:57 pm

“In a recent article in Technology Review some battery developers are rueing the recent drop in price of lithium-ion batteries. They claim that the transient economics is crowding out infant technologies that have a much better chance in the long run of breaking through the price barriers that would be required in order to make intermittent sources affordable enough to provide 100% of energy needs.”

The great thing about lithium-ion batteries (as opposed to, for example, flow batteries that must be stationary) is that they can be used for transportation as well as serving the grid. This means depreciation is spread across several services. It also means that the much bigger market provides much more incentive for quick development of better technologies.

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