A good news / bad news week for renewables in the press

These last few weeks, the news has been full of lots of seemingly conflicting messages about renewables, so I figured it was worth talking about things a little bit in a post.

First, the good news.  The old conventional wisdom that solar can never match prices with conventional generation is just plain false at this point. Deutsche Bank recently released a report highlighting that rooftop solar will reach grid parity (i.e., be as cheap, or cheaper, than the average electricity bill in the US) in 47 states in 2016, and that it has already has reached grid parity in states accounting for more than 90% of the US electricity consumption.  Now, 2016 is a pivotal year because those numbers assume the 30% subsidies that are present today for solar, which goes away in 2016.  However, even if these drop to 10% parity will be maintained in 36 states, as this plot from the report shows (the x-axis is the electricity price /kwh – cost of solar/kwh, so positive means savings from solar):

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Of course, that still includes a subsidy, so solar costs aren’t matching those of other sources yet.  However, that will happen soon if current trends continue for even a few years.  Here’s one of my favorite plots in that regard (from a World Bank analysis).  I still think it’s crazy how quickly the technology advancements and economics are working in favor of solar.

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Now for the bad news. An interesting analysis emerged from some of the folks that were behind Google’s RE<C initiative, that went looking for breakthrough approaches for renewable generation that could make renewable energy cheaper than coal.  Their conclusion: no current forms of renewable energy are enough new approaches to solve climate change, even in best case forecasts.  Thus, in their words, even if RE<C had reached it’s goal, that goal was “not ambitious enough to reverse climate change.”  “To reverse climate change, our society requires something beyond today’s renewable energy technologies.”  So, in some sense, we’re too late.  But, engineers and inventors can do amazing things, so who knows what breakthroughs will come over the next 20 years. For example, one approach that would be a game changer for the models typically used would be a way to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and store it…

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4 thoughts on “A good news / bad news week for renewables in the press

  1. A couple of comments:
    1. The rise of solar is unbelievable. I put together a chart comparing the growth of solar vs. growth of cell phone subscriptions, with the base year for cell phones being 1990 and the base year for solar being 2000, and solar growth matches that of cell phones (see http://blizzard.cs.uwaterloo.ca/iss4e/?p=4739 )

    2. I feel that the Google article is not very convincing. There are no citations, no analysis, and no real attempt at reasoning things through. It seems a post hoc rationalization of the business decision for Google to pull out of the RE<C initiative. I challenge them to post their numbers!

    • The parallel with cell phones is a nice observation Keshav! I wouldn’t have expected it to even be close in growth rate given the huge cost differential…

      …and I agree with you about the Google article. I don’t understand why the data isn’t public. I hope that it will be soon.

  2. RE<C was launched in 2007 and then James Hansen's paper was published in 2008 in which the (safe) target atmospheric CO2 threshold was revealed. RE<C then used Hansen's climate models to investigate whether it would be possible to reach that threshold by 2050 in the best-case scenario through large-scale deployment of renewable energy resources. Then the results turned out not to be in line with the very goals of RE<C: not only CO2 level cannot be brought bellow that threshold, but also will increase exponentially which will definitely lead to climate change.
    Seems like the goals that acted as the major drive for Google's investment in advancement of renewable energy technologies weren't there anymore, because deployment of renewable energy resources does not seem to be the solution to climate change problem. So, Google probably needs to explore other options like possibly manipulating atmospheric chemical combination and extracting CO2 that is already trapped in the atmosphere!

  3. Pingback: Rigor + Relevance | Business case for DER and utility

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