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Dick Smith vs Tim Flannery, and the solar revolution

Giles Parkinson, REneweconomy
It turns out that Australians may not as dumb as Dick Smith would have us believe, at least as far as electricity choices are made. The self-made entrepreneur, aviator and now aspiring energy expert made much in his “Ten Bucks a Litre” documentary last week about the inadequacy of renewables – they are expensive, and intermittent, and they can’t do the job.

And in a blithe dismissal of the ability of households to act smarter, and substitute energy-hogging appliances with more efficient ones, he said there would never be enough solar panels on a household to here will never be enough panels to meet their requirement.

But Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery has another viewpoint: He says Australians are rushing to embrace solar for a simple reason – it is saving them money, because it is cheaper to generate electricity on the rooftop of their home than to source it through the massive grid. And because it also has the happy outcome of forcing dirty electricity generation out of the market…
(5 August 2013)
Link to report The Critical Decade: Australia’s future – solar energy


Solar Energy Friendly Communities Help Mitigate Soft Costs

Jake Rozmaryn, The Energy Collective
Despite the solar industry’s best efforts, solar power remains unavailable to hundreds of communities across the country. The simple question is: Why?

The answer lies in two words: soft costs.

The soft costs of solar installations refer to the costs of customer acquisition, which includes permitting, inspection, interconnection, third party-financing and other indirect costs. According to research by Clean Power Finance, more than one-in-three installers avoid selling solar in an average of 3.5 jurisdictions because of the time associated with completing these projects as a result of the soft costs.

According to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report, these soft costs account for 50-60% of the price of going solar…

Solar Friendly Communities (SFC) and Clean Power Finance are two groups that have taken up the DOE’s challenge and shown initiative in improving the organization of municipalities…
(30 July 2013)


The Energiewende: An introductory look at Germany’s energy transformation

Mat Hope, Carbon Brief
Germany is considered one of the most environmentally conscious countries in the world – but it wants to do more. Decarbonising one of the world’s biggest industrial economies is no small task, and as Germany’s government pushes ahead with sweeping policy reforms, the world is watching to see whether the Germans can pull it off.

The Energiewende – or ‘energy transformation’ – seeks to cut emissions, ramp up renewable electricity, and halve energy consumption, all while keeping the economy afloat. The repercussions will be felt beyond Germany, with English-speaking media already using the Energiewende to illustrate both the benefits and pitfalls of government-directed decarbonisation.

But there is some confusion over what the the transformation entails. And debate about the Energiewende is far from settled in Germany itself, with commentators continuing to argue over the potential costs and benefits of the far-reaching reforms…
(24 July 2013)


Solar Power Can Provide One-Third of U.S. West’s Energy Needs

Staff, Daily Fusion
Relatively inexpensive solar power could cover more than a third of all energy needs in the Western U.S., if the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) succeeds with its SunShot Initiative—an effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade. The UC Berkeley scientists used a detailed computer model they developed of the West’s electric power grid to predict how the SunShot program will affect energy production.

The model also considered the effects of enacting proposed carbon policies, such as a carbon cap. They found that achieving the SunShot target would allow solar photovoltaic technology to provide more than a third of electric power in the region by 2050, displacing natural gas, nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration technologies. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to help minimize the negative impacts of climate change, the researchers said.

“Given strategic long-term planning and research and policy support, the increase in electricity costs can be contained as we reduce emissions,” said study leader Dan Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. “Saving the planet may be possible at only a modest cost.”

Kammen and his UC Berkeley students are developing the computer model, called SWITCH, in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) to study generation, transmission and storage options for the United States west of the Kansas/Colorado border as well as in northwest Mexico and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia…
(5 August 2013)


Support local communities to install renewable energy systems, urge MPs

Staff, Information Daily
Businesses, local authorities, schools and housing associations should be given financial support to install medium sized renewable energy generating systems, a group of MPs has said.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee, in a report published today, calls on the government to give communities a stake in local energy projects, such as solar arrays and wind turbines, so that businesses can reduce their energy overheads, provide cheaper electricity for the public, and encourage councils to tackle fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions.

“Although it is unlikely that local energy projects will eliminate the need for larger, centralised power stations completely, with some government support they could provide a significant proportion of the UK’s energy capacity while reducing carbon emissions and increasing efficiency," said Dr Alan Whitehead MP, speaking on behalf of the committee…
(6 August 2013)
Link to Local Energy report


Gamechanger: Next Generation Wind Turbines With Storage Are Cheap, Reliable And Brilliant

Ryan Kornowski, Think Progress
What makes a new wind turbine exciting?

Wind companies are always trying to making their next turbine spin more efficiently and generate more power than the last, just as car companies are looking for better fuel efficiency and engine power. Advances usually come in small jumps in both cases, with a single percentage improvement cause for celebration.

GE announced a new line of wind turbines in May that generate between 20 and 24 percent more power than the previous best turbine in its class. It does this through traditional improvements in turbine design, but also through innovations that address one of the main issues that critics of wind power raise: intermittency.

The wind does not blow all the time, and the electric grid needs a regular supply of electricity. Wind has been a critical and climate-friendly addition to the grid portfolio, but as the industry continues to expand, people have started to think about what happens when more and more of our electricity is generated from intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar. Fossil fuel advocates try to make the case that coal and gas (and oil) can be burned constantly, but this is becoming less and less tenable. Rising carbon emissions are triggering extreme weather and sea level rise that endanger the very reliability of the electric grid.

Can advances in technology allow renewable energy sources to be reliable for second-to-second grid use? It’s already happening. In 2011, a concentrated solar plant produced power for 24 hours straight. A huge array of mirrors heated up a huge molten-salt battery system that permitted the solar plant to supply power when the sun was down. Reliable, steady wind energy is also becoming a real thing…
(14 July 2013)


Pilot Projects Bury CO2 in Basalt

Jeff Tollefson and Nature magazine, Scientific American
By early August, scientists will have pumped 1,000 tons of pure carbon dioxide into porous rock far below the northwestern United States. The goal is to find a permanent home for the carbon dioxide generated by human activities.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, began the injections into the Columbia River Basalt formation near the town of Wallula on 17 July…

But achieving sequestration is only half the battle: scientists and engineers must still work out how to capture CO2 from industrial facilities and transport it to the sequestration site cost-effectively. And even if a carbon-mineralization industry took off, establishing it on a global level would require an undertaking on the scale of rebuilding the oil industry…
(29 July 2013)


Is Natural Gas the Cheapest Path to Clean Grid Power?

Chris Nelder, GreentechMedia
According to researchers, the most cost-effective way for the U.S. grid power sector to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets through 2030 is by using natural gas. It would primarily displace coal-fired generation, while renewable energy would continue to grow. After 2030, wind would become a more cost-effective way to generate power than gas.

The findings, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA), were published in the journal Energy Economics as part of a much larger JISEA study.

Co-author Morgan Bazilian, Deputy Director at JISEA, said the research was intended “to evaluate both the implications of shale gas development and use, and various policy and technology changes.” The research considered “power plant retirements, advances in generation technologies, federal policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and variations in natural gas supply and demand.”

“We find that natural gas use for power generation grows strongly in most scenarios,” Bazilian said…

My take

Because the researchers restricted their analysis of natural gas prices to costs that may arise from state and federal regulations, environmental compliance, and increased uses in other domestic sectors, I believe the future cost of natural gas is underestimated, particularly in a future as distant as 2050. Other factors, like the threshold of profitable gas production and the reliability of EUR estimates, may have far greater impact on price.

As I detailed in 2011, how much shale gas may be technically and economically recoverable is still very much an open question, but we can say with confidence that we do not have 100 years of proved reserves, no matter how often that claim is repeated. I think the Mid EUR estimate is probably in the right ballpark, but might be toward the high end, and that the High EUR estimate is unlikely.

Gas prices are clearly an important factor in this analysis. As I explained in 2012, U.S. shale gas endured a long period of loss-making production, which stanched its growth trajectory. Gas prices only recently recovered to what I would consider the actual profitable floor of around $4/MMBtu, but have fallen below that threshold again. In my latest gas price forecast, I saw gas prices rising slightly through the end of the year to maintain profitability, but the wave of consolidation through mergers and acquisitions that is (predictably) now sweeping through the industry may engender further volatility.

The researchers have effectively modeled a Henry Hub gas price of $4-6/MMBtu. If EURs have been significantly overstated, as some analysts I respect believe, then actual prices could go far higher than than that. For example, if the “shale gale” puffs out by 2025 (a not inconceivable scenario) then gas prices could jump back to $10/MMBtu (or much higher) by 2050, in which case more renewable power would come into play than the model suggests.

I also have serious doubts that CCS will ever become economically viable. It can only hope to reach that point if governments are willing to spend many billions of dollars to prove the technology and bring down its cost, and by that point I think there’s a good chance that renewable power will be cheaper. If that is true, then this research suggests that 80 percent of grid power from renewables is the most likely outcome.

Finally, I suspect that the potential of solar PV was too tightly restricted in this model. The capital cost of utility-scale solar in the U.S. is already at $2,140/kW, and Greentech Media’s proprietary cost model through 2017 suggests it will go significantly lower still. Utility-scale solar could reach $2,058 in the next four years, whereas the researchers don’t anticipate that cost being achieved until 2050.

Even so, this research is a useful contribution to the debate about the future of grid power, and adds further weight to the notion that whatever the specific mix of power generation is in 2050, it will be utterly dominated by renewables and natural gas, while nuclear’s role declines and coal is phased out completely…
(1 August 2013)

Green planet image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.