Battery storage: The numbers don’t add up – yet

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(Update: See also our follow up stories:

Battery storage take two: why it should be a no-brainer

Battery storage take three: Addressing a major competition failure)


At the big clean energy conferences that have been held in three continents over the last two months the major topic of conversation has been clear – battery storage – what it can do, what it will cost, and when it will be here.

It’s a subject that is crucial to everyone along the renewable energy value chain – from customers (residential and utility-scale) looking to get the most out of their rooftop panels or large projects, to the manufacturers of technology looking to future markets, to the operators of grids looking to integrate variable renewables.

The motivation for battery storage ranges from increased self-sufficiency, off-grid applications, smoothing output, and playing an arbitrage game with electricity tariffs, to reinforcing networks and reducing the need for more poles and wires. It is hailed as the next great “game-changer” for the electricity industry because it will help that other great “game-changer” – rooftop solar – increase its appeal to electricity consumers and producers alike.

But at the InterSolar conferences in Europe and North America, and at the Clean Energy Week conference in Australia last week, the conclusion is more of less the same – battery storage is coming, and more quickly than most people think – but for the moment the numbers don’t quite add up.

That, at least, is certainly the case for the market most likely to adopt the technology on a large scale – the residential and business customer who are looking to gain the most from the rooftop solar panels they have installed on their rooftops, and which is reducing the volume and cost of electricity drawn from the grid.

The best example was probably given in these graphs from the newly created International Battery and Energy Storage Alliance. CEO Markus Hoehner gave a presentation at the San Francisco InterSolar that I attended that included these following graphs.

The first is the net present value of solar PV systems and battery prices in Germany. The key is the green line, which shows the return on solar PV only installations. At current prices, installing battery will diminish that return dramatically. It will pay off (over time), but to match the return on investment of PV only, battery storage prices need to at least halve from where they are now (to where the red arrow is at the left).

(Technology and pricing wonks can find the assumptions used in the table at the end of the story. It should be noted that the cost assumptions used a range of products currently in the market. Some products – such as EOS – are advertised as cheaper, but are not yet in the market).

battery storage

The picture in California is even more bleak for investors, because the cost of electricity to consumers in that state is lower, so the return on investment on battery storage will not match that of solar PV until the battery prices halve again from those required in Germany. Still, it’s interesting to note that these will be the two big markets for battery storage in coming years – California is likely to mandate some 4,000MW of storage by 2020 as it moves to even more ambitious renewable targets, and Germany is also providing the first feed in tariff to support battery storage for the same reasons.

battery storage

Australia will also be a big market for battery storage – because it has one of the highest levels of rooftop solar penetration, as well as the higher electricity costs, thanks to its relatively huge network and the high costs of poles and wires per capita.

Warwick Johnson, the director of Australian solar research company Sunwiz, came to a similar conclusion for the Australian market as IBESA had for the international markets, saying that adding battery storage to rooftop solar PV would effectively double the payback times of rooftop installations to 13 years.

Johnston’s study presented at CEW looked at a variety of motives for, and sizes of, battery installations– to use as an arbitrage on various tariffs (charging at overnight rates and discharging at peak rates), or simply reducing the amount of (poorly paid) exports back to the grid.

But whichever way it was sliced and diced, Johnston says that at current costs, “batteries aren’t paying for themselves”, but there is additional value for businesses that could use batteries to avoid blackouts and brownouts to avoid spoilage etc.

Storage, Johnston says, will increase self sufficiency and take customers one step close to paying no network connection. And it will also benefit networks who use it to avoid un-necessary upgrades and extensions.

Wilhelm Van Butselaar, from SMA, said “self consumption” and the ability to make the most out of renewables was the hot topic at the moment, whether as a grid operator or a consumer, be they a household with rooftop solar or a whole village.

He cited recent winter storms in Germany which had brought down transmission lines because of the weight of the ice, and had left some villages without power for weeks. Battery storage would give these villages some measure of energy independence. Similar stories were being told in the US after Hurricane Sandy.

Rob Campbell, from Vulcan Energy, had a slightly more optimistic view of the payback period for battery storages of around 9-10 years for residential customers – but noted that it was hard, apart from early adopters, “to get domestic customer to come round to that.”

Campbell suggested that the onus should fall to the customers likely to get the most of storage, which are the networks, but there were significant “cultural issues” within those organisations, particularly the state-owned ones. The “network guys” wanted it, but it didn’t get much traction in the board-room.

He said those companies needed to learn how to make money by dismantling a network, not simply by growing it, as they had done in recent years by expanding the size of the networks. “They have got on a spending habit …. to the point where we have a system where the people most likely to benefit from storage are the least likely to install it because they don’t know how to get dividend out of it, Campbell said.”

This is an issue explored in Oliver Wagg’s accompanying article on how network operators are being urged to get behind battery storage.

Finally, this is the table showing the assumptions used in the IBESA NPV calculations mentioned above.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 10.17.23 AM


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  • Cedric Christensen

    Giles, interesting article. You state: “California is likely to mandate some 4,000GW of storage by 2020 as it moves to even more ambitious renewable targets, and Germany is also providing the first feed in tariff to support battery storage for the same reasons.”

    It must be a mistake. 4,000GW would be an impressive procurement target for California, given the fact that our peak load in 2006 was 60.92GW. The stated target would cover 65 times our peak.

    I would recommend reading recent CPUC cost-effectiveness studies:
    Cost-Effectiveness of Energy Storage in California: Application of the EPRI Energy Storage Valuation Tool to Inform the California Public Utility Commission Proceeding R. 10-12-007 –

    You’re welcome to join us for Energy Storage North America to learn more:

    • Giles

      Ouch. 4,000MW, another glitch for which i apologise.

      • Cedric Christensen

        No problem Giles, thanks!

  • Stan Hlegeris

    There’s a big factor which could change the situation entirely.

    Toward the end of the Feed-In Tariff era, lots of people waited to install PV because they could see the price was dropping fast. These people lost out big time because the Feed-In Tariffs were chopped off overnight.

    At the moment we’re in the same position. Storage systems seem too pricey, and we’re all sure that the prices will drop far and fast. But every day you wait brings you closer to the day when your right to go off-grid will be curtailed. This, too, will happen overnight, without warning.

    After that day, when it comes, you’ll have to pay a minimum monthly charge for access to the grid system even if you choose to disconnect. People who disconnect before this change won’t be entirely safe, but they’ll have a better chance than those who wait.

  • juxx0r

    So what if your system is paid off, you’re paying $1 a day to access the grid, you only get 8c/kWh for exported electricity and you have to pay 30c/kWh for imported electricity and the electricity price is increasing at 4.5% a year?

    Sounds like you’d be eyeing off some batteries.

  • Stan Hlegeris

    Everything would be fine if your numbers prove to be correct.

    My retailer (in Queensland) advises that the average quarterly bill for a four-person household is now $659, of which $51 is the fixed charge and the rest is consumption.

    The regulator is considering a plan which would cut the usage charge (i.e., the price per kWh) by two-thirds while keeping the total bill the same. This would suggest that the fixed component would be about $456 per quarter or about $5 per day.

    An ordinary user might not care about this change and might indeed enjoy the reduced cost of extra consumption. But anyone who’s gone to the trouble and expense of installing PV to get free of the grid would be cross about paying $5 per day for an obsolete grid system.

    • Giles
    • Jordan

      The grid is not obsolete, the utility business model is whats obsolete and needs to be changed.

      • Bob_Wallace

        You got it right.

        The largest issue, as I see it, is who is going to pay for the stranded assets (thermal plants) that are being pushed off the grid.

        If they are publicly owned then the taxpayers will eat the loss. If privately owned then the battle will be fought as shareholders try to pass their loss on to ratepayers. Like the baker trying to charge you extra for your morning coffee because their cakes fell.

        • Giles

          Ah, very good. I’m going to tweet that. Mind you, this is one reason why we do not allow bakers to make coffee. Sadly, we’ve got way to much “vertical integration” into our energy industry

          • mechanieker

            The idea of the “big bad utilities” is a false meme. It’s the politicians who can’t make up their minds.

            They want to have solar and wind power by subsidizing them even when spot power prices have dropped to below zero (which already happens in Germany and Denmark quite regularly, due to overbuilding of solar and wind). And then when the utilities decide to close their power plants – which have indeed become unprofitable in such a manipulated market – then the politicians try to pass laws to FORBID them to close their plants! That is no way to do business.


            The consumer will foot the bill for this craziness, and coal plants will win over gas plants, which is also already happening in Germany.


            Don’t buy into the hype. Renewable energy is not a healthy sector. It is being propped up by subsidies and propaganda. That has to change. It can change, but not as long as we continue sugarcoating the serious issues facing this sector, and our global commitment to end anthropogenic climate change and air pollution.

            My conclusion is that there is a large role for nuclear power. It’s either that, or bust.

          • Giles

            Oh dear, a typical pro nuclear rant, light on facts, lighter on context.

            power prices dropping below zero has been happening for decades, mostly due to overcapacity. Nuclear used to make a virtue of this. What they don’t like now is consumers doing the generation themselves.

            There is no doubt that markets will have to be redesigned from those that benefited the centralised model that served coal and nuclear so well. The irony is that it is not solar and wind that will need subsidies in the new regime, but the fossil fuel generators.

            Coal will only win over gas as long as the politicians are limp wristed on abatement targets. Once those kick in, it all changes again.

          • mechanieker

            It would be great if consumers generated their own electricity. The problem is, they are not doing it. Not during the night or during overcast days, and not during regional bouts of low winds, which can last for days or weeks and cover entire continents.

            The fossil generators don’t “need” subsidies. They have no problem shutting down their generators if they are no longer profitable due to losing market share to subsidized PV panels or wind turbines, on sunny or windy days. In fact, it is the consumer who will demand that politicians keep those fossil generators open. This is already happening in Germany. Ignoring or mis-characterizing this dynamic is folly, IMHO.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Backup time.

            Show us the data for regions and continents which have gone without wind and sunshine for weeks.

            “The fossil generators don’t “need” subsidies.”

            But they get them.

            Nuclear should need subsidies either after having 60 years to figure out how to produce cheap electricity.

            But it gets them.

          • mechanieker

            The difference is that fossil and nuclear yield massive tax revenues that more than cancel out any subsidies.

            Fossil fuels energy producers in OECD countries – for example – get less than $100 billion in subsidies, while they yield over $800 billion in tax revenues to OECD governments.


            Nuclear power plants also yield large tax revenues. These revenues are even used in Germany to fund the Energiewende, for example, never mind that the plants are shut: they still need to pay the tax, which has lead to a court case!

            Concerning the long periods of low winds, consider the graphs on pages 13 and 14 of this report (large study of northern european wind integration (at low penetration):

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, the graphs on pages 13 and 14 do not show weeks without wind and solar.

            If fossil fuel generation is paying “massive” taxes that means they are profitable. Being the case, why are we giving them free money they don’t need?

            Additionally, why is coal not being required to pay for the health and environmental damage it causes?

            Why is oil not charged for the cost of fighting three oil wars?

            What’s wrong with these free loaders?

          • mechanieker

            “If fossil fuel generation is paying “massive” taxes that means they are profitable. Being the case, why are we giving them free money they don’t need?”

            The ‘free money’ is the money paid to the government officials that check and regulate the operations of the fossil fuel companies, for example. These kind of costs are considered subsidies. But they are dwarfed by the resulting tax revenues from fossil fuel operations.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The ‘free money’ is the money paid to the government officials that
            check and regulate the operations of the fossil fuel companies, for

            Does anyone have any idea what that means?

            OK, you failed to answer why we’re giving free money to massively profitable corporations.

            And you failed to show us where we could see regions and continents that go weeks without wind and solar.

            Am I starting to see a pattern?

          • mechanieker

            I’ll restate:

            Government officials (on the government payroll) who are charged with regulating fossil fuel energy companies are considered a subsidy to the fossil fuels industry. That is why fossil fuel companies (as do most almost all other companies) receive some subsidies, in this form. Other of such subsidies include: maintenance of roads and subsidies to universities for making available courses on fossil fuels technology and for doing research. This has nothing to do with the profitability of the fossil fuels companies. The tax revenue far exceed these subsidies. By a factor of 8, according to a major study which I provided above, and which you seem to conveniently ignore.

            Another way to see this is as follows:

            Fossil fuel companies sell their energy on the free market, and the government taxes this energy, as well as the involved goods and services, in addition to claiming royalties on the extraction of fossil resources. Of every 8 dollars of tax revenues and royalties claimed by the government, 1 dollar is spent on such things as regulating the fossil fuel companies, maintaining roads used by fossil fuel company vehicles, paying for university courses and research into fossil fuel related science, and so on.

            Moreover, the external cost of fossil fuels in OECD countries is estimated to be as high as $600 billion. Assuming that is true, please recognise that this is still less than the $800 billion in tax revenue received by the government from the fossil fuels industry.

            Concerning my claim that regions can suffer from low winds and overcast days for days or weeks, you ignore the evidence I have already given. But here is another piece of evidence for the United Kingdom.

            Finally, please understand that I am NOT a supporter of fossil fuels. I want them phased out! The only difference on that count between you and I is that I am not afraid to consider the reality that fossil fuels ARE highly cost effective, delivering a huge amount of utility AND tax revenues to the public. You deny this. I don’t. I urge you to join me in fighting the fossil fuel industry on the basis of facts and clear reasoning, not on the basis fantasy and ignorance. Thank you!

          • mechanieker

            @Giles. Would you comment on this story:


            Specifically this snippet:

            London, 17 October (Argus) –– German chancellor Angel Merkel’s cabinet today backed proposals to ban the permanent closure of power plants deemed essential as part of government plans to ensure electricity supply security.

            The proposal is aimed at avoiding grid and supply bottlenecks and will oblige operators to have fixed fuel supply contracts in place for system-relevant gas-fired power plants.

            The lower house of parliament will discuss a draft law, drawn up by the economy ministry, in November. The draft, obtained by Argus, lays out legal measures to prevent operators from closing unprofitable power plants that are deemed to be system-relevant, because their permanent closure could risk power supply security.

          • Giles

            Yep, that is what i was referring to in my previous comment. Renewables do change the rules of the market, or at least the dynamics, no doubt about that – so the market will move to either a capacity based market or preferably a capabilities style market that will provide the economic incentive for those gas plants to stay in production. Previously, those gas plants relied on soaring wholesale prices to move into production, and those costs were passed on to consumers. Renewables bring down the price of wholesale energy, so a different incentive needs to be found for those generators no longer making a profit. You will find every grid operator in the world has the right to prevent a plant closing down under the energy security legislation. nothing unusual in that.

          • mechanieker

            Giles, this situation IS unusual, in the sense that every grid operator in the world allows power producers to shut down their operations, as long as they give the required advance notice to the operator. In Germany, the new law would forbid closure, period.

            It would be like going to work and telling your boss you’d like to quit, and him telling you: “Nope, sorry, but there is a new law now that forbids you to quit. Oh and by the way: you’re going to keep getting less and less salary, while the workload will become more and more unpredictable. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”


            Seriously, I think what renewables-owners and their friends in goverment are aiming for is that the government will force the taxpayer to pay to keep the gas plants open, so the renewables-owners can sell their intermittent energy without having to care about overcast skies, low winds or calm nights, let alone system stability, and not even about consumers complaining about high energy prices (if the money to keep the gas plants open comes from general funds, rather than the renewable energy surcharge).

            And when this strategy succeeds, the renewables-owners will not only profit, but they will also be able to add another mis-characterization of the issue to their repertoire, namely:

            “The irony is that it is not solar and wind that will need subsidies in the new regime, but the fossil fuel generators.”


        • mechanieker

          Bob, you have it all wrong (as usual). In fact, utility companies have no problem shutting down power plants that have become unprofitable due to subsidized solar and wind, such as in Germany.

          But the politicians won’t allow it, because the politicians don’t like the idea of rolling blackouts! Didn’t see that one coming, did you now? 😉

  • JohnRD

    Targeted energy storage would make sense now in situations where the alternative is a major system upgrade. One of the attractions of storage is that it can proceed in small increments.

    • RobS

      I agree totally, just as solar has broken through vie 3kw systems on people’s rooftops I predict storage breakthroughs will occur via 10kwh systems in people’s basements. There are too many vested interests in big business looking out for each others backs and existing market models. Wow ever as storage costs fall and there is a savings incentive for individuals to install storage they will simply bypass the utilities and their vested interests just as they have and are with solar installations.

  • barrie harrop

    Why bother we can supply communities with 24/7 power from 20 cents per kwh with our distributed energy model.

  • Christophe

    Well this ROI is difficult to reach because most Energy Storage providers over charge for what they sell, saying the batteries, li-ion, are expensive: this is not true anymore. I built an ESS that is 5kWh for less than 3,000 EUR and can make it 10kWh for an additional 1,700 EUR only, using top quality LiFePO4 cells, is fully integrated to your house and stores surplus from wind, solar, etc. Google DIY ESS if you are interested. It is like electric cars: you can one, or convert one yourself…

  • Martin Nicholson

    RE systems pride themselves on being sustainable. I haven’t
    seen any discussion about sustainability of batteries. Current chemical storage batteries
    use large quantities of limited resources, some of which are quite toxic such
    as lead and lithium. I rarely see much consideration of this in discussions
    about using electricity storage systems.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Neither lead nor lithium are in short supply.

      Both lead and lithium can be recycled. Battery lead is very widely recycled now.

      Lots of things are harmful if you inhale, eat or rub them on your skin. Here’s a suggestion – don’t break open batteries and ingest the contents.

      You don’t see many discussions about the availability or danger of battery materials. That’s because there’s no issue.

      • mechanieker

        “No issue”?

        Don’t try to sugercoat it Bob.

        At 300 Wh/kg, and global daily electricity use of about 50 TWh per day, 7 days of electricity storage for the world would require more than 1 BILLION TONS of batteries of the high-end lithium type. Granting those batteries a lifetime of 10 year, we would have to recycle 100 million tons of batteries every year.

        Is there even enough lithium for that amount of batteries? Is seven days of storage even enough to survive periods of low winds and overcast skies? New homes in my country that are “true off-grid” have 1 MONTH of storage…

        And of course, electricity use world wide is set to at least double, and probably double again, and again, before the century is out.

        “No issue”?


        From where I’m standing, nuclear power looks a WHOLE lot cleaner and cheaper than having 100 million tons of batteries being scrapped each year to accomodate awkward, clumsy, cumbersome, intrusive, and costly wind towers and solar power electronics.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Well, to start with an ability to store 100% of our energy for seven days very much exceeds probable need. We simply don’t have weeks in which the wind doesn’t blow, the Sun fails to shine, the Earth fails to yield heat, dams go dry, tides cease, and biomass/gas plants fail to work.

          Perhaps you’re standing in the wrong place. Have you noticed that your view is a bit dark and smelly?

          • mechanieker

            I was triggered by your claim that the environmental impact of large amounts of chemical storage batteries are “no issue”. Clearly, they will be an issue.

            If you’ve ever visited my country – the Netherlands – in the winter months, you will realize that periods of low winds and overcast sky are real. I’ve actually performed studies of the Dutch climate over a ten year period to identify extended periods of low wind and low solar insolation, and to determine the effect of different patterns of spreading wind and solar installations throughout the country, and in conjuction with installation in the UK and Germany. The Dutch climate is similar to the UK and German climate. There are many periods of days or weeks of low wind, low sunshine, or both, stretching across this entire region. This is not controversial, however much you try to make it like it is.

          • RobS

            Sorry but I call BS, no one builds off grid with a month of storage capacity. 5 days is about as high as people go. Beyond that it is far cheaper to have a generator to replenish storage if a low wind low solar situation continues beyond 2-3 days. Exactly the same practice would work on a far larger scale, 2-3 days of storage gives you a more than adequate buffer and notice of the need to bring back up generation on line to permit fairly close to 100% renewable penetration. Even 12-24 hours of storage gives more than enough time to bring many back up options on line and would allow somewhere around 75% renewable penetration. 3-6 hours of storage buffers short term dips and peaks and would allow ~50% renewable penetration.
            Here and in the Deutsche bank article you are using the technique of reductio ad absurdium, reducing the argument to the absurd by beginning with absurd premises like needing a week to a month of total power demand stored. It is easy to make it seem something will never work when you set up such utterly absurd requirements for it, the reality is a tenth of what you are suggesting would be enough to achieve a huge amount of benefit from storage.

          • mechanieker

            In my country, the Netherlands, a ‘proof of concept’ totally off-grid home was built with over 300 kWh of lead-acid batteries, conforming with 1 month of storage (the yearly electricity usage is about 4000 kWh per home in my country). The battery system and power electronics package alone cost over 50.000 euro. It is possible to build a complete high efficiency home for that kind of money.

            Various literature indicates that three weeks of storage would me be minimum for an off grid home in the Netherlands.

            Now, I see you are including ‘back-up’ options in your proposal. That would be fossil fuels. 50% or evern 75% renewables penetration is not enough to stop global warming. Especially not since world electric demand will probably double before 2050 and then likely double again.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I can’t imagine that they proved any important concept.

            Obviously if you add enough batteries you can store as much power as you like. Of course over time the self-discharge is going to start to bite.

            What makes more sense is to not try to run off only one input from one specific place on the planet.

            Build a supply rich grid of solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, wave, hydro, and biomass/gas. Spread your collectors around to take advantage of the wind blowing in different places at different times and tides being out of sych as one moves up and down the coast.

            Backup does not have to be fossil fuels. It can be biofuels, held-back hydro. And it can be renewable generation imported from other areas.

            It’s cheaper to install wind turbines and solar panels than to build coal burning plants. Wind turbines and solar panels have no fuel costs. Why do you expect the “doubling” and “doubling again” to be served by the most expensive technologies rather than the cheapest?

          • mechanieker

            I expect them to be served by the cheapest technologies. That is either fossil fuels or nuclear. Wind and solar are merely energy saving technologies. They can save some fossil fuels if paired with fossil fuel plants. But they won’t save enough fossil to stop climate change.

  • Ken Fabian

    I don’t see the storage problem as insurmountable or ultimately even that difficult- although it’s held up as that by those who would prefer not to have to change from fossil fuels. I’m not convinced that batteries will be the preferred choice for large scale storage even though we continue to get reports of significant innovations with batteries and supercapacitors and they are going to be important.

    I think it will be hot gravel or molten salt or pumped heat or even some solid state version of pumped hydro that will be more suited to utility scale.

    Pumped heat is already being claimed as cheaper than pumped hydro and would avoid the toxic waste issues Martin Nicholson raised – Isentropics Pumped Heat Energy storage system uses argon (extracted from air and going back to air if it leaks) and gravel in steel containers – not toxic, reusable and recyclable and they claim testing shows it’s cheaper than pumped hydro.

    The solid variant of pumped hydro may not pan out – a cross between a mine’s conveyor system and a ski lift that will work anywhere there is a hill – but it does show that innovative application of well known technologies have a lot of potential. A burning desire by energy companies to develop adequate storage would be welcome – much better than the present situation where it is in their interests that only inadequate storage is available. So they have the excuse to NOT invest in developing renewables.

    • mechanieker

      The history of developing cheap electricity storage is more than 100 years old. It has been the Holy Grail of energy supply for decades. To presume that serious research and development is only now starting is a mistake.

      The issue of storing electrical power cheaply is a very hard nut to crack. Pumped-hydro is the only large-scale contender that comes close to being affordable for diurnal energy storage, but it is an environmental hazard in it’s own right, and the potential of pumped hydro is limited by geography, even if environmental concerns about flooding large areas are ignored.

      Pumped hydro for seasonal electricity storage is overwhelmingly expensive, although it is by far the cheapest type of storage. None of this is controversial.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Vanadium redox flow batteries. Slightly more expensive than pump-up hydro but easier to site.

        Possibly EOS System zinc-air batteries. A bit more expensive than pump-up hydro but much easier to site and within the range of affordability. We’ll know how they work in the real world in a few months.

        And the possible emerging giant, Ambri liquid metal batteries. Cheap as dirt and working fine in prototype form. Scheduled to go into manufacturing in 2014.

        I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the US we have about 80,000 existing dams. We use about 2,500 of those for electricity production. At least 10% of the remaining should be usable for pump-up storage (have adequate head and are located close enough to transmission lines).

        Then there’s closed loop pump-up. The reservoirs don’t need to be large like hydro dams which store weeks/months of water. Just large enough to store 2-3 days.

        Probably the reason that people in your part of the world have a month’s work of storage (which I suspect is an exaggeration) must be due to them having only one supply source.

        That will not be the case with the grid. Neither will the grid be limited to one little piece of land, but will spread its net far and wide.

        • mechanieker

          All the pumped hydro in Germany can supply less than 0,5 days of German electricity demand. Could you provide evidence that pumped hydro dams can typically supply weeks/months of storage? And I don’t mean in the few countries that already have large hydro due to their geography. I mean on average, globally.

          You have not explained why the environmental impact of the millions of tons of Vanadium redox, zinc-air or other types of batteries that will be written off each year, globally, in your scenario will be no issue? That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. It would be similar to an oil company saying that the risk of oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico are “no issue”. I was rather hoping that we would be rid of such thinking. I’m hoping we can have an energy system where all environmental effects are strenuously monitored and controlled, such as in the nuclear power sector.

          • Bob_Wallace

            (I’m pushed for time. I’ll try to get back to your other comments in a couple of days.)

            I made no comment about pump-up storing weeks/months of storage. There is no need for that. Your inability to find data for a weeks long energy drought proves that.

            Here’s my comment you apparently misread –

            “Then there’s closed loop pump-up. The reservoirs don’t need to be large like hydro dams which store weeks/months of water. Just large enough to store 2-3 days.”

            Going forward the world will desire/need a massive amount of energy. However we supply that desire/need will cause some environmental damage. There are no absolutely clean, non-destructive solutions.

            Obviously fossil fuels and nuclear are too destructive/dangerous to continue to be sources.

            Probably the technologies with the least impact are solar and underwater turbines. But both need material inputs – steel, aluminum, copper, glass, etc. And those two, alone, would require much larger amount of storage.

            If we get very lucky then Ambri’s liquid metal batteries will work. They use very common materials and apparently last for an extremely long time. (I can’t figure out what would ever wear out based on what I know about them.)

            Whatever, we will have to find the most affordable and least problematic form of storage, be it batteries, pump-up, CAES or one of some other technologies being investigated.

            Whatever renewable energy sources we pick they will be infinitely safe than nuclear. There is no way a wind turbine or solar panel can melt down and create a 1,600 square mile exclusion zone and cause thousands of cases of thyroid cancer.

          • mechanieker

            Luck has nothing to do with it. Either we continue the build-out of good, clean, cheap nuclear energy – like we did up untill the ’70s of the last century, or we wreck the planet and/or our economies. It’s that simple. Your objective to destroy nuclear power is an attack on the future of the human race. I hope you live long enough to find that out. Here’s the problem in a nutshell, explained by Dr. James Hansen. (I assume everybody who read this knows who that is, right?)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Obviously you do not know that nuclear is more expensive than renewables with storage.

            You must also know that it takes significantly longer to bring nuclear generation on line.

            Furthermore you must not realize that siting new reactors has become difficult due to lack of inland cooling water supplies.

            Jim Hanson knows a lot about climate and climate change. He’s poorly informed about nuclear and renewable energy.

            Expertise in one area does not make one an expert in all areas.

          • mechanieker

            I’m sorry, but Hanson is not the only one supporting nuclear power. If he was, you might have had a point. Here are some other big names:


            “We won’t meet the carbon targets if nuclear is taken off the table … Emissions per unit of energy need to fall by a factor of six. That means electrifying everything that can be electrified and then making electricity largely carbon-free … We need to understand the scale of the challenge.” – Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, at Asian Development Bank meeting in Manila

            “Governments need to realize that the cleanest and safest energy, statistically, is nuclear energy…We need to try to produce as many nuclear power stations as possible, particularly if we’re going to try to combat global warming. It’s one of the only real weapons to combat global warming that we have.” – Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group, at the National Press Club, Washington, DC, 2009

            “If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years: I can pick who is president, I can pick a vaccine … or I can pick that [an energy technology] at half the cost with no CO2 emissions gets invented, this is the wish I would pick. This is the one with the greatest impact.” – Bill Gates, investor of TerraPower, in his Ted talk “Innovating to Zero,” 2010

            “I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.” – James Lovelock, scientist, in theIndependent

            “Let me be very clear. Without nuclear, the battle against global warming is as good as lost.” – Mark Lynas, author, in the Guardian

            “My change of mind wasn’t sudden, but gradual over the past four years. But the key moment when I thought that we needed to be extremely serious was when it was reported that the permafrost in Siberia was melting massively, giving up methane, which is a very serious problem for the world.” – Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace, in the Independent

            “I’m not surprised that the clean and peaceful technology, which today provides about 13.5 percent of world electricity without air pollution or greenhouse gases, was tarred with the same brush as the [Atomic] Bomb. I am surprised, however, that idealistic, intelligent people who want to clean up the air and limit global warming are opposed to nuclear power. They might as well be out there promoting fossil fuels. ” – Richard Rhodes, author, in the New York Times

            “The advantages far outweigh any objections, and I can see no practical way of meeting the world’s needs without nuclear energy … The subject is so important that it should be a matter of informed public debate.” – Hugh Montefiore, cofounder of Friends of the Earth, in the Independent

            “Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.” – George Monbiot, journalist, in theGuardian

            “Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio…Fear of radiation shouldn’t even enter into this. Coal is very, very bad.” – Steven Chu, former US Secretary of Energy, at the economic summit at Stanford University, 2008

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, you can list a few big names. None of them are energy people.

            Again, simply because someone has made it to the top in their specialization does not make them specialists in all fields.

            Ever hear of a guy named Linus Pauling?

            I’d bet you that most of the folks you list don’t know the price of renewables and nuclear. Do you?

          • mechanieker

            Yes I do. It’s my day job to know.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, share your knowledge.

            What would electricity from a new nuclear reactor built in the west without government assistance cost?

          • mechanieker

            In Europe, there are two nuclear newbuilds (EPR’s), which look like they’ll end up costing about 8 €ct/kWh after all is said and done with them. They’re way over budget, due to various change orders and disputes between plant owners, regulator and the public. Some unexpected costs are natural for first-of-a-kind of NPP’s and a lot is learned about optimizing the build process. Due to learning effect with these EPR’s – including the experience of the Chinese who are finishing their EPR’s as well – the next couple of EPR’s to be started should cost about €4,5 ct/kWh or less. Then, the bulk of the plants will cost probably a bit less than 3 ct/kWh. Eventually, after a few decades, the capital cost will be pretty much paid off, so the cost could drop down to 2 ct/kWh and stay there for another 30 to 70 years. 4th generation technology offer the potential of far simpler reactors, which could lead to perhaps 0,5 to 1,5 cents of even cheaper electricity. 1 ct/kWh is the current ambition of the Chinese for the long term. Other nations could also do it.

            In Europe EU-27, 300 EPR’s could replace most fossil electricity generation. They could be built over a period of 20 years (France finished most of their current NPP’s within a 10 year period, and that was 30 years ago) They could solve EU electricity supply and co2 problem for about 3 ct/kWh. Europe will have very cheap electricity as long as it build it’s EPR according to its plans, and not get distracted with expensive boondoggles.

            Solar in Europe costs between 10 and 20 ct/kWh, and seems to be bottoming today. Conceivably, it could be cheaper than 5 ct/kWh eventually in good places, with a lot of automation and technical refinement in the manufacturing. Or perhaps unexpected successes with some of the more exotic concepts being tried.

            Wind (offshore) costs about 8 to 10 cents, and could dip under 6 ct/kWh eventually. Wind on land is much cheaper, but hopeless because of (understandable!) NIMBY and long distances between good sites and load centers.

            But solar and wind are diffuse and intermittent. Whatever market share they take from stable generators is turned into a subsidy requirement for those generators, because they must remain online to plug the gaps left by wind and solar.

            The only potential economic benefit of solar and wind is therefore fuel savings at the stable generators. Coal, gas and oil fuels cost about 3, 5 and 11 cents per kWh of electricity (assuming 50% efficiency). So wind could save oil economically (we already knew that), but not gas, and certainly not coal. Solar, meanwhile, could save some oil – in the best case – but not gas and not coal. In future, it might compete with gas, although the gas price in Europe is not set to rise much in the medium term.

            Furthermore, intermittency and additional transmission needs are cost multipliers for large penetratinos of solar and wind in their own right, as we have discussed. These by themselves make renewables far more costly than stable suppliers, especially if the aim is to reduce carbon emissions of electricity production by 90%. Whatever combination of renewables, backup, storage or transmission is attempted, the system would become unaffordable before the 90% reduction is reached. (“unaffordable” is when energy costs grow to more than 10% of GDP, which causes recessions).

            And then we have not even begun eliminating fossil fuels from transport.

            For the case in my country, I calculate that using no nuclear energy would increase the electricity price by 20 ct/kWh minimum, costing 20 billion per year, which is more than 1000 euro per soul. That is the optimal scenario. If things don’t work out, if there is not perfect planning and integration, the cost would double or triple easily. My country would enter a very long (and therefore dangerous) recession completely unnecessarily.

            Taking everything together, solving the problem of either climate change, or dwindling fossil resources using wind and solar is perhaps technically possible, but it is unaffordable without nuclear energy, which means we will fail in stopping climate change, or our economies will collapse, or both.

          • Giles

            do you make these numbers up? EdF are asking for a minimum 15c/kWh – indexed to rise – for 40 years. And that is after $15 billion of loan guarantees and the government accepting all other insurance, construction and operating risk. There is such an amazing disconnect between nuclear enthusiasts and the reality of capital costs and capital markets. And where in the world is new coal or gas built at the costs you mention? Brazil even had to set a new category for its capacity auctions because neither coal nor gas could compete with wind. Solar is being built at 10c/kWh in Europe – but more importantly it is behind the metre. even the medium scale developments.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Giles, do you have a link to 15c, 40 years and indexed?

            I’ve got only the 15c. Would like to have the rest.

            I did read that the UK offered an indexed 12c for 30 years and got turned down by EDF.

          • mechanieker

            EdF can ask what they want. They have the British over a barrel, due to the British dithering and contradictory policies on nuclear in the last decade. The Brits need new nukes, but they have been frustrating new build for years and now the situation is becoming desperate. And it’s risky building nukes in countries that are under the sway of the anti-nukes. Finnish and French examples show how incredibly costly it can be. New build in Europe will happen when Europe decides to stop building dirty coal plants, and to stop digging it’s natural gas dependence hole, which it is continuing to dig under the guise of ‘sustainable development’. But that will perhaps only happen when reality bites, which could take a few more years.

            Besides, EdF is already up to their ears in work in the Far East. Getting projects finished on time and on budget with the Chinese. The reason nuclear ‘takes too long’ and ‘costs too much’ is a consequence of anti-nuke fearmongering, doubt-casting and confusion sowing only. Experience with new nukes abroad proves this. (Why don’t we ever hear about that from the Western Greens? Don’t they want to stop climate change? Aren’t they happy that the Chinese are easing off their massive coal burning plans and switching to nuclear?)

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The reason nuclear ‘takes too long’ and ‘costs too much’ is a
            consequence of anti-nuke fearmongering, doubt-casting and confusion
            sowing only.”

            That’s a load of rubbish.

            “Finnish and French examples show how incredibly costly it can be.”

            Those costs and the current cost overruns at Vogtle are simply typical cost and timeline overruns which have been typical of nuclear from the early days of reactor construction.

            Almost always budgets are set too low and completion dates too close in order to get people to sign up. Then the reactors (those which are actually completed) take years longer and billions of dollars more than promised.

            It’s a tired old game that the nuclear industry has played. But it’s about over as nuclear is now dying.

          • mechanieker

            Not true. In the early days of nuclear power, and in all countries except countries hosting by influential anti-nuke lobbies, nuclear power was built on time and within budget. Many of those plants are still providing power today. Please study the following very carefully:


          • Bob_Wallace

            “in all countries except countries hosting by influential anti-nuke lobbies”

            I.e., in countries where citizens have no ability to protest what they don’t like.

            China, North Korea, those sorts of countries.

            I suppose your solution to cutting the cost of building nuclear reactors is to use the military in the process?

            BTW, both the Georgia and South Carolina reactors are behind schedule and over budget due to non-protestor reasons.

          • mechanieker

            Military nuclear projects are historically better managed and lower cost. The nuclear power plants on board naval ships have an LCOE of only 7 ct/kWh, even despite their small size (~200 MWe). So yes, if it comes to it, if it turns out that the anti-nuke strangle hold-on on public opinion and energy policy continues to make fossil fuels use reduction all but impossible in advanced countries, then i would indeed favor giving the task of co2 emission reductions to the military. In fact, I am already in correspondence with the military of my country to see what role they can play in supporting innovative nuclear new build of the 4th generation, which will be even safer, cheaper and cleaner than the 3rd generation. Building such power plants under military jurisdiction would advance the introduction date of the first units by up to 10 years, and improve quality as well. After that, the military jurisdiction has served its purpose and civilian companies would have the necessary confidence and example to continue the build out. It wouldn’t be the first time that the military advanced new technology that is too difficult for civilian parties to accomplish.

            Please note that co2 reduction and the fight against climate change, energy poverty and air pollution are the highest priority in my mind. I will not allow anti-nuclear propaganda by the pseudo-greens to hold the world hostage and keep making the world safe for coal and gas. It is not a game to me. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The nuclear power plants on board naval ships have an LCOE of only 7 ct/kWh”

            Perhaps 7c/kWh if, like the bogus Breakthrough number, not all costs are included. The US government does not borrow money. It uses taxpayer money. Accurate accounting would include opportunity loss in place of financing costs.

            “Please note that co2 reduction and the fight against climate change, energy poverty and air pollution are the highest priority in my mind”

            If that is a truthful statement then you should be advocating for the cheapest, fastest to install and safest low CO2 electricity generation technologies. And not for the most expensive, longest to install and most dangerous.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Olkiluoto 3, that’s just the capex, it does not include finex. Incomplete accounting.

            Chinese numbers don’t work in the west. We don’t pay labor a dollar an hour and engineers a couple hundred dollars per month. We also don’t use the military to suppress opposition or to move people off their land in order to build reactors

            Your Chinese numbers are also dishonest. China is not completing their reactors as fast as they projected and you leave out finex.

            You do a fine job of tap dancing around my question.

            “What would electricity from a new nuclear reactor built in the west without government assistance cost?”

            Care to answer it?

          • Guest


          • mechanieker

            Engineers in China earn between 3000 and 5000 USD per month.


            You’re talking about the situation 10 years ago (When I was there on a knowledge exchange program). You also seem particularly prejudiced toward China. I suppose you prefer they switch back to their plan to build a dozen new coal megabases, rather than go nuclear?

            Nuclear new builds in China currently get offered a 7 $ct/kWh feed-in tariff, which seems quite generous judging from the success of their recent nuclear projects.


          • Bob_Wallace

            I didn’t realize that salaries for engineeers had risen so much in China. They’re now earning about half of what US engineers earn.

            You do a fine job of tap dancing around my question.

            “What would electricity from a new nuclear reactor built in the west without government assistance cost?”

            Care to answer it?

          • mechanieker

            I already answered it in an earlier post. The cost will be 7ct/kWh or lower. Probably lower, since the current build at Olkiluoto will cost about 7 ct/kWh over the first 20 years, then about 4 ct/kw the next 40 years. The current build has been plagued by unexpected delays and resulting cost-overruns, which should be avoidable in the new build (Finland is planning to build another EPR after they finish the current one.)

            Find a more detailed cost breakdown of the Finnish project here:


          • Bob_Wallace

            $15 billion cost at completion. 80% capacity. A 2c/kWh operating cost. Those are Breakthrough’s numbers from your link.

            Assuming a 6%, 20 payoff of the $15 billion debt.

            The LCOE is 13.6 c/kWh.

            Now, if I assume that the $15 billion is being loaned for 0% interest I get a LCOE that approximates Breakthrough’s number. 6.9c/kWh.

            (If I get really generous and use a 90% capacity factor the LCOE is 12.5 c/kWh.)

            Perhaps you can explain the difference in our calculations?

          • mechanieker

            Breakthrough ignored financing costs for both the PV and the NPP. If you include them, you will get (even) higher numbers for both options. NPP’s and PV are both front-loaded capital projects so the effect of interest should be about the same in each case.

            What Breakthrough shows (and which is not difficult to show) is that even the worst executed nuclear project is still an order of magnitude cheaper than a PV project.

            That is why the Dalai Lama has stated that nuclear energy is necessary to help the world’s poor developed, because alternatives are too inefficient and expensive.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You’re tap-dancing.

            Fact is, your site lies about the cost of nuclear.

            Adding in financing brings the cost above 12c/kWh.

            Solar is now hitting 10c/kWh in the US without subsidies and dropping fast.


            Wind is now “delivered to the door” in the US for 6c/kWh.


            Call in all the religious characters you like, even dead ones, but nuclear still is going to die away. Its cost is delivering a it a fatal blow.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The current build has been plagued by unexpected delays and resulting cost-overrun”

            That, dear sir, is the history of nuclear energy.

            Promise cheap, promise soon. Show up late with a very much larger bill.

            Vogtle 3 began construction in March of 2013.

            By June, 2013 the company admitted to being 14 months behind schedule and at least 12% over budget.

            The South Carolina reactors have now been announced to be roughly a year behind schedule and at least $200 million over budget.

          • mechanieker

            It’s a pity. But it’s not typical of all nuclear projects, and even with such setbacks, nuclear energy is far cheaper than alternatives, as demonstrated by the Breakthough article I linked to.

          • Bob_Wallace

            After I show you that the Breakthrough number is false and you admit that it is you still use it to make the false statement that “nuclear energy is far cheaper than alternatives”.

            That’s mega-dishonest.

            As for “not typical of all nuclear projects”, more false information.

            Read a few pages, starting with #33 at –


      • Ken Fabian

        For a Holy Grail there appears to be a lack of enthusiasm for spending R&D money developing large scale storage. With an abundance of coal, oil and gas, it’s not been high on the energy sector’s agenda. I’m afraid my cynicism is showing – they like the lack of large scale energy storage; it is a great excuse to reject the transition to renewables.

        Pumped heat energy storage, cheaper than pumped hydro –

        • mechanieker

          Hydropower, and pumped hydro are great energy sources. It would be wonderful if we could get what we need from them. But in a world that is heading for a 10+ TW electricity demand, Hydro can only play a part of it (and it should!).

          Nuclear is the next best thing to hydro, IMHO.

          • Ken Fabian

            The advantage of heat storage is that the materials can be non-toxic, abundant, low cost and reusable. No-one should expect it to be less massive than batteries. It’s footprint will still be less than pumped hydro, and not be constrained by geography and climate (which is subject to change).

            Nuclear in Australia is going nowhere. It has no mainstream political backing and won’t get it until and unless the LNP drops it’s climate denial and emissions policy obstructionism. That choice of the Conservative Right, to prefer and promote misinformation and lies over the truth about climate to protect the long term viability of the fossil fuel sector did nuclear more damage than all the anti-nuclear rhetoric of the Green Left.

            Australian Commerce and Industry – other than big producers and users of fossil fuels that have no other commercially viable option but choose climate denial to protect their business models – would probably be the strongest and most influential voices calling for nuclear. But, because the LNP offered them a do nothing option, nuclear advocacy by the business sector got subsumed into the LNP’s climate obstructionist agenda.

            The golden moment for nuclear – which was before renewables showed that they were a credible alternative – is lost beyond recovery. I suspect that when the LNP finally loses the BS deny and obstruct agenda nuclear will no longer be the only option they give real consideration to. And not necessarily the first choice.

          • mechanieker

            Interesting stuff. Anyway, it remains to be seen that renewables are a credible alternative to nuclear. If Australia is ever going to succeed in reducing it’s GHG emissions enough, it will be with a substantial amount of nuclear power. Or it simply won’t happen. As soon as installed nameplate capacity of renewables start to reach the minimum power demand, costs of additional renewables explode and the venture will come to a grinding halt. 50% nuclear power penetration is minimum if the goal is to substantially reduce fossil fuel usage without significantly increasing energy costs, IMHO.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “If Australia is ever going to succeed in reducing it’s GHG emissions enough, it will be with a substantial amount of nuclear power. Or it simply won’t happen.”

            It’s funny how you know the absolute truth. Especially considering that we’ve got several studies that show that a 100% renewable grid is both doable and affordable.

            A 100% nuclear grid? That might not actually be possible due to a lack of cooling water sources. And it would take a lot of storage to make it work….

          • mechanieker

            I don’t know the absolute truth, but using basic
            thermodynamics it is possible to narrow the field quite substantially. Economics dictates that no more than 10% of any given population will agree to paying substantially more for energy as long as it is non-nuclear. Not enough to prevent fossil hegemony from persisting. History demonstrates this.

            NPP’s like the AP1000 and EPR do loadfollowing at 5% per minute. So no storage needed. Even some existing NPP’s (in France) have been augmented to do loadfollowing well. It’s no big deal.

            NPP’s can be cooled without water (dry cooling) although this costs slightly more than water cooling obviously. Nevertheless, there are plenty of NPP’s currently in operation using only dry cooling, so it is commercially proven to work and be affordable.

            I know the studies you are talking about. All contain crucial caveats, specifically ignore important costcenters, such as land acquisition and transmission costs, and rely on the appearance of as yet undiscovered technologies, such as cheap electricity storage, high-penetration demand response, and presumed large additional decreases in the cost of key power generation technologies.

            I also know studies that show that a renewables only energy system is NOT credible. Here’s a good one, that puts the case concisely and clearly:


          • mechanieker

            Please let me know which studies.

          • Bob_Wallace

            A four year real-time study showing a major US grid could run on almost 100% renewables at an affordable cost.

            Budischak, Sewell, Thomson, Mach, Veron, and Kempton


            Powering New York State with only wind, solar and water.

            Jacobson, et al.




            An all renewable Australian grid…

            Elliston, MacGill, and Diesendort




            And from the Elliston, et al. paper –

            “Numerous scenario studies have been published that model the potential for countries, regions, and the entire world, to meet 80{100% of end-use energy demand from renewable energy by some future date, typically mid-century. National scenarios exist for Australia (Wright and Hearps, 2010; Elliston et al., 2012b), Ireland (Connolly et al., 2011), New Zealand (Mason et al., 2010), Portugal (Krajacic et al., 2011), the Republic of Macedonia (Cosic et al., 2012), Japan (Lehmann, 2003), the United Kingdom (Kemp and Wexler, 2010), the United States (Hand et al., 2012), Germany (German Advisory Council on the Environment, 2011) and Denmark (Lund and Mathiesen, 2009). More broadly, regional studies have been produced for Europe (European Climate Foundation, 2010; Rasmussen et al., 2012), northern Europe (Srensen, 2008), and several studies of the global situation have been produced including by Srensen and Meibom (2000), Jacobson and Delucchi (2011), Delucchi and Jacobson (2011), Teske et al. (2012) and WWF (2011).””

          • mechanieker

            Right. I’ve already seen most of these studies and have been in correspondence with some of the authors, for several years now. I’m thinking about doing a review of some of the studies, focusing on their stated and unstated assumptions and caveats and laying bear their critical shortcomings, and the consequences for their conclusions. That will take some space, so I’d like to offer to do this review as an extended essay for publishing on this website. Is that possible? Can I get some kind of a guarantee that my review will be published? (and not refused for some lame reasons when push comes to shove?)

          • Bob_Wallace

            You’ve built a significant creditability problem.

            I really doubt that “have been in correspondence with some of the authors, for several years now”.

            Do your review and submit it for publication in a quality peer-reviewed journal. Let the knowledgeable people in the field take a look at your findings before they get put before the public.

            Or you could publish it at Breakthrough. They don’t seem to care about the truth as long as it fits their goals of pushing nuclear energy.

          • Ole Laursen

            In Denmark, there are experiments undergoing where huge isolated water basins are heated during the summer and stored for months. The heat is used for warming up homes in winter – there are extensive regional heating networks in place.

  • Jes

    California has re-introduced the Self-Generation Incentive Program and included emerging technologies with Advanced Energy Storage at $1.80/w with an additional incentive for California manufactured products. These incentives make energy storage a financial viable option.

  • Bob_Wallace

    mechanieker –

    You made a comment in which you stated “I also know studies that show that a renewables only energy system is NOT credible. Here’s a good one, that puts the case concisely and clearly:”

    I took a quick look at that study. As soon as I got to the “Assumptions” part I realized that is was fatalily flawed. Let me explain why…

    “A life time of 20 years for wind (Sharman, 2012), and 35 years for PV and
    solar thermal will be assumed.”

    Our first generation wind turbines lasted longer than 20 years. The turbines at Altamont Pass wind farm are just now being swapped out, 30 years after they went into service.

    “PV. If 15% efficient PV panels in large power stations are assumed to be located in the world�s best regions, such as Central Australia where total global solar radiation in winter is 7 kWh/m2/day on average (ASRDHB, 2006), then the electricity produced would be 1.05 kWh/m2/day, corresponding to a continual 24 hour flow of 44 W/m2. After deducting a 15% transmission loss and the above 15% embodied energy cost a net 32 W/m2 would be delivered at distance.”

    Panels being installed today are closer to 20% efficient and a 15% transmission loss is absurd.

    “It will be assumed that the proportion of world energy supply from hydro electric sources will remain about the same as it is now”

    Except that there are major dam constructions ongoing and planned around the world.

    “Lenzen�s review (2009) concludes that wind is not likely to
    be able to contribute much more than 20% of the electricity required within a
    system, because at higher penetrations integration problems rapidly

    The working number for the US grids is 35% and it is rising. As more generation moves from coal to natural gas and more EVs come on line the 35% number will increase.

    I basically quit reading at this point. Fail had been achieved.

    Sorry, you link doesn’t pass the smell test.

    • mechanieker

      “Our first generation wind turbines lasted longer than 20 years. The turbines at Altamont Pass wind farm are just now being swapped out, 30 years after they went into service.”

      Cherry picking the success stories. You don’t do that for nuclear. Then don’t do it for windfarms. Average windturbine life is dismal and you know it. Most get “re-powered” long before 20 years.

      “Panels being installed today are closer to 20% efficient and a 15% transmission loss is absurd.”

      The author considers the case where 20% system efficiency is assumed rather than 15% later on in the essay. He also explains the assumption of 15% transmission (+ distribution) lossrate: namely, it is because he assumes that most solar will be located at low latitudes (and thus have relatively long average distance to load centers.). Moreover, the 15% assumption is not unusual. In my country, a loss rate of 10% is assumed and my country is only a few hundred kilometers across.

      “Except that there are major dam constructions ongoing and planned around the world.”

      Granted there is potential for considerably more hydro, around the world, although the best sites have been taken, and NIMBY opposition – as well as credible environmental objections – to large-scale hydro is growing. Organisations like the Sierra Club are effectively against it. In fact, back in the ’50 and ’60 they were campaigning FOR nuclear power, as a way to PREVENT large-scale hydro!

      “The working number for the US grids is 35% and it is rising. As more generation moves from coal to natural gas and more EVs come on line the 35% number will increase.”

      I think you are confusing the word ‘penetration’ with ‘percentage of total installed capacity’ which are completely different things. There is no place on earth where the penetration of wind is 35%.

      “I basically quit reading at this point.”

      Your loss, but it explains a lot. In order to learn, you need to read that which challenges your viewpoint. That’s what I do, which causes me to no longer be surprised by any argument against my view. I’ve seen it all before, and done far better.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Sorry, that was not cherry-picking. That was reporting the facts from our oldest (or at least one of our oldest wind farms).

        Yes, some wind farms are getting “re-powered” before the turbines reach 20 years service. That is in areas where real estate for new wind farms is limited. First gen, smaller turbines mounted on lower towers are being taken down and replaced with larger, higher mounted turbines in order to greatly increase the output from those wind farms.

        For the most part the removed turbines are being refurbished and installed in places where land is not as tight. A lot of these turbines are going to developing countries which are just starting to install wind and can purchase these turbines at attractive prices. These first gen turbines are likely to have 40 year or longer lifetimes.

        Solar will not be installed at great distance from point of use. If we get to the point where we build very large solar arrays and ship that power long distances then we’ll use HVDC and UHVDC transmission which has very low loss over long distances.

        We won’t build many more dams in the US. But we are converting existing dams to energy production and we do have a lot of run of the river hydro potential.

        Yes, the US grids could be about 35% wind and solar without adding storage or dispatchable generation.

        As for your claim that “There is no place on earth where the penetration of wind is 35%” –

        On 18 April wind power in Spain reached a new record by producing 317 GW hours of electricity from wind and beating the previous record of 315 GWh. That’s 61% of all electricity from wind. A bit more than 35%.

        Sorry about not reading all your comment. I can tolerate only so much misinformation is a single sitting.

        • mechanieker

          “Sorry about not reading all your comment. I can tolerate only so much misinformation is a single sitting.”

          That’s rich, coming from someone who would have his readers believe that the term “penetration” refers to the percentage of electricity provided by a certain technology at a single (favourable) point in time!

          It does not.

          “Penetration” refers to the percentage of TOTAL yearly electricity demand supplied from a particular technology.


          • Giles

            In your mind maybe, but not in others. The Australian Energy Market Operator uses “penetration” to describe the number of households in a particular market with a certain technology (solar PV). So it has more than one meaning. But what the hell would AEMO know, they just run the grid.

          • mechanieker

            There is only one metric that should concern anybody who cares about the environment, and that is the percentage of total energy supplied that is sustainable. Households are but a part of total energy demand.

          • Guest


        • Ole Laursen

          Denmark was actually at 35% wind penetration in 2011:

          It’s a bit more now as a big offshore park is going online this year.

          We’re going to reach 50% by 2020.

          • mechanieker

            Denmark only uses about 50% of it’s wind energy. The rest is exported. So they have achieved less than 20% penetration.

          • Ole Laursen

            Where do you have that information from? The source I link to above says that the wind share of consumption in the area was 30% in 2011?

            According to another source on, 21.22% of consumption was generated by wind power in 2007.

            Energinet is the national grid infrastructure organisation in Denmark.

            I’m sorry I started by quoting a number that doesn’t match your definition. AFAICT the 50% by 2020 goal is framed in terms of consumption however, not production.

          • mechanieker

            I got my information from the CEPOS study done a few years ago, however that study seems to have been rebutted. The Danish network company you linked has the numbers online, here:


            I pulled the figures for 2012 and found:

            Electricity produced was about 29.000 GWh

            Electricity consumed was about 34.000 GWh.
            Electricity net imports was about 15%

            Wind power generated was about 10.000 GWh
            Wind power capacity factor was 29%
            Wind penetration was 30%.
            Exported electricity was about 1,6 GWh of which 98% took place while wind power was being generated. Excluding this wind export, wind penetration was about 25%.

            So it seems today Denmark *is* using most of it’s wind electricity (at least 85%) and has a wind penetration of at least 25%. But going further on to 35% will start to get difficult, for the following reasons:

            From the figures it can be seen that Denmark’s electricity consumption is minimum about 2000 MW and maximum about 6200 MW. Currently, Denmark has more than 4000 MW of wind-energy installed. To get to 50% penetration, it will need about 6900 MW wind. Currently, wind overproduction in 2012 was at most 570 MW, but this will reach about 3000 MW of overproduction if 50% penetration is to be reached. Even if they close all their power plants except their wind turbines, then still they will sometimes be producing too much electricity. And of course, they will be even more dependent on electricity imports than they are today.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Denmark has great wind resources.

            Italy has great solar resources.

            There are these things called wires that carry electricity from one place to another.

          • Ole Laursen

            Note that CEPOS is a Danish right-wing think-tank with a basic anti-government, anti-tax view of the world.

            About the difficulty: I’m sure that has been said before. :)

            There are a couple of other things you need to know. Electricity is only a part of the picture, Denmark is so far up north that significant amounts of energy is needed for heating in the winter. With cheap wind power, I’m sure more will be gobbled up by heat pumps.

            Also there’s plenty of hydro in Norway, and it’s even nicely inversely correlated with wind in Denmark in the sense that there’s more wind in winter where there’s little new water flowing to the reservoirs. So the Norwegians are happy to receive the Danish wind power.

            But sure, imports and exports are going to be more important in the future. The grid interconnects have been upgraded several times.

          • mechanieker

            The Danes have a long way to go before they equal the environmental performance of Norway and Sweden. Meanwhile, environmentalists have no business trying to destroy the nuclear energy option. If the do that, they are no environmentalists.

          • Ole Laursen

            Ah, I see.

            If you what you are interested in is nuclear, and the economics of it, read this


            Then possibly pay for access to Bulletin of Atomic Scientists or visit a library with access. I read “How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing” while it was freely available, and it was an eye-opener.

          • mechanieker

            I know enough. Without nuclear, there is no hope of stopping climate change. Germany demonstrates what happens.


  • Ken Fabian

    What renewables can do and are doing is transforming our energy infrastructure an incremental bit at a time – something nuclear can’t do. They are doing so in spite of an absence of bipartisan commitment to lowering emissions – which nuclear can’t do. They are growing strongly in spite of substantial mainstream political opposition and spoiling tactics – which nuclear can’t do. They are making real inroads despite an ongoing oversupply of fossil fuel capacity – which is an obstacle every developed economy has to face.

    It’s a decade or so yet before intermittency is seriously problematic – and, yes, backup is almost certainly going to done by fossil fuels at first when it arises. But a few hours storage is actually a very significant step – for solar especially; it can carry a sunny day’s power through the evening peak with real consequences – fossil fuel plants that (due to solar) are offline by day won’t be required to fire up every evening.

    And if there remains a big gap between daytime power and night time that a couple of decades of focused R&D&D (and deployment) on smart distribution and storage aren’t fixing, then there will be changes to energy usage patterns. If big differences in electricity prices between day and night arise, that will be inevitable – and be ongoing incentive to get fixes that work. It will not be the end of the world or cause our nation to be impoverished.

    What we truly cannot afford is to fail to address the climate problem.

  • andrea bowlig

    can you use lorry batteries for photovoltaic electricity as these you can get cheaper?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I assume you mean L-16 lead acid batteries? Lots of off-grid people do, but they aren’t cheap, only cheaper than some options but more expensive than others.

      I’ll stick a cost per kWh chart on the bottom. At average US prices ($0.1254/kWh) it doesn’t make sense to store electricity. If you live somewhere that has very expensive electricity it might.

      The best current option seems to be Trojan T-105 RE lead acid. A set should last several years and by then we should have much better options.

  • andrea bowlig

    and…. can you use photovoltaic electricity to charge up Electric Storage radiators during the day and release heat in the night????

  • Nicki

    Advice please! Battery storage system being considered, 7.2 kW output £5500.
    Solar PV already installed just under 4kw producing a return of around £1000 per year.
    Can’t decide whether it will be financially viable ? Any reviews or advice please that is relatively easy to understand.
    We are in the Uk

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