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How solar and EVs will kill the last of the industry dinosaurs

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(Editor’s note: We’ve followed this story with another one – Solar Storage means “game over” for traditional utilities – quoting the head of the US utilities commission and the former Energy Secretary).

Several years ago, Tony Seba, an energy expert from Stanford University, published a book called Solar Trillions, predicting how solar technologies would redefine the world’s energy markets and create an investment opportunity worth tens of trillions of dollars.

Most people looked at him, he says, as if he had three heads. That was possibly because the book was written before the recent plunge in the cost of solar modules had taken effect, and before most incumbent utilities had woken up to the fact that solar – even with minor penetration levels – was turning their business models upside down.

Seba is now working on a new book, with even more dramatic forecasts than his first. His new prediction is that by 2030, solar will make the fossil fuel industry more or less redundant. Even more striking is his forecast that electric vehicles will do the same thing to the oil industry by around the same date.

The predictions are made on the basis that the cost of solar and EV batteries will continue to fall, while the cost to consumers of sourcing energy from fossil fuels through the grid or liquid fuels will continue to rise. Before the decade is out, Seba says, both technologies will pass a tipping point that will eventually sweep the incumbents aside, just as technology and cost developments have done in the computer, internet, media, photographic and telecommunications industries.

“I am incredibly optimistic that by 2030, nuclear, coal, gas, big hydro, and oil will be all but obsolete,” Seba told RenewEconomy in an interview in San Francisco last month. “The world will be mostly powered by solar and wind, and most new vehicles will be electric. The architecture of energy markets is going from centralized to distributed – in liquids and the electric market.”

The working title for the book is “Disrupting energy – how Silicon Valley is making coal, nuclear, oil and gas obsolete.” It is pinned on the theme that decentralised generation and storage will replace the centralised, hub and spoke model that has prevailed for the last century. The impact of decentralised generation is already being felt. The striking part of Seba’s prediction is the speed with which it will happen.

First, on the technology cost issue. For EVs, Seba says the success of Tesla – in sales and in reputation – has changed the conversation around EVs, particularly after it won the 2013 Car of the Year award.

“Basically, EVs were supposed to be expensive and underpowered and weak and 50 years away. Tesla showed all that was wrong. The EV will do to oil what solar will do to coal, nuclear and gas. EVs are a disruptive technology, there is no doubt about that.

“The propaganda says that it is too expensive and has little range. But if you look at the cost curve of batteries, even Detroit is saying that by 2020 lithium-ion batteries will be at $US200/kWh.

“The tipping point for the mass market to move from internal combustion engines to EVs is between $US250 and $US300/kWh. Once it gets to $US100/kWh, it is all over. I think we will get to $US250/kWh by 2020. By 2030, when batteries are at $100/kWh, gasoline vehicles will be obsolete. Not on their way out, obsolete.” Seba thinks that mass migration will start around 2018 to 2020.

On solar it is a similar story. “When I wrote my first book, a lot of people looked at me like I had three heads,” Seba says. “They thought I was way too optimistic because the conversation then was about grid parity for solar in 2060, or 2070.

“And what you hear is the same thing we heard 20 years ago, that this is not going to happen, that it is difficult, that power needs specialised scale, that it can only be done like this. When in fact, over the last few years, a country like Germany has pioneered the move from a few dozen central power plants to more than a million producers.

“Australia has done the same thing. Bangladesh has a million solar installations. So the poorest people in one of the poorest countries are adopting solar unsubsidised. Solar is already cheaper than grid – what people are paying for electricity – in dozens of countries already. And that is despite huge fossil fuel subsidies.

“The sun is more democratic than any other source of energy. Coal is in pockets, gas is in pockets, oil is in pockets. The sun shines a little bit more in some places than others, but everyone gets sunshine. And the thing about solar, is that it can be built on a distributed basis.”

Can solar really be built on a scale that would meet the bulk of the world’s electricity needs? Seba points to the computer industry, where he worked in the 1990s, and to the internet and telecommunications. All three were dominated by huge, centralised technologies. All three industries have been turned upside down by new “distributed”, or hand-held devices. He says the same thing will happen in electricity.

“This is not in the future. We are going from big centralised power plants to decentralised generation, to decentralised storage, and to decentralised distribution.

“It is just a matter of policy makers understanding this and making regulations appropriately. In India, about $30-40 billion goes to subsidise diesel. The grid there is already obsolete. It went down and 500 million people didn’t notice, because they are not on the grid.

“If they stop subsidising diesel and put it into solar, they could bring 100 million people a year into solar. If all you do is stop subsidising diesel, you can, in five years, bring solar electricity to 500 million people who are not on the grid today.

The biggest threat from all this radical change is to the traditional utility model, Seba says. “Utilities as we know them are over. They are the land line telephone companies of 20, 30 years ago. We will start using them as back-up, as world goes distributed and every house has solar, and factories do the same, and they are stuck with these stranded investments.

“What they will try to do is to keep jacking up prices – which makes solar even more affordable. It will be this death spiral. You will see bankruptcies. Finally, it will not make sense.

He says markets will be redesigned, and there will be huge opportunities for new companies – he dubs them the Ebays of the electricity world – that can aggregate and trade distributed production, and that can manage the process.

“You will need a market, but instead of assuming 10 or 100 producers, you will need market that assumes million or tens of millions of power producers. So you will need some companies that can do that. Markets will get interesting – storing, trading etc. there will be huge opportunities for innovative companies.

“And then you need to know how to manage energy without thinking about it. Most of us don’t know enough. We don’t know enough about cars. Why ask same of consumers for electricity.

“So companies will do that – they will do that better than utilities do. The Nests, the Apples, Googles, Sungevity, and Suncity, are getting into the home, and getting trust of consumer.

“Most consumers don’t trust utilities, but utilities don’t understand this, because they treat consumers like ratepayers. When you buy a car, or a shirt you are treated well. But in the electricity industry, you are not.

“The big conversation is about solar panels, and storage and EVs, but that is just beginning of the conversation. We have so many other technologies that will change the way electricity is traded, used, stored. Utilities have no idea about that.”

So, what could possibly go wrong? Well, policy will be critical, and right now the conservative right is lined up against renewable and disruptive technologies, and firmly on the side of the incumbents.

Seba, doesn’t understand why. “In ideological terms, there is no more libertarian energy source than solar. Why do libertarians, at least in the US, align themselves with conservative parties?

“Why are they supporting coal and big refineries and power generation? Ideologically it makes no sense. Part of what is going on is an information war. $8 trillion can buy you a lot of information, and can help you spread a lot of misinformation. “

(Editor’s note: We’ve followed this story with another one – Solar Storage means “game over” for traditional utilities – quoting the head of the US utilities commission and the former Energy Secretary).

 

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  • Ivor O’Connor

    “Seba, doesn’t understand why. “In ideological terms, there is no more libertarian energy source than solar. Why do libertarians, at least in the US, align themselves with conservative parties?”

    I’m a libertarian and I fully support taking responsibility for things myself. I don’t trust governments or big corporations. Like most libertarians. However both the democrats and republicans see the libertarians as a threat and attempt to make it appear as if we have three heads. The truth, as Seba mentions a moment later, is:

    “Part of what is going on is an information war. $8 trillion can buy you a lot of information, and can help you spread a lot of misinformation.“
    Every libertarian I know loves local PV. Now if we could just get rid of the red tape government requires then every Libertarian would have PV.

    • Motorshack

      Here’s a question for you then.

      Would you rather buy a house, or any other potentially dangerous product (such as PV equipment), in a market where producers had no safety codes to consider or one in which they did?

      More to the point, are you in a position to personally check the design and manufacturing process for everything you might want to buy? Somehow, I doubt it.

      But still, you’re right on one point. Think of all the paper work and government red tape we could ditch if we just got over this childish need for protection from the errors and malfeasance of random strangers.

      For that matter, let’s get rid of fire insurance companies too, since any red-blooded, self-sufficient adult ought to be able to rebuild his own house, all on his own, with no money, any time a random bolt of lightning happens to hit the place.

      Same with medical insurance. Surely you can do your own brain surgery. Can you not? Why pay all those greedy doctors when all you really need is a mirror and a Bowie knife?

      Mind you, I have no special taste for unnecessary interference in my private life, but I do like the fact that most buildings in this country do not fall down at random moments on unsuspecting innocents.

      I also like the fact that the brain surgeons have to pass some tests before they hang up their shingles.

      But hey! That’s just me. And, as far as I’m concerned you Libertarians are perfectly free to handle your problems your own way – which I guess makes me something of a Libertarian as well, if you think about it a moment.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        And right on queue we have an example of the paid for disinformation. Possibly not even aware of where he got those opinions.

        • Motorshack

          Nah. I just live in New Hampshire, and the place is full of whiny Libertarians yapping about how successful they would be if all the rest of us dummies would just get out of their way. I get bored with it.

          And then it occurred to me that maybe they were so self-reliant that they really did their own brain surgery, and I couldn’t resist the image.

          In short, no one is paying me anything. I’m just jerking your chain for the sheer fun of it.

          Feel better now?

          • Ivor O’Connor

            You feel the need to jerk people around for the sheer fun of it and you are obsessed with brain surgery. A pattern is starting to form…

          • Motorshack

            Actually, brain surgery is not that uncommon an issue here. This state permits people to ride motorcycles without helmets, which many do very defiantly. However, the question is: if you refuse to wear a helmet, should you be entitled to taxpayer-supported care in the emergency room if you wind up with a fractured skull?

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Should fat people suffering heart conditions be entitled to taxpayer-supported care in the emergency room? How about old people? You seem to have all the answers for society. I have all the answers for taking care of myself but not for society…

          • Motorshack

            Answers? No, if you go back and look, I’ve mostly been asking questions.

            Initially I was wondering if solar panels would be such a great deal without some legally enforceable safety standards (which would necessarily involve some government “red tape”).

            However, since you did not want to address an honest question about your initial statement, but instead responded with insults, my present question is: how far off topic can I draw you before you catch on? Evidently it is quite a ways, with no end in sight.

            Now, having given away the game, I will leave it at that.

            Unless, of course, you might actually care to answer my original question with something other than gratuitous insults.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            No need for any red tape. Solar panels are simple. Unions will try to scare you into thinking you need an electrician to pass a wand over it. And of course energy monopolies will try to maintain their monopolies with red tape. You being a smart person could avoid both if the government would get out of the way.

          • Motorshack

            It is plausible that you might be able to install your own solar panels, and that you might be happy with the results. However, if you later offer to sell the house to me, how do I know that your wiring job will not kill me, my family, or my guests?

            You say frankly that you do not trust big organizations, but that works both ways: why should I trust some complete stranger who may well be both dishonest and incompetent.

            That is why I want to see the results of a formal inspection by an independent building inspector, and also why my mortgage lender and fire insurance underwriter will want the same. To you it is annoying red tape, but to us it is the only assurance that we have that there is not something nasty hidden in the walls. It is not an absolute guarantee of safety, but it is a pretty good start in the right direction.

            In addition, you are apparently talking only about the final installation of the panels. I am talking about the entire supply chain, which may involve thousands of people, probably in many countries. Organizing that complex a division of labor will necessarily involve a number of formally agreed contractual standards, which is, of course, yet more red tape.

            In fact, having a widely-accepted legal standard for safety and other technical issues is actually far simpler and cheaper than negotiating thousands of ad hoc agreements among all the players.

            On the other hand, perhaps you are talking about starting with raw sand, and doing every step of the design and manufacturing on your own.

            Personally I don’t think that is feasible, much less simple, but even if you manage to pull it off, the rest of us still have no way to know if your results are safe to touch, much less live with in close proximity for years on end.

            Moreover, as a retired engineer, I am actually very sympathetic to your distrustful attitude. I have a boatload of horror stories, and I double-check a lot of stuff that others do not. However, the usual problem is not too much red tape, but too little in the way of double-checking by smart, competent, independent parties.

            Finally, the reason that I pick on this item a bit, in this context, is that Seba’s article and many others on this site take a rather nuanced view of the overall problem of switching to new energy sources. The whole process is going to take decades, and will involve billions of individual decisions and agreements. So, as much as I think that we ought to ditch fossil fuel as fast as humanly possible, it will still take years of careful negotiation by all concerned. No way around that.

            So, there is no way that “simply” cutting all the “government red tape” will yield a good result. Too many interested parties, with too many potential conflicts.

          • danlxyz

            PV panels in New Hampshire might not be too good of an idea anyway.

          • Bob_Wallace

            New Hampshire averages 4.2 solar hours per day. Solar panels work quite well there.

          • JonathanMaddox

            In summer, I’m sure they do.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Sweet, sweet, sweet…

  • Luan Hung

    If the death spiral occurs, this will be a VERY bad thing, an absolute disaster. It doesnt take a genius to work this out. Firstly a majority of electricity demand within a city comes from its CBD, with such high density loading its practically impossible to supply via distributed solar. Hospitals, shopping centres etc has Tony forgotten about these?

    I was speaking with one of the planners for the highpoint shopping centre expansion project in Melbourne. According to him if the entire roof of the 3 level centre was covered in solar, only 25% of daily demand would be met (even with energy efficient initiatives taken).

    At the max, maybe half our demand can be met, but the rest has to come from somewhere, expecially days when solar and wind fail us. But to even think that entire countries will be sourced from distributed solar and wind, youve got to be out of your mind

    And oh yeah, whats this i hear? the computer industry is going the way of cloud computing where all processing and storage is done off site in a centralised location. I think Tony is a little obselete him self….

    • RobS

      A multilevel shopping centre has one of the lowest energy use to roof area ratios of any facility, steel and aluminium shelters are similar, the fact that 25% of a shopping centres power needs can be generated on its own roof is incredibly positive not a negative. The remainder can be made up of deeper efficiency measures, surplus generation from surrounding rooftops, utility scale solar, utility scale and distributed wind, geothermal and some high efficiency natural gas generation if absolutely necessary. CBDs will require a similar suite of solutions. The hospital where I work generates all its own power, heat and cooling with an ultra efficient natural gas trigeneration plant in the basement, such plants can easily coexist with variable renewable generation and adjust its output to match demand, to the cogen plant there is no difference between the output of solar panels dropping 10 kw as a cloud passes and a 10kw HVAC unit cycling on it simply adjust output to match either seamlessly.
      As for your concerns about cloud computing, yes server farms are fairly energy hungry, however large in strides are being made, such as Googles new sea water cooled data centre in Finland. The flip side is the changes occurring at the users end, since getting my iPad the use of my desktop has dropped over 50%, an iPad consumes about 2.5watts of power during use, the average desktop uses 250 watts, modern mobile computing has the potential to decrease power consumption substantially.

      • Luan Hung

        I never said it was a negative thing just my point is distributed solar & wind cant supply everything as Tony thinks will happen. Trigeneration is using fossil fuels and as Tony says, anything using fossil fuels will become redundant. It doesn’t add up what he implies, and my point being many technologies as well as the grid will need to be integrated to match our needs.
        An example is the new ANZ building in Melbourne. Its highly efficient, has a cogeneration plant, solar panels and wind turbines yet it draws almost 1Mw from the grid average. Decentralised generation just cant do the job on its own, simple as that.

      • Peter Castaldo

        Gas is on the network that will be completly redundant in the future. Yes the transition from gas is a tricky one but it has to happen because its such an unclean fuel. When you consider all the leakages before its ‘cleany burnt’ its most likely to be worse than coal. If we move to take action on climate change gas will be priced out of the market. I believe there will also be the death spiral on the gas Network.

        • Domenic

          So with no power grid and no gas network how will we power and heat our home during those dark long winters? I tell you now solar panels sure as hell will not do the job. I see how the gas network will become redundant as gas a limited resource and as you say theres leaks, but solar panel owners will need something to fall back on and those who don’t have solar. The death spiral of the power grid wont happen if the government manages the situation well. It cant happen because that will be an absolute disaster for this country.

          • Peter Castaldo

            I think the death spiral of electricity will happen first. Obviously the network is essential and government will need to come in and re structure the market. By this time hopefully there will be even much larger numbers with solar panels and they will be able to exert more influence and ensure that the solar panel owner will get a fair deal. As long as solar owners represent themselves.

  • Terry J Wall

    Bring it on. It’s like the single vote might again start to mean something again!

    It truly is amazing how the morality of some people deteriorates when hidden behind the shroud of corporate anonymity..

  • dwj

    I don’t understand the antipathy people have for the power grid and the people who run it. These sorts of public services; sewerage, postal service, water supply, public transport etc. are the things that make our civilisation work. As we decarbonise we will depend on the power grid more and more. The grid is critical for balancing out renewable energy production over large areas and accessing multiple types of resources. If we head down the path of individual power supply arrangements it would be an economic and environmental mistake of epic proportions.

    • Motorshack

      As Seba says, it is not the technology of the centralized market, but the attitude of the people who currently run it. They’ve had a captive clientèle for more than a century, and thus perhaps it is not surprising that they take their customers very much for granted. However, those same customers are now seeing some alternatives, and they are highly motivated to check them out. Again, not surprisingly so.

      As for mistakes of epic proportions, we will see.

      Given the examples provided by lots of other industries, one would expect that the system and the market in which it operates would come to a reasonable equilibrium – once the incumbents get it through their heads that they need to deal with the changes or simply get shoved out of business.

      I spent my career in the computer industry, and there is still a good deal of shifting back and forth between centralized systems and distributed systems. At this point it seems clear that there is a place for some of each, and the choice in any particular case depends on the specifics of the situation, not on some overarching superiority of either approach. Both are useful, in the right circumstances.

      I note also that some of the former giants of the industry – most notably IBM – are still in business, but many are not, and have been replaced by newer companies with more appropriate, and more flexible business models.

      On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that we will see many more computers built using vacuum tubes, centralized or otherwise. Similarly, fossil fuels worked well enough to get modern technological civilization well-started, but for many reasons we cannot and should not continue using them. We now have superior sources of energy, and that fact is largely independent of the business models involved.

      In short, having watched a major industrial disruption at first hand for more than thirty years, I think Seba is entirely correct.

      So, if I were you, I would start getting used to the new regime.

    • Domenic

      Couldn’t agree with you more. The grid, all the other services you mentioned is community infrastructure. We should be working with the grid not against it.

    • MikeSmith866

      One of the problems is the cost of the Grid. In Ontario, about half of our electrical bill is for “delivery” and the “delivery” portion is getting higher every year.

      I think high Grid costs are pushing people to going Off Grid. We even have rural people (with lots of land) installing geothermal systems to get off the Grid.

      And as more of this happens, the price of “delivery” for the remaining customers will get higher. Eventually they will price themselves into obsolescence.

      • Domenic

        Network costs for many utilities are a lot lower than that and in the case of utilities in the Australian state of Victoria, network costs have actually declined. The biggest issues are the costly generators and some network operators abusing their power and over charging their customers. Those greedy companies will drive them selves into obsolescence.

    • Bob_Wallace

      ” If we head down the path of individual power supply arrangements it
      would be an economic and environmental mistake of epic proportions.”

      I’ve lived off the grid for over 20 years and I totally agree with you.

      • nrgindeepndnt

        Care to elaborate? I’d like to understand why it is that you believe it is an epic mistake…
        Our off grid experience (18 years) has been totally economical from day one. Furthermore, because our household has never relied upon on any energy from fossil generation, our electricity source is environmentally superior to that of our grid tied/ utility dependent neighbors, and it is likely to remain the case for decades to come. Moreover, unlike our neighbors, we have never experienced an unscheduled outage…

        • Bob_Wallace

          OK, let’s see…

          If you have an excellent wind site or year round micro-hydro then going independent would work.

          If you live in one of the few parts of the world that has sunshine 95%+ of all days then you could go independent.

          If you don’t have those sorts of resources then you’re going either need multiple sources (solar + wind, for example) or some sort of dispatchable generation (generator).

          I would guess that only a small single digit percentage of the population has year round wind, year round micro-solar or a decent combination of wind/solar or hydro/solar.

          That means that 90%+ of all households and businesses would be running fossil fuel generators during part of the year. That is not the future to which we want to sentence ourselves.

          Storing electricity at the individual level is expensive at this time. Lead-acid batteries are the cheapest option and stored solar would cost well more than $0.20/kWh. And that’s only with short time storage, 2-3 days. Trying to store for extended cloudy days is too expensive to consider.

          Then there is the large portion of our population that lives where rooftop solar would be, at best, very limited. Hard to let each apartment dweller in a 5, 20 story building install enough panels to supply their need. People in high rises aren’t going to be able to install wind turbines.

          Being an independent power company simply is not an option for many. Being an independent power company is not an inexpensive option for many. Financially it only works in places that have outrageous grid prices and/or places where hooking to the grid would cost too much.

          Finally, there’s the problem of who is going to install and maintain the system. Few people have the skills, what to acquire the skills, and/or want to be bothered. For those people to become independent utility companies they would have to hire out the work which would be another factor making the cost of electricity just too danged high.

          • nrgindeepndnt

            Thanks for explaining. I can buy into some of your rationale concerning the attitudes and abilities of people, nevertheless, I see attitudes rapidly changing. And being involved in the RE trade for over twenty years, I note that skills/maintenance issues are quickly becoming irrelevant.

            I am however still struggling to understand how you can conclude that becoming an independent renewable energy producer/consumer is and will be an epic mistake–particularly from an environmental and economic stand point, and in comparison to the current paradigm offered by utilities.

            Perhaps you should consider a reexamination of your belief that the vast majority of electricity consumer sites do not receive sufficient quantity of renewable energy to meet totalized electricity needs–it is an argument that is quickly becoming disproven and obsolete–like the need for a traditional energy provider…

          • Bob_Wallace

            I can describe how we achieve an almost 100% renewable, affordable grid.

            How about you explaining how every household in America becomes its own electricity company without relying on a large fossil fuel input.

            Try, for example, to design a system for someone living in an apartment in California’s Central Valley where the tulle fog can block the Sun for days on end.

            If you want to reexamine my belief that the vast majority of electricity consumers do not receive sufficient quantities of renewable energy on a regular basis which would allow for affordable storage/backup then you need to show me some data.

          • nrgindeepndnt

            Do tell, How does the grid become almost 100% Renewable? Because data is a requisite step in informing and convincing others, (i.e. what will your almost 100% renewable grid plan cost affected ratepayers and the environment) please provide as much verifiable info as you can. Simply describing a high level plan should not be your goal–there is a multitude of decision makers that will need to examine your evidence and weigh options.

            So, will you be providing a plan for the whole world, the North American grid, or one of the interconnected regions? Regardless, it would be most helpful if in addition to your RE resource net short studies, you can post the following:

            1) regional and interregional integrated resource plans, including flexible capacity/resource adequacy, and local area requirement studies; 2) an open and transparent transmission plan; 3) generation interconnection and deliverability studies 4) distribution networks studies.

            To be sure your plan meets established reliability standards for all 8760 hours a year, please post the results of your power/load flow analyses. Furthermore, in order to inspire confidence that your almost renewable plan is efficient and almost clean, consider including the results of your production cost modeling and economic/grid congestion analyses.

            And finally, since providing electricity to others involves long term financing and procurement decisions that span decades, and those costs are ultimately allocated to consumers, it would behoove your plan to include sufficient evidence that the RE resource contracts and associated infrastructure and integration requirements will be economical over the long haul.

            I do not aspire to or take it upon my self to make every household in America its own energy company. Whether that transformation occurs is subject to debate and issues discussed in the article above, and many other forums. I’ve only assisted a small number of folks who have chosen an RE path free of dependency upon traditional electricity providers’ approval and intervention. Except for you, I’m aware of none who feel that their decision to go off grid has been an epic mistake–quite the opposite. The same is true with the majority of our RE clients, owners of grid tied systems.

            I have designed and installed stand alone RE systems in locales that are constrained by resource availability and site conditions similar to what you describe–they are not insurmountable. These systems are providing 100% of the load requirements at the sites every minute of the year. I have exact/real world data for my own system. I must admit however that my cost info is rapidly becoming outdated…

            I must also admit my job is a far simpler than the monumental task that you have apparently taken on. Yours is indeed a noble proposition. I honestly wish you the best of luck…

          • Bob_Wallace

            OK, I get it. You can design a stand-alone system for some residences. You’re dodging the fossil fuel backup issue, I get that as well.

            So you, in essence, are agreeing that taking everyone off grid isn’t a feasible plan. The costs would simply be too high and would leave us too dependent on fossil fuel generation.

          • nrgindeepndnt

            Not dodging anything–I’m only making the point that achieving 100% renewable can be accomplished today and an off grid system is not subject uncertainties that are inherent to transforming power grids

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please describe a fossil-fuel free system for an apartment dweller living in Modesto, CA which is subject to multiple days on end of zero solar input. (Or at lease extremely limited solar input when the tule fog sets in.)

            Give us a $/kWh price, please.

            In fact, describe a fossil-fuel system for me. The basics – I live in Northern California with abundant solar input 8-9 months per year. I have no reasonable hydro resources (the turbine would have to be too far from the house) and my wind sources are quite limited. Tell me how you would set up a system that did not require a backup generator and fuel.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Now, your request on how we build a 100% renewable, affordable grid. Let me start with something from this site…

            “In a previous article for The Conversation I reported on the initial results of computer simulations by a research team at the University of New South Wales that busted the myth that renewable energy cannot supply base-load demand. However at the time of the article I was still under the misconception that some base-load renewable energy supply may be needed to be part of the renewable energy mix.

            Since then Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and I have performed thousands of computer simulations of 100% renewable electricity in the National Electricity Market (NEM), using actual hourly data on electricity demand, wind and solar power for 2010. Our latest research, available here and reported here, finds that generating systems comprising a mix of different commercially available renewable energy technologies, located on geographically dispersed sites, do not need base-load power stations to achieve the same reliability as fossil-fuelled systems.

            http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/baseload-power-is-a-myth-even-intermittent-renewables-will-work-92421

            In interest of comment length I’ll continue in an additional (or two).

          • Bob_Wallace

            The authors of the following paper took on the question of whether it would be possible to run a real world grid on only wind, solar and storage and do it for a reasonable price. They found that they needed to include a tiny bit (0.1%) of natural gas to keep it affordable.

            A summary of the paper…

            Researchers at University of Delaware used four years of weather and electricity demand/load data in one minute blocks to determine 1) if a combination of wind, solar and storage could meet 99.9% of demand and 2) the most cost effective mix of each to meet demand.

            The data for 1999 through 2002 came from the PJM Interconnection, a large regional grid that services all or part of 13 states from New Jersey west to Illinois, from Pennsylvania south into Tennessee and North Carolina. This is the world’s largest competitive wholesale electricity market, serving 60 million customers, and it represents one-fifth of the United States’ total electric grid.

            They used currently available technology and its projected price in 2030. They included no subsidies for wind and solar in their calculation. They did not include hydro, nuclear, tidal or other possible inputs. They also did not include power sales to and purchases from adjacent grids. They used three existing storage technologies – large scale batteries, hydrogen and GIV (grid integrated vehicles).

            They found that by 2030 we could obtain 99.9% of our electricity from renewable energy/storage and the remainder 0.1% from fossil fuels for about what we currently pay “all-in” for electricity. The all-in price of electricity which includes coal and oil produced health costs currently paid via tax dollars and health insurance premiums.

            During the four year period there were five brief periods, a total of 35 hours, when renewables plus storage were insufficient to fully power the grid and natural gas plants came into play. These were summer days when wind supply was low and demand was high. The cheapest way to cover these ~7 hour events was to use existing natural gas plants rather than to build additional storage. Adding in hydro, tidal, etc. would further reduce this number.

            After 28 billion simulations using differing amount of wind, solar, storage and fossil fuels they found the best solution was to over-build wind and solar and at times simply “throw away” some of the produced power. Building “too much” wind and solar turns out to be cheaper than building more storage given the storage solutions we have at this time. Finding markets for the extra production, selling electricity to offset natural gas heating for example, further reduced costs.

            Budischak, Sewell, Thomson, Mach, Veron, and Kempton Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time Journal of Power Sources 225 (2013) 60-74

            https://docs.google.com/file/d/1NrBZJejkUTRYJv5YE__kBFuecdDL2pDTvKLyBjfCPr_8yR7eCTDhLGm8oEPo/edit

            Remember, this is a “worst case” study. Add in hydro, tidal, geothermal, and residual nuclear and the price drops because less storage will be needed. The same happens when there is exchange of power between grids.

            And those 2030 wind and solar prices? The authors used somewhat dated (2010) projections. Current prices have already brought the cost of wind down to their projected 2030 level and solar is already cheaper. We almost certainly will have better/cheaper storage than they used in their study.

            So, yes, we can have a renewable grid that gives us electricity when we want it. And it’s very likely that our electricity will cost less then than it does now.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s another study from the first group…

            “Our latest
            peer-reviewed paper, currently in press in Energy Policy journal,
            compares the economics of two new alternative hypothetical generation
            systems for 2030: 100% renewable electricity versus an “efficient”
            fossil-fuelled system. Both
            systems have commercially available
            technologies and both satisfy the NEM reliability criterion. However,
            the renewable energy system has zero greenhouse gas emissions while the
            efficient fossil scenario has high emissions and water use and so would
            be unacceptable in environmental terms.

            We used the technology
            costs projected to 2030 in the conservative 2012 study by the Bureau of
            Resources and Energy Economics (BREE). (In my personal view, future
            solar PV and wind costs are likely to be lower than the BREE
            projections, and future fossil fuel and nuclear costs are
            likely to
            be higher.) Then, we did thousands of hourly simulations of supply and
            demand over 2010, until we found the mix of renewable energy sources
            that gave the minimum annual cost.

            Under transparent assumptions,
            we found that the total annualised cost (including capital, operation,
            maintenance and fuel where relevant) of the least-cost renewable energy
            system is $7-10 billion per year higher than that of the “efficient”
            fossil scenario. For comparison, the subsidies
            to the production and
            use of all fossil fuels in Australia are at least $10 billion per year.
            So, if governments shifted the fossil subsidies to renewable
            electricity, we could easily pay for the latter’s additional costs.

            Thus
            100% renewable electricity would be affordable under sensible
            government policy, busting another myth. All we need are effective
            policies to drive the transition.”

            http://theconversation.com/baseload-power-is-a-myth-even-intermittent-renewables-will-work-13210

          • Bob_Wallace

            There’s getting to be quit a body of literature which deals with the feasibility of an almost 100% renewable grid. Let me share what I’ve pulled together to date. A bit of redundancy with my previous posts, but you can deal with that….

            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

            https://docs.google.com/file/d/1NrBZJejkUTRYJv5YE__kBFuecdDL2pDTvKLyBjfCPr_8yR7eCTDhLGm8oEPo/edit

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

            Jacobson, et al.

            http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf

            and

            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-power-the-world&page=2

            An all renewable Australian grid…

            Elliston, MacGill, and Diesendort

            http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/baseload-power-is-a-myth-even-intermittent-renewables-will-work-92421

            and

            http://www.ies.unsw.edu.au/sites/all/files/profile_file_attachments/LeastCostElectricityScenariosInPress2013.pdf

            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 to100% 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).””

          • # FRE0

            You wrote, “I do not aspire to or take it upon my self to make every household in America its own energy company.”

            Perhaps you will agree with me that it would have been better to write, “I do not aspire to or take it upon my self to make every household in THE WORLD its own energy company.” That would be even more challenging and it seems that it is usually overlooked here in the U.S.

            Also, we must consider the power required by industry which obviously is considerable, and the power required for sea water desalination as safe potable water becomes more scarce.

          • # FRE0

            Good point. Also to be considered are other parts of the world, and often they are not considered at all. What we do here in the U.S. will make little difference on a global basis unless the rest of the world also migrates away from fossil fuels.

            There are places in the world where it is cloudy for weeks at a time and even flat panel PV systems deliver little power on cloudy days. In some places, hurricanes are a problem and it is difficult, although perhaps not impossible, to design solar and wind systems to withstand hurricane-force winds.

            Pb acid batteries have been suggested for storage. They have a limited life and unless the materials are properly recycled, they pose environmental threats.

            Currently, renewables may be the only reasonable choice for people who live in remote areas where connecting to the grid would be impractical. They can provide power for a few small LED lights and to recharge cell ‘phones, but not with total reliability since they are intermittent sources of power.

            We must also consider that the global demand for power will probably increase by at least FOUR TIMES as poor nations struggle to lift their people out of poverty. We must get about 90% of our power from non-CO2 emitting sources; that includes power for home heating and cooling, cooking, manufacturing, greatly increased water desalination, transportation, etc.

            Without dramatic advances in technology, upon which it would be unwise to depend, renewables cannot provide for the power requirements of most large prosperous countries. Thus, we should put far more funds into R & D to develop safer and less costly nuclear power generation systems to enable us to move away from our problematic pressurized water uranium reactors and greatly increase generating capacity.

        • http://mwt1974.tumblr.com/ Mark W Tebbutt

          How do you heat your home? Electricity (heat pump) / Gas / Solid fuel (air pollution)?

          • nrgindeepndnt

            Solar is the primary heat source for our home, provided by an active and a passive collecter systems. An epa certified wood stove fueled by small diameter hardwoods from the land where the house is located (about 1/2 -1 cord annually ) meets remainder of our space heating requirements.

  • Dimitar Mirchev

    In the future (2020-2030) we will have so much grid storage that the price of electricity will depend on how much our grid storage is full – pretty much as the oil is priced in USA – depending on the reserves.

    If we have electricity storage capabilities for 6 or 12 or 24 hours (or 1 week ) consumption that all the fluctoations in the demand are irrelevant – all that is important is how much electricity is in the storage.

    If its low than the price of electricity will be high. If the storage is full than the electricity will cost nothing.

  • Mike Stasse

    “By 2030, when batteries are at $100/kWh, gasoline vehicles will be obsolete”

    Oh they’ll be obsolte alright… By 2030, there will be no affordable oil left. And none left to mine the minerals needed to build all this stuff…. let alone pave the roads.

    • RobS

      If all the doomed just did themselves and us a favour and killed themselves we would save hundreds of years worth of resources.

  • Philip Hamm

    “The predictions are made on the basis that the cost of solar and EV batteries will continue to fall, while the cost to consumers of sourcing energy from fossil fuels through the grid or liquid fuels will continue to rise.” In other words the predictions are based on the same fantastical wishful thinking that the solar industry has been peddling since the 1970s.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The price of solar panels have fallen from around $100/watt to under $1/watt in since the 1970s. (That’s more than a 100x price drop.)

      The price of lithium-ion batteries for EVs has fallen from around $1,000/kWh to around $300/kWh in the last few years.

      That’s not fantastical wishful thinking, that’s fantastic progress.

      I’ll stick on a graph of oil prices so you can check to see how prices have been running since the 1970s.

      • RobS

        And as for whether solar panel price falls are reality or wishful thinking I present this graph to rebut Philip’s baseless dismissal of reality

    • David Martin

      It’s indisputable that solar pv has gone way down in price but can you say why? I don’t think much of it is due to technological innovation, as it has been in the case of computing and telecom. Is it not more due to a recycling of the enormous trade deficit the US has had with China? China subsidizes the industries they chose. Solar manufacturers close down here, relocate in China, price goes way down. That’s not all that innovative. Question is, how long will that continue? I say take advantage of low prices and tax credits now. The 7 years of plenty could soon, and rather easily, switch to 7 years of famine.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Given all that, how do you explain the similar cost drop shown by First Solar, a US company?

        • David Martin

          I don’t know that much about them. Browsing through their site – I know that thin-film is much cheaper to produce than mono or poly silicon. Isn’t that right?

          Whatever it is that you manufacture, if you can move from a place with high labor and environmental standards to a place with little to none, your production costs go way down. The manufacturing costs have dropped dramatically, right? While the soft costs have been much more sticky?

          I’m no expert. I just read a lot of stuff. I enjoy reading your comments. You seem like a very knowledgeable person.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s a good place to keep up with solar panel prices…

            http://pvinsights.com/

            Check down the page for Solar Panel PV Module Spot –

            Thin film is always a few pennies cheaper than silicon. I’ve got to assume that means it’s a little less expensive to manufacture.

            There’s getting to be less and less labor in panel manufacturing. Apparently there’s a new generation of equipment waiting for installation that will take labor input even lower.

            That means that it will start to make sense to manufacture closer to market and avoid shipping costs. We’re starting to see some manufacturing returning to the US due to shipping costs. And rising Chinese labor costs.

            Manufacturing costs of solar have plummeted. Just fallen through the floor. Just a few years back it was the price of panels that made solar expensive and people didn’t worry about the rest of the system. Now it’s turned around. The balance of the system (hardware, inverter, labor, permits, etc.) are 2x or more the cost of panels per watt.

            Germany has done a great job of getting their BoS (balance of system) costs down. As has Australia. In the US, we’re lagging.

            My best guess is that solar will be a lot cheaper a year from now. It seems to be turning into ‘big business’ and the big boys will compete very hard for market share.

          • David Martin

            Many thanks for all that. I’ll check out the site, as well as links to the other research articles you posted.

            I predict that, in China, in addition to increasing labor and transportation costs, environmental regulations and their enforcement will be increasing, which will increase their costs, which could in turn cause more manufacturing to move back to the West. I know there are lots of protests over environmental issues, which can’t/won’t be ignored forever.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s going to be really interesting to watch China during the next few years. The country has gone through an incredible amount of change in an extremely short period of time.

            I was there in the 1980s and life was very, very tough. People were just scraping by. Now many have a lot of money in their pockets and they’re starting to look at ways they want their country to change.

            I suspect there will be a lot of pressure to clean up the environment.

  • MikeSmith866

    I don’t know if Tony Seba will cover this in his upcoming book. But many people use natural gas for heating today and will be using green electricity instead by 2020 or 2030. On top of that people will be charging their Electric Vehicles at night.

    This means the solar panels will have to absorb more energy during the day in the future.

    I hope he has taken this into account.

    • JonathanMaddox

      Why would anyone choose to charge their car at night, when power is cheapest when the sun shines?

      • MikeSmith866

        If you also have wind power then normally it is cheaper than solar but I recognize the numbers are changing and in some southern states solar may be cheaper than wind particularly if the state has a low wind factor.

        The other issue is access to power. If the parking lot where the person works has no electric outlets then maybe the driver has to wait until he gets home.

        The other aspect is load leveling. If your high rise office towers have their lights and AC on during the day, then the electricity rates will encourage you to do your charging at night when there is less demand.

        I am from Canada and our highest rates are from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM and our lowest rates are at night.

        • JonathanMaddox

          Your comment mentioned solar explicitly and the year 2020. As early as the summer of 2012, there was no longer a daytime demand peak for dispatchable power on sunny days in Germany because of the huge contribution of solar PV. Peak generation from PV is for far fewer hours on winter days, but the sun shines often enough and brightly enough that the midday magnitude is still very noticeable on clear winter days. It’s not peak shaving, it is peak destroying. And Germany is in no way a “southern state”. Seasonal effects will be greater further north such as in Canada, but the sun shines even there; in summertime for very long hours indeed!

          (That said, I’m not sure how you got here, but I’m in Australia, all of whose states qualify as “southern states”, and I’m reading an article on an Australian website by an Australian energy commentator. Solar PV has definitely passed parity with retail electricity prices in this country, and is well on the way to wholesale grid parity!)

          Battery-electric vehicles, containing large electric storage devices, comprise an ideal and enormous time-shifting service for the grid. Sane utilities not broken by the “death spiral” and happy to facilitate a modern distributed power supply will be eager to utilise this, offering discounts for power to EV owners willing to avoid charging at times of peak demand for costly dispatchable power and even paying handsomely to tap a portion of EV battery capacity in extremis.

          Just as electric vehicle charging is likely to become the largest single driver of sustained gross demand growth for electricity, if EVs become truly popular, so too is vehicle-to-grid a potentially huge provider of dispatchable power in the decades to come — consider that in industrialised nations today the power capacity of the engines of the vehicle fleet is of the same order of magnitude as total electric power demand. I’m not sure which EV vendors already support V2G, but it would surprise me if most models don’t offer it by 2020.

          If in any place, by 2020, electric cars are popular and solar energy is the cheapest new generation available (which is likely in many places but not inevitable anywhere), I can think of no good reason that EV charging outlets should not be widely available in carparks for daytime use. In some places the car parks themselves are an ideal place to install solar PV generation; in others the grid may be well-supplied from PV on the roofs of the EV owners’ homes and other well-sited buildings in town, even if PV cannot be ideally sited right in the business district. Seasonal pricing should apply to discourage daytime charger use on dark cloudy days and to encourage it when solar generation might otherwise be spilled.

          • MikeSmith866

            Germany only gets about 3% of its power from Solar (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany ).

            Australia gets 1.1% of its power from Solar. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Australia ).

            I don’t think that Solar is at a state yet to have a great deal of impact on real costs. I am guessing that you are looking at hourly electricity rates on your electric bill which are set to encourage you to use electricity at a particular part of the day.

            Overall, most electric rates encourage you to use more electricity at night for load leveling but it may be different in Australia.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That German 3% isn’t spread around the clock, or even the calendar. It’s concentrated right when German electricity has been the most expensive. The middle of sunny days.

            The last MW of supply that a grid has to purchase are the most expensive. Solar whacks demand during peak hours. In 2012 solar on the grid lowered the wholesale cost of electricity by 5 billion euros.

            Take a look at Germany’s vanished peak…

          • MikeSmith866

            Bob:
            I am guessing that Germany is looking after its noon hour demand with a great deal more then solar. The coal power must be kicking in pretty hard as well.

            But the price picture is remarkable. Solar is probably costing more than their other sources of power and helping them through the noon peak period. But their prices in the noon peak period are the lowest.

            My intuition tells me that the hourly prices are not a reflection of the hourly costs.

          • Bob_Wallace
          • MikeSmith866

            Bob:
            Do you know if the hourly electricity prices are based on the free market or are they set by the utilities with some pressure from the government to pay a premium for green energy?

            Also do you know what the utility companies have to pay for different types of energy? I am guessing that solar is more expensive than other sources.

            But if that were true, then why are noon hour prices cheaper than evening prices?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I don’t know the details of the German utility market. I do know that natural gas is a lot more expensive in Germany than in the US so that having to turn on gas peakers to supply peaks is even more expensive than doing so in the US. And power from gas peakers in the US can be quite expensive.

            The reason that midday prices are at times as cheap as nighttime prices is that 3% solar you hand-waved away.

            Germany now has enough solar, small as it might seem, to destroy peak hour demand on sunny days and collapse the price structure.

            (Read the two links again. It’s all in there.)

          • MikeSmith866

            Bob:
            I do not see any reference to links in our particular thread.

            Could you give me the links directly because I can’t seem to find them.

            Thanks.

          • JonathanMaddox

            I think these stats for Australian solar are somewhat out of date, we’re experiencing something of a boom even as the state governments wind back or rescind their feed-in tariffs. I’d be astonished if less than another megawatt of capacity hadn’t been added in the last nine months, most of it on domestic roofs. Also the 1.1% electrical energy calculation is based on an assumed capacity factor of just 14%, but that seems a tad low for these latitudes — people are getting 20% on fixed rooftop installations in Adelaide, which is far from the sunniest place in the country.

            Sure, it’s early days yet. It’s certainly not *already* the case that off-peak power is in the daytime, even in Germany. However it does seem that solar power is going to make up the majority of additional new generation capacity anywhere remotely sunny, probably for a long time to come. Even 3% of gross electric energy annually in Germany happens to completely coincide with, and offset, the (former) traditional midday demand peak on sunny days, even in winter. It’s a very large generation capacity with a low load factor but a very predictable profile.

            In claiming that electric power will be cheapest in the daytime I’m making the assumption that solar installations continue to grow, not necessarily exponentially but at least linearly as rapidly as they have in the last three years, and that therefore they will take up an ever-increasing share of demand whenever the sun shines. Under that assumption it stands to reason that at some point off-peak pricing should be changed to coincide with peak sunlight.

            I wasn’t saying we were there already. But I think it’s quite likely that we will get there at the same time as we get to large-scale adoption of electric vehicles!

          • MikeSmith866

            Jonathan:

            But the natural time to power electric vehicles will be at night.

            Even if solar power is abundant during the day, it will be easier to power one’s car at night when it is not being driven. This is particularly true for all electric vehicles that will require longer charging times for full charge. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Model_S )

          • Bob_Wallace

            Not necessarily.

            In places that have more sunshine than late night wind we could easily see a larger percentage of drivers putting panels on their roofs and plugging in where they park during the day.

          • MikeSmith866

            Bob:
            This is an angle I had not considered.

            I am guessing that a solar panel would help keep a car cooler as well.

            Most cars have a fairly small roof area but I suppose you could have panels in the hood and trunk lid as well.

            It raises the interesting possibility of a self powered car but I suspect some water has to flow under the bridge before we reach that level of perfection.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Actually, I meant on their house/garage roofs. Using the grid to move electricity to where they park during the day.

            The average driver needs 2.5 – 3kW of panels to power their driving. That’s way too much area to even consider car top panels.

          • JonathanMaddox

            I’m talking about raw costs, sans subsidy. Subsidies have *already* allowed the solar market to achieve economies of scale which mean it is now competitive *unsubsidised* with retail electricity prices in sunny places like Australia. It’s a no-brainer for households and small businesses which own their premises and buy retail-priced electricity. A little more complicated for tenanted buildings, and not quite cost-competitive with wind, gas and coal for “busbar” or large-scale wholesale prices, but definitely on the way.

            The vast majority of vehicles spend less than two hours out of 24 actually being driven. Some 50% of them aren’t even on the road during peak traffic hours. At least in principle they can be plugged in wherever and whenever they are parked, day or night — charging whenever electricity is abundant, and occasionally supplying V2G services when it isn’t. And while night-time charging might seem “natural” now, I’m sure that’s a matter of perception rather than utility.

          • MikeSmith866

            Jonathan:

            This link from Energy Australia says that your off peak period is “over night”. http://www.energyaustralia.com.au/residential/products-services/electricity-gas-plans/what-is-a-tariff

            I don’t know what part of Australia you live in but this document seems to indicate that you have better availability in the evening.

          • JonathanMaddox

            Yes yes. I have conceded these points already. I am talking of the not-too-distant future, as you were when you mentioned the year 2020 in the original comment. And as we all are, discussing mass adoption of electric vehicles.

          • MikeSmith866

            Jonathan:
            I don’t recall mentioning 2020. But even by 2020, I am not convinced that solar will be cheaper than wind.
            But it may be different for Australia if you have more sunshine/clear days and less wind.
            I would say for Canada that wind and nuclear will still be the cheapest sources.

            Evolution of grid level storage (batteries, compressed air, pumped hydro) will also effect the fortunes of wind energy.

          • JonathanMaddox

            The not-too-distant future arrived, last week: “The combination of low demand and strong output from the Queensland’s 1.1GW of rooftop solar helped send the state’s electricity prices into negative territory on Wednesday – in the middle of the day.”

            http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/solar-sends-energy-prices-below-zero-in-middle-of-day-63767

          • JonathanMaddox

            Wikipedia has a silly error which I repeated. As at March 2013, there were 2.3 *giga*watts, not megawatts, of solar PV capacity on Australian domestic rooftops alone. More than half of which was installed since January 2012. The total rate of installations has not flagged appreciably as feed-in tariffs and other subsidies have been reduced or axed.

  • Clive Dobson

    Free yourselves from the rich elite. . Yay

  • Crowbar

    I don’t doubt Tony Seba’s predictions although the timescales may need adjusting. Apart from the decline of centralized fossil fuel power stations it would be interesting to consider what changes in lifestyle will occur.

    Presumably we will have some incentive to decentralize away from our cities? Maybe we will want to move into more sunny locations? Perhaps transport distances will become less of a barrier because of lower vehicle power costs? Does this sound like a scenario that will suit Australia?

    What other effects will there be?

  • Giles

    Personally, i don’t think the grid will suddenly disappear, it will just be massively reshaped. solar will provide a major part, solar with storage will be doing some dispatchable energy, and there will be other contributors such as wind, even geothermal and others. By 2030, i reckon in Australia there will still be some coal and some gas left, but a lot would have exited the market. As for who retailing this electricity, well that’s a different matter. I’d expect that to be reshaped as well, just like the media and telecoms industries. It won’t be just a utility that does little more than send you a bill, it will be someone that is also potentially managing the energy in your home. That could be the traditional electricity retailer, but i’d bet there will be a bunch of new players too.

    • Domenic

      That’s exactly the direction we need to go in! You have that spot on Giles. Markets need to be massively reshaped but we need the grid in order to transition to a fully renewable energy future.

    • Chris Fraser

      It does appear for the moment that retailers are essential. In my own case, i am happy to pay them 14c/kWh for off-peak energy, even though the wholesale cost is often 3c/kWh, to help me avoid paying $12.50/kWh at peak times. The usefulness of the retailer will extend way into the future as a hedge, a shelter against wholesale price spikes due to circumstances of the wind and the grid/generator system.

      But they will never get to manage a battery in my house for their own uses. While we trust AEMO to manage the flow of energy between the big generators and the grid, we will need an uninterested party, like AEMO Level 2, to manage the outflow of distributed energy from the batteries onto the grid. For coordination purposes, AEMO 2 would have to coordinate carefully with AEMO 1 prior to dispatch of energy from big generators. In my view this will create more use for every despatchable electron available, and allow distributed storage, which will depress prices.

  • Herman D

    The big companies are on full battle mode to prevent solar energy to become too dominate. See the huge fines and taxes for solar energy producers both professional and private in Spain and Belgium. That is a huge blow to the PV solar energy.

  • Peter Fiekowsky

    Seba, doesn’t understand why. “In ideological terms, there is no more libertarian energy source than solar. Why do libertarians, at least in the US, align themselves with conservative parties?

    Here’s the answer for Seba: I spoke last week to a Koch employee and a former Exxon VP. The answer to this question is simple: in a libertarian free market you always take advantage of externalities–get the public / government to pay whenever possible. That is why Exxon’s CEO urges us to plan for adaptation to climate change, rather than converting to renewables and saving the climate. Adaptation is paid for by the public, not corporations. In fact Exxon would fully expect to receive government funding to help it adapt!

    • Bob_Wallace

      Why do libertarians, at least in the US, align themselves with conservative parties?

      One word. Greed. Greed of the “me”, not “we” variety.

      • Peter Fiekowsky

        For the purposes of moving forward I prefer to be generous, avoid disparaging language and say, “They’re playing by the rules.” That’s how I get to play with them…When we’re straight with them, they’re straight with us, and we make progress.

    • Zack Smith

      Simple – conservative parties are supposed to be more in favor of economic freedom than liberal parties. Conservative parties are supposed to be in favor of getting the government out of people’s lives. Reality is something different obviously.

  • # FRE0

    From the article:

    “The sun is more democratic than any other source of energy. Coal is in pockets, gas is in pockets, oil is in pockets. The sun shines a little bit more in some places than others, but everyone gets sunshine. And the thing about solar, is that it can be built on a distributed basis.”

    “A little bit more”? Really? Is a factor of two or more only “a little bit more?” I don’t think so. The amount of solar power available depends greatly on latitude, weather, and season. And, of course, even under the best of circumstances, it is available for only about eight hours per day because it is totally unavailable at night or when the sun is low in the sky.

    For solar power to work, the amount of energy storage required would have to be sufficient to provide most of the power for at least several weeks, and probably more, depending on location. Without sufficient storage, solar power alone could not do the job even if PV panels were completely free.

    It is unclear why the writer assumes that there will be dramatic advances in solar power and storage technologies but no advances in nuclear reactor technology. One can only assume that in his zeal to support solar and wind he has done no research on different nuclear reactor technologies that could very well eliminate the usual objections to nuclear power. Even with their current problems, nuclear power has been demonstrated to cause far fewer fatalities for the power generated than any other power source. Hydro dams burst and cause people to drown. Fossil fuels cause health-damaging air pollution and emit CO2. Mining coal is dangerous. People fall to their deaths while working on wind and PV systems.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s fairly easy to predict lower solar prices simply because industry is telling us they have a route to cutting costs by at least 25% over the next 3 or so years.

      It’s fairly hard to see a route to cheap nuclear because the price of nuclear keeps increasing. If there are new, cheaper ways to generate electricity with nuclear technology then one has to ask themselves why the nuclear industry is not building any of these new cheaper reactors.

      The UK (at lease some people in the UK government) badly want new nuclear generation. They’re will willing to give a 35 year 16c/kWh guarantee for all electricity produced, to increase the price with inflation, and to accept all the risks. If there is a known cheaper way to make electricity with nuclear then why did those people know how not step up and grab that contract at 15c and make a fortune?