Australia is in the midst of an extended discussion about the country’s energy future. The timing is bad for critics of renewables, who increasingly have to pick their stats carefully. But not every number from the past applies to the future.
An opinion piece entitled “Solar and wind power simply don’t work — not here, not anywhere” inThe Australian shows the hopelessness of fighting wind and solar. Before we get to specifics, one general comment: we should be wary of articles that jump around from “country A pays too much for Y” to “people can’t pay their bills in country B” to something else in country C.
That’s a clear sign of cherry-picking. What does Y cost in A, B, and C? How many people are behind on their utility bills in all three countries? Now we can begin to make assessments, not before.
Below are some of the statements followed by… facts supported with sources!
Skeptics said Germany’s switch to renewables would make the country reliant upon power imports, but the opposite has happened – because wind and solar can grow really, really quickly.
I’m not sure where the USD 100 bn comes from, but let’s assume it is correct. Still, comparing the upfront cost of solar to one year’s power production is misleading. Solar panels have 25-year performance warranties, no fuel costs, and very low O&M. So compare, if you want, 25 years of power production, not one, to the upfront cost.
Furthermore, the cost of solar has plummeted, so to compare historic PV prices to current ones you need to divide by 3, say, for 2006 prices vs 2016. Early investments were made to bring prices down. As US clean tech expert Hal Harvey put it, with their early commitment the Germans were “not really buying power — they were buying price decline.”
It is reported electricity prices in Germany, Spain and the UK increased by 78 per cent, 111 per cent and 133 per cent between 2005 and 2014 as they forced additional renewable capacity into their electricity markets.
Retail prices in Germany are up, wholesale (industry) power prices down. For Germany, only half of the increase is due to the renewables surcharge, only half of which is in turn directly attributable to the price of green power. We went from 6% green power in 2000 to 33% last year as a share of demand (excluding exports).
(Otherwise, Spain’s main problem was clearly the financial crisis.)
Britain is little better. Subsidies are being wound back, and a Department of Energy report points out that in 2013, the number of households in fuel poverty in England was estimated at 2.35 million representing around 10.4 per cent of all households.
Most fuel poverty is actually due to heating oil / gas, not (green) electricity.
As of 2013 California was the only state to adopt a feed-in tariff for solar power. It was immediately dubbed a failure by the renewable energy community because it offered only 31 cents per kWh, only five times the rate for conventional base load power.
Rooftop solar should cost around 10 cents or less in Cali now. It does in Germany.
China built one new coalfired power plant every week in 2014, and India’s coal-powered investment in that same year equalled the total electricity capacity of NSW and Queensland.
MW ≠ MWh. The plants were built, but they are running at lower capacity (less gen). China has reportedly reached peak coal. The word from China is that “fossil fuel subsidies” have lead to overcapacity. Analysts say China has 100 GW of excess coal capacity alone.
The good news, it is possible to reduce fossil fuel use in electricity generation — through hydro-electricity and nuclear fuel. Plenty of countries have done it — Canada 60 per cent hydro and 15 per cent nuclear; Sweden 45 per cent hydro and 48 per cent nuclear; Switzerland 54 per cent hydro and 41 per cent nuclear; France 11 per cent hydro and 79 per cent nuclear.
Hydropower and nuclear – now that I think about it, that does sound like the best combination for Australia, especially given its massive untapped hydropower potential!
Otherwise…. ah, the past. Yes, governments threw cash at nuclear for decades and doubted that wind and solar would work. But all of the countries listed above are having trouble adding new nuclear at anywhere near the rate they are building solar and wind at. France has not added a reactor since 2000. It aimed to build 170 by then but only reached a third of that level. All of these facts are available for free online.
So there real story is that wind and solar grow faster han anyone ever expected, almost uncontrollably, generally surpassing targets, while nuclear has never met any target set anywhere.
And now, some opinions of my own: France now aims to reduce its reliance on nuclear further, though I predict it will fail because its reliance on nuclear is too great – France will remain committed to nuclear until there is a meltdown. Sweden will likely remove more than it adds from here on out despite the recent confusing policy announcements that not even the Swedes understand (let’s just say the country agreed to go 100% renewableand build new nuclear). If the present is any indication of the future, the Swedes will struggle to control the former and fail to build the latter.
Finally, this one:
The Germans are ruing the day they decided to save the world by converting to solar and wind.
Source: Renewables International. Reproduced with permission.