It’s Here Now: Cheap 100% Renewable Energy

Posted: July 23, 2017 in Sustainability
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The Switch: How Solar, Storage and New Technology Means Cheap Power for All

Chris Goodall

Profile Books (2016)

Book Review

This book was enormously valuable in rectifying many of my prior misconceptions about renewable energy. First and foremost was my erroneous belief that high production costs would make renewable energy far more expensive than fossil fuels – that the renewable energy revolution would require either a) a major reduction in population or b) major sacrifice in terms of lifestyle choices.

Both turn out to be totally untrue. At this point renewable energy (mainly photo-voltaic solar energy) is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world. By 2040 the cost of producing renewable energy will be so low, fossil fuels will be virtually obsolete.

The first section of Goodall’s book focuses on the mathematical explanation of what he refers to as the “experience curve.” Energy economists use these formulae to explain the rapid decrease in the cost of manufacturing PV cells, solar panels and solar batters. The same process can be used to predict future costs of manufacture. Which is one of the main reasons Wall Street financiers are refusing to invest in new coal and gas-fired power plants. They know the electricity they produce will never compete with the low cost and efficiency of renewable energy.

In the past two decades, the main purpose of new gas-fired power plants has been to address power outages during peak demand periods. Because they only power up 10-50 hours a year, they are extremely inefficient and expensive to operate. In a number of regions, power suppliers using smart technology and creative billing schemes are flattening out peak demand periods by encouraging large energy consumers to shift their energy usage to non-peak periods.

Goodall asserts that six billion of the world’s seven billion population could easily switch to 100% solar energy now because they live in hot sunny regions. The other one billion in Northern Europe and parts of the US (and New Zealand) will need to supplement PV solar with other forms of renewable energy (wind, hydro, biofuel, etc) and develop short and long term storage technology to meet their winter energy needs.

The cost of lithium ion storage batteries is also dropping rapidly, though it lags several years behind decreasing PV production costs. As more and more energy consumers invest in solar storage systems, grid-based energy will continue to increase rapidly – with the cost of maintaining energy transmission infrastructure falling on fewer and fewer shoulders. This will only hasten the switch to renewable technology.

Comments
  1. futuret says:

    I FOR ONE HAVE A PASSION FOR RENEWABLES! I KNOW THAT MONEY TALKS EVERYWHERE. WALL STREET HAS LARGELY GRAVITATED TO THE MOST CORRUPTED ENTITIES. EVEN IN REGIONS WHERE THE SUN IS NOT SO PREVALENT, RENEWABLES CAN CONTRIBUTE TO A MORE RELAXING LIFE. IN AREAS OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN, NEW WAYS OF STORAGE FOR THOSE HARD WINTER MONTHS CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED. I AM TIRED TO HEAR OF POLLUTED WATERS WITH OIL, ETC…WE HAVE A TREMENDOUS WAY TO GO WITH RENEWABLES, BUT IT IS FAR BETTER THAN NUCLEAR AND WHAT WE HAVE BEEN USING SO FAR. SO ARE WE TO PUT ALL OUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET AND JUST RELY ON CLEAN COAL, I THINK NOT. THERE ARE TOO MANY LEAKS AROUND THE WORLD AND THE BRAINS AND INTELLIGENCE OF HUMANITY IS LEAKING AND MELTING INTO A BUNCH OF MUSH. IN MIAMI, FLORIDA USA, NEW HOMES ARE NOW REQUIRED TO BE BUILT WITH SOLAR PANELS. GEE, IN FACT I HAVE MORE OIL IN MY SKIN THAN BRITISH PETROLEUM AND I DO NOT NEED IT IN MY WATER TO. NO MOISTURIZER FOR ME!

    • Futuret one thing I really like about this book is that oil companies themselves are seeing the writing on the wall and starting to invest in solar. Otherwise they will see themselves forced out of business. Those that try to invest in new oil or coal powered electricity generators simply can’t find banks willing to finance them.

  2. Dr. Bramhall, I also shared your misconceptions about the renewable energy revolution. I think that the US mainstream media, in collusion with the fossil fuel industry, is not telling us the truth about the strides we’re making.

    • I think that’s quite an understatement, Rosaliene. The mainstream media is pretty useless in my view. I can no longer see any reason why I should voluntarily expose myself to propaganda.

  3. peteybee says:

    Someday this will be true.

    However, consider the case of a person living in a poor country where the sun shines 10 hours a day, 300 days a year, and is cloudy 60 days a year, with never more than 3 cloudy days in a row. Consider a technology that makes the up-front cost of PV solar completely free. How much storage would such a society need? They would need 3 days — 72 hours worth of storage. 72 kW-hours of storage for every 1 kW of PV generation capacity.

    Consider the case where this poor society has a benevolent government that offers loan guarantees to bring down the interest costs on investsing on batteries (their solar is already free).

    Now Consider the case where the poor society doesn’t have 0% credit available to its government like western europe, but instead has to pay 5-8% interest on the capital cost of their battery system (which has limited lifetime – in the near future, 20 years if done very carefully – because of battery chemistry).

    I will not consider the likelyhood of Europeans and Americans volunteering to underwrite their infrastructure development. Now the bad calculations start.

    What would be the breakeven per-kWh cost of a battery system for this society, to compete with fossil fuels.

    Consider the case after the US and western europe stop using fossil fuels.

    Now what would be the same calculation for wind or nuclear power – assuming, similarly, that the long-run technology cost drops to near zero?

    It’s higher than solar, because wind blows more than sun shines. Nuclear nukes all the time.

    From a global point of view, solar is not always the best.

    • I think Goodall would probably disagree with you on some of your calculations, Petey. He has a whole section on financing. He maintains this is the main reason solar energy is so cheap now – because of the low cost of financing. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Interesting report on solar power in Germany

  5. Great video clip, neonairobigal. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I think that the US mainstream media, in collusion with the fossil fuel industry, is not telling us the truth about the strides we’re making. He maintains this is the main reason solar energy is so cheap now – because of the low cost of financing.

  7. maxlcrepeau says:

    I think that the US mainstream media, in collusion with the fossil fuel industry, is not telling us the truth about the strides we’re making. I think that the US mainstream media, in collusion with the fossil fuel industry, is not telling us the truth about the strides we’re making.

  8. As far as I can see, maxlccrepeau, the US government has never told Americans the truth. I say bring back yellow journalism. When muckrakers controlled the press, at least they were open about their biases and sponsorship.

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