Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Robert Rapier on Jul 9, 2012 with 45 responses

Renewable Energy — Facts and Figures

Today’s article is the 5th and final installment of my graphical look at the recently released 2012 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Previous installments were:

Today’s article looks at the explosive growth of renewable energy, but also places it in the context of our overall energy demands.

Rapid Rise in Biofuels Production — U.S. Takes the Lead 

The first graphic shows the rapid rise in global biofuel production that has occurred in the past decade — led by the United States.

While it is not indicated in the spreadsheet, these production numbers apparently represent barrels of oil equivalent (BOE). The reason I say that is that the BP data indicate U.S. biofuel production of 8.7 billion gallons, but actual production of ethanol alone in 2011 was reportedly 13.9 billion gallons. U.S. biodiesel also contributed over 1 billion gallons. But these biofuels have lower energy density than crude oil, which means that if converted to barrels of oil equivalent the BOE number would be lower than actual volumetric production.

Cumulatively, the U.S., Brazil, and the European Union account for 87% of global biofuel production. The U.S. produced 48% of the world’s 2011 biofuel total, mostly in the form of corn ethanol. Brazil produced 22.4%, primarily as sugarcane ethanol. However, ethanol production in Brazil has been flat to declining in recent years due to disappointing sugarcane harvests. The third major biofuel producing region is the EU, which is the leading biodiesel-producing region in the world. The EU was responsible for 16.5% of global biofuel production. Other than the U.S. and Brazil, the only other countries producing more than 3% of the global biofuel total were Germany (4.8%) and Argentina (3.8%).

Solar PV’s Explosive Growth

The next figure shows the explosive growth of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, dominated by Europe. (The data did not break down into capacity specific to the EU, and data were only available from 1996).

Global PV capacity has increased at a dramatic pace since 2007, driven largely by generous incentives in Europe. In 2011, Europe was responsible for 74% of the world’s total PV capacity, with Germany leading the way at 35.8% of the global total. Italy — not Spain as many might have suspected — was in 2nd place in Europe with 18.4% of global PV capacity. Spain was in 3rd place at 6.2% of global PV capacity.

Solar PV capacity for U.S. and China are far behind European capacity, but I broke them out separately in the next graphic to show that they — as well as Japan — have also shown explosive growth in adding PV capacity.

Wind Power — China Jumps Ahead of the U.S.

As the next graphic demonstrates, global wind power has also grown rapidly in recent years. At 239 gigawatts of installed capacity, global wind capacity is well above solar PV’s 69 gigawatts of capacity. Wind power is also more evenly distributed around the world.

Once again, Europe does have the most installed capacity of any region at 40% of the world’s total, but China recently surpassed the U.S. and now possesses 26% of the world’s installed wind capacity versus 19.7% for the U.S. Cumulatively, the three areas are responsible for 86% of global wind capacity.

Taking a Look at the Global Energy Mix

Of course as many would be quick to point out, despite the rapid growth the renewable portion of the world’s energy mix is still small. The next graphic shows the total renewable contribution toward the energy that was consumed in 2011.

The renewable portion — which included solar PV, wind power, geothermal power, and power from biomass — accounted for 1.6% of the world’s energy consumption, up slightly from 1.4% in 2010 and coming almost exclusively from developed countries. However, BP includes ethanol and biodiesel under the “Oil” category, and if we make that adjustment the renewable portion rises to 2.1% . If we include hydropower in the renewable category, the renewable share rises to 8% of total consumption. (Note that these numbers do not include conventional biomass burning, which I identified in my book as the “main energy source for cooking for most of the developing world, and the primary source of energy for over 2 billion people.”)

Oil was the largest contributor to our global energy needs at 33% of total consumption, followed by coal (30%), natural gas (24%), hydroelectricity (6%), and nuclear power (5%). Cumulatively, fossil fuels provided 87% of the world’s energy in 2011, which was actually a tiny fraction higher than in 2010 (86.9%). (If we add nuclear power, fossil fuels plus nuclear power provided 92.1% of all energy in 2010, and declined a tiny fraction to 92.0% in 2011 because of a slight decline in nuclear electricity).

Given the explosive increase in renewable capacity, why would the world have used a slightly higher fraction of fossil power in 2011? Intuition might indicate that this fraction should be falling, but not only did the fraction from fossil fuels grow slightly, overall consumption of fossil fuels grew by nearly 3%. So renewables aren’t growing fast enough to displace fossil fuels; they are merely supplementing them.

The main reason for this is that developing countries are gravitating toward the cheapest and most reliable energy sources they can find, and those tend to be fossil fuels. This was demonstrated earlier in this series by showing the growth of coal consumption in developing regions.

The reliability issue can be brought into focus by comparing the capacity of wind or solar power with the electricity that was actually produced. The ratio of the actual output over the potential output if the power source produced 100% of the time is called the capacity factor. In the U.S., the capacity factor for nuclear power plants in 2011 was 89%. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the capacity factors for electricity derived from fossil fuels or nuclear power are in the range of 85% to 90%, 92% for geothermal, 52% for hydropower, 34% for wind, and 25% for solar PV.

We can cross-check this with the data from the BP report. Total consumption of solar power was reportedly 55.7 terawatt-hours (TW·h). (I have an enquiry into BP on exactly how they obtain consumption numbers; a colleague suggested that the numbers are probably readily available since production is generally subsidized — and thus the production must be measured). The 69 gigawatts of total installed solar PV capacity could produce 69*24*365 = 604 TW·h if solar produced 100% of the time. Thus, the capacity factor based on those numbers is only 9%.

But the real number is actually higher than that, because the capacity number is based on the end of the year, while actual production is measured throughout the year. We can get a better true capacity factor if we average the PV capacity of the end of 2010 and the end of 2011, which would be more indicative of average 2011 capacity. In this case, the capacity factor for solar PV rises to 11.6%, which is far below the EIA estimate.

For wind power, the average capacity between year end 2010 and year end 2011 was 219 gigawatts, which could potentially produce 1,918 TW·h. Actual consumption was 437 TW·h, implying a capacity factor of 23% — double the capacity factor for solar PV, but again far below the EIA’s estimate of 34%. If we look at just the data for the U.S., the solar capacity factor in 2011 comes to only 6% for some reason (3.5 gigawatts of average capacity for 2010 and 2011, but only 1.8 TW·h of consumption), but the capacity factor for wind was better than the global average at 31.6%.

These capacity factors help explain why developing countries are embracing fossil fuels. Developed countries with ample supplies of stable power can afford to increase the penetration of wind and solar power into their grids. Power-hungry developing countries are building up those supplies of stable power, which will enable them to increase the supplies of intermittent power. But given the current cost and intermittency of wind and solar power, no developing country is going to rely on them heavily.

Unless a cost-effective energy storage system is commercialized and widely adopted, wind and solar power will continue to depend on firm power, which is predominantly from fossil fuels or nuclear power (but sometimes from hydropower). In fact, we often say that wind and solar must be backed up by firm power, but in reality they are merely providing a small offset to our use of fossil fuels.

Nevertheless, the growth rate for almost every class of renewables over the past decade far surpasses the growth rate of fossil fuels and nuclear power. But because it is starting from a very low base — and because of the need to be backed by firm power — it is questionable whether renewables like solar power, wind power, and biofuels can make a major contribution (e.g., more than 10% of the world’s total consumption) in the foreseeable future.



style="display:block"
data-ad-client="ca-pub-3005274409447137"
data-ad-slot="6792052030"
data-ad-format="auto">

Link to Original Article: Renewable Energy — Facts and Figures

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Doug CARD on July 9, 2012 at 11:31 am

    it is questionable whether renewables … can make a major contribution (e.g., more than 10% of the world’s total consumption) in the foreseeable future.”

    Renewables are at 2% in 2011 (Europe is what – 10%?) and growing at over 40% (50%?).  How do we not get to 10% in 2016?  Even if it takes until 2020, that still seems ‘the foreseeable future’ to me.

    [link]      
    • By Robert Rapier on July 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      Renewables are at 2% in 2011 (Europe is what – 10%?) and growing at over 40% (50%?). 

      I just checked. The EU is at 5% (excluding hydropower).

      RR

      [link]      
  2. By Sam Geckler on July 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Robert,

     

    I believe some wind installations are used as peaking facilities. Do you know how they are computing capacity factor for a plant that is only “asked” to run part of  the time? This question has come up a few times for me because I’m not sure an investment package could be put together for an area where the “wind doesn’t blow” for 77% of the time (aka 23% capacity factor).

    Maybe it is this bad, but maybe the computation method is making it look worse than it is.

     

    Sam Geckler

    [link]      
    • By Ed on July 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      I cannot imagine how a wind installation (without storage) could be used as a peaking facility, since a peaking facility must be both available on-peak and dispatchable.

      Wind-generated electricity is “source of opportunity” electricity, available when the wind blows and replaced by conventional generation when the wind does not blow. Storage could be used to “time shift” electricity delivery to periods of high demand, but at significant additional investment.

      However, the capacity factor of the installation is still set by wind availability.

      [link]      
      • By Robert Rapier on July 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm

        I cannot imagine how a wind installation (without storage) could be used as a peaking facility, since a peaking facility must be both available on-peak and dispatchable.

        I had meant to respond to that myself and forgot. That is correct, though. A peaker has to be able to quickly respond to changes in demand. Wind generated electricity is the exact opposite of that; it can be the reason for rapid changes in demand.

        RR

        [link]      
        • By GreenEngineer on July 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm

          If you have enough installed capacity over a large enough geographic area, you can have statistical certainty of availability in advance.  The pattern of availability will not be constant, nor will the actual amount, but you can be sure that you will have at least X megawatts available at time Q.   (If you’re being super-conservative, you have a 99% confident lower bound but are likely producing more than that much of the time; realistically you are taking a lower confidence level and making allowances for the error bars.)  You can then dispatch from that pool based on moment-to-moment need (dumping the rest to heat, if need be).

          It’s certainly not as convenient as what we have come to expect from traditional peaker plants, but convenience is one of those things we are going to have to learn to live with less of.  To an extent, we have to adapt to our circumstances rather than only trying to adapt our circumstances to us.

           

          [link]      
          • By Robert Rapier on July 10, 2012 at 9:04 pm

            If you have enough installed capacity over a large enough geographic area, you can have statistical certainty of availability in advance. 

            I don’t believe that is accurate. I saw a study from a few years ago — I believe it was across the UK — and there was a small percentage of the year where the wind wasn’t blowing anywhere.

            In any case, we should then see the capacity factors going up in Europe as more capacity is built out if that is correct. (I used Europe because they probably have a greater concentration of wind power).

            RR 

            [link]      
            • By GreenEngineer on July 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm

              In any case, we should then see the capacity factors going up in Europe as more capacity is built out if that is correct. 

               

              I think what you mean to say is that the capacity factor of wind in aggregate should go up (and it should, if I’m right), but the capacity factor of the individual farms won’t change.  Seems like  if anything it should go down as wind build-out approaches saturation because it will become more common to throw away power due to periods of net overproduction.

              (Actually, I realize I don’t know exactly how capacity factor is calculated: does it count towards the factor if the generators are running, but the energy is being dumped as surplus?  What about if the energy is put in storage?)

              [link]      
          • By Ed on July 11, 2012 at 8:09 am

            I believe that, if you run the numbers, you would discover that it would require 20 wind turbines operating with a 25% capacity factor, all separated sufficiently to assure that they were not affected by the same weather patterns simultaneously, to assure the availability of the capacity of one of the wind turbines with 99% reliability. That would make those “X” megawatts at time “Q” pretty expensive.

            [link]      
            • By GreenEngineer on July 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm

              Yep.  But not nearly as expensive (by a true accounting) as burning more coal.

              The thing about “alternative energy” is that it’s not really an alternative.  If we want our little experiment with technological civilization to continue, it is the only option, and costs be damned.  We’ve been living fat on fossil solar energy and we’re going to have to readjust our expectations for the realities of long-term energy use.

              [link]      
            • By Robert Rapier on July 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

              If we want our little experiment with technological civilization to continue, it is the only option, and costs be damned.

              This response is to Green Engineer. It doesn’t have the reply button under his post; perhaps because it is embedded already as far as the forum allows. Hopefully this post ends up under his post.

              Anyway, the problem that we are up against is one of what we should do, and what we will do given human nature. I can envision no circumstances in which the Chinese forego the possibility of economic growth in order to spend more money on alternative energy and hope everyone does the same. I have tried to envision how that would work, and I think human nature is going to dictate that the fossil fuels are all burned.

              One telling indicator was a poll done a few years ago, in which only 35% of Indians had even heard of global warming. A country with a tremendous population of poor people who aspire to higher standards of living and who have never even heard of global warming will not be cutting their carbon footprint any time soon.

              RR

              [link]      
            • By GreenEngineer on July 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm

              Yes, we seem to have reached maximum comment embedment.

              I agree, China will not compromise potential economic growth for the sake of a clean energy system.  But it’s worth pointing out that (1) their recent historical rate of economic growth is unsustainable in purely economic terms, and is showing signs of slowing down; and (2) the country appears to be pursuing a real all-of-the-above strategy (not this weak-sauce version that Obama likes to talk about).  They are making massive investments in coal, yes, but also in solar and wind.

              China is interesting because they have, in about 20 years, done what took 150 years to accomplish in the US.  The result is that they have, within actual living memory, an understanding of just how much destruction they have wrought, and how much  externalized cost they have imposed on themselves by going down the path of breakneck development.  This is a perspective that is lost in the West, because the folks who actually witnessed the productivity of an unspoiled ecosystem (flocks of birds that darken the sky; salmon runs so thick you can’t see the water between the fish) are all long dead.

              The upshot is that I believe the Chinese government is operating on an imperative of rapid development but they also understand the cost that they are incurring, and that they cannot continue to incur that cost indefinitely.  If this is true, then it suggests that they will transition to renewables as quickly as they reasonably can, for purely practical reasons.  They certainly do not seem to manifest any of the ideological objections to renewable energy that mark the debate in this country.  And if the leadership believes that a renewable energy system is in their best interests, they may be in a better position to implement one quickly precisely because they have an authoritarian government.  Granted that there is an entire other question of what policies the central government can effectively impose on the provinces.  I know that there are laws against many of the current environmental abuses there, and that enforcement by local governments is the actual sticking point.  But I don’t know near enough about their internal political dynamic to know how that will play out.

               

              [link]      
            • By Ed on July 14, 2012 at 9:39 am

              This is a response to GreenEngineer on July 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm

              I question the existence of “ideological objections to renewable energy” in the US. I would not question the existence of ideological objections to “command and control” actions by government, especially government bureaucracies, to impose technologies which have no prospect of economic competitiveness on the US utility sector. I would not question the existence of ideological objections to carbon taxes, or the federal imposition of economic “dead loss” on coal plant operators, or federal acquiescence to global governance.

              China is not suffering the effects of excessive carbon emissions from its coal generation facilities, but rather of excessive SOx, NOx and particulate emissions from coal plants which either are not equipped with emissions controls, or at which the emissions controls are not operated on a regular basis; and, from the uncontrolled use of “brown coal” for residential and small commercial space heating, water heating and cooking.

              One could argue that much of the deprivation and suffering experienced by the people of China is the result of its authoritarian government, the “efficiency”advantages of which appear to be much admired by both Barack Obama and Thomas Friedman.

              In my experience, the despotism component of “benevolent despotism” always outlives the benevolence.

              [link]      
        • By Sam Geckler on July 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

          Robert,

          I suppose I used the term “peaking” incorrectly. It seems wind plants are operated as long as two requirements are met. First, wind is available, second current demand exceeds the minimum “base load” you are willing to produce with the mix of plants at your disposal. In such a case you bring wind on instead of additional intermediate cycling plants.

          So, what I was trying to get at is there may be times when wind is available but current demand does not require it. I wonder what fraction of the “low capacity factor” is associated with this situation. Maybe that doesn’t happen often; if anyone can point to an analysis that breaks it down that way I’d like to see it.

          For background here is a description of in what order you generally add power to your system by operating characteristic type (clearly I’m not an expert, but I would think wind goes in line item 3):

          1. First load the minimum level of the large nuclear and fossil steam plants and the minimum hydro permitted.

          2. If the load is greater, increase the level of the large baseload plants to their maximum level.

          3. If the load is still greater, add smaller intermediate cycling plants.

          4. During peak periods, add peaking units, such as diesels, gas turbines, pumped hydro, stored hydro.

          That list comes from this reference.

          http://www.entekpower.com/Papers/Windpower%20and%20Electric%20Utilities.pdf

          SG

          [link]      
          • By Ed on July 12, 2012 at 7:55 am

            “So, what I was trying to get at is there may be times when wind is available but current demand does not require it.”

            That situation is what is driving the demand for transmission expansion, on the flawed basis that, if transmission were expanded sufficiently, surplus wind-generated electricity available off-peak could be “schmeared” across a large enough customer base to “soak it up”. Of course, as soon as the next wind farm was commissioned, transmission would again no longer be capable of “schmearing” the surplus adequately.

            Wind generators in the Pacific Northwest demand that BPA take all of their output or pay for what they don’t take. Wholesale power rates in ERCOT occasionally go negative at night to incentivize customers to consume excess available electricity.

            [link]      
  3. By Robert Rapier on July 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Renewables are at 2% in 2011 (Europe is what – 10%?) and growing at over 40% (50%?).  How do we not get to 10% in 2016?

    A few reasons. First is that because overall energy consumption is growing as well, the percentage is not changing as quickly as you would expect. After all, despite explosive growth last year, the renewable fraction only moved up by 0.2%. Second — and perhaps most importantly — this rapid growth has taken place in developed countries that are now pulling back or considering pulling back their support for renewables. The rapid growth rate of solar in Germany is unlikely to continue. U.S. support for biofuels is softening. So there are good reasons to doubt that growth rates in recent years continue.

    RR

    [link]      
    • By Dandyone on July 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      Yup. I was at a renewable energy ‘conference’ (a.k.a. cheerleading competition) at the Microsoft HQ a few years ago, and one of the speakers opened with the story of cell phones. He posted a photo of an advertisement for one of the Gordon Gecko brick-sized cell phones for some x-thousand of dollars. He then asked, who would have bet on cell phones taking off the way they did. 

      He then compared early year growth between cell phones and one or another of the renewable energy sources (I *think* it was wind, but don’t quote me on that). This of course led to the inevitable conclusion that wind could continue to do the same.

      Armed with a smart phone, I looked up some population projections and extrapolated energy demand growing at the same rate as population while renewable growing at the much greater exponential rate. Turns out that after a dozen or so years, the needle would barely budge. 

      Renewables will gain traction when production rates of dirty alternatives stall.

      [link]      
  4. By Tom G. on July 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    As a big supporter of renewable energy, I invite everyone to go spend about an hour listening to a presentation by the HULK [yup the movie guy] , a Stanford professor who has been studying and writing about renewable energy for years and an investment banker.  If you are interested in energy you will probably find the discussion interesting.  Here is the website.

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_sLt5gNAQs

     

    [link]      
  5. By Clee on July 10, 2012 at 3:22 am

     

    “Total consumption of solar power was reportedly 55.7 terawatt-hours (TW·h). (I have an enquiry into BP on exactly how they obtain consumption numbers; a colleague suggested that the numbers are probably readily available since production is generally subsidized — and thus the production must be measured).”

     

     

     

    That may or may not be true in Europe, but that is not at all true in the US where net metering is very common.  I have a photovoltaic system on the roof of my house, and my production numbers aren’t reported to the utility, or the state, or anyone that BP would get numbers from.  The utility may keep track of how much electricity I feed back into the grid, but they do not know how much electricity my solar system produces that we use ourselves.  

     

    Last time I ran the numbers, my system’s capacity factor was in the upper teens.  Since the utility measures the net electricity I feed into the grid on a monthly basis and not an a hourly basis, the numbers they’d have that they could potentially report would give the impression that my solar system has a capacity factor of less than 2%.   Thus I am not at all surprised that the capacity factor calculated based on reported production is much lower in the US than globally, since the US doesn’t report much of our production.

     

    (Could have sworn I clicked on “Post Comment”  I’ll try again)

     

    [link]      
    • By Robert Rapier on July 10, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      That may or may not be true in Europe, but that is not at all true in the US where net metering is very common.

      Here was the answer I got from BP:

      BP uses official data on power generation from wind and solar where it is available (e.g. from national statistics offices, power sector regulators, power system operators) – this covers roughly 75-80% of their wind and solar data. Where power generation data is not available, they estimate power output based on installed wind or solar capacity and assumed load factors.

      [link]      
  6. By Tom G. on July 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    So now that I have said I am an advocate for solar; how about some fairness in the reporting.  Here are a few short paragraphs from the Rocky Mountain Institute [RMI] which clearly state WHY solar is lagging in America.  

     http://blog.rmi.org/blog_solar_issues_day_customer_acquisition

    [link]      
    • By Russ Finley on July 10, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      The latest study by the NREL predicts that at best only about 13 percent of our electric power will be solar by 2050, and half of that would be concentrated thermal solar.

      [link]      
      • By Tom G. on July 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

        Hi Russ:

        I find the 13% number to be a little low and the number below a little too high.  Only time will tell who gets the golden ring in 2050 but my bet is on some number between the two.  

        NREL says 80% of US electricity can be renewable by 2050 with current technology   

        US National Renewable Energy Lab says 80% of US electricity can be renewable by 2050, even with current technology. 

        http://www.democraticunderground.com/112718362

        [link]      
        • By Sam Geckler on July 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

          Tom,

          This NREL report included Nuclear in the 80% renewable energy by 2050 statement. I was quite surprised by that.

          [link]      
    • By tennie davis on July 11, 2012 at 12:22 am

      Hi tom, in the link you provided, it mentions that the cost of solar PV installed, is $2.24 per watt in Germany, and  $4.44 in the US, but what it failed to mention, (unless I misunderstand their methodology) is that the German customer, is forced to pay 36 cents per Kwh, part of that, to subsidize PV in a cloudy climate. Customers in the US pay about 11 cents per Kwh.

      In the US , solar is a great idea, in places where it makes economic sense, like Hawaii, and the southwest. In Germany, nukes make more sense. Silly Germans!

      Ask yourself, do you think German industry can compete with  American industry, if their electricity costs are 3 times higher?

      Electricity generates gross domestic product , and  jobs.

      In the coming years Germany will pay dearly for their well intentioned shortsightedness.

      [link]      
      • By Ed on July 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

        “Electricity generates gross domestic product , and  jobs.”

        Perhaps someone should point that out to President Obama and Administrator Jackson, since they are acting to increase electricity prices and reduce grid  reliability. :-)

        [link]      
      • By Tom G. on July 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm

        Hi Tennie:

        Please go here for a more comprehensive analysis of the costs and some very negative arguments against solar.  

        http://www.democraticunderground.com/112718739

        I believe there are two significant item identified in the referenced link.  The first is that solar is now COMPETITIVE on certain buildings in certain areas.  Of course we aren’t there yet but prices are becoming attractive.  

        [link]      
      • By Clee on July 14, 2012 at 1:02 am

        Ask yourself, do you think German industry can compete with  American industry, if their electricity costs are 3 times higher?

        I asked myself that, so I looked and found that Germany industry in 2011 paid 9 euro cents per kWh,

        http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&plugin=1&language=en&pcode=ten00114

        At today’s exchange rate, that would be 11 US cents/kWh.  Germany industry’s electricity costs aren’t 3 times higher.

        [link]      
        • By tennie davis on July 14, 2012 at 5:51 am

          Clee, thank you for the link. In my previous comment, I was “generalizing” by using residential electricity rates, which was admittedly sloppy research  on my part, but my main point about the competition of business, in a free market, remains sound.

          Prices of electricity (2000) in the US are residential 8.2 cents commercial 7.2 cents industrial 4.4 cents

          US  wholesale electricity prices have dropped more than 50% on average since 2008, and about 10% during the fourth quarter of 2011, according to a Jan. 11 research report by Aneesh Prabhn, a New York-based analyst. Prices in the west hub of PJM interconnection LLC, the largest wholesale market in the US, declined to about $39 per Mwh by Dec. 2011 from $87 in the first quarter of 2008.

          Feel free to correct me if I screw up my math, but I think that’s about 4 cents per kwh. This gives the US a competitive edge in industry, and definitely gives our residential and commercial sectors a competitive edge. A lot of small businesses can be helped or hurt by these price differences!

          My original argument is what’s important here, when you artificially raise electricity prices by subsidies or mandates, it stifles productivity, gross domestic product, and jobs. In simple english this makes economies suck.

          [link]      
  7. By Andrew Holland on July 11, 2012 at 10:29 am

    One of the big opportunities missed by renewables so far, I think, is renewable energy expansion in the developing world – i.e. places that don’t have an existing grid. As you show, its Europe and the US that are leading in renewables – largely by feeding it into an exiting grid.

    But – I think the real game-changing ability of renewables (solar PV especially) is that you can have widely disbursed electricity generation, without having to rely on a gird that may be unreliable (as in India, for example) or non-existent (as in much of rural Africa). It seems like that could be a real growth area – and I wonder why it isn’t so far…

    [link]      
    • By Russ Finley on July 14, 2012 at 11:35 am

      But – I think the real game-changing ability of renewables (solar PV especially) is that you can have widely disbursed electricity generation, without having to rely on a gird that may be unreliable (as in India, for example) or non-existent (as in much of rural Africa).

      Solar power is not effective if it is not connected to a large grid capable of sharing power sources. For example, if I spent the $70,000 it would take to replace my electricity use but did not connect to the grid, about 90% of it would go to waste. It would all be generated in the day when I don’t need lights or will not be home and will generate about 80 percent more than I can possibly use in the summer and almost nothing all winter. Solar has to be grid tied or backed up with a lot of storage to be useful, and storage can be more expensive than the solar itself.

       

      [link]      
  8. By Ed on July 11, 2012 at 11:03 am

    “It seems like that could be a real growth area – and I wonder why it isn’t so far…”

    Lack of funds to purchase the hardware and lack of skills to install and maintain the hardware.

    [link]      
    • By Tom G. on July 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      So true, so true Ed.  

      I have often wondered if sending some odd billions of our American dollars in the form of foreign aid to a country does much good.  Maybe most of that money just ends up in some repressive governments coffers instead of actually helping the people it was meant to help.

      Maybe what we should be doing is sending them [for example] $1 billion for education in renewable energy systems and then sending them some additional billions in wind turbines or solar panels as appropriate.  Like the old saying goes – train a fisherman to fish and you can feed the world or however that old saying goes.    Benefits for America:

      1. Would keep manufacturing going in America [add jobs] while WE continue to learn how to reduce the cost of  these renewable energy systems, 

      2. Would directly support energy production for our country and the country we chose to help improving their living standards everywhere, and;

      3. Would reduce the carbon footprint of each country we were helping including our own while promoting American products and the American dream. 

      By the way this wouldn’t have to cost us one additional dime [$.10].  We could just divert some fraction of the cash money we are now giving to educate the people and provide the appropriate renewable energy systems for them to install.   

       I think a plan something like this could work and would be far more beneficial than what we are currently doing.  Will something like this ever happen; well o.k. I live in a fantasy world from time to time but stranger things have happened.  

      Have a great day Ed. 

      [link]      
    • By mac on July 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      One of the big opportunities missed by renewables so far, I think, is renewable energy expansion in the developing world – i.e. places that don’t have an existing grid. As you show, its Europe and the US that are leading in renewables – largely by feeding it into an exiting grid.

      But – I think the real game-changing ability of renewables (solar PV especially) is that you can have widely disbursed electricity generation, without having to rely on a gird that may be unreliable (as in India, for example) or non-existent (as in much of rural Africa). It seems like that could be a real growth area – and I wonder why it isn’t so far…

      Perhaps the so-called Third World is a real leap-frog opportunity for  re-newables growth.  I think you are on the right track.  The fact is that coal, nuclear or geo-thermal, hydro. e even  wind will never get to these places in the  lifespan of those earnestly desiring light and power. (appx. 2 Billion souls)

       

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FD9K5GELa8

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGTO2Nm5lng&feature=related

       

      Solar can………..

      [link]      
      • By Tom G. on July 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm

        Excellent u-tube examples Mac.  Thank you.  

        Just about an hour ago I read that 5% of all electricity is now being provide by renewable energy systems for some country.  Can anyone guess which country that might be?  News at 11:00.  

        p.s.  Has anyone else noticed that in less than 24 hours we have jumped from 9 comments on this story to about 25.  Great discussion everyone.      

        [link]      
  9. By mac on July 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Sorry,

     

    I forgot to credit Andrew Holland for his thoughts on solar (which are not too shabby, by the way)

    [link]      
  10. By mac on July 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    “Excellent u-tube examples Mac.  Thank you.”

      Okay, well I wouldn’t go overboard on this….

    But solar is a good temporary solution in some cases.

    I think Solar will grow but cannot compete with fossil fuels (YET)

    mac

     

     

    [link]      
    • By Tom G. on July 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      A very true statement Mac.  The transition from a fossil fuel society is going to take time. The legacy effect in the auto industry alone will have us using oil for maybe another 20-50 years depending on all of the who, what, when and where’s.  Even if we started selling nothing but electric cars tomorrow [which we can't] there would still be millions of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles on our roads in 2050.  I think the best we can hope for is a reasonable transition into the 22nd century.  Please note; I will not be around to watch the transition, ha ha.  

      [link]      
      • By Ed on July 11, 2012 at 5:06 pm

        Electric vehicles and gasoline vehicles are far from interchangeable today, even if we could build enough electric vehicles to satisfy the volumetric demand for vehicles.

        Electric vehicles need to achieve far greater range potential before they would be interchangeable. There is a limited market for the very limited range, long recharge time vehicles currently available, such as the Nissan Leaf.

        [link]      
        • By Tom G. on July 11, 2012 at 7:48 pm

          Correct Ed – and they are also far too expensive for my checking account.  We will of course learn someday how to make batteries on the cheap.  In the mean time, did I mention that hydraulic hybrids which are just as efficient as electric hybrids are $10,000 less expensive.  Maybe the government should have spent a little less on renewables and a little more on the transportation sector but I am not going to try and second guess some  people.        

          However on a personal note; I have always liked the looks of the ‘MIT City Car’.  One of the most sexy looking little cars for around town I have seen.  It also doesn’t need to have the 4 wheel steering or even the lifting body the prototype has to meet my small town USA needs.  Also since I already have a truck to haul stuff in and a 5 passenger vehicle for long trips, something like the MIT City Car for around town would cover at least 95% of my driving needs.   You know – for me an mine to go shopping or out to dinner and a movie.  Or for a quick trip to Ace Hardware for a couple of gallons of paint or a few drywall screws.  It wouldn’t have to have a 50 mile range since it is only about 10 miles from my house to anywhere in town.  And since I am retired I don’t care if it takes 2 hours or 8 hours to recharge.  I’ll bet someone a good steak dinner senior citizens would buy these things like a buffet dinner at a Vegas casino, LOL.     

          BUT; this type of vehicle certainly wouldn’t work for someone driving on an Interstate everyday or a California Freeway at 75-80 miles per hour unless of course they have a death wish.  But for 20 million senior citizens it just might be the ticket.  

          What do you think?

          [link]      
          • By Ed on July 12, 2012 at 8:08 am

            Two of those “20 million senior citizens”, with whom I am intimately familiar, have granddaughters 500 miles from their home. A Nissan Leaf would turn a 9 hour drive into a 5-8 day excursion with 4-7 hotel stays each way. Even our granddaughter who lives locally is far enough away that a round trip in a Leaf would be “iffy” if the car needed to be heated or cooled. We could make the round trip to the grocery store, the occasional restaurant, the doctor’s office, etc. relatively comfortably.

            The Leaf might be an acceptable second car, except that we are getting to the stage where one car will be all we need. The 2012 Leaf is NOT that one car.

            [link]      
            • By Tom G. on July 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

              Hi Ed:

              Funny you should mention grand-kids – I have two grand-daughters visiting this week who live about 3oo miles from grandpa and grandma.  Of course we take the 5 passenger gasoline powered car when we go pick them up or even go out to dinner.  Of course we could use a Leaf [if we had one] for around town but certainly not the 300 mile trip. 

              Onward and upward to the next posting by Robert.      

              [link]      
  11. By kublikhan on July 11, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    “The main reason for this is that developing countries are gravitating toward the cheapest and most reliable energy sources they can find, and those tend to be fossil fuels. This was demonstrated earlier in this series by showing the growth of coal consumption in developing regions.”

    Would it not be better to invest the upfront capital in some reliable renewable energy like hydro than to have to deal with decades of high fuel bills? A recent IEA report said developing nations should move to renewables as their fuel import bill is actually higher than the amount of overseas aid:

    “When industrialised economies were developing, oil was the equivalent of $13 a barrel, but now developing countries must pay $120 to $130, noted Birol, which leaves developing countries “hamstrung” – so if more people are to be lifted out of poverty, clean energy must be an imperative.

    Birol’s analysis shows that for every $1 that countries do not spend on cleaner fuel, they will have to spend $4.3 within the next two decades to make up, for their reliance on fossil fuels.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/01/overseas-aid-africa-oil-imports-costs

    “There is a large hydropower potential, in excess of 1,383 GWh/a. Other energy resources include uranium deposits and a consistently high level of solar insolation.

    More than half the countries of the region spend 20 to 35% of their total export earnings on petroleum.”
    http://www.helio-international.org/Helio/anglais/reports/africa.html

    [link]      
    • By Ed on July 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      The primary needs of the developing countries appear to focus on electricity for lighting and motor applications, including water treatment and sewage treatment; and, on cleaner cooking fuels. Oil is really not much of a factor in satisfying either of these primary needs. Solar is fine, but limited by the lack of storage to time shift electricity availability. 

      Oil is primarily a transportation fuel. Brazil, for example, has been very aggressive is displacing oil with cane ethanol. South Africa has used the Sasol process to produce synthetic oil from coal for decades.

      Nuclear and hydro are very capital intensive generation sources; and, capital is in short supply in most developing countries. China and Egypt have made the capital investments in large hydro dams, for both flood control and power generation. However, China is also making massive capital investments in new coal and nuclear generation, despite its position as a world leader in solar collector and wind turbine production.

      [link]      
  12. By Benjamin Cole on July 13, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Nice commentary by RR.

     

    We might all wish for more renewable and clean fuels—but fossil remains very cheap. 

    Still, there may be breakthroughs in solar in the future.  

    [link]      
Register or log in now to save your comments and get priority moderation!