# A Solar Power Plant vs. A Natural Gas Power Plant: Capital Cost – Apples to Apples

Guest essay by Philip Dowd

Here is a simple example that illustrates why current solar technology will be hard-pressed to replace existing carbon-fired power plants.

Let’s suppose that a power company is planning to scrap a coal-fired power plant and wants to replace it with a new plant. Furthermore, let’s assume that the old plant to be scrapped is in Arizona. The options for the new plant are natural gas and solar. The company wants a simple, ball-park analysis of the front-end cost to build each of these options.

The requirements:

1. Electricity demand on this facility is 4,800 MWh/day, about the demand for a community of 160,000 average households[i]

2. The “up time” of both plants must be equal. That is, both must be equally reliable and produce the demand for the same fraction of time over the course of one year.

Assumptions:

1. The solar plant will consist of a Photovoltaic (PV) panel and a battery. The PV panel will generate enough electricity during the day to produce the necessary output and charge the battery. The battery will generate the necessary output at night.

2. Night time demand equals day time demand.

3. The new plant will be built in Arizona, a good spot for a solar plant

The Analysis

The analysis is in the form of an annotated spread sheet, showing the two options and the steps required to derive the solution.

I. Capital Cost to Generate Electricity

II. Capital Cost of Storage for Night Time Demand

The solar option requires a battery that would supply night time demand. For this purpose we will use technology known as “Pumped Storage”. This method stores energy in the form of potential energy of water, pumped from a lower elevation reservoir to a higher elevation reservoir. In our example, about half of the electric power from our solar facility produced during the day would be used to run the pumps and fill the upper reservoir. Then, at night, the stored water would be released through turbines to produce the electricity that would run the night time economy.

For more on this see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity

III. Total Capital Cost Including Storage (\$millions)

For our exercise let’s consider the Bath County facility, located in the northern corner of Bath County, Virginia[vii]. It was constructed in 1977-85 and is currently the largest pumped storage facility in the world.

Here are its relevant specifications:

So, at this point in the exercise we have the relative costs of the two options to generate electricity over a twenty-four hour period, assuming normal operations for both. The capital cost of the solar option is about 14 times the cost of the gas option.

Conclusion

This back-of-the-envelope analysis suggests that a solar (PV) power plant that could deliver that same results as a gas-fired power plant would cost about 14 times the gas-fired option to build. It is worth noting that the solar option cost excludes any subsidies, investment tax credits, etc, that could narrow the range, but it is obvious from this little exercise that until solar technology improves dramatically, there is little chance that it will replace natural gas as the “go-to” option for new power plants.

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has said that it was “fantastic” that the UN, national governments, and environmental campaigners had raised awareness of climate change and were taking steps to counter it. However, he argued that current technologies could only reduce global CO2 emissions at a “beyond astronomical” cost. “The only way you can get to the very positive scenario is by great innovation,” he said. “Innovation really does bend the curve.”[xiv]

I totally agree. Mr Gates intends to invest \$2 billion in renewable energy over the next five years — innovation to bend the curve. Solar energy is going to need lots of it if it is ever to become a viable substitute for carbon-based energy.

References:

[i] Average household in US consumes about 900 kWh/month or about 30 kWh/day

http://insideenergy.org/2014/05/22/using-energy-how-much-electricity-do-you-use-each-month/

[ii] Net Capacity = electricity demand for one day ÷ 24 hrs or x/24

Scroll down to the table. Capacity factor is found in col 2.

The number for gas is “Conventional Combined Cycle”

The number for solar is ”Solar PV”

[iv] Gross Capacity required = net capacity ÷ capacity factor

The cost used comes from col 5 in this chart: “Base Overnight Cost in 2014”

The entry for gas is “Conventional Gas/Oil Combined Cycle”

The entry for solar is “Solar PV”. Note that this cost excludes any subsidies.

[vi] Gross Capacity Required x Capital Cost

[viii] The equation here is Capital Cost at time of construction x adjustment for inflation

For Bath = \$1,600 mil x 2.6 = \$4.1 billion (inflation adjustment is for the period 1981 – 2014)

For inflation adjustment use this site: http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

[ix] The equation here is Capacity x Time to Empty Upper Reservoir

For Bath = 3,000 MW x 14.3 hours = 43.0 GWh

[x] Assume night time demand = day time demand so night time demand on the solar battery = ½ total daily demand

[xi] Cost of Storage = Capital Cost ÷ Stored Energy = \$4.1 billion ÷ 43 GWh ≈ \$100/kWh

[xii] Capex to store night time demand = \$100/kWh x 0.5X kWh = \$50X

[xiii] Total here is the “Total Capital Cost” in Sec I plus the “Cost of Storage” in Sec II

Errata and notes: The \$4.1 trillion capex for the Bath County facility is a typo; yes, should be \$4.1 billion, both in the body of the article and the footnotes.  This has been corrected. All of the other numbers in the body of the article are correct and the conclusion that the capex of the solar plant is 14 times the gas plant stands.

The assumption of night time demand = day time is just for convenience.  I know its not true, but this is just a ball park analysis and I’m trying to keep it simple.

The analysis deals only with capital cost, not levelized or life cycle, again just to keep it as simple as possible. – Philip Dowd

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Dave Yaussy

The \$4.1 trillion for the Bath County storage facility seems high, even adjusted for inflation. According to your footnote viii, shouldn’t that be \$4.1 billion?

Agree – that can’t be right.

Walt D.

I think you are right:
Zeroth Law of Climate Science: 1 is approximately equal to 100.
So, even from a climate science perspective, this is off by an order of magnitude.

Yes, I’ve asked the author to fix this.

MikeN

Yes. It is clearly 4.1 billion, however carrying this forward suggests the storage cost is just \$240 thousand, instead of 240 million, which seems very low for such a large plant.

No if the costs of the large 3,000W Bath County storage is 44,100 at today’s prices
Then a 20W storage costs \$273.33m
But he’s daft to leave off the cost of the gas and only consider capital costs.
Gas costs might not be large if it is easily obtainable and untaxed.

My typo 200W = \$273.33 cost

Greg

OK so now we’ve got rid of three order of magnitude type errors…

2. Night time demand equals day time demand.

And where on the planet is that the case? NYC , perhaps?

Bryan A

if you’ve ever spent a summer in Phoenix, then you know that AC is on 24/7 as it only drops to about 85F in the wee hours just before Sunrise. So, at least in the summer, demand doesn’t drop all that much at night.
I placed a thermometer in my car for several days over the summer and the temperature rose to over 156F with the windows up once topping at almost 170F

MarkW

If you are going to include gas costs, then you have to include maintenance costs for both types of facilities.

Wayne

You don’t mention fuel cost over the life of the gas-fired plant. Does this make a significant difference?

I didn’t see land costs for pumped storage; is that included? But running costs weren’t part of what we were offered. All plants need maintenance, insurance, staff, taxes, …

Smart Rock

Don’t forget the land cost for solar too. That’s going to be a very large PV array.
Then again. The pumped storage option assumes that you have a convenient mountain with some fairly flat land on top of it, and lots of water. Not always a simple requirement to fulfill.

Unmentionable

There also has to be assured sufficient water in it so someone has to buy the water and build and maintain the hardware and pay for replacing evaporation losses, as well.
And hope prosaic multi-year droughts don’t occur like they always do, which requires carrying an expensive overhead of excess water supply, at all times, and its added evaporation loss costs, and this will use (and remove) more of the available rainfall.
And you also need an excess of pumping capacity to provide for redundancy in failures and maintenance periods.
And you’ll need to pay for a feed from a gas or uranium plants for when the unforeseen occurs … like an extreme weather tornado takes out your solar farm … or a solar flare fries it … or a hail storm wipes out 75% of its capacity in minutes.

Don K

Not a dumb question, but in Arizona, the land for generation and storage will probably be federal land leased at low or zero cost. There LOTS of Federal land in the mountain West. A more interesting question is where all the water required for storage will come from.

Don K

SmartRock. Yes, you are correct suitable sites for pumped storage look to be a problem in the Eastern US. There are some, but not a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are not enough to support a large market penetration by intermittent sources. Not so much of a problem in the West, I think. Lots of mountains. Big ones. There, the problem looks to be water. Although in concept one can cycle water between just an upper and lower reservoir and only import enough to make up for evaporation and leakage. The more thoughtful environmentalists may not be big fans of such a concept because the “lakes” would presumably have constantly changing water levels and might not be a friendly environment for many species.

oeman50

Try to get a new hydro project of any kind through the draconian licensing process.. And you also have to have a public utility commission willing to spend 14X of their customers’ money for the plant. Grandmaw can’t afford it, she,ll have to eat Alpo.

Bryan A

Evaporation wouldn’t be that big of a problem if the entire facility were located underground and not exposed to surface winds and sun. The only additional cost then would be for removing sufficient amounts of subsurface material (there are always those nasty Coal Strip Mines that could use infill) and protecting from loss to ground seepage over a large enough area.

Bryan A

The water could also come from coastal Desalination and transport pipes. With underground reservoirs very little evaporation and easy access to piped water supplies. Since the water isn’t being used for consuming, you could also use reclaimed water and no species concern for Underground reservoirs as it wouldn’t become a habitat.

MarkW

Some form of floating plastic cover might be less expensive than building a covering for the entire lake.
On the down side, the risk of having someone fall through the plastic cover and drowning might make insurance prohibitive.

I have been trying to educate the local Green activists and politician supporters of renewable energy to understand this normal, very basic, but essential “like for life” total life cycle CAPEX/OPEX cost comparison investment analysis for many years. The same applies to a comparison of Wind Turbines with Gas Turbine Standby’s versus Gas Turbines alone as base load units. You also have to add in the necessary massive additional cost of enhanced and additional Power Transmission lines needed to connect the remote WT’s and SP’s to areas of actual Power Demand.
The result of this proper professional engineering investment analysis is a no brainer: the WT/GT/Power Line system is, and always will be, massively more expensive regardless of how much money is spent on R&D in an attempt to improve on the inbuilt engineering inefficiencies within this Total System.
In addition, in the UK, we now have the ridiculous and obscene situation where WT power is given priority use and subsidies and guaranteed minimum prices are paid to the WT supplier/operator to make their product commercially viable, and then subsidies are then needed by the GT standby supplier operator to cover the increased costs of supplying and operating GT’s to meet every varying shortfall power demands and operating way off optimum efficiency loading.
You just couldn’t dream up a more idiotic and crazy situation. Yet the politicians here still wonder why our steel industry and many other industries are losing the battle with foreign competitors, exports are failing and why our power costs, affecting all our other costs, keep rising.
I despair – we desperately need scientists and professional engineers in Government!

Phil R

macawber,

I despair – we desperately need scientists and professional engineers in Government!

I agree with the professional engineers, but scientists (especially “climate scientists”) are what got us into this mess in the first place!

Gerry, England

The words ‘front-end cost’ seem to have passed you by just like some others.

Greg

So what is the point of only studying “front end costs”?
Like working out the payments to buy a car without working out if you can afford to use it !

simple-touriste

“You don’t mention fuel cost over the life of the gas-fired plant.”
Fuel cost depends on local economic conditions; gas isn’t as transportable as oil.
The existence of the plant changes these conditions.
So the answer is: we can’t say what fuel cost is. But such energy plants have significant market impact.

The photo for the gas plant shows two units. There is no reason that the capacity of the two units combined with programed maintenance can not be well over 90%. I had experience of an oil fired rotary furnace operating at just over 98% average over 13 years availability and a second unit averaging over 95% availability.(output of the first was about 200% of original design capacity due to modifications and the other about 150% of original capacity)
For the solar plant 25% capacity is far too high. Maximum capacity only occurs about 2 hrs a day if the sky is clear. Insolation is a bell curve with zero generation at night time. Average capacity over a year is only around 16% after allowing for clouds and low sun angle in winter. Experience with solar plants in Australia show they need a lot of maintenance. It is a myth that they operate at no cost.

oeman50

Accurate post, c-a-f. And I realize this was a simplified calculation just to give us an idea of the costs. However, the impact of a cloudy day or two (yes, even in Arizona) could easily be factored in, it would significantly increase the PV and the pumped storage costs. I wouldn’t be surprised if it jumped it up to 20 – 25% X.
BTW, I’ve visited the Bath County Pumped Hydro Station, it is amazing to behold.

MarkW

I suspect that the 25% utilization rate for the solar is too optimistic. What happens if it’s cloudy for an entire week?

ignoring reality has its downsides.

…especially the fact that Bill Gates’ \$2 billion investment wouldn’t even purchase the example solar plant–he’d have to come up with another \$500 million to do that.

Great post….could you do one of those for wind v.s nuclear?

… and for geothermal v/s PV, please!

petermue

… and for future fusion reactors?

Hocus Locus

…and for oxen yoked around giant wooden wheels, please.
[Fergit the oxen. Just hook up one each Conan. .mod]

Well, very nice, but what about the NG to fuel it, say at \$3/E6 Btu and a plant efficiency of 60%. Interest? Amortized? And annual O&M expenses? Even still the CCPP should have the edge. If I take the time might back of envelope some more numbers.

Kaiser Derden

solar panels degrade … in AZ even faster …

urederra

And they can be covered by dust.
Anyway, there are other types of solar. Somewhere in the article should be mentioned that the comparison is against PHOTOVOLTAIC solar, not simply solar. Appart trom that, I like the article.

Robert of Ottawa

This was just a look at the capital costs

Johann Wundersamer

If I take the time might back of envelope some more numbers.
Oh well, Nicholas. Plain Do it.
Hans

An annual cost of operation would be useful for this comparison.

Mark

at mw per \$ overa year I bet solar still loses badly

Oh, and of course you can dispatch the CCPP anyway you want & it doesn’t need back up for several cloudy days. Even AZ has those.

Ken Robinson

Without disagreeing with the basic point that solar power economics are questionable, the true apples-to-apples comparison is done via a Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) methodology, which incorporates all capital, operating and finance costs over the entire lifespan of the plants in question. Judith Curry’s website has a couple of detailed posts on the point dating back a couple of months.

usurbrain

Would you move to a tropical island with only solar and wind power – NO.ZERO, backup from NG, Battery, PS? Hint,I went on a vacation to northern WA state. Fishing cabin only had solar power. After the third rainy day the four storage batteries were dead and my Cellphone was DEAD and it was two more days before I could recharge it. Caught a lot of fish,but the wife was super PO’d!
Don’t believe the LCOE includes backup power. LCOE is a tool used to determine the compare power plants and is normally used to compare similar types of plants, not the cost of providing reliable power. It is only interested in power delivered tot he grid, not RELIABLE power to the customer. At least none of the equations that I have seen address backup power needs.

The future of power , I’m totally convinced, is molten salt nuclear technology. Nothing else comes close.
Look for it from Transatomic Power (owned by MIT graduates) and Terrestrial Energy(Candadian) and the crash program being financed by the Chinese govt. Commercialization by roughly 2020

Ric Haldane

Perhaps the best option. Modular, build and ship. We have at least 75 years worth of used fuel. Needs to be refueled every 10 years or so. The half life of wastes is measured in hundreds of years, not thousands (and more), unlike thorium. Why reinvent the wheel. Thorium fuel is difficult and expensive to produce even if raw thorium is cheaper.

Gamecock

Ric, he doesn’t say anything about thorium; why do you bring it up? MSR is not thorium based (if that’s where you got the idea); it doesn’t need thorium to run, though it can – theoretically – use some.
‘even if raw thorium is cheaper.’
Unknown. There is no thorium production industry. None. What little man has wanted has come as by product from other material processing. Should it be used in energy production, the industry will have to be created. Ipso facto, the cost of commercial volume thorium is pure speculation.

Ric Haldane

Gamecock, I only brought up thorium because some on this site have the thorium bug and I wanted to show some of the disadvantages of thorium. Many think of thorium when they dream about MSR’s. I do wish Retired Kip P would be a little more specific. There are more than 2 companies working on MSR’s worldwide. I believe that the majority of the materials exist and the TSR (Technology Readiness Scale) is making good progress. I think there will be a prototype in 5 or 6 years. NRC approval could take 4 or 5 years with a present rate of something like \$439 per hour.

urederra

And if it is not Thorium, what element and isotope are you talking about?

Gamecock

Ric, agreed. One of the key characteristics of the Thorium Nuts is their ignorance of nuclear physics.

Stephen Frost

https://whatisnuclear.com/reactors/msr.html
“There are many different types of MSRs, but the most talked about one is definitely the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). This MSR has Thorium and Uranium dissolved in a fluoride salt and can get planet-scale amounts of energy out of our natural resources of Thorium minerals, much like a fast breeder can get large amounts of energy out of our Uranium minerals. There are also fast breeder fluoride MSRs that don’t use Th at all.”

Gamecock

Mr Frost, ‘Thorium Reactor’ displays ignorance of nuclear physics.

Not going to happen in your life time.

Ric Haldane

Kit, if I were in my 80’s and these people were using thorium, I would agree. The basic design is well over 40 years old and they are not using thorium. The materials exist and the TRS’s ( Technology Readiness Scale) is coming along quite well. I think we will see a prototype in 5 or 6 years. NRC approval is slow (4-5 years) and expensive (last I saw was \$439/hr).

Stuart gammell

The Chinese have over 20 operating plants commissioned and I believe the US has over 5 either being built or Commissioned where is molten salt storage. But the costs are very high about 40% higher than conventional. The real Holy Grail of solar energy storage as for photovoltaic. They don’t have a financially practical solution yet I believe they’re close. I believe there are some promising Technologies being developed from nanotechnology that would be cost effective.

And you’d better build the gas powered plant as well for when there is a week of cloud and cold weather in Arizona.

But you forgot the handwavium mine to power the unobtanium converter! Or so the apparent response of the greens will be to any such calculation.

Pop Piasa

Right on, Tom. If the greens smokescreen and propagandize the science, they can achieve “great” carbon reduction “innovation” through involuntary reduction of the population.
Like Gates said: “The only way you can get to the very positive scenario is by great innovation,” … “Innovation really does bend the curve.”

Greg

You’re forgetting the key word: ambition ! We have to have “ambitious targets”. We need more ambition.

BillJ

Demand for electricity is not constant. It’s silly to use that assumption. It’s higher during the day and early evening and lowest from about midnight to 6am.
https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=830
{a request has been made to the author to fix that typo -mod}

simple-touriste

More proof reading of this type of posts would be appreciated.

Perhaps you could volunteer?

usurbrain

But nights are longer in the winter!

MarkW

Heating costs are higher during the winter, and they maximize at night as well.

ttbroberg

Yeah, thinking that too, but it only throws off the storage part – 240 / 2740 ~= 0.

Steve Thatcher

Night time usage is bound to be high what with pumping all that water back uphill. Or are you going to use grid power? 🙂
SteveT

usurbrain

Power generated from the solar panels is not a “constant” from sunrise to sunset either. More like a bell curve. This curve is only slightly flattened with Azimuth/Elevation tracking panels. Usually, not worth the added cost of the tracking equipment over the life of the panel.
Still ignored by this calculation is this only gives you power for one night. PERIOD. Search for Pumped Storage on Wikipedia. Look at the size in acres of needed land. The majority of these are only “buffers” and/or peaking units. What happens with three or four “cloudy” days? And these are the cheapest to construct (today). Now, do the calculation of cost for batteries, any type of battery.

Hell_Is_Like_Newark

For the sake of simplicity, you could assume both plants are ‘base load’ power plants which are kept running at or near capacity. It is other plants on the grid (say, additional gas turbines without a steam cycle) that have their loads varied to meet demand.

usurbrain

And, just where are all of these “other” plants going to get their sunshine from when 50% of the power is from Solar. Or even 33%. or even 20%.,Do the math and you will see that you still need about equal number of fossil plants as “renewable” plants.
Only Nuclear power is the answer, the renewables are a SCAM.

joelobryan

Better not include cloudy days in those availability calculations. Or dust on the PV cells, or reduced tau during Springtime dust storms. They do both happen in AZ.
Solar PV is only a reasonable cost-saving alternative when connecting to the fossil fuel/nuclear-powered grid is not feasible, like powering a remote weather reporting station or a remote night time lighting system (run by a battery charged by daytime sunshine).
I got my Tucson Electric Power bill yesterday for March. On it is a collection of Green Energy Charges, totaling \$5.74 of a \$75.69 bill. So I’m subsidizing Elon Musk’s multi-billion dollar market cap of Solar City to make him even richer. But at some point in the not too distant future, all those homeowners with his PV installations on their rooftops, the subsidy gravy train will end. Then Solar City will go into liquidation, and there’ll be no one to pay for maintaining those systems except the homeowner. Then they’ll end up in the scrap heap, and we’ll need those nat gas generating plants we didn’t build.

Kaiser Derden

bingo, Musks entire empire is built on rent seeking subsidies or outright blackmail (California) … he’s a great salesman … and that’s all …

C’mon Kaiser. Musk (his companies) has only received about \$5 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees. Meanwhile, over this time period his personal fortune has grown to about …… \$5 billion. Gosh, what a co-inki-dink.

joelobryan

SunEdison to file for bankruptcy.

From the Wall Street Journal this Friday afternoon:
” Solar-energy company SunEdison Inc. plans to file for bankruptcy protection in coming weeks, a dramatic about-face for a company whose market value stood at nearly \$10 billion in July.”
http://www.wsj.com/articles/sunedison-said-to-be-preparing-to-file-for-bankruptcy-1459548775

Can Solar City be far behind? Maybe the subsidies and business models are different, but the laws of economics can’t be repealed and losses on anything solar in recent years says Solar City is headed eventually to bankruptcy.

Don K

I’m not a big fan of Musk, but let’s give the man some credit. Unlike a lot of companies designed to suck up government money, Musk’s operations — Tesla, SpaceX — seem to be well managed and the products work.

joelobryan

Don K,
At > \$100K each, the Tesla model S better work damn well. But buyers get a \$30K govt rebate. And Who is buying those? The affluent who buy them, that’s who. They buy them as bling, because beyond around town they are not practical highway cars (outside a narrow I-5 corridor in Cal where fast charge/battery swap stations are available). So taxpayer provided welfare for the rich.
Tesla depends on subsidies in its business model. As for Space X, it has yet to make a profit, it may someday, that is far from certain. There is real innovation there, granted.
All 3 of Elon Musk’s businesses, Tesla, Solar City, and Space X are completely dependent on tax dollars and/or rate payer subsidies to “Green Energy” to succeed. And Elon Musk has quite a few Democrat pols (and some Republicans) in his pocket book in a mutualistic symbiosis that parasitize off helpless tax payers.

Joe Public

I disagree with one aspect relating to the Gas-fired solution:
You’ve stated Net Capacity required 200MW, Capacity Factor at 87%, Gross Capacity required 230MW
You’ve forgotten to take into account the efficiency of the plant.

Kaiser Derden

no … that does take that into account … the horsepower rating of a turbine is not the 100% perfect efficiency number its the actual output …

Joe Public

I’m referring to the gas combustion thermal efficiency.
That has not been taken into account.

simple-touriste

No, electric power output is used on both cases.
The “efficiency” of the plant isn’t relevant here. (BTW, the “efficiency” of the gas engine is much higher than the one of the solar panel. Of course, you don’t have to buy sun.)

usurbrain

The NG plant is tested and verified that it deliveries 200 MW to a load before the vendor gets paid for it. I have personally run these tests to assure that they deliver the rated output.

Grey Lensman

duh
“Capacity Factor at 87%”

Grey Lensman

Joe, not relevant to the discussion. only applies to actual gas usage.

dam1953

The numbers don’t appear to include land cost. Considering the sizable difference in footprint, the PV cost would be even higher.

Kaiser Derden

at least 5,000 – 10,000 acres …

Kaiser Derden

plus the 24/7 security guards to patrol the site … PV panels are a vandals dream … worth several hundred each …

texasjimbrock

This is incomplete. Assume a plant life for each type. I dunno the figures, but my guess is t hat the gas plant will last twice as long as photovoltaics. Maintenance on the gas plant might be higher, though. Cost of operations certainly will be influenced by the need to purchase gas while sunshine is free.
Interesting contrast in cap costs, though.

usurbrain

Another thing left out of LCOE. But implied in the L (Lifetime) of “LCOE” but green’s ignore this.

MarkW

You need to hire a lot of people to keep the solar panels clean. On the other hand that would be low skill minimum wage type employment.

era0

Pumped storage in AZ is inappropriate. If a hill is available, gravity storage using solids (aresnorthamerica.com) is more realistic. If no hill, then you are stuck with CAES (lightsail.com).

Jo Rogers

EIA estimates for new generation (2020) LCOE \$/MWhr shows Solar PV at 125.3 ex subsidy (-11) and Nat. Gas Advanced CC at 72.6. Geothermal is 47.8 ex subsidy of -3.4

OK, here’s what I got with fuel, interest, amortization, fixed and variable O&M. The solar does not include storage or considerations for dispatching or backup. Plus an interesting 2013 EIA study & link that I used for the costs. If somebody can ‘splain how I can insert the Excel sheet you can see all the numbers.
http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/capitalcost/pdf/updated_capcost.pdf
……………………………Coal…….….CCPP………..….Solar
Capacity, MW……………500…………..500……………1,700
Capacity Factor,%……..85%………………85%………………25%
Energy, MWh/y……. 3,723,000……..3,723,000…….3,723,000
Annual Costs, E6 \$………………….\$154.48………..\$132.93………..\$191.31
Required Revenue, \$/MWh………..\$41.49………….\$35.70………….\$51.38
Required Revenue, cents/kWh……….4.15……………..3.57…………5.14
\$2/E6 Btu for coal, \$4.50/E6 Btu for NG.
Capital \$/kW: coal – \$3,246, CCPP – \$917, Solar PV – \$4,183
Life, yrs: Coal – 30, CCPP – 30, PV – 20

usurbrain

I have worked for utilities with Coal fired power plants that are over 60 years old and still operating today, and selling power to surrounding municipal power systems for less than \$0.05 per kWh.

MarkW

The plant may be 60 years old, but how old are the boilers and the turbines?

1-The cost of fuel to run the NGCC plant is not included in any calculations (solar energy is basically free).
2-A standard LCOE (levelized cost of electricity – cost to provide electricity for 20 years) should be calculated. The author basically only compares up front costs, which is very unfair to solar.
3-There are cheaper options to pumped storage for energy storage for solar, like molten salt.
Solar is outrageously expensive compared to NGCC, for sure, but not as bad as this article says.

Where is anyone actually using molten salt (or hydrogen fuel cells, or batteries, or whatever) in utility-scale (200mw in this example)?

The Crescent Dunes Solar Thermal Plant near Tonopah, Nevada. It’s been operational since 2013.
http://www.solarreserve.com/en/global-projects/csp/crescent-dunes
There are others.

Azleader, is that the one that’s gas-powered for 4 hours – somewhere there – in the mornings because it can’t get going on its own? I take it they all do that?

Azlander, @ 4:05 pm. Is that the plant that just recently required an extension on it’s bill payments because it is behind on it’s payments to the electrical companies in California? (oh sorry I see your date April 1st, well you fooled me)

urederra

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivanpah_Solar_Power_Facility
Gross capacity 392 MW.
Main cons: Need to warm the molten salt in the morning.
It fries birds.

Mjw

Melbourne Victoria, 5kW system, daily output between 55kW and 300 watts. Great for subsidies, unless in real life.

usurbrain

What is the Property tax on “industrial zoned” property in your state/county? What is the taxes on 1,000 industrial acres compared to less than 20?
The cost of the fuel/energy source used in generating electricity is one of the smallest factors in the major costs affecting the price of delivered electricity. Approximately 50% of the “Pay this Amount” line of your electric bill is TAXES. They consist of Property takes on every square foot of owned land and buildings. Taxes on every power pole and every foot of wire on those power poles. Property taxes on every vehicle owned, and every gallon of gas used in those vehicles, the annual registration, etc. And that is just the State/local/city, you also have the Federal taxes. Then, look carefully at your bill. Just like your phone/cable bill, there are now state and federal fees. And My state then includes the state sales tax on top of that.
Is your state going to tax that 1,000-acre solar farm at its actual value or its subsidized cost?

Yes, paying taxes are relevant for commercial investment decisions, but not for economic cost-benefit analysis.
The methodology should relate to the aims of the analysis. Some readers are assuming the analysis is financial (point of view investors). Others think that it is economic (point of view of the nation), Still others think it is about subsidies (point of view of consumers and taxpayers).
I understood the author had only the limited goal of comparing the level of commitment required on the part of investors by showing the differences In capital costs, a key factor for risk analysis in situations where political factors predominate. I accept that Investors may commit to 20 years for a solar or wind plant, but I wondered, can government commit to 20 years of subsidies and to tariff increases needed for capital recovery?
The return from investment in conventional power has historically been predictable enough to make power utilities a suitable foundation for pension funds. However, national policy has not so far addressed the long-term risks of regulatory energy policies to pension funds, annuities, and endowment policies upon which so many Americans are relying for support after retirement. The US pension sector has long relied on the energy sector, utilities especially, for stability, but we ought now to be asking about future political risks.
For many years, the energy sector has been shifting voluntarily from carbon (coal) to hydrogen (methane as natural gas). Forcing the pace of change by regulation and subsidies will result in scrapping of massive amounts of existing capital before the end of its useful economic life.
Who owns the capital that will be scrapped? The last I reviewed the issue, I found that some institutions are dumping these investments, ostensibly for ideological reasons. But could the reason be that these investments have become too risky relative to return?
The same policies and regulations that destroy capital will require mobilization of massive amounts of new investment capital and will require massive amounts of new capital investments. Where will the funds be found?
These are the questions this article provoked in my mind. There are enormous risks in driving radical change in the energy sector by using regulatory power. Readers should be wondering what is happening and what will happen to money they have put aside and will be putting aside for the future security, whether in private or company pension funds, insurance policies or mutual funds, or other institutions.

Grey Lensman

Money is not free either

MarkW

On the hand, you are only including fuel costs, without considering maintenance and replacement costs, which is very unfair to NGCC.

MarkW

PS, it’s far from proven that molten salt is actually cheaper than pumped storage.

Philip Dowd,
Night time demand equals day time demand
That is never the case: daytime demand is about 20-25% higher than nighttime demand and winter time demand can be 25% higher than summer time demand in my country, but I suppose in the hot desert of Arizona it is probably reverse with all their AC units… That is an advantage for solar which gives its maximum in summer.
That means that storage may be 25% smaller. Not that it makes much change in the difference in capital needed to build the plants…
As said already by Ken Robinson, I do miss the operating costs. Gas still is (relative) cheap – in the US – but you need a lot of gas for such a plant, while sunshine is free. Of course the solar plant needs more cleaning, especially after a dust storm, but even that is not a real high cost and a modern pump/generator plant doesn’t need much personnel either…

janus100

actually the size of the energy storage for the PV alternative would need to be significantly higher, to account for couple of cloudy days.
The achieve the same availability and reliability, the storage by my first guesstimate would have to be 5x bigger (60hrs of stored energy, not 12hrs) and perhaps even bigger.

Gamecock

The problem is, cost justification for multiple days is virtually impossible. You might justify the investment for a day’s backup, but as you go further out, the utility approaches zero. Are you really going to get 5 straight days of clouds in Arizona? No one is going to invest in something they may use once every few years.
Unless they are using someone else’s money.

Menicholas

No one is going to tolerate a total blackout until the sun re-emerges when multiple cloudy days do occur.
Are you really going to get 5 cloudy days in a row in Arizona?
Absolutely…the only question is how often.

janus100,
I completely agree that it doesn’t stop with the storage for the dark hours. Not for wind, not for sun or any other intermitting power source. If you take that into account, the only solution is a 100% backup of fossil or nuclear. As the night time pumped storage is already several times more expensive than a gas plant, the installation of a backup gas plant which only needs to turn full speed during 10% of the time, makes it extremely expensive. Something like the necessary (fast!) backup is never mentioned in the price of “green” electricity.
Only if you have already a huge supply from hydro like in Sweden and Norway, that may have merit, as that can act as a buffer when there is no wind and sun (hardly any in winter there). They do that already for the Danish wind power: cheap power export to Sweden and Norway with too much wind and expensive import with no wind. The Swedish and Norwegians are very happy with that, the Danish consumers a lot less, as they pay the highest rates in Europe…

Gamecock

‘the installation of a backup gas plant which only needs to turn full speed during 10% of the time, makes it extremely expensive.’
Exactly. The fixed costs are incurred whether the plant runs or not.

Janus

Exactly.
It just shows that if the solar and wind ,if they are supposed to be at least remotely economical, They cannot represent more than 20% of the installed capacity of the System.
From that, the total energy produced from intermittent, non-dispatchable sources will always stay below 10%.
Any higher penetration is obscenely expensive.
Other posters also mentioned the operating costs and fuel cost of Natgas plant, but don’t forget the even solar needs maintenance and upkeep.
I own and operate 400kW rooftop solar array and someone has to go there every 2weeks.
Also, Ontario where I live, has at the best 1300 insolation hours (and that would be a good year), so if one would want to build a system to cover continuous demand, the size of the solar array would have to be 8600/1300 = 6.6x , but more like 7x, and the same with the storage.
(I get nice FIT though. It pays much better the pension for a live long engineering work, that’s for sure…)

Gamecock

‘Any higher penetration is obscenely expensive.’
Or you do without backup. The decision to do without backup can be a political decision, so it is a real threat.

janus100

“…cheap power export to Sweden and Norway with too much wind and expensive import with no wind…”
Ontario does the same.
Exports extra renewable power at 10% of the purchase price from the wind/solar developers.
It’s totally insane.

MarkW

Gamecock, beyond that, maintenance costs go down when the plant is not being run, but they do not go to zero.

MarkW

It gets very cold at night in the desert during the winter. That’s a lot of heating costs when the nights are at their longest.

observa

We can all nit-pick a few variables but that’s just for sunny Arizona. Gulp!

Chris Hanley

The idea of pumped water storage for night solar supply has something about it of the paradoxical ‘hare-braininess’ of this wind energy solution for low-wind days:
(The New Yorker)

John Harmsworth

It’s a goofy idea so I didn’t look at it in detail but in fact, the solar installation has to produce 24hrs. worth of power in approx. 8-10 hours

Ian Macdonald

That’s really just an extension of the ‘motor driving a generator’ idea except that you have a ‘flexible coupling’ in the form of air between them.
A motor driving a generator -which powers the motor- definitely works; you can find hundreds of videos on YouTube demonstrating this point. Only problem is you don’t get a subsidy for it, so nobody bothers.

JamesD

It will work for a little, slow down, then stop. The generator has an efficiency less than 100%, and so does the motor.

MarkW

There is a use for such installations. I’ve seen them used as a form of power filtering. Short term power surges or drop outs, less than a second, are handled by the inertia of both the motor and generator.

simple-touriste

A good metric of un (un)workability of a scheme is how much costly hypotheses you need to assume in order to say in a “study” that the scheme is virtually doable.
The French ecoloonacies agency (ADEME = “Agence De l’Environnement et de la Maitrise de l’Energie”) made a study showing that France could go 100% “renewable” (they mean: for electric power, apparently oil and gas imports and peak everything don’t matter); they just needed huge decrease of price of mature technologies, increase of efficiency, and the rest of Europe NOT going ecoloonatics.
The amount of hope going into these “studies” is staggering.

Visited Normandy for a couple days and it was very windy. So maybe it is possible. Where will France find the people to get it done?

Meanwhile, in Oz inconvenient answers are found …
“Origin is among the prospectors, applying to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for funding to support a 106 MW solar farm of its own to be built on the Darling Downs next to its existing gas-fired plant.”
http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/shift-to-zerocarbon-power-must-start-by-2018-to-avoid-extra-warming-study-20160331-gnuy7x.html
I have been preparing for perfect weather, and feel I can’t be prepared anymore.
How much more prepared must I be be fore I can relax and enjoy the stable climate promised land?
Should Australia be completely covered in solar panels & wind farms before the GBR is saved?
How stupid are the questions?

Mike the Morlock

It gets worst. Some here have spoken of fuel costs but failed to factor in water costs for the “stored energy”. water does evaporate here in the southwest.
Also factor in the tremendous pressure that will be placed on taping into the stored water in times of water shortages.
You just know that with any excess capacity built into the system it will be “sold” as being duel purpose. (And guess who will loose the duel )
michael

We did (Planning Engineer and I; he is THE senior grid engineering exec at one of the US largest utilities) a somewhat more refined LCOE for wind v. CCGT v. USC coal, using only the EIA starting assumptions corrected for reality. Posted at CE last year.
Result: wind about 2x CCGT ignoring intermittency. Near 3x with 10% penetration, based on the Texas Ercot grid actuals. So despite many possible quibbles, the result here is directionally correct.

Janus100

But there are no storage costs in these LCOE..

J100, our Ercot grid addition did explicitly include storage/backup at 10% penetration. Ran ~120/MWh to ~ 142.

This essay is crap. Stupid blogger vs stupid blogger. Like Spy vs Spy in Mad magazine. If WUWT was about juvenile humor, it might be amusing.
Tucson Electric Power does not evaluate projects this way. TEP would look at the fuel cost of producing power with their gas plant during hot days. If PV reduced the cost, then they would build more. TEP would also know that the price of natural gas is higher during peak demand.
I have read some of TEP annual report and their Landfill gas project is much more economical than Springerville PV. That was a few years ago. I have noticed recently that details in annual reports make it hard to evaluate performance of different choices.

Do the annual reports of the solar power plants include all subsidies and government “grants” or whatever you call it?

simple-touriste

“TEP would look at the fuel cost of producing power (…)”
Yes, fuel costs are ignored. It’s an issue.
But the Grauniad recently reproduced a comparison Hinkley Point vs. gas plants, with only construction costs considered (for the price of two EPR you could build a lot more power capacity with gas plants). Antinuc love to talk about the huge construction costs of a NPP.
Almost all enviros are antinuc and use this comparison of construction cost to make NPP look expensive, disregarding other costs. They should love this post’s approach.

S-T
“Hinkley Point vs. gas plants”
I agree with your position. Let me add a concept. What are the ramifications of importing fuel for 60 years. Your choices are gas from Putin or coal from Obama.
The answer is nobody knows but it would be a good idea to mitigate a worse case scenario.
Many of the yahoos who post here forget ten years ago the US was building LNG terminals to import gas which was being burned to make electricity at \$16/MMBTU
Hindsight is 20/20 except for those with an agenda who see what they want to see.

gaelansclark

TEP would not build PV in order to reduce the midday cost of extra gas used. That is as stupid as building the entire plant in the first place. How long does it take and how much money is consumed in interest for a plant that costs 14x’s it’s comparable?
TEP, if they need extra energy, would build a NatGas peaking plant….or two or three.

Janus

So you agree with us, or argue that we do not know what we are talking about?

MarkW

He seems to take the position that unless you account for everything, the study isn’t worth doing.

DredNicolson

In addition to exorbitant up-front costs, solar power facilities take up massive amounts of space and need to be open to the elements (with all the maintenance headaches that entails). Wind turbines have all the same issues, plus a fuel source that’s even less reliable, even with optimal terrain and weather.
Where solar power truly shines (pun unintended) is in small-scale, off-grid applications. PV panels with battery storage could meet the power needs of small-to-medium rural dwellings for less cost and labor than building miles of new lines to connect to the grid. Many rural areas of the US (like where I live in southern Oklahoma) only have access to electricity through non-profit RECs (Rural Electric Co-ops), who purchase the power from grid suppliers then put up and maintain the lines themselves.
Instead of trying to make solar power into a large-scale grid source, where it’s a priori unfit for purpose, it ought to be promoted as a grid alternative for rural communities, small-scale farming, or any other remote or low-accessibility area. This would indirectly improve the stability and efficiency of the grid through elimination of unnecessary transmission lines. The energy savings would add up pretty fast.

A long ago colleague of mine lived off grid in eastern Colorado for two years with a one lung diesel engine generator set. Ran 24/7 with monthly maintenance. A lot cheaper and more reliable than wind or solar.

usurbrain

A neighbor had a small water cooled, NG, Diesel. Had baseboard heating and heated his house and HW with the engine and powered a generator for electricity.

“The Crescent Dunes Solar Thermal Plant near Tonopah, Nevada. It’s been operational since 2013.
http://www.solarreserve.com/en/global-projects/csp/crescent-dunes”
How well does it perform?

urederra

http://www.solarreserve.com/en/global-projects/csp/crescent-dunes
he added a quote mark at the end of the link, that is why it did not work.

higley7

The nut to crack is how to get the Sun to shine on the US 24/7. Bill can do it, I’m sure, if he puts his mind to it.
The idea that the Sun is a free power source entices and enamors libtards like a bag of candy to a two year old. They cannot believe that they cannot have it all. The translation of solar input to a usable form is their big problem, and they have no idea how to do that since our planet unfortunately rotates, the Sun goes down, and the winds dies. The vagaries of wind make wind power only an ancillary power source and solar power is predictably variable. The idea that any economy could be based on such unreliable power sources means they those pushing this future have no intention of their being an industrial society in their future. They want to unwind the world to an agrarian, subsistence society.

Solar power satellites. Problem is, given the enormous cost of building stations in geosynchronous orbit, the capital expense would be far too high. Get the cost of access to space down, and that might change.
/Mr Lynn

How much water will evaporate? If it evaporates after being lifted the loss is serious over the Summer.
In Rockford, Illinois we get cold weather. -30C a few times per decade. Frozen water won’t pump or flow.
Even well-built dams leak and there is often loss through leakage on the bottom and sides. Critters will drink tiny amounts but urine will replace much of that. Seals will leak and pipes will fail so we need redundancy to cover repair and replacement. Only part of the capacity can be used or we will kill Delta Smelt and Snail Darters.
Where do we get the water? Rivers? Run-off? How do we move the original load?
The increased area necessary for water loss will be costly.
Before we deal with property improvements land here is over \$6,000/acre. Are those downstream of the catch basin moved to prevent flooding from heavy rains or dam failure? Do we construct numerous miles-long bridges or remove roads and railroads? If we build in the Rockies how much new grid do we need? What happens during Spring melt?

601nan

Sun Edison, SUNE, closed 01/04/16 @ \$0.43 (-20.54%) per share; previous close \$0.54 per share. http://www.fool.com/quote/nyse/sunedison/sune
“It’s now all but confirmed that SunEdison (NYSE:SUNE), which dubbed itself the biggest renewable energy developer in the world, is going to go bankrupt. This week, its subsidiary TerraForm Global even said there was ‘substantial risk that SunEdison will soon seek bankruptcy protection.’
If that bankruptcy happens, there will be a cascade of repercussions for the industry.”
http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2016/04/01/what-a-sunedison-bankruptcy-could-mean-for-renewab.aspx

jake

The Ivanpah solar cost 2200 M\$ price and produces 120 MW, a 18 \$/W investment. By way of comparison, another nonpolluting source of electricity, nuclear power plant, the Millstone reactor No. 2 in Connecticut, operating at 880 MW since 1975, cost 0.5 \$/W then; Ivanpah is thus 36 times more expensive (inflation excluded).
With about 1000 employees receiving salary and benefits, the annual outlay for that alone is roughly 100 M\$. Selling the annual 3.8 EJ at the projected 0.028 \$/MJ yields 106 M\$. Ouch – only 6 M\$ left for other expenses, notably for natural gas whose burning produces 8 % or more of the total output. For comparison again, the Millstone nuclear plant complex employs also about 1000, and its two reactors have been producing 1870 MW actual electrical output. Assuming the same salaries, benefits, and the electricity selling price, the operating expense is 15 times higher at Ivanpah.
Note that the above two outlays are 35 and 15 times higher (not percent higher), and that this huge discrepancy exists in an industry where a difference of a few percent means the difference between success and bankruptcy. The magnitude of the discrepancy hints also at the reason why the “free” solar electricity is so expensive. Who is responsible for stealing from taxpayers to pay for these solar monstrosities?

I’ve been treated to this “alternate energy” crap for 40 years. I’m sick of it. Let’s do my suggestion of dividing the USA at the Mississippi, into TWO countries. One of industry and initiative (I&I), and on of Solar and Socialism. S&S.
We can move all the industrial plants to one side. (Say East of the Ole Miss)and that way the “pollution” will blow to sea. The other side, even as an advantage…clear skies over AZ, CA, NE, CO, etc. And a LOT of winds in the Rockies. Now, don’t forget, the S&S side doesn’t need an Army, Navy, Air Force. They can just NEGOTIATE with everyone, and things will be “honky dory”. There will be no terrorism, as they will find out how they have offended the terrorists, and make amends. The I&I side, however, will continue their (in this case, “our”) polluting industry, “military industrial complex” ways. I&I will eschew the concept of renewables, and instead “squander” their precious resources…and all starve to death! No, wait…what’s happening…Because of the 10 to 100X’s cost factor of the S&S side’s energy, they…are starving. They are at the Mississippi. They are crossing it in rafts, hoping to escape from the devastation on their side. And now will come the REAL test of the I&I side. Will I&I be like (already S&S) Germany, and invite the poor S&S “refugees” into the I&I side, providing them with food, women, shelter and energy? Or will the I&I side be like Russia? And just “bomb the heck” out the S&S side?
Who knows? But it could be the ultimate destiny or down fall of these (formerly) United States.

Ronn Parsley

I have another idea. Split the country along an east-west axis. Put the I&I’s in the South (ex:Texas) and the S&S’s in the North. Then once we cover enough of the earth with solar collectors, it will change the albido of the earth, causing more solar energy to be reflected back into space. Eventually, this will cause the earth to cool, resulting in another ice age. The glaciers will advance South until they cover the northern half of the US, thus wiping out the S&S’s. Voila! Problem solved!

Carl Chapman

Pumped water storage returns about 60% of the energy that’s put into pumping the water to the higher level. That means you need 10 / 6 kWHrs to get back 1 kWHr. So 2400 MWHr at night requires 2400 * 10/6 = 4000 MWHr of input during the day. That means you need to allow for another 1600 MWHr of daytime production. That would increase the cost of solar plus pumped water storage by about one third.

The 5 GWh pumped storage in Coo (Belgium), good for ~5 hours/day of peak shaving. It has a real yield of about 75% over the past 40 years. Thus somewhat better, be it that still extra solar input is needed for that loss, over the high daytime demand.
The only advantage of solar is that its output is highest during maximum demand, if there is sun…

jake

Max. demand is later in the afternoon, when both the air temp. is highest and people coming from work turn their A/Cs on. The sun, on the other hand, is 1/3 to 1/2 less intensive for fixed panels/mirrors.

JamesD

75%? Don’t believe it. 80% efficiency for the pump, and 95% efficiency for the motor would be good. Add in friction losses for the pipe. Use 80% efficiency for the turbine and 95% for the generator, and again friction for the piping. I think the previously cited 60% is pushing it. You also have the electrical efficiency for the wiring, switchgear, and transformers involve. Don’t know the efficiency, but it’s not 100%.

MarkW

That’s only true for 1/4th of the year.

Doesn t matter which costs more, the so called green extremists
Are pushing for wind and solar, they are claiming fracking is poisoning our water. Along with the agw bull. Proof? They don t need no stinking proof

Grey Lensman

Surely, the pumped storage cannot work. You need the total daytime output to pump and fill the reservoir. Thus the net output at best, is zero.

Steve

It’s less than zero but you use pumped storage to handle peak loads. The problem in this scenario is that they are using power during the daytime when demand is much higher to fill the reservoir so they can generate power at night. That’s backwards…

Sobey1683

Nat gas is by far the most capital efficient and scalable solution. As for operating costs gas is cheap because it s ubiquitous and easily transported. But this is not relevant to the green lobby..
What is relevant to this group is that the solar facility is constructed. The desired process is as follows:
1: company builds solar plant benefitting from government subsidies and promising strong returns to investors
2: plant fails to achieve operational benchmarks and company goes bankrupt. Taxpayers now finance a permanent debt load;
3: second company acquires plant on deeply discounted cost basis making better returns on the new lower cost base:
4: repeat
If it so happens that a few billion dollars of the capital costs of the bankrupt facility fall on the shoulders of taxpayers in perpetuity via the government subsidy framework, and the company that builds the facility goes bankrupt because of poor economic returns, is an interesting feature of the program because it generates an increasing number of potential users of the welfare system as more and more private capital is destroys.
Eventually, a large fleet of solar facilities is in operation, with attractive variable cost structures. These plants squeeze out the development of other facilities such as natural gas, (which would have rewarded society because they would have generated full cycle profitability to those investors that originally financed them)

Ronn Parsley

To borrow from a late, great US Senator (was it Everett Dirkson?), a Solyndra here, a Solyndra there, and pretty soon you are talking about some real money! lol

TRM

Not trying to nitpick (well maybe) and I’ve been of the opinion that nothing would get a chance against natural gas for several years now but …
“Night time demand equals day time demand”???? Since when? Peak hours are always 3-8 PM or there abouts (some say 4-7PM). Yes the NG still kicks butt.
Why just solar? Solar plus wind plus geothermal would pit all common renewables against NG (and still loses IMHO). They do overlap but are complimentary sometimes (i.e. windy at night).
Why pumped storage? The redux flow batteries are terrain independent and more cost effective (yes NG still kicks butt over it).
Lastly “Average household in US consumes about 900 kWh/month or about 30 kWh/day”. Holy waste a cow Batman. My house (nothing special ~3k Sq Ft, gas water & space heat) uses 10-11 KWh/day. Are people heating their water and air with electricity? That is yet another instance of NG kicking butt.

michael hammer

TRM : night time demand is almost the same as daytime demand in Victoria Australia – I have seen the plots of demand versus time.

Don K

Grid-scale geothermal is much less problematic than wind and solar. It isn’t intermittent, and the costs at the best sites are cheaper than coal. The US currently has something over 3GW (equivalent of 3 or 4 nuclear plants) of geothermal on line and could probably expand that by a factor of 10 or 20 although I suspect it’d be a bit costly as we were forced to exploit lower grade resources. Exactly why our “energy planners” are so enthused about wind and solar options that look to be unworkable on a grand scale and mostly ignore geothermal escapes me. It could cause a man to suspect that they are kind of clueless.
Problems? The resources are concentrated in the Western US. Disposal of waste water contaminated with a lot of minerals — some of which you probably don’t want in your drinking water is probably an issue.
A handful of countries — Iceland, El Salvador — actually get a substantial portion of their electricity from geothermal.

richard

Exactly why our “energy planners” are so enthused about wind and solar options ?

TRM
When you say NG kick butt do mean when your house explodes killing your family?
I prefer an all electric house with a heat pump. Safer and cleaner.

MarkW

And exactly how often does that happen?

MarkW

PS: Long before enough gas had leaked to kill your family, you would be able to smell it and get the family out.

Steve

Demand for power is generally much lower at night so you probably don’t need a plant that puts out 200 every hour…you might come out better building the gas plant for base load and building solar for daytime peaks…trying to use solar as a sole source is gonna fail most scenarios just on economics…solar has a place but not as base load supply

John Harmsworth

Bah! Might as well light the solar junk with a gas flame.

dp

Assume we’re all clear on the fact that pumped storage, not available every energy is needed, is a net consumer of energy, and is good for a limited number of hours of useful energy. The hope is – THE HOPE IS, that solar will be able to recharge the storage else it will fall on backup power to do that and keep the grid alive. To be honest I doubt the fossil fuel plant was designed to support both a live load and to recharge backup storage. I do know that I cannot think of a less efficient way to illuminate the world and to keep hospitals, factories, and Facebook on line through a prolonged cloudy spell. Humans are capable of great things but also incredible and perplexing folly. This is an example of the latter.

michael hammer

Two things strike me about this whole debate. Firstly that new technology is the only solution to the sort of problem (be it real or illusionary) like CAGW. Secondly that while proponents of the scare always extrapolate on the basis of no new technology decades into the future they are invariably wrong. If for no other reason than the very presence of the problem (if it is a problem) stimulates people to look for radical new solutions.
While I know it is currently fashionable to consider cold fusion as fraudulent schlock science I think it might well be worth reviewing recent events in the field before being too dismissive. How many credible researchers reporting positive outcomes does it take before people start to take notice (there are now quite few)? I note that Rossi has supposedly had a 1 MW plant running continuously in a monitored customer site for 1 year (ending in February 2016) and an independent analysis of the performance is due to be released this month (April). I also note he now claims to have prototype reactors that deliver electricity without resort to a thermal cycle. He has been incredibly persistent over a long period with no visible payoff for a supposed fraudster and there are new researchers claiming replication almost every day.
Question; how will the entire issue of CAGW (whether right or wrong) be viewed in 10 years if the cold fusion researchers turn out to have been right all along and by then cold fusion is an established new energy source that in hindsight was staring us in the face for 30 years?

richard

I compare cold fusion to early work done with transistors. I remember when Bell Labs announced
the germanium transistor.It took a while for the research learned enough to produce the silicon
transistor. I still have a 2N107, device, (no 2 alike!). There may be something to doping the
palladium crystal matrix, or adding an independent neutron source, to the mix. I am all for a
Manhattan project on cold fusion, Good outcome or bad, it is worth knowing.. I read about Rossi,
and am skeptical; in his favor, he didn’t claim 25X excess heat, only 3X. . and he is using nickel and
lithium hydride. ( One hydrogen bomb used lithium hydride as the deuterium source). Hell, it
might work!!

Ronn Parsley

Has anyone looked at the cost of the water for the pumped storage system? Evaporation in Arizona will be significant. Is the cost and availability of the replacement water a significant cost, or can we ignore it?

pat

the plan is to dump what is unaffordable in the developed world on to the developing world. nice.
***when Hank Poulson talks of countries leapfrogging fossil fuels and “moral” imperatives, developing countries should beware:
31 Mar: Reuters Blog: Time to harness power of green trade
By Henry Paulson
(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)
A green financing agenda was initiated at the G20 talks in Shanghai last month. The G20 Trade and Investment Working Group meeting in early April in Nanjing would be a good occasion to push toward a breakthrough in buying and selling green products more easily around the world.
Environmental goods are among the most obvious to open up to freer global commerce. They have tangible economic and social benefits for all countries, ***particularly those that may leapfrog traditional fossil fuels as part of their Paris climate commitments…
It defies economic – and environmental – logic for governments to deprive their own citizens from accessing the best, most effective clean tech products and services at the lowest cost.
Eliminating tariffs would remove one of the main stumbling blocks to adopting such technologies…
The good news, though, is that there is already a vast array of environmental technologies that can perform many of the tasks required and which are suitable for emerging markets…
Making green technologies affordable is a global responsibility, ***a moral imperative and makes solid economic sense…

Ronn Parsley

While I am a mechanical.engineer, I am just a neophyte in this particular field. So forgive me if my comment does not make sense. It seems to me that solar power generation makes the most economic sense when used for daytime peak power generation. That is, to provide power for daytime loads such as air conditioning, office uses, industrial uses, etc. Conversely, solar is the least cost effective for meeting nighttime power requirements.
So wouldn’t it make more sense for the power company considering the solar power plant to partner with another power company with a coal or natural gas fired plant. These plants are usually sized for peak daytime loads, and thus would have excess power available at night that could be sold to another power company.
I guess what I am really asking is if the basic premise of the comparison in the article is correct. Wouldn’t it make more sense to compare the pure gas turbine option to an option that would utilize solar daytime and purchased power at night?
Here is another way of looking at it. Right now, our country has gigawatts (terawatts?) of excess nightime power generation capacity. Couldn’t some of that be utilized in lieu of building energy storage systems for solar power plants, at least for a few decades? And wouldn’t it be cheaper to upgrade our power grids so that we can better move nighttime power around, than it would be to build gigawatt-hours of energy storage systems?

Don K

Ronn. I think you’re basically right. Matching sources to loads would seem to make sense. And I suspect that if it were done, it would turn out that intermittent renewables could power a fair amount of stuff at reasonable cost. Trouble seems to be that it’s hard to do and people aren’t used to thinking that way. And energy policy decisions are made either on the basis of perceived economic realities or of wishful thinking with no middle ground.
BTW, Niagara-Mohawk runs apparently runs its generators at Niagara Falls 24-7 and uses the nighttime power to operate a couple of pumped storage facilities used to cover peak daytime demand. That works economically, but I’m far from convinced that it makes all that much sense compared to part time generators working off the 100 meter drop from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

Gamecock

A couple of thoughts, Ronn.
Power companies are very much interested in balancing demand. They have to provide capacity to meet peak demand, and capacity means fixed cost. They wish more people worked at night.
Grid scale solar power is nonsense. It is political, not business. Power companies do what they are compelled to do by government. I.e., they aren’t going to partner with a solar company unless they are made to.

RPT

This is exactly what is done in countries like Germany and Denmark. Ballancing the grids is one of the major challenges with regards to wind and solar, as is getting rid of excess capacity; Denmark is paid pennies for their export of excess power to Norway and Sweden, Germany actually pays the Swiss to take excess power.
Still Germany and Denmark have the most expensive power in Europe!

moray watson

You can use the gas plant to provide uninterrupted power without having to “back it up” with a solar array. However you cannot rely on the solar array to provide uninterrupted power, so it MUST be backed up the gas plant. Therefore, the solar array is redundant.

What about improving energy efficiency and reducing energy waste? Not all available improvements have been done yet. For example, LED indicator lights in most modems, cable boxes, and a lot of other electronic devices have chemistry technology from around 1980. More modern LEDs costing only a couple cents more can do the same job with about 10% as much power, including power dissipated in associated dropping resistors and driving/switching electronics.
Many homes have room for thermal insulation improvements.
I think that using available technology to reduce electric energy consumption will reduce costs for nearly everybody. The LED indicator light improvement alone can likely spare USA electricity customers the cost of a power plant, by eliminating a power plant from the nationwide power plant construction schedule.
– Don

This is the same misleading defence provided by UK Ministers and Green activists to sell renewables. Energy efficiency measures save money for all power systems and not just renewables. It follows that the best route is to have energy efficiencies and the cheapest power available, allowing even for Stern’s and others’ present day estimates of the costs of future accommodation of any disruption, damage or other consequences attributable to CO2 emissions. Renewables will still never be competitive or affordable!

jake

Improving efficiency for lights to save energy has been proven a myth. With more efficient light, people leave them on more of them and longer, as I found in my own household after reading about this observation and paying attention. Also, I recollect an experiment in a country were they made make everybody turn all lights in the home for five minutes at a coordinated time. I doubt that they got 100 % participation, but they claimed close to it. The power stations did not register any lessening or increase in the demand for that five-minute interval. In other words, the household light demand is negligible (non-measurable) on the scale of the total.

Don K

> Many homes have room for thermal insulation improvements.
They do, but I think that the easy fruit has largely been plucked from that tree. e.g. I can put more insulation in my attic fairly easily, but there’s not much I can do about the walls. They have insulation — but they should have been built thicker with more insulation. And not everyone has an attic they can stuff with fiberglass.
As a national policy, completely rebuilding the US building stock to maximize energy efficiency might well be a good idea. (Oil won’t stay cheap for long. And gas won’t stay as cheap as it is. And green electricity is probably not going to be cheap at all no matter what the President’s Energy “Plan” says).
But rebuilding most everything is an incredibly costly concept. And that I doubt we know how to build energy efficient structures that are livable. What’ll work in North Dakota will likely be a mold infested disaster in Florida and the best house for Seattle might well be uninhabitable much of the year in Austin.

MarkW

It costs the same amount to increase your attic insulation from 30 to 50, as it does to increase it from 50 to 70. Yet the amount of energy reduction is only about half as much.
Remember when adding insulation in the attic to not push the insulation up against the roof, you need to leave space for ventilation.

MarkW

LED indicator lights use less than 1% of the power consumed by your average electronic device.
The electronic devices probably use less than 10% of the total power consumed in your average house.
PS: Even LED’s from the 80’s, had efficiencies in the 80% range. Exactly how you get LED’s that are 10 times more efficient than that, I have no idea.
You must be talking about old style incandescent indicators, which companies stopped using decades ago.
Heck, even the neon indicators were more efficient than that.
Comparing old LEDs with newer ones, the change in efficiency is more like 80% to 90% efficient.
Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs might reduce total energy usage in the US by about 1%.

I have been trying to educate the local Green activists and politician supporters of renewable energy to understand this normal, very basic, but essential “like for life” total life cycle CAPEX/OPEX cost comparison investment analysis for many years. The same applies to a comparison of Wind Turbines with Gas Turbine Standby’s versus Gas Turbines alone as base load units. You also have to add in the necessary massive additional cost of enhanced and additional Power Transmission lines needed to connect the remote WT’s and SP’s to areas of actual Power Demand.
The result of this proper professional engineering investment analysis is a no brainer: the WT/GT/Power Line system is, and always will be, massively more expensive regardless of how much money is spent on R&D in an attempt to improve on the inbuilt engineering inefficiencies within this Total System.
In addition, in the UK, we now have the ridiculous and obscene situation where WT power is given priority use and subsidies and guaranteed minimum prices are paid to the WT supplier/operator to make their product commercially viable, and then subsidies are then needed by the GT standby supplier operator to cover the increased costs of supplying and operating GT’s to meet every varying shortfall power demands and operating way off optimum efficiency loading.
You just couldn’t dream up a more idiotic and crazy situation. Yet the politicians here still wonder why our steel industry and many other industries are losing the battle with foreign competitors, exports are failing and why our power costs, affecting all our other costs, keep rising.
I despair – we desperately need scientists and professional engineers in Government!

One big weakness with this post is that it assumes that the solar power station has to deliver electricity continuously.
In reality no power station deliver electricity all the time, even gas, coal and nuclear are down for maintenance from time to time. The important thing is that the power grid as a whole deliver continuously, not that each plant does that.
Solar power has a unique benefit in hot areas because it delivers most power when the demand is highest, namely in daytime on hot summer days when all AC goes for full.
That reduces the need for other utilities to cover the peak demand
/Jan

Steve T

One big weakness with this post is that it assumes that the solar power station has to deliver electricity continuously.
**********************************************************************************************************************
Not necessarily, but delivering power RELIABLY is a requirement. With reliable power generation, maintenance can be planned across the grid with a small contingency. Most maintenance is planned well in advance. This is how the grid operated before the “renewables fad existed”.
Why would anyone consider paying the exorbitant capital costs involved in wind and solar installations for use only at peak times when there is a random chance that it may be unavailable and would need backup.. It would be much cheaper and more dependable to build an extra gas powered generator to handle this requirement.
“Solar power has a unique benefit in hot areas because it delivers most power when
the demand is highest, namely in daytime on hot summer days when all AC goes for full.”
This is the first time I have come across the argument of a “unique benefit” for solar that it delivers most power when it is working!! Surely all the power generation methods produce “most power” when they are working. That is, at peak times (when demand is high) – they can also carry on producing that power for as long as the grid operator wants – unlike solar and wind.

MarkW

The claim is that we can go 100% solar and wind. So they had better be able to produce power 100% of the time.