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Here comes the sun … even as Virginia continues to straggle when it comes to solar

February 14th, 2018 · No Comments

Former Governor Terry McAuliffe exclaimed, more than once, that Virginia was a true leader in solar power, with growth rates that should amaze one and all.  While McAuliffe deserves credit for a number of actions, recognizing the reality of a GOP run legislature and heavy Dominion Power opposition to solar, reality didn’t seem to match the rhetoric.

Pulling back the curtains on Virginia solar left one scratching one’s head trying to figure out the justification for this.  Yes, there was growth — primarily because of two things: the starting point (due in no small part to Dominion Virginia Power (primarily) working its magic in the legislature to suppress solar) was so low; and major players (such as Amazon data centers and universities) demanding solar (often, as with Amazon, as part of their choice to develop in Virginia). McAuliffe pointed to high percentage growth and then pointed to all the potential projects in the pipeline with wording that would make most casual observers think that those ‘maybe’ projects were done deals and, well, perhaps even already generating electrons. Show-barker exclamations, however, didn’t represent the reality of Virginia’s renewable energy world.

As Powered by Facts, a group heavily involved in supporting legislative movement toward a clean(er) Virginia energy future, explained in a January 2018 report.

Virginia now has 290.89 megawatts (MW) of solar installed, which represents approximately .037% of its total electricity generated. This is an increase from last year’s total of 192.4 MW, and represents the state moving more than half of the way towards Dominion’s goal of building facilities to generate 400 MW of solar energy by 2020. Despite the increase in MW, Virginia’s national ranking for solar and renewable energy slipped from 17th in 2016 to 20th in 2017. This indicates that other states have embraced this highly competitive industry and are reaping its rewards, while Virginia has lagged behind. Our state also ranks 13th in growth projections for the next five years

While ’20th’ rank of current status with 13th in growth might not seem so bad, putting Virginia in the upper half of the 51 states and DC, we shouldn’t be fooled into any form of complacency.

Each year Solar Power Rocks, a firm that focuses on helping homeowners and small businesses go solar, analyzes those 51 as to solar attractiveness for those potential customers.

https://solarpowerrocks.com/2018-state-solar-power-rankings/

The Solar Power Rocks 2018 Solar Power Ranking

In the 2018 ranking, as in 2017, Virginia is ranked 38th and earns a merited D.

https://solarpowerrocks.com/2018-state-solar-power-rankings/

Virginia, 38th in nation

“Solar in Virginia: about as bad as you might think!” The state’s big utility company, Dominion Power, offers an anemic performance payments program, which will help homeowners now but isn’t guaranteed to be there in a few years. All in all, the “D” grade is earned …

https://solarpowerrocks.com/2018-state-solar-power-rankings/

How Virginia earns its D

With the exception of relatively smooth connection into the grid and straightforward net metering rules, there isn’t much good news as to Virginia solar as ‘the’ system continues to favor polluting centralized energy over distributed, clean-energy.

The troubling  (for many reasons)  energy legislation that has passed (in two variations) the Virginia House and Senate offers a potential breakthrough when it comes to solar. Within the legislation is a declaration that 4,000 megawatts of utility-scale and 500 megawatts of distributed solar (though, owned/operated by utility …) is in the public interest. While this is overly weighted toward large systems (roughly, in the United States, 1/3rd of total solar deployment is in under 1 megawatt systems), overwhelming favorable to the utilities, and the devil will certainly be in the details, this is viewed as creating an agreed-upon based objective that would increase Virginia’s solar electric resources by more than an order of magnitude in less than a decade.  If the legislative and regulatory changes are made to enable this to become reality, perhaps Virginia’s report card might be a bit better and Terry McAuliffe’s claims about Virginia solar might just become substantive reality.

 

NOTE:

The Solar Power Rocks annual report is a quite useful tool to compare the states in terms of their market attractiveness for small solar installations. Utility can range from the purchaser trying to understand their potential return on investment (ROI) to the activist/legislator seeking to understand where/how they could focus to improve the solar situation in their own state/community.  So, to be clear, kudos and thanks for the Solar Power Rocks team for doing this.

There are, however, issues where this summary could mislead.  For example, when it comes to that ROI, the annual report card fails to include several (potentially) financially important items that improve the ROI:

  • Solar installations increase home value and sales prices.
    • Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBL) analysis of actual market activity found that solar installations have a significant impact on home sales prices. In California, a $4 increase for every watt installed and elsewhere in the nation about $3 per watt.  Thus, install a house with a 5 kilowatt system would have an increased sales price in the range of $15k-$20k.
    • In ‘the community’, there has been a general rule of thumb that there is a $10 increased sales price for every $1 of energy savings. That rule of thumb helps account for differing electricity prices and allows evaluating solar hot water systems as well.
      • To take my home system, my savings are about $700/year from solar pv and perhaps $150/year from solar hot water, the two systems combined should boost the sales price in the range of $8-$9k.)
  • Solar installations can increase roof longevity and save money on replacement.
  • Some insurers will reduce home insurance costs due to lower hail damage to roofs that have solar installations. (Note that this is relatively minor. An acquaintance in Maryland who is in process of doing a solar installation has been quoted a $8.23 annual reduction in his home-owners’ insurance.)

The ROI evaluation, therefore, almost certainly is too pessimistic.

→ No CommentsTags: Energy · solar · virginia

Seriously, what is the @WashingtonPost doing?

February 13th, 2018 · No Comments

Evidently enraptured by the glowing reviews that the New York Times hiring of (climate) science dissembler (amid other problems) columnist Bret Stephens generated, The Washington Post opinion section just added ‘both sides’ specialist Meghan McArdle to their pages.  McArdle often reads as if emergent from Koch Industries public relations.

A few quick examples:

About London’s Grenfell Tower tragedy,

Megan McArdle, a Bloomberg View columnist who thought it’d be a good idea to “‘well yeah but” a literal towering inferno.” McArdle’s subhead reveals why people are aghast at the heartlessness of her piece: “Perhaps safety rules could have saved some residents. But at what cost to others’ lives? There’s always a trade-off.”

Don’t bother reading the rest–it’s not worth the time or headache. But do remember this callous indifference to human life next time she writes a defense of Exxon or condemnation of climate “alarmists.”

As that Koch comment above, it isn’t casually suggested.  First, when it comes to Grenfell, McArdle’s piece did read like it came from the Koch PR office. But, more broadly, the Koch-McArdle ties are real:

McArdle’s views are probably never going to differ from those of the Koch brothers, for a number of reasons. While she’’s been a columnist for a while at respectable outlets like Bloomberg and even the left-leaning Atlantic, her Koch-nections run deep.

For one, she’s married to Peter Suderman, who, before becoming features editorat Koch-funded Reason Magazine, worked for the Koch’s Freedomworks and CEI. We’ll give McArdle the benefit of the doubt that her husband’s paycheck has nothing to do with her opinions and is only an unusual coincidence.

This ‘benefit of the doubt’ does matter. While one might scratch one’s head, one should not damn someone due to what a member of their family does without other supporting details.

However, a look at McArdle’s professional history shows significant Koch influence. … impressively in-depth list of McArdle’s conflicts of interest … begin with her training at the Koch’s Institute for Humane Studies journalism program, to which she returned in 2011 as a guest lecturer and instructor. … McArdle is also a frequent attendee and moderator of Koch-network events, including her duties MCing the 50th anniversary of the Institute for Humane Studies, and was praised by them for her work “re-branding the Republican party.

Seriously, Washington Post, what are you doing?  Do you really think that your readership wants a(nother) Koch-Brothers mouthpiece gracing the pages? You already have Krauthammer, Will, Samuelson, and too many other fossil fools eating up column inches.  Or, is the issue that they are PMS (pale, male, and stale) fossil fuel shills and you are seeking to change the demographics in that climate-denial, anti-government, deceiving pool of authors?

UPDATE: McArdle’s hire has caught others’ attention.  At Paste, Jason Rhodes Megan McArdle Is the Poster Child for Failing Upward in America is a must read for anyone concerned about journalism and how The Washington Post‘s hiring of her degrades the paper.

Paste does not publish wedding announcements. However, there’s an exception to every rule. Today, we congratulate the Koch Brothers and the Washington Post on their new marriage. Libertarian Megan McArdle—a lifelong friend to the Koch empire—was just welded to the Washington Post’s Opinion page. The Post’s new motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” We’ve all been misreading that statement. It wasn’t a warning, but a threat. And there’s no darkness visible like Megan McArdle.

I promise I’m not overstating the problem, as the doctor said to the corpse. McArdle’s biography can be written in one sentence: a shallow, mean rich kid is hired by billionaires to abuse poor people and praise kitchen implements. Every detail about her existence can be folded up like origami into that single statement, the way the whole Christian religion is contained in John 3:16.

And, in terms of understanding yet another way in which the Post‘s hiring of McArdle merits questioning, what about basic journalistic ethics:

According to SusanOfTexas, McArdle happened to leave The Atlantic “right after she was caught lying by omission on her conflict-of-interest disclosures, leaving out or underplaying most of her extensive connections to Koch-created and fed institutions.”

[Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: journalism · Right Wing Sound Machine (RWSM) · SciComm · Science Communication · science denial · Washington Post

When “fast facts” aren’t truthful, aren’t factual …

February 12th, 2018 · No Comments

Axios is a Washington creation in the media culture. Well-funded and (extremely) well-promoted, it seems targeted at influencing influencers. Core to the overall approach seems to be a ‘#bothsiderism” approach, to present both sides of a political issue typically without stating how “one side” is simply outside the realm of truthfulness and that the “political” both sides doesn’t exist in a real-world analysis. Axios’ sound-byte level approach (where an 800-word post is long) contributes to this as complexity is harder to deal with in tweet-like pieces. Obviously, the clearest case comes with trying to ‘bridge the divide’ on climate change, presenting Donald Trump and Republican alternative facts (un)reality as ‘one side’ and presenting those confronting reality as the other.

The 31 January launch of the “Fossil Free Fast” movement has caught the attention of Axios’ Amy Harder as seen in several recent pieces focused on ‘climate change’ which each take a “both sides” balancing of this activist movement against others — whether against Republican science denialists or centrist (somewhat “All of the Above”) Democratic politicians resisting incorporating a true understanding of climate risks and climate mitigation possibilities into policy concepts and approaches.

The second is today’s edition.

America’s Democratic Party, environmental groups and clean-energy leaders pushing action on climate change are at odds over how best to address it.

Harder’s the left’s civil war over climate change focuses on “how large a role renewable energy should play in America’s future energy mix,”. This 873 word piece has many troubling aspects. The following highlights just a few.

Harder sets the stage with “Fast Facts” that have elements that are ‘factual’ but, well, not truthful in the context of the discussion.

  • Natural gas and coal power almost two-thirds of U.S. electricity.

Okay, fact … Yet, this totally obscures rapidly changing electricity generation world.

  • Coal was over 50 percent of US electricity less than a decade ago and is rapid (and continuing) decline. Coal’s share of total electricity is down roughly 10 percent over the past decade.
  • Coal has been displaced primarily by natural gas but, as well, by the exponential growth in wind and solar electricity capacity and generation.
    • And, well, enabled by efficiency/relatively flat electricity demand which means new clean electrons can drive out dirty electrons from the grid.

The Changing Electricity World: The 2010s: Rapid growth in natural gas and solar/wind, rapid decline in coal generation

  • Nuclear power provides 60% of carbon-free electricity in the U.S.

Yes, fact again … yet, again a misleading representation.  That “60%” represents a rapidly falling figure with well-over 70% being reality about a decade ago.  Now, the falling is two-fold: due to the rapid growth in wind and solar driving up the total clean electrons in the grid and increasing retirements of nuclear power plants due to, in many cases, negative economic conditions for nuclear power.  While not embracing shutting nuclear power plants for those economic conditions (with a reasonable carbon price, this issue would essentially disappear from the market), this “fast fact” again obscures an important dynamic element of the US energy/electricity situation.

This isn’t solely about facts obscuring but about getting “facts” wrong along with obscuring. The bullet following the coal/natural gas bullet is:

  • Nearly 15% is from renewables: half each from hydropower and wind, less than 1% from solar.

Yes, fact that “nearly 15%” but that obscures that that share is up roughly 50 percent in the past decade and with that share of total electricity accelerating. (Of that 15%, roughly half is hydropower which has paths to (significant) expansion but has been roughly flat along with other slower growing low-carbon electricity (like geothermal) that also have potential for growth but are not rapidly changing. The other half is the rapidly growing wind and solar, which account for essentially all of renewable energy’s growth in share of total US electrons.)

  • … less than 1% from solar.

As to not getting something right, “less than 1% from solar” is not right even if it was true not that long ago.

For those who don’t follow these things closely, there was long a problem with how EIA accumulated data.  While people have small fossil fuel generators (diesel, natural gas, propane), these are relatively small in the electricity market and typically don’t interact directly with the grid. (This is more ‘backup generator’ rather than steady producer.)  Tracking all of these small to very small systems was, well, nigh impossible (within any reasonable concept of data gathering) and viewed as not that important for understanding US energy demand and usage.  For solar, however, the small matters far more — and that ‘small’ (e.g., rooftop and other small installations) typically does (via net metering) interacts directly with and continuously (365 days/year) with the larger electricity grid.  When finally analyzing this, EIA determine that roughly 1/3rd of US solar was such small systems and by starting to count it back in 2016, US solar production jump 50% in a heart-beat and leaped past 1 percent of total generation.

Overall for 2016, wind supplied 5.6 percent of generation, utility-scale solar contributed 0.9 percent, and small-scale solar about 0.5 percent, for a cumulative total of 7 percent.

The exponential growth of wind and solar electricity generation

In any event, the “<1%” framing certainly implies ‘this really doesn’t matter because it is so small” and falls into the canard of ‘it is only X percent’.

Framing a discussion with “Fast Facts” that aren’t truthful to the issue and aren’t necessarily even factual for readers who simply don’t have the time or inclination to look past them inherently fosters a distorted perspective on presentation of “both sides”.

Note/Update: A twitter quick look:

→ No CommentsTags: electricity · energy information administration · solar

The Gigafactory’s new neighbor: Gigawatt

February 8th, 2018 · No Comments

https://www.switch.com/switch-announces-rob-roys-gigawatt-nevada-largest-solar-project-united-states/

Gigawatt Nevada
Switch’s vision Greens the Desert in a Different Way

Telecommunications firm Switch just announced plans for the largest U.S. solar installation: a gigawatt solar farm in Nevada. Not only will, with this attention capturing number, this Gigawatt installation be twice the largest existing US solar facility, the Switch Gigawatt project will deliver electricity to consumers at very low prices:

Customers will pay $0.049/kWh, an average all-in rate the company says includes NV Energy’s distribution charges.

 

(Not surprisingly, this project is pricing well below what EIA projects for solar pricing for years to come.)

Let’s recognize that the US Southwest should be one of the Saudi Arabia’s of solar. Along with locations like the Chilean desert, the extremely good solar conditions beg for solar installation. (As well, these desert areas are also challenged in water resources and, unlike fossil fuel systems, solar pv plants require minimal water.)  Just prior to learning of this project, I was discussing with someone that a key reason for Musk to locate the Gigafactory where it is are almost certainly these solar resources: that the battery factory would have access to essentially unlimited solar resources with ever decreasing electricity prices.

“The foundation of Gigawatt Nevada is that Nevada should harness the sun the same way Alaska harnesses its oil to significantly benefit all Nevadans,” Rob Roy said.  “Nevada enjoys the best solar window in the nation and so we Nevadans should not only be using solar for ourselves, but exporting it throughout the Western U.S. to create new jobs, tax revenue, economic diversification, and raise energy independence.”

Switch is truly a leader in the industry — driving sustainability in data centers (leading edge efficiency plus 100% sourcing of clean electricity requirements). As to that sustainability, a Greenpeace perspective (from the Switch press release):

“Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that we must move to renewable energy as rapidly as possible, but many monopoly utilities continue to hold us back from making this transition,” said Gary Cook, Senior IT Sector Analyst and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace.  “Gigawatt 1 shows that when Switch and other leading companies don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, they can work together and kick open the door to large scale sources of renewable energy that are better for the planet, and better for the economy in Nevada.”

Greenpeace awarded Switch all A grades, in its most recent Clicking Clean Report, noting Switch “scored among the highest for any class of company and is the definitive leader among colocation operators for its efforts to transition its data center fleet to renewables as fast as possible through a combination of renewable energy procurement and aggressive advocacy.”[2]

And, Switch is leveraging this for increased profitability and competitive advantage.

Roy is also a leader in the business community in seeing — and pushing forward — how leveraging the Southwest US desert region as the Saudi Arabia of solar will foster new, dynamic economic opportunities.  Switch had already developed a 179MW Nevada solar system to meet its own needs. This gigawatt will go well beyond that, with a range of potential other major firms sourcing clean electrons from this project.

Clean, however, could well be a lesser-included condition for business decision-making when it comes to these electrons.  While the commercial rates are, at this time, publicly unavailable, look at the project’s offer for delivered kilowatt hours to an average retail customer:

The current “dirty” price for electrons: 12 cents per kilowatt hour. Switch has announced that it will offer the electricity at 4.9 cents per kilowatt hour … delivered to your house.  That is nearly a 60% cost savings. Ask yourself a simple question: why would you not choose to save 60% on an otherwise fixed cost? And, by the way, feel better about yourself (due to going clean solar) at the same time?

Even while this project will benefit from soon to be phased out solar benefits, this is an extraordinary next step in the clear reality of plunging solar prices and how clean energy options are pricing out other electricity sources increasingly across the world.

Consider these prices — even with various tax benefits, this project almost certainly is penciled out to produce (at utility-scale) electricity at under 4 and potentially under 3 cents per kilowatt hour.  When Secretary Steve Chu, Obama’s first Secretary of Energy, started the SunShot program, the (seemingly overly-ambitious) goal was for 5 cent per kilowatt hour utility-scale solar by 2020.  The Gigawatt Solar project in Nevada shows how the real world is blowing through that objective.

While Roy and Switch see this project as boosting the Nevada economy, it should also serve as a signpost that economic planning globally should more seriously take into account the Energy (r)Evolution implications of plunging prices of solar, wind, storage, and other related clean/smart energy options.  With the “Shale Revolution”, with dramatically lower natural gas prices with massive new US supplies, this created new market opportunities and enabled energy-intensive industries to move projects into the United States. The Gigawatt project provides another market on the path toward utility scale solar below 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour. With that sort of pricing, industry after industry will start following the sun — fertilizer production (using electrons to crack water), aluminum (and other metals) refining, data centers, and the list is endless.  Cleaner electrons aren’t, anymore, desirable as simply a ‘social good’ but as an outright economic advantage as a less-expensive (and nearly without price fluctuation risk) electricity option.

Regretfully, it seems that the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) doesn’t read press releases as the just-released Annual Energy Outlook 2018 (and, well, essentially every other report they produce) doesn’t give a window for planners (government, business, otherwise) as to the clean energy (r)evolution’s potential impacts on the US (and global) economy).

→ No CommentsTags: economics · Energy · solar

New EIA forecast subtitled: We are EFFed …

February 6th, 2018 · 1 Comment

The latest Energy Information Administration (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook has been released and one’s hope, on first glance, is that this forecast is just as off as so much of energy forecasting has been because, if this is accurate, the simplest summary of this might be:

The United States and humanity is EFFed when it comes to an opportunity to mitigate climate change through reduced energy emissions.

The critiques of EIA forecasting abound (see short bibliography here). Adam Scott well captured the situation last September in discussing the just-released International Energy Outlook (IEO).

http://priceofoil.org/2017/09/19/the-hazards-of-eia-energy-forecasts/

Should EIA forecasts come with a warning label? (Courtesy: Price of Oil)

the EIA has made a routine out of releasing unrealistic, distorted, and dangerous outlooks on the future of global energy demand. These projections should come with a warning label.

Now, a forecast is that — an effort, with a set of assumptions, to delineate what the future might portend. Recognizing that forecasting is, well, hard and that there will always be errors, the question is how to leverage forecasting work. What is truly useful, in such endeavors, is to have multiple looks (scenarios) with seeking to understand what commonalities exist across scenarios, what assumptions drive change, and key uncertainties. Understanding those, rather than having a projection of oil production to three decimal points a decade from now, helps planning and investment across society. Leveraging a specific scenario forecast (typically the ‘baseline’) as core to investment decision-making creates (significant) risk (see GE troubles as evidence case #1) and failures to have an appropriate range of scenarios to span plausible futures also creates significant risk.

On first review of the WEO’s 54 page summary, striking elements include:

  • In contrast to what has occurred over the past decade,
    • after a decade of decline, carbon emissions are projected to increase steadily through 2050;
    • reversing significant decline, coal use is projected to rebound somewhat and remain stable through 2050.
    • carbon intensity (how much pollution per dollar of economic output) improvements slow.
      • as do essentially all trend lines favorable to a clean energy future.
  • Seemingly ‘between the lines’ efforts to satisfy/engage Trump Administration bias and priorities
    • While “carbon” and “carbon dioxide” are in the report along with discussions related to the Clean Power plan, “climate change” and “global warming” are terms absent from the report. (Why does “carbon” matter if …?)
    • Coal’s future is more constrained because of “as a result of supportive policies for renewables compared with coal” [page 16] rather than a more honest reality that coal, increasingly, simply can’t compete with clean electricity options (solar and wind, primarily) and natural gas.
      • Note that the same bullet asserts that there “favorable market conditions for natural gas” and nothing is evident along these lines in relation to how wind/solar prices are plummeting and thus there are “favorable market conditions” for these electricity options.
  • A bizarrely aggressive forecast as to nuclear power pricing, suggesting roughly a 50 percent drop in “advanced nuclear” project pricing in the coming five years. (See graphic below.)
  • A very rosy projection for shale (both fossil gas and oil) that might be far from viable.
  • Renewable energy price forecasts are unreasonably high.
    • Forecasted prices for 2022 for both wind and solar are well above what are already being bid into commercial contracts.
      • The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is projected (see graphic below) to be in the ballpark of $30-$60 per mWh for new wind projects. Xcel Energy, in Colorado bids, had median prices of under $20 for wind and with with battery storage was just $21.
      • Solar LCOE is projected slightly above wind, in the $35-$70 range. Going back to Xcel, the median price for a 2023 solar project was $29.50.

 

EIA forecasted 2022 electricity project pricing (Annual Energy Outlook, 2018, page 16 https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/AEO2018_FINAL_PDF.pdf)

  • Failure to include a realistic ‘aggressive’ clean energy futures alternative scenario
    • Globally, renewable energy (primarily wind and solar), storage, and associated systems (smart grid/power management/energy efficiency/electric vehicles) are booming with rapidly growing market shares, new innovations (technical, financial, business processes) emerging every day, and prices plummeting faster than almost any specialist expected to happen even just a few years ago.
      • As to the last, solar and wind project bids are increasingly coming in at lower prices than what is being paid for existing coal (and nuclear) electricity production.
      • IRENA forecasts that by 2020 renewable energy will be cost-competitive (if not cost advantaged) against fossil fuel (including natural gas) electricity production in most of the world.
      • Electric vehicle (batteries and otherwise) prices are falling fast and the ‘cost to own’ an EV, in much of the world, already below that for a traditional gas engine with projections along the lines of “within 20 years, if trends hold, 200-mile-range 4-seater EVs, with awesome acceleration and modern amenities, will be cheaper than the cheapest cars sold in the US today.”
    • While the baseline is absurd in the low-ball projections of these to 2050, what is even more concerning is that the EIA WEO does not have an “aggressive clean energy penetration” alternative scenario that comes anywhere close to projecting a possible (actually plausible) path forward for renewable energy.
      • For example, consider that point about electric vehicles: if in 2040, EVs are ‘cheaper than the cheapest cars sold in the US today”, why would (as per the EIA forecast) EVs hold less than 20 of the total market in 2050?  An aggressive scenario might more appropriately postulate long-range EVs at 75 percent market share by 2050.

Examining what is happening in the real world, that absent ‘aggressive’ clean energy scenario might be the most realistic one while also being one where US energy carbon emissions fall and the nation is on the path to serious climate change mitigation.

Like an observer impacting the observed, forecasting impacts the real world through helping inform and drive investments. Strong forecasting enables decision-makers a window as to their options and enables more informed decision-making even in the face of the uncertainty that is the future. Flawed forecasting undermines sound decision-making and can create significant harm into the future.  The EIA forecast suggests that renewables are marginally competitive with, for example, new nuclear power plant projects. This, quite simply, has no basis in the real world.  Making investments with a belief that EIA forecasting is sound creates risk for ill-advised investments and an increased likelihood of the financial havoc of even more stranded fossil-fuel assets in the decades to come.

Sigh … going back to Adam Scott

For anyone who actually wants to use energy forecasts as a tool to inform sound decision-making, for directing investment wisely, and for meeting the obvious goal of achieving climate safety – we need outlooks with credible assumptions. It’s a shame we can’t trust the EIA to provide them.

NOTE: Sadly, to make clear, this is a recurrent problem with EIA which has consistently been underforecasting renewable energy system penetration. ;asldjkf  See, for example, Department of Energy’s “Annual Outlook 2015” is out: what do we know w/out reading it? For a selected bibliography on this, see end of When it comes to renewable energy forecasting, Japan’s forecasting follows world lead.

UPDATE: Some material post posting of relevance:

→ 1 CommentTags: economics · Energy Forecasting · energy information administration

(R)Evolution, not war

February 5th, 2018 · No Comments

Human society has faced major shifts, periods of significant change, ranging from the printing press to the industrial revolution to the information age to the massively expansive set of changes in the 21st century from communications to biotechnology to energy systems.  And, when it comes to economic moves off 19th energy systems — the burning of coal — Senator Ed Markey capture it right:

The telegraph and telephone weren’t a war on the Pony Express and signal fires, but a (r)evolution in how we communicate and share information.

Cell phones weren’t a war on copper lines and emails weren’t a war on the US postal service but a leap frog past them but another (r)evolution in how we communicate and share information.

Steamships weren’t a war on clipper ships and horseless carriages weren’t a war on horses but a (r)evolution in how we move around the world.

Canning and refrigeration weren’t a war on salt, but a (r)evolution in how we store and ship food.

Moving into the 21st century with cost-effective, clean solar, wind, storage, smart grind, and other clean-energy options isn’t a war on 19th energy systems but a (r)evolution to a better system.

Donald Trump and other fossil fools are caught in false rhetoric about a ‘war on coal’ that ignores technical, economic, and financial realities. They wish to drive the United States into reinvesting and relying on a costlier, less-efficient energy system that will cost Americans more and disadvantage the nation economically against those embracing the ever-less expensive and cost-advantaged clean-energy systems.

And, of course, that isn’t even accounting for the pollution impacts from coal.

10,000s of dead Americans … now that would merit undertaking a war on coal because, now that viable and cost-advantaged options exist to retire coal, those promoting increased (and maintaining existing) coal use are engaged in a war against humanity.

 

NOTE:

  • Greenpeace did a series of quite interesting analyses, over time, about what it might take to pursue a clean Energy [r]Evolution enabling phasing out coal and other fossil fuels. Thus, the use of ‘[r]evolution] rather than Senator Markey’s Revolution.

→ No CommentsTags: coal

(not) News: Solar cooling won’t solve climate change

February 5th, 2018 · 1 Comment

Press releases are often designed to spin, to put things in as favorable a light as possible, and to (by their very nature) boost visibility.  Putting aside those intended to deceive, the “profession” of public affairs tends to that spin and even the most well-intentioned spin can inadvertently deceive (especially against a larger context).  For example, as discussed before, breathless press releases about a laboratory advance with batteries or solar cell efficiency or making fuel from air can lead to viral ‘we’ve solved the world’s problems’ commentary.  While vulnerable, myself, to this sort of techno-optimism, these viruses (viral events) typically ignore the realities of the challenges of transformation from laboratory success to mass commercial deployment: everything from the simple truth that the lab test might not prove true with more extensive testing; to the very long timelines from lab invention to marketplace; and to the obstacles placed before innovation in the market place itself.

Sometimes, the press release writers strive, seriously, to avoid the potential for misunderstanding and unreasonable use of the press release and the underlying work. Regretfully, this effort doesn’t necessarily prevent misuse. I fear a recent press release will be misrepresented as a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ story re climate change when, well, that is not the case. A moment for truth before discussing the Scripp’s press release that sparked this post:

With significant reductions in solar radiation hitting the Earth (a Grand Solar Minimum), global warming (climate change) would continue.  Against any scenario of human emissions (from business as usual to even dramatic reductions in emissions), the reduced solar emissions would have marginal impact on warming.

Now, Scripps’ researchers have done work to try to quantify, with some detail, how much solar radiation might decrease in the coming decades and the impact of this on climate change.  The press release author, Robert Monroe, is quite careful to emphasize that any such ‘cooling’ due to reduced solar radiation will not ‘solve’ climate change.

Here is the opening sentence:

The Sun might emit less radiation by mid-century, giving planet Earth a chance to warm a bit more slowly but not halt the trend of human-induced climate change.

And, the closing words:

a main conclusion of the study is that “a future grand solar minimum could slow down but not stop global warming.”

Now, knowing that Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, and other climate-science deniers have no tendency to skew — or outright misrepresent and/or lie — data, is it unreasonable that the ‘movie critic’ clip and representation of this report and press release might be something like …

grand solar minimum … increases risk of dangerous global cooling if warming is reduced …

Consider those words … that is (a) absolutely not what the press release author nor study’ author’s concluded and/or emphasized but (b) is actually just a twisted variation on that conclusion.  Implausible (that ‘if warming is reduced’ such that we might have ‘dangerous global cooling’) but not outright false (by definition, if there is reduced solar radiation AND reduced human pollution that then creates a greater chance of cooling — even if that ‘greater chance’ is somewhere in range of a null probability).

UPDATE: And, well, such predicted (ab)use of the press release and study is occurring.

On a more benign level, what is the chance of the casual journalist (that casual tweeter) emphasizing something like “scientist predict sun will warm less by mid-century and reduce climate change risks” — not intending to mislead but, in a casual or character limited effort to communicate, misleading nonetheless?

Honestly, how far should a press release author go in striving to structure language to avoid those who will, shamelessly, manipulate the language and misrepresent the fundamental work?  What wording forestalls the ‘casual’, unthinking, misrepresentation? Perhaps, in this case, how about this headline:

Climate change will not be stopped by cooler sun

In this world of ‘tweet shares’, that headline is what the vast majority of people would see and would the opening words to frame the thinking of anyone who read past the headline (including reporters and bloggers) thinking of doing a story.

Would that be better science communication and reduce risks of (intentional or unintentional) misleading others?  Perhaps …

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The Climate of Climate in the 2018 election

January 29th, 2018 · No Comments

For many election cycles, those aware of the serious nature of climate change (and the opportunities acting to mitigate it will create) have advocated for greater political discussion of climate change. In the 2008 presidential election, in part due to a dedicated effort to ask questions of candidates in key primaries, ‘climate’ seemed — at least for a moment — to be a meaningful part of the political discussion.  Regretfully, ‘climate silence’ dominated the election debates — with nary a question, cycle after cycle, from journalists about it. The Village (traditional pundits) didn’t see climate change as worthy of question choosing instead, for example in 2016, to focus on far more critical issues like Clinton emails.

2018 might represent a turning point. The move to recruit (and elect) scientists (notably from 314 action: “The Pro-Science Resistance”), Donald Trump’s (and the GOP’s) decided anti-science climate denial, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords, the growing clarity that climate change is an not a remote issue (in geography, time, and species) but a problem of today impacting all Americans, and the range of American climate catastrophes in 2016 all seem to be factors in boosting the potential that “climate” will be a campaign issue in many of the mid-term elections.

As a sign that this might be the case, when looking at (Democratic) candidate web pages, it appears that far more mention climate than might have been the case in the past.

At the recent Society of Environmental Journalist (SEJ) session at the Woodrow Wilson Center about environmental stories of 2018, the list of ‘key stories’ for 2018 didn’t mention the potential that climate and climate science would be part of the elections didn’t make the (extensive) list of potential stories (re elections, starts at 6:45 of second video here).

Are these the energy/environmental issues for reporting mid-term elections?

In light of that and of the above, I questioned (paraphrase: starts at 1 hour and 04 minutes in video here):

Do you see climate in elections as an environmental story, political, or a cross-cutting story. And, within your institutions, how do you work with other reporters on reporting this.

Three of the panelists engaged the question:

  • Brady Dennis of the Washington Post wonders how and whether climate will enter the election discussion, that it will be drown out by Trump and Russia and other stories. He commented that “I am a little perplexed about how to elevate climate in the discussion” and, in essence, asked for help in figuring out how to do so and i identifying “places where this will be a top-level issues”
  • Pat Rizzuto of Bloomberg said that there is a reporter specifically focused on identifying and reporting on campaigns where environmental issues matter.
  • Matthew Daly, AP, commented that “From the Capital, it is interesting to see that there is a bipartisan climate caucus, that there are Republicans willing to stand up and say that climate change is real. This is an underreported story … it is shocking that it is shocking.”*

A fossil fuel lobbyist (Frank Maisano) followed the above with a comment that

I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve been waiting for this (climate) to matter in the election. Even when Steyer dumped millions and millions, it didn’t matter. I don’t think it will matter this year.

Will it (climate change) matter in elections this year? Almost certainly not as much as it should, but here is another indication of what just might be a changed environment: a candidates’ climate forum in Texas 7th this past weekend with the seven candidates in the Democratic primary drew 400 people in the hall along with Facebook viewers.

As per the organizer, Professor Daniel Cohan, Rice University, (LinkedIn post w/forum material),

When voters care, candidates respond. At the first candidate forum I attended last year, I cringed at the nonsensical response I got to my question about climate. This time, asking seven more challenging questions to seven candidates, I found almost all the responses to be thoughtful and well informed.

As a professor, I could tell the candidates had done their homework. They couldn’t bluff their way to an easy A with voters who cared.

And, Cohan’s perspective on the political implication:

Whoever is elected to Congress this November, they’ll know there’s a motivated contingent of voters eager to see a more vigorous federal response to climate.

TX-07 is, of course, just one district when there are 435 Congressional races.  If climate matters there, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will elsewhere. Tough, as Cohan concluded:

And if we’ve shown that to be true in the oil patch of a red state, perhaps similar events elsewhere could provide a wake-up call to other representatives as well.

SEJ journalists, on that panel and otherwise, might wish to pay attention to Cohan and the TX-07 climate forum as it just might be an indicator that 2018 could well be the year when climate change truly does become a meaningful part of U.S. elections.

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When it comes to renewable energy forecasting, Japan’s forecasting follows world lead

January 19th, 2018 · 1 Comment

While many reasons exist for this, a simple reality: every single major forecasting institution (both public and private) has consistently, since roughly the turn of the century, under forecast future progress in solar and wind energy. (See after fold for a sampling of the literature on this.) Forecasts have consistently (and often quite significantly) projected much higher costs and much lower deployments than what has occurred in the real world.

While too many simply think of these problems as esoteric ‘energy-geekdom’, these forecasts have real impacts on decision-making in the public and private sectors.  One, not very small, example is a  big news item this week: General Electric is potentially going to be broken up.  One of the key underlying factors behind this might just have been energy forecasts of growing thermal power in the decades to come — forecasts that are turning out to have been wildly off mark.  And, GE made significant bets (in acquiring Alstom and Baker-Hughes), apparently, due to senior executives (and Board of Directors) myopically relying on these forecasts without paying attention to the serious critiques about forecasting. (Again, see below for a taste of those criticisms.)

The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan is one of those doing public long-range energy forecasts that can (will) influence public and private investment decision-making. Here is their fall World Energy Outlook 2018. The IEEJ Chairman, Masakazu Toyoda, gave a quite interesting presentation on this study at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Within the study and in the presentation, many worthwhile takeaways and insights.

As an example of a perhaps self-evident item that too many simply ignore but which Toyoda made quite clear in his presentation: it’s China and India, stupid. Writ large, over the next 35 years, China will add the equivalent of US energy demand to its power sector and India will add the equivalent of an European Union. Want to understand (and, inherently, influence) what will happen globally, in terms of energy demand and supply (including carbon implications), these are the two places meriting the most focus.

Forecasts are useful for helping frame understanding for the future and to help shape decision-making — not through the specific forecasted numbers, but about the potential implications from differences and commonalities across scenarios in terms of investment requirements, policy options, and otherwise. As per above, however, a consistent pattern of significantly under-forecasting renewable energy has had serious real-world impact and continuation of pessimistic forecasting against clean energy options will likely to continue to create problems.

http://eneken.ieej.or.jp/data/7577.pdf

IEEJ 2018 Scenario parameters (Institute for Energy Economics Japan)

The IEEJ forecast has three core scenarios. A reference (base-line), a peak oil demand (think electrification with electric vehicles), and an advanced technologies (investment to address climate change).  To the right is a slide (from another presentation) that appeared in CSIS talk that lays out some of the high-level assumptions for each scenario.

Focusing solely on solar,

  • The “reference” case has 0.2 to 1.5 terrawatts (TW) of solar PV capacity deployed from 2015 to 2050.
  • The (aggressive) “Advanced Technologies” case has 2.5TW.

That does seem like a significant, even aggressive, jump from that baseline (what will occur if we don’t do things differently) and to the advanced technologies (there is a dedicated aggressive effort to invest to address climate change) scenarios.

What is actually happening, however, in the world and what are others projecting:

  • In 2017, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), there was 98 gigawatts (GW) of solar deployments with “a minimum” of 107GW projected for 2018.
    • (Note: this post is aggregating, for simplicity, all solar deployment with a comparison against PV. A large-scale forecast, like IEEJ’s, that is aggregating ‘clean’ should have ‘all solar’ in electricity generation (e.g., including CST plants) and not ‘just’ photovoltaic in its scenario assumptions.)
  • In 2016, according to IEA, solar accounted for 43 percent of global net additional electricity generation capacity, the majority in 2017, and those trends will continue.
  • Solar (and wind) prices are plummeting so much, according to IRENA, that they will be at the low end OR below fossil prices by 2020.
  • Actual contract offerings of solar are showing this trend. Just released Colorado bids for solar PLUS storage were far below the offered prices for coal and, in fact, are below the prices of electricity from already existing coal-fired plants.

Assuming that there will be zero growth year-to-year in solar deployments (which is a laughably bad assumption for any planner), 33 years of solar deployments at the BNEF ‘minimum’ projection for 2018 (107GW) would give a total additional deployment by 2050 of 3531GWs (3.5TW) or 1TW more than IEEJ’s aggressive Advanced Technologies forecasting scenario (which, btw, went from 2015 to 2050: adding 2015-2017 adds more than 200GWs to this simple comparative calculation).*

A simple question (okay, not so simple to answer) asked of Toyoda at CSIS with that background as to actual solar deployments versus IEEJ’s projection:

Considering (a) how forecasting has been so uniformly pessimistic about renewable technology and (b) the significant implications of erroneous forecasts, did IEEJ consider doing an actually aggressive solar/wind forecast.

In response to the question and in conversation after the session, the answer might be summarized two-fold:

  • solar is really complicated and not uniform across the globe (yes),
  • perhaps that is a good idea to consider.

Trying to forecast such a dynamic arena as solar pv deployment is not easy, with the challenges of trying to understand/model innovation (technological, business), policy priorities and change, financial issues (global economic situation, financing costs, …), social priorities, etc … It seems clear, on the face of it, that IEEJ’s ‘aggressive’ solar forecast radically understates what a reasonable “aggressive” scenario would look like.  To understand what an ‘aggressive’ forecast re 2050 deployment might look like, here are four (very simplistic approach) examples:

  • Indefinite growth at 10 percent per year from 2018 through 2050
  • Indefinite growth at 5%/yr
  • 10%/yr growth through 2027, 5%/yr 2028-2037, 2.5%/yr 2038-2050
  • 5%/yr through 2027, 2.5%/yr 2028-2037, 1.25%/yr 2038-2050

By the way, before anyone might consider 2017-2018 potential growth an anomaly, a 10 percent year-to-year change is dramatically lower than what has been occurring with a compounded annual PV deployment growth rate (CAGR) of about 30% in the 2010s and above 40% in the decade before.

What, in terms of additional solar capacity, results from the above simplistic assumptions for feeding into a forecasting scenario:

  • 10%/yr = 23.8TW of additional solar capacity by 2050
  • 5%/yr = 8.6TW
  • 10% and then slowing:  11.4TW
  • 5% and then slowing: 6.3TW

There is a radical difference between 6.3TW-23.8TW and 2.5TW for use in an ‘aggressive’ forecast scenario (and, well, 0.2-1.5TW in a baseline scenario) to help understand options moving forward and to help drive energy forecasting.

Due to the range of problems with the above (assumes zero retirements over time and just additions to the total solar capacity, doesn’t account for any questions of materials supplies, doesn’t discuss other energy systems, isn’t placed against likely world total energy demands (with expansion from 2014 total grid-connected electricity capacity (roughly 6.5TW)), etc, etc, etc …), these aren’t hard figures to include into a forecast. On the other hand, this approach provides a framing to understand that the IEEJ ‘aggressive forecast’ might be an order-of-magnitude (or more) below what a plausible “solar-heavy” future could look like.

Analysts and analysis are there to provide a framework for and to assist decision-makers have the potential for making better decisions.  Even the best analysis can’t survive a bad decision-maker. On the other hand, it takes an exceptional decision-maker to make optimum decisions when provided faulty analysis.

When it comes to clean energy, energy forecasting has consistently provided decision-makers (not all of who are exceptional) faulty analysis. From the EIA to IEA to IEEJ to …, the world’s energy analysts owe decision-makers far better when it comes to forecasting plausible clean-energy futures.

 

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→ 1 CommentTags: analysis · economics · Energy · Energy Forecasting · energy information administration · solar

“Renewable Energy: the closer you look, the better the news gets!

January 17th, 2018 · 3 Comments

For decades, those advocating for a clean-energy revolution had to advocate for better analysis and calculations to demonstrate that going clean (solar, wind, efficiency) was the better, smarter choice.  Traditional financial structures and analysis favors dirty solutions: emphasizing upfront (rather than life-cycle costs), discounting heavily future benefits, stove-piping analysis without considering systems implications, discounting (typically ignoring) risks (such as potential fuel price fluctuations), ignoring ‘co-benefit’ steams, leaving negative externalities out of the equation, and …  Within those traditional approaches, the deck was stacked against choosing the clean solution.  Analysts focused in this arena, trying to find paths to enable the right choice to be the preferred and easy choice laid out many paths.

  • Focusing on life-cycle costs is a better economic approach …
    • Purchase prices come with associated long(er) term costs which are frequently (far) higher than that purchase price — across all of the economy.  Focusing on sticker price can, often, lead to a less optimal longer-term cost structure.
    • Don’t focus on CtB (cost to buy) but on CtO (cost-to-own), whether this is in deciding whether to buy an electric taxi, ‘green’ a school, lighting in a condominium building, or in purchasing a desk lamp: understand not just that purchase price, but the full costs of owning/operating that ‘system’.
    • ‘Going clean’ might cost more upfront, but that the long-term costs for a cleaner options would be better.
  • Understand and incorporate co-benefits
    • Job creation
    • Increased productivity (in government, business, and education)
    • Reduced maintenance costs
    • Improved health
    • Increased capability
  • Incorporate risk calculations
    • Price fluctuations/uncertainty
    • Supply/service disruption
    • Policy change
  • Consider systems benefits, value externalities
    • Incorporate/understand how ‘paying more’ for one part of a system can reduce costs elsewhere … leading to same or lower purchase price for better long-term payoff.
    • Benefits (reduced local temperatures, reduced run-off, etc …)
    • Price in pollution costs
      • e.g., end the hidden subsidies to polluting options by privatizing the costs into the transaction (rather than leaving these socialized, to be born by all, even those not involved in the transaction).
  • And, well, so on …

When doing such fully-burdened cost-benefit analyses (whether for an individual home (accounting for “home performance and comfort” rather than simply “energy costs”) or designing schools or climate action across an entire economy), the return-on-investment for ‘clean’ almost always came out powerfully better than traditional, polluting ways.

Whether for the individual looking at a light-bulb purchase price at the hardware store, the CFO deciding how to invest Corporation resources, or the School Board making decisions on school construction, this sort of ‘comprehensive’ robust analysis — that fell outside typical ‘green-eyeshade’ accounting norms, practices, and rules — was a long haul. There were/are such decision-makers ready to think that way — but most people don’t calculate and compare across six options a decade of energy costs when buying a television and few CFOs think about work force productivity when making energy-efficiency investment decisions.

A frustration — what, financially (and societally) would be ‘the right choice’ wasn’t ‘the easy choice’ and simply wasn’t easily evident as ‘the right choice’ to decision-makers at many levels across the economy.

Well, ‘the times, they are a changin ...’*

Increasingly, across economies and across different levels of decision-makers, this environment is changing — quite radically. (Seemingly convoluted and) Complicated analyses are, increasingly, no longer required as the simplest of (traditional) financial calculations are now, often, showing that the clean choice is the better financial choice.

For example, the Google calculation of RE<C (renewable energy costing less than coal) is increasingly becoming reality. When proposed a decade ago, this seemed a lofty objective — to drive down the price of new renewables (like solar and wind) to well below the price of new coal plants. In market after market, renewables (especially solar and wind) are blasting through that target: it isn’t just cheaper to install new wind and/or solar electricity than coal (and, often, natural gas), that new build wind and solar is cheaper than continuing to operate existing coal facilities.  This new reality is why, around the globe, renewable electricity is the vast majority of new electrical generation capacity with new coal plants disappearing from planning and existing coal plant retirements (or conversions to natural gas) occurring on an almost daily basis.

Colorado’s recent bidding for electricity is making real news and providing (yet) another blunt signal that the renewable revolution is real and even accelerating. As part of a long-term plan, XCEL Energy put out a request for proposals for new electricity generation. Released on about the slowest news moment, 29 December, solar and wind prices blew away polluting electricity options without requiring any form of the considerations above. And, including in storage still left the wind and solar costs far below coal costs — even existing coal generation costs.

With numbers like these, any fiscally sensible planner won’t just be buying clean energy for new generation but considering paths toward retiring out more expensive fossil fuel generation — as fast as possible. As Joe Romm put it, this is how coal dies — super cheap renewables plus battery storage.

Solar, wind, and battery prices are dropping so fast that, in Colorado, building new renewable power plus battery storage is now cheaper than running old coal plants. This increasingly renders existing coal plants obsolete.

Solar and Wind underbid fossil fuels in Colorado

As David Roberts points out, what is key here is that this is real world, not some theoretical analytical game.

Usually, when we talk about how renewable energy will evolve in the next five years, we rely on analysts and projections. This is different.

When a utility puts out a request for proposals (RFP) — asking developers to bid in for the chance to build new energy resources — the developers who respond aren’t guessing, or boasting. They are laying down a marker that might get called. They are promising only what they are confident they can deliver.

That makes the responses to an RFP a clear snapshot of the state of the industry, relatively unembellished by ideology or public relations spin.

The real world — the people doing green-eyed calculations — are stating that they can deliver not just RE<C, but renewable energy far less expensively than coal. That matters.

And, in a post filled with many key points, this point cannot be emphasized enough:

This particular snapshot reveals that, on the ground, renewable energy costs are falling faster than even the most optimistic analyst had projected.

While there is constant discussion of the problems of IEA and EIA forecasting when it comes to renewable energy, even the most aggressive analysts (okay, there might be some exceptions … but, well, I don’t know them) have been pessimistic about the course of clean energy options. Wind (onshore and offshore), solar (especially pv), storage, smart grid, and … are blowing through predictions of penetrations and costs.

Let’s face it: In most areas of life, when you look past the hype at the real numbers, it’s depressing. Renewable energy is one area where that typical dynamic is diverted. The closer you look, the better the news gets!”

David Roberts

When it began under Secretary Chu, the Department of Energy’s SunShot program had a target of 5 cents per kilowatt hour for industrial solar in the desert Southwest by 2020.  That was clearly seen as a stretch goal and, well, many thought it a stretch too far.  That 5 cents is more than double the median solar bid in Colorado. (Note, yes, bids are for 2023 but this is meant as exemplary.)

Analytical groups like Lazard and Bloomberg New Energy Finance do excellent work, with massive data analysis, and strive hard ‘to get it right’.  And yet, the prices bid in Colorado — and in project after project around the world — are a fraction of their projected prices decades from now.  As Roberts highlights,

The financial advisory firm Lazard issues a much-watched analysis each year of the “levelized cost of energy (LCOE),” a measure that purports to directly compare energy sources based on total costs. Its 2017 analysis estimated that solar+batteries has an LCOE of $82/MWh. You might notice that the median Xcel bid for solar+storage is less than half that. …

Saudi Arabia recently saw bids for utility-scale solar at under $20/MWh, which is less than half Lazard’s lowest estimate for the range of solar LCOE ($46/MWh).

At an auction in Chile last year, a solar+storage project won at $34.40/MWh, which is a third lower than the lowest Lazard LCOE estimates for solar alone.

A company called ViZn Energy Systems, which uses flow batteries rather than lithium-ion, is promising $27/MWh solar+storage by 2023, when the Xcel projects are scheduled to be online. By comparison, Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects an average LCOE of a little higher than that for solar alone in 2030.

Now, as Roberts does explain, there is lots of complexity in calculations and the individual situations around each project (subsidies, quality of renewables, etc …) but the real world is increasingly showing that the lowest cost option within traditional financing calculations is renewable.

The Xcel RFP in Colorado is a relatively small signal, but it is one of many sending the same message: renewable energy is not “alternative” any more. Costs are dropping so fast it’s difficult to keep track. It is the cheapest power available in more and more places, and by the time children born today enter college, it is likely to be the cheapest everywhere. That’s a different world.

All that analytical effort for ‘fully-burdened’ isn’t irrelevant in this “different world” even as it is less required to enable decision-makers to make a cleaner, better for humanity choice when seeking to make the best choice within their ‘stove-piped’ calculations.  If — IF — that broader analysis is incorporated, as well, it will even further accelerate moves toward clean energy solutions.

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