Those outrageous Greenies and leftists at US megacorporation General Electric predict that Solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years.
Don’t believe a word of it. We need our coal power stations! They can never be replaced! There’s no renewable sustainable technology that can provide power as cheaply and with as many delightful emissions AND THERE NEVER WILL BE.
Stop working on alternatives. It’s futile!
Improved effeciency is to be commended, but the real cost is to be found in the storage systems needed to house the energy harvested in the middle of the day so that it can be used to run the tele in the evening.
Even the cheapest energy is useless if it costs a fortune to store it for later use.
By all means, we can run our fridges, water heaters and other items off solar panels during the day, but when the sun sets in the evening, we’re back to mains power.
Large amounts of base load power is only required because large amounts of base load power is supplied – large scale industry and city power consumers used to be encouraged by very cheap tarriffs to run equipment at night in order to iron out the peak/off peak curve to allow coal power stations to run continuously (i am not sure if this still occurs, but it certainly created the mess we are in).
Efficiencies involved in reducing consumption and restructuring our grid and tarriffs to account for large variations in power input from multiple different sources can go a long way toward dealing with the inconsistencies of wind, solar and other renewables generation. It would also allow government to divest itself of the subsidies and contractual arrangements required to deal with an oligopoly of large scale power generators. Surely this would create a more dynamic and competitive energy market?
I don’t know why people keep banging on about base load when it is so obviously solvable and when we have such a long way to go in terms of taking up renewable peak load supply before it is even an issue. The real issue no one is saying anything about is increasing demand.
There are other ways to mitigate the base load issue. Solar thermal is promising in that there are ways to store the heat generated to even out production somewhat; research should improve that over time. Highly dispatchable generation like gas can supplement renewable sources.
Probably the simplest approach is to focus not on just making the grid smarter, but also bigger. HVDC cables are a very mature technology; its now possible to move large amounts of energy long distances without especially large losses. Europe is moving towards a unified grid over the EU with imports from solar and wind in MENA as well; I believe there’s similar talk of getting a super grid over all of NAFTA.
In a geographically dispersed grid baseload is much less of an issue, because the variability of both supply and demand is averaged out.
We’re lucky to have a whole continent, so we could be taking advantage of this phenomenon as well. In fact I’m not sure if such long underwater transmission is feasible, but there’s an argument for trying to get NZ plugged in too – not only do they already have a high proportion of supply from renewable sources, I’m guessing much of their existing hydro either has pumped storage capability, or could be adapted to make use of it. And pumped storage is the other major piece of the puzzle on renew; since Green groups will never let us build dams here, it’d be nice to have access to another country’s storage capacity.
More broadly speaking, while the world’s “leaders” piss around and continue to fail to do anything serious about climate change, Jeremy’s point about GE is just one instance of scientists and engineers going ahead and dealing with the problem despite the stupid political environment.
I’m confident that even without any meaningful global or national action on the legal front, we’ll get to a carbon free economy in quickly enough; it’ll just take longer and be more expensive than it otherwise might have been.
Bill Gates TED talk on TerraPower is worth a look (even if you’re not a fan of nuclear in any form) – it emphasises why we need to do precisely what GE are alluding to, and simply develop energy technology that’s cheaper than fossil fuels. Then there won’t be any need to explicitly phase out carbon; everyone will do so incidentally by switching to be less expensive sources
Got any evidence for this ridiculous statement? I’m assuming you mean the green groups who stopped development of the Burrup peninsula, or the building of the Hindmarsh bridge, etc, ad nauseum, etc. If the government of the day and big business decide dams are the way to go, then dams it will be.
zoot: Mary River dam project. Successfully scuttled by Green groups.
I’ve been to New Zealand and seen some of the hydro dams. Way up in the mountains, fed by snowmelt. The thing is, due to the yearly ice pack there is very little in the way of ecosystems in the dam catchments. Just big rocky basins filled with water.
There are certainly exceptions, and nothing is ever “zero cost” about a dam, but NZ’s geology and ecology is very different than Australia’s – building a dam here almost always means destroying an existing ecosystem. And Green groups will have a problem with that, for good reason – we share this planet with millions of other lifeforms and someone has to stand up for the voiceless.
It’s not like water has to be dammed to generate electricity – tidal generators can be used instead.
Its hyperbolic – green groups don’t have enough influence to scuttle every such project – but I can’t think of a proposed dam in Australia in the last couple of decades, for either water or energy, that wasn’t seriously opposed by at least some self-identified environmentalist organisations.
In some cases, its justified – the environmental costs really do outweigh the benefits. However all sources of clean water and energy have some sort of environmental impact; its all about making the choices that minimize any harm.
Pumped storage hydroelectricity makes a big difference to the economic viability of solar and wind, so there’s a strong case it is worth sacrificing a few river valley ecosystems for it.
Uniquerhys, tidal is still in its infancy. And interfering with tidal flows still has an environmental impact. There is no free lunch when it comes to energy.
More to the point, I don’t especially care for hydro as a means of generation. What makes it valuable is that it is currently the only viable way to store energy at a scale needed to have any impact on a national grid. The ability to partially store the intermittent generation capacity of solar and wind takes away the baseload power objection to using them that Marek was making.
“What makes it valuable is that it is currently the only viable way to store energy at a scale needed to have any impact on a national grid.”
As long as you have the water to shift around between holding lakes. Despite La Nina and the recent floods, water is something that can get very scarce for long periods of time in Australia. Very little snow-melt driving seasonal flows, as in NZ.
What water we do have in large quantities is usually drinking and irrigation supply, which can deplete the storage capacity very fast in a drought. In a drought, we’d have plenty of solar power, but nowhere to store it. Water-independent systems like molten salts are a better option for Australia, I feel.
“Solar? Solar?!? Don’t make me laugh!!! What happens when the sun goes down?!?!?!”
I’ve noticed that most people go to bed and the demand for electricity plummets, that’s what.
That’s a fair point, but there are areas in australia that receive plenty of rainfall. Also, a multi level pumped hydro arrangement can still usefully store power until the reservoir is heavily depleted.
Molten salt is great, but it only makes more CSP baseload like. It’s not dispatchable, so it can’t supplement wind or PV; you still need gas turbines to make the grid work, and that’s ok short term but eventually the carbon is going to be an issue.
This might save you during daylight savings, but you’re fresh out of luck in winter – demand peaks at dinner time, and the sun has set by then at this time of year, or is close enough to it you’re not going to get any power.
Also, cloudy days really can mess you up if your supply has a huge percentage of solar.
The electricity triangle is like this: magnet, spinning metal, electric current. If two of the three are there, the 3rd magically* appears. This is why almost all electricity generation involves turning a turbine – magnet with spinning metal = electricity. Most of those, use steam to turn the turbine but many things can turn the turbine (eg wind, water flow, peddle power).
Considering it IS actually that easy to generate electricity, we really need to be a bit more creative. I’ve seen some create TED talks on just putting up tiny turbines all around the place, heaps of them. Not these big noisy ones in the bush, but tiny ones – some of the best spots are the huge wind tunnels created in cities due to skyscrapers. Attach them to ANYTHING that generates a FLOW of particles (water/air/dirt) that could possible turn the turbine. All of that movement of particles is wasted energy because all of it could be used without disrupting anything else, to turn a turbine.
*Thanks to the Old Ones (primarily Cthulhu, all hail his name)
Ive lost count of how many articles like this Ive read over the years. 3 years comes around, then I read another article. I wont hold my breath..
meanwhile in my granny flat, the price of electricity in melbourne went up 18% last year. the cost to produce electricity went down -1% in that time. since jan 2002 when deregulation began, my electricity bill went up 74%.
now I hear about a carbon tax, what I am to think…