With specific subsidies, the area where they are less expensive is even larger.
Of course, fossil fuels receive considerable direct and indirect subsidies, further complicating answering the question "what's least cost?"
This is the received wisdom of the clean energy movement, but every report I’ve read says otherwise. Oil and gas receive little if no operational subsidies in most countries and in fact are heavily taxed at every stage of exploitation. Even government investments in oil and gas typically return far better than the risk-free rate, which is remarkable for government.
Of course there are some terrible externalities that we don’t price in...
Like securing our energy interests in "difficult" parts of the world using an intelligence service so pricey that it's illegal for us to ask how pricey it is. (Along with a pricey military to go along with that intelligence service now that I think about it.)
It’s already priced in.
There's a lot of tax credits and subsidies. "Clean coal" for instance, or 3.4 billion for carbon sequestration (did that get past the lab yet?)
So subsidies for coal are incredibly small.
I think it's past the point we started considering unpriced externalities as subsidies.
I'm not an expert on energy production but a study I recently read on this topic for the German "Energiewende" over here did not sound so great . In Germany the renewables we can scale are mostly Wind + PV. However according to the study their seasonal patterns combined with the demand curve seem to make it pretty much impossible to actually expand them meaningfully. Over the year you'll get peak production far outstripping demand (we've already seen negative prices in our markets with current installed capacity) and in the troughs you will need huge production from other energy sources (mostly old coal plants at this point). As these are seasonal patterns this means you would need to store TWh over many months to average that out and make new installed renewable capacity actually useful. The study did some back on the envelope calculations for various options for that but none seemed to come close to achieving that.
If that is true, system wide such nice looking renewable price calculations are preconditioned on a backup structure of conventional plants being on standby to fill in the throughs. As this is highly uneconomical for them the cost for that will still have to be paid by the system. At the same time due to the extreme variability prices will drop to zero during peak times (well...unless you have feed-in tarifs) making cheap production prices still be a loss.
I imagine the calculations might look much more favorable in other locales where demand is better correlated with renewable production but I would be surprised if Germany is the total exception here.
Here's a calculation for Solar from (sunny) India: A 5KW Solar Rooftop costs in the ballpark of Rs 300,000 (~4000 USD), which takes care of a bill of less than Rs 5000 per /month (~60, 70 USD). That'll take 5 years (at least) to recover the cost of install. Then there would be the added cost of maintaining the setup.
Now, USD 4000 might not sound like much to invest in a healthy future, but it's still a LOT of money for the majority of Indian households, and the idea is quite difficult to sell.
So the only help can come from the government subsidies. Unfortunately, while the govt has set huge public targets, the subsidy doesn't reach common people. The current Energy lobby is showing it's ugly face here, and the government is warming up to the idea of taxing solar products.
There's also the troubling fact that large corporations are setting up these huge RE powerplants (with backing from govts), when by the very nature, Solar energy should be rather distributed.
I just hope we talk about the hinderance by governments and large corporations in the RE space a lot more and not let them collude or slow down this natural progression.
Last I heard, nuclear was the only non-fossil fuel way of doing that. Is that still the case?
But yeah, obviously dams and deep wells with pumps are orders of magnitude less expensive than nuclear reactors. So that's likely where the money will go.
But it's ALL gonna be pricey. Only thing that isn't quite as pricey are the fossil fuels. Very little stomach for future development on those however.
Backing up by natural gas doesn't count; natural gas is a fossil fuel and if you take methane into account it might even be worse than coal.
Hydro and geothermal don't need storage but they're also geographically limited. We can't expand them arbitrarily the way we could expand wind/solar. This also means using hydro to store energy from wind/solar can only go so far.
None of this matters in the near term, since we can certainly expand wind/solar a lot before we run into problems. But over the next several decades we need to replace fossil entirely.
On a grid with natural gas backup, it's easy to throw in an hour's worth of battery storage to cover minor fluctuations, quote a price "with storage," but still rely on gas if the wind dies down over a large area for a couple days (which does happen).
I'm not talking about smoothing our minor variations in output. I'm talking about enough storage so you don't need fossil backup at all, even if the wind dies down over a large area for a couple days. Battery backup at that scale is not affordable with current technology, but that's what we'd need if we actually got rid of fossil.
If you've got fossil backup, an hour is fine. If you don't, it's not.
The grid can have wind/solar and fossil. Generation is dispatched in "merit order" -- when wind/solar is has a lower marginal cost, it will serve load. During other periods (like those windless nights), the fossil will still generate.
Huh? Natural gas only produces about half the CO2 per unit of energy that coal does.
So if burning methane only produces half the CO2 per unit of energy, but just 2% of it leaks into the atmosphere at any point in the production/distribution pipeline, then it's actually worse.
Which have never actually been observed. The whole "positive feedbacks" thing is based on computer models which have been falsified by the actual data.
Besides that, it's based on the fact that we're already seeing things like polar ice melt and emissions from permafrost.
We don't have accurate enough geological evidence to support the kinds of "positive feedback" claims that are being made. Hansen's book lays out a partisan case.
> we're already seeing things like polar ice melt and emissions from permafrost.
What were these things doing a thousand years ago? Five thousand years ago? Ten thousand years ago? We don't know. And that means we don't have the data to put what we're currently seeing in proper perspective. And nobody is claiming that we do: as I said, the claims of possible disaster based on positive feedback are based on models, not data. And the models have been falsified by the data.
It seemed pretty convincing to me, since there were multiple independent lines of evidence that all pointed to the same conclusion.
No, I've read scientific papers on the topic, his and others. I don't trust what is said in books on science for lay people; I've caught too many scientists misrepresenting the science when they write for lay people, because they know they can get away with it (and not just in climate science--I've caught physicists doing it about general relativity and basic QM, which are a lot more solidly nailed down by evidence and controlled experiments than climate science is).
"Renewable energy in transport" report by IEA (.PDF)
I think that "power to liquids" is a much more likely path for large scale replacement of aviation fuel.
See for example "Power-to-Liquids as Renewable Fuel Option
for Aviation: A Review"
The main problem with biomass is land requirements. You can get a little biomass "for free" just by using scrap from existing industries, but it rapidly runs into problems of land availability if you want to make enough carbon-neutral fuel for the world's commercial airlines. There's more than an order-of-magnitude improvement in usable power density if you replace biofuel plantations with an equal area of solar farms for making electrolytic hydrogen from water, plus a synthesis/refiner complex for hydrogenating CO2 and building up liquid hydrocarbons from the resulting methanol. It's also a lot less water-intensive and doesn't require any fertilizer.
And in the worst case there are always biofuels or synthetic non-fossil liquid fuels, which are a lot more carbon neutral after you convert the energy that goes into their production away from fossil sources.
If we can cut 98% of emissions we'll be fine. 2% is not worth worrying about. While it may be a sexier engineering problem reality is ground transportation isn't close to being solved.
Gas cars still have huge momentum and infrastructure advatanges. No electric cars is being targeted for the mass low end demographic. We need the Honda civic of electrics.
But if you’re talking about plug-in electric, the challenge is presumably battery weight versus fuel weight.
We're never going to run out of oil in the sense that oil will become unavailable, not in 64 years, and not in 640 years. Oil will become more expensive, and eventually, price increases will diminish and eventually stop the use of oil as an energy source. It'll always be available for use as an industrial feedstock and for use in highly specialized situations.
The world runs on cheap oil, not just oil. And the supply of cheap oil is finite.
Now, will it be more expensive to keep drilling and remove the emissions than it will be to cook long-chain hydrocarbons? It's not clear. And it doesn't really matter, since either way you can hit a carbon target.
Almost anytime there is a story like this, the fine print is that renewables are only “cheaper” because of government subsidies. Is that the case here?
Also, cheaper in some situations (e.g. hydro power for purchasers right next to a dam) does not mean cheaper when scaled to a whole country. Is that the case here?
We don't typically consider being allowed to pollute to be a subsidy, but we really should.
How many dollars spent on the additional cost of clean power could instead go to things that would improve people’s health, be it health care or something more indirect (like healthier food, better sanitation, or even vacations)?
Quantifying all externalities is a questionable endeavor.
Global GDP per capita: $17,300
Global life expectancy: 72
72 * 17300 = $1,245,600 upper bound
Wind-turbine-related bird deaths approach 57 million per year. https://abcbirds.org/wind-energy-threatens-birds/
Does it really make sense to call bird deaths from power lines “wind turbine related” just because those power lines serve wind turbines? You’d still need them if you used another source of energy.
However, raw solar and wind only gets you to about 50% penetration before you start having to add storage in addition to renewables, and that is still about 5-10 years away from being cheap enough to take us from 50% to >90%.
The point is that care should be taken to compare various types of generation and LCOE isn’t a good measure to do that.
Fossil fuels have the cost trend of a commodity; it goes up, it goes down, it goes up, depending on demand. Whereas technologies have a cost that drops as demand goes up, commodities have a cost that rises as demand goes up.
This means that commodities can remain cheaper than the technology for a long time, and then suddenly lose that advantage, and when they do they will probably never get it back.
The notion that solar is cheaper than coal as a peak power source in a developing nation like india with significantly higher costs of capital is laughable.
First, intermittency and integration costs are a huge straw man because they aren't a problem until you get well over 50% penetration of non-dispatchable generation (e.g. renewables). For the first 50% of the transition, solar or wind by themselves are way way cheaper, and by the time batteries are needed at scale, they will be cheap enough to make dispatchable renewables cost competitive.
Second, India is currently building way more solar than coal. Also, they are expecting solar + storage to be cheaper than coal within 8 years. So your assertions about India are way out of date.
I'm a bit worried why you still believe the renewable intermittency is a problem or why coal is cheaper. Your "laughable" confidence is likely to lead to you completely missing out on the profits from deploying renewables and storage. Oh well, I guess more money for me then.
For example if governments fight wars to keep oil supplies running do we count that as a subsidy? Is diplomacy to keep a gas pipeline open a subsidy? Is building roads to transport fossil fuels a subsidy? What about building national grids to transport renewable electricity?
No fuel system on earth operates without infrastructure subsidised by the government.
The exceptions include the Federal power marketing agencies  charged with marketing power from the hydro dams built during the Great Depression. While their initial cost was born by the country, their ongoing operation and maintenance costs are recouped from Transmission Access Charges.
Environmental benefits, unfortunately, haven't been enough for them to win. The financial battle is really the thing that will tip the scales.
Energy demand is fairly elastic and if energy is free or cheap, people will just use more of it, leaving us just where we started. See how bitcoin miners are abusing subsidized renewable energy for example.
And what's wrong with miners using cheap electricity? The argument seems to go something like "that subsidy is meant for productive activity and Bitcoin mining isn't productive". Who's to say it isn't productive? The market things it is. What is the market getting wrong? What externality is it not incorporating?