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Solar now ‘cheaper than grid electricity’ in every Chinese city (carbonbrief.org)
151 points by blue_devil 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments
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Fundamental problem of this type of article: comparing $/kWh across energy sources without accounting for energy dispatchability. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispatchable_generation) See people commenting on Germany and Portugal situations or articles by this man (https://medium.com/@oliviercorradi)

Yes. There are times in the German power grid when you can get paid for consuming (green) electricity!

Charging an EV sounds like the best way of taking advantage of that.

Too bad the grid is too dumb to let end-users actually get these prices.

And the distribution and transmission prices are usually fixed. But I think they should float with supply and demand too: the drivers of upgrades and failures are the peak-time users of capacity.

That’s what we do with data, don’t know why we don’t do it with electrons.


Some developments of that here in the UK: https://www.ovoenergy.com/ev-everywhere/smart-charger

Some EV manufacturers are ahead of the game.

https://electrek.co/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2017/02/contr...


My fear is some grid will sign an exclusive deal with XYZ company when they should really just expose the prices and markets to end-users.

Why yes, my intelligent electricity agent would like my dryer to book 2 kWh at 4AM-5AM with a 4cent penalty to me if you cancel.

Most of my loads are thermal, and I have lots of thermal banking available. If electricity prices are negative, run my A/C full tilt.


I encourage you to engage with and work with legislators in your jurisdiction to ensure open market exchanges exist, and that utility and consumer signaling are open standards.

Solar, when combined with energy storage, can serve as a dispatchable resource. Even with battery storage, solar is already cheaper that existing dispatchable coal generation.

http://ieefa.org/ieefa-u-s-solar-plus-storage-is-undermining...


Interesting, even though it's just feasibility study > it would be economic for PacifiCorp to close the existing coal generation under question and replace that capacity with other resources, including new renewables, demand-side solutions, battery storage, gas peakers and open-market purchases Curious to see the exact combination of these options and their associated emissions

Xcel in Colorado has already started retiring coal plants in favor of renewables+storage based on bids for actual projects.

https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/record-low-sola...

https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/xcel-retire-coa...


> “There’s also the fact that companies just can’t be bothered a lot of the time – there are roofs all over Europe where solar could probably save money, but people are not jumping to do it.”

That's why believing in market forces alone is a little naive. There has to be a little nudge from the government.


It's still not a clear choice, at least not in Portugal. A solar panel + battery setup pays itself back in 10-12 years, without selling electricity back to the grid. This exceeds the warranty/lifetime on batteries and exceeds the warranty on panels (although not the lifetime). It's a risky proposition.

Selling back to the grid is priced at the wholesale price: 4¢/kWh (slated for 5¢ early next year). It's sold at a loss, since consumer prices are about 10¢/kWh by night and 20¢/kWh by day. The ability to sell back does not move the needle on the payback period.

And note that Portugal is a sunny country. A panel works, on yearly average, 5h/day at full power. In central/northern Europe the numbers are probably worse.


> 4¢/kWh (slated for 5¢ early next year). It's sold at a loss, since consumer prices are about 10¢/kWh by night and 20¢/kWh by day

Isn't this "selling at a loss" just the difference that the 10 / 20 c is after tax and you sell without tax, or do you have to add tax to the 10/20 c?


There's no tax involved, other than VAT, which applies to both prices.

If you have been told there is no tax involved someone is lying to you. The cost of maintaining the grid and providing power is not as high as you quote as far as I am aware.

Are you sure? Does electricity in Portugal cost 10 to 20 cent before tax? Why is it so expensive? We pay 6 cent/kWH before tax in the Netherlands.

Because we had a government owned company with a monopoly that the EU forced us to sell. So now we have a private monopoly instead of a public one.

https://econews.pt/2018/08/07/why-are-electricity-bills-so-h...

> If we breakdown prices, we realize that families in Portugal have the second highest tax burden in Europe (12 cents per kilowatt-hour).


I live in a large apartment building in the Netherlands, during the last home owners association meeting we discussed installing solar panels. The problem is the huge uncertainty the government creates. At the moment it is allowed to just deduct the amount of power you create from the amount you use and pay for the remainder. This way the government does not collect energy tax on the energy you create from your solar, thus they treat this as a subsidy. They announced that this subsidy will end by 2023, it is not clear how things will be after that time. Most of the home owners agreed that the risk they will change it into a regulation that will be (financially) bad for us is too large so we are not installing them until there is more clear.

But even then, the government changes at least every 4 years, how am I supposed to make a long term investment - (solar takes about 10 years for return on investment around here, with current regulation) - if I don't know if I will be screwed by the next administration? Especially now that the support for the "climate change denial party" is growing.


Ouch - being taxed for energy generated cleanly on your own panels is a dire insult and against any kind of sustainability.

At least in the UK, the solar subsidies were set in stone for 20 years at the time of installation; so even though new solar would get little subsidy I'm still getting the rates from five years ago when I installed my system.


You would not be taxed for generated energy. Imagine that the cost for you to buy one kWh is ~20 cents. Currently, when you push power back into the grid you get 20 cents back from the power company. The government makes this so. However, the power company actually only really needs to bill you about 4-6 cents (depending on which one you ask). The rest is taxation. This means that after the government stops subsidising panels, you would just get 4-6 cents back per kWh.

Of course this makes the value proposition for moving power into the grid much worse, but it changes precisely nothing for power that you use from your panels (you are still getting 20 cents worth of power from a panel that has already been paid for by you).

For this reason it is best to rely on the subsidy as little as possible and maximise the power you use directly from the panel, either by changing your habits or by storing the power for later (in a battery). Sadly using batteries adds additional costs to this picture and is not currently worth it at all, even without subsidies.


> subsidies were set in stone for 20 years

How does that work? A new government can change the law and decide otherwise, well at least that is what they do here.


In civilised countries when the government makes a promise they by and large stand by it.

Well, it was explicitly promised at the time, and has survived a couple of changes of government. It may be a quasi-contractual agreement, I'm not sure.

The amount of years it takes for solar to pay for itself is not set in stone. The ten year prognosis is extremely conservative and frequently untrue, especially if you start to load most of your power-heavy operations (washing, dishes, etc) into the daytime when the generated power is sufficient to support those things.

Given that there is not yet (as far as I'm aware) a tax on kWh used entirely from solar panels (ie not coming from or going into the net, but taken directly from panel generation) it should not matter very much whether or not the government decides to subsidise you. Do not count on a solar panel installation company to make such complicated calculations for you, they are most busy with either sowing unrest about government regulations or (more likely) giving you a fair-weather calculation that involves subsidies forever.


You are correct that if you use your energy before it gets on the grid you are fine.

But that is quite hard for most people to accomplish, most people are not at home during daytime when the panels generate most. The time my washing machine actually consumes energy warming up the water is relatively short.

The largest part of the power consumption of my home owners association is spent on lighting, the other part on the elevator which is most of the time just idling and peaks when someone uses it.

Batteries are inefficient and still expensive. You could warm up a boiler for hot water during day but I think that is done more efficiently with a heat collector instead of pv->electricity->heat. You can warm up your house, but you have to have very good insulation otherwise most energy is lost by the time you get home.

Anyway, in practice the change in policy can have a huge effect in return on investment time.


Silicon Valley is coincidentally a place where home-time and solar-peak kind of coincide. My brother's solar panels peak in the late afternoon all summer, when he's programmed the air conditioning to come on.

As European I wonder if you really need a/c in Silicon Valley? I've never been there but from weather averages it seems that the climate is comparable with Paris where a/c's are absolutely not common. Even in more southern cities like Barcelona many people don't use a/c.

If you want to get very technical it is questionable whether or not you really need air conditioning anywhere. It's a luxury item and if you view it as such it's not surprising that people in SV have it - it's already a super high CoL place, might as well install some extra perks.

Agreed. For environments with A/C, solar is very well correlated with demand.

Why buy a car? Why leave the house? Why get a job? Why rent an apartment?

Anything can happen in 4 years.

Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?


> Why buy a car?

To get to my job.

> Why leave the house?

To get to my job.

> Why get a job?

So I can buy food and I won't starve.

> Why rent an apartment?

No clue, renting does not make sense to me, I bought.

> Anything can happen in 4 years.

Yes and you have to take that into account, make a risk analysis, think about the consequences and decided if it is worth it. Especially for long term investments. The chance my government will change the subsidy is certain (already announced), the consequences still unknown but they can turn out really bad. The chance they will turn out bad is large now that the two climate skeptic parties + the party that chooses economy over climate have a majority in the polls.

> Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Most people just don't have the money to spend on a problem which will not affect them for the next 10 years, unless it will benefit them.


> Most people just don't have the money to spend on a problem which will not affect them for the next 10 years, unless it will benefit them.

With all due respect, the parent did not ask about the "most people". The question was about you.


As I wrote, I live in a large apartment building with a large hoa. I just cannot put panels on the roof myself, the hoa needs to agree.

Our plan was to use the maintenance fund to fund the panels. Money from the fund is not needed for the next 10 years, when the bitumen roof will need to be replaced. By that time the panels should have returned on its investment. Now let's say the laws will change and the panels will not return their investment, then all of a sudden everyone needs to put in a few k for replacing the roof, which, most of my fellow residents don't have.

About me: If I would have to choice to buy panels which will not return on it's investment, I'd probably spend the money on an electric car, solar thermal collector, heat pump, insulation, shower heat ex-changer or anything else which has a better roi.


A climate change denial party in the NETHERLANDS OF ALL PLACES?!

Wow, I hope they like being under water.


It is a strategic denial. The Dutch government is (and has always been) as underhanded as possible when it can bring them profits. In this case the profits are in ignoring what is right and exploiting everyone else, a tradition that they have embraced for a very long time.

Unfortunately, we are one of the worst performing countries on the co2 reductions within Europe. Even coal loving Poland and "poor" countries like Romania outperform us.

The Dutch are quite good at dealing with that though, or else they'd already be underwater.

I live in a flat, as most europeans do. I'm not even the owner, so how I am supposed to push for that. Even if the owner did I don't think the surface of the roof is enough, not to mention that it has shadows from other buildings, antennas and so on.

It's likely that you would need to get planning permission to put solar panels on the roof of a building. This generally requires you to be the owner.

Therefore it might not be best described as a market failure. It could be better described as a failure due to planning regulations that only give power to land-owners.

This is big problem in Europe, since as you point out: many people rent.


So...you think regulations should allow renters to modify someone else’s property, even if against the owners wishes?

If a proposition for solar panels is actually realistic and a net positive, the owners should be easily convinced without resorting to force.


The owners would have to pay for the panels.

They do not pay for the electricity used in the property.

Therefore there is no way for it to be in their economic interests.


>Therefore there is no way for it to be in their economic interests.

I would certainly pay a bit more in rent for a place where my energy use was subsidized by panels.


In a way, they do pay for the electricity. The more energy costs their tennants, the less than can charge for rent.

It is a market failure.

The incentives of the owner need to be aligned with the incentives of the tenant, that is the failure.

Either, as you point out, tenants need to be given powers to install solar panels, and given security of tenure to take advantage of the long term investment, (which seems to me would go further than mere planning regs). Or incentivise the owner to install solar panels, this seems more straight forward, although might not necessarily benefit the tenant.


When you own a condo, a similar problem arises: you need everyone in the building to agree, since the roof is shared. In my building, this would be a non-starter.

And rooftop solar is like the very definition of Not Scalable. A building with 6 or 60 families has the same roof area, but 10X different demand.

Solar may not be the best option for your particular location. You might consider purchasing some sort of carbon offset corresponding to your use (pay to plant x trees etc).

https://solargis.com/maps-and-gis-data/download/europe


Is there any organization that you could recommend for planting trees?

The ones I am aware of and are frequently mentioned when such things are discussed on HN are:

- https://onetreeplanted.org/

- https://trees.org/

In terms of concrete results the second one seemed like a likely candidate to me. Donating to them is unacceptable to me because they are based in the US and require a lot of personal information before they will accept a donation.


Most people don't spend enough on energy to make cost savings a big priority. With solar, there are tangible benefits right now if you know what you are doing but delaying your investments a few years may mean you get more benefits. Increasingly it is not the panel cost but everything around it (inverters, batteries, installation cost, etc.). All those things are subject to economies of scale. Basically, you get a delayed effect. In a few years it will go from cheaper to way cheaper to magnitudes cheaper. At that point things get more urgent.

Another thing to consider is that supply and demand are not that well matched currently. Basically, there's no such thing as over production for batteries or solar panels currently and even installation is bottle-necked on availability of people to do that. That reflects in the pricing as well.

IMHO, the biggest change with solar is that energy cost goes from a variable cost to basically a fixed cost (one time investment in batteries + panels) + variable revenue (from selling excess energy) + variable cost for when your panels don't deliver enough juice. The market is still adapting to this and e.g. the ease of selling excess energy varies between markets.

Some companies are going to get more benefit than others. E.g. any companies operating vehicles will probably want to switch to EV. At that point charging them with their own solar panels becomes attractive; especially when combined with vehicle to grid revenue.


People do buy houses, cars, even electronics like laptops through a lease. It is the banks and financial institutes that need a bit of nudge (or appropriate market signals) to start offering competitive lease options and people will be buying solar panels in no time.

On the other hand, the recent California law about new houses needing solar panels is a step in the right direction.


It’s the government that often prevents market forces from taking advantage of such opportunities.

Most regions limit how many competing providers may operate in the same area, requiring that they possess a license - of which legislation allows only a few or even just one to exist.

Vested interests, of course, won’t want to make serious investments in new infrastructure until they absolutely have to. Especially if they’re still making payments on their debt for building the current architecture.


> a little nudge from the government

Like the subsidies they've had for years?

Regardless, what are they going to do, come forcibly put solar panels on your roof? Keep them maintained? Repair them if a branch falls?


First, the quote, and my comment, are in the context of commercial solar projects, not residential. Think about a company installing solar on the roof of a factory.

Second, I am sure there are many different ways to implement the nudge. Indeed, maybe instead of subsidizing solar we should rather stop subsidizing fossil.

Finally, talking about residential, currently almost every house has a gas pipe connected to it forcibly. And that pipe also requires maintenance. And sometimes gas leaks and your house blows up. And I don't see how forced solar would in theory be different to the current gas situation.


It's also quite the investment while (at least in some countries) there are plans to lower or remove the payments for delivering power back to the net.

Absolutely, my friend got bitten by this in Croatia. He invested quite a lot in solar and then government cut down on what they pay per kWh. Plus with the prices of panels going down all the time you're effectively throwing away money by going into it too early...

I heard that the same thing happened in California and it's led to a lot of people being disillusioned with the solar promise. Is it lobbying by the utility companies that is leading to these reductions or other factors?

I don't know specifically about Caliornia, but in several places that uses to offer "pay back" plans for injecting power into the grid, the problem was that solar power generates power when it is not in the highest demand and varies too much.

I still think there are some adaptations that could be done to mitigate that problem, but the grid seems simply not correctly set up to efficiently use the energy produced by millions of people generating a lot of power during the day and draining a lot at night.


I guess this is where giant Tesla powerwalls or flow batteries come into the picture. A way to efficiently store the energy for when its needed.

Or just charge people the actual price, rather than some hodge-podge of pre-defined rates based on Time of Day.

Yes, it will be complicated, but these providers also think we all care about itemization of generation, transmission, distribution, power factor, grid line loss and debt retirement charges. I don’t, all I care about is fixed cost and variable cost.

Maybe let people overpay through some hedging contract if they prefer to pay an average price.

For me, I want my dryer, A/C, water heater, etc. to throttle up and down based on price to lower my bill overall without reducing quality of life.


One thing that has been happening is that peak rate times are moving in response to solar, which has a pretty negative effect on the economics of grid attached solar.

Grid attached solar is a lot more attractive when your generation is at substantially at peak rates and your morning/evening grid usage is at part-peak or off-peak rates.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_curve


Too much renewables with fixed compensation makes existing fossil fuel plants unprofitable.

The government nudge should target the energy storage issue by creating cost incentives for energy companies to build out this technology. I don't see how consumers can reasonably cooperate on consuming during daytime, when production is peak. (Automating home consumption via connected devices might result in net loss of energy as the devices' production/use gobbles rare materials and data.)

Installing solar panels has become more and more uninteresting, at least in Germany.

In former times there were generous subsidies for installing solar panels: You got, I think, a fixed amount per kWh that you installed on your roof and you also got a better price for the electricity that you put back into the grid. In Germany it's called "Einspeisevergütung" if I remember correctly.

This program was limited though, and now you have to pay for the panels all yourself (or you get only a little bonus from the state) and the prices for "selling" into the grid have fallen drastically because there's just too much electricity on sunny days and its sold for negative values on the international electricity markets.

Installing new solar panels on your roof is now only interesting when you can use the electricity for yourself. That means charging EVs, filling battery-powered storage (also expensive and not subsidized, I think) or using the electricity around and in your house.

If you've got an older installation you might benefit from the old tariffs and get a little bit more money, but building new systems is rather uninteresting for private households.

With rising prices for electricity there will be new "motivation" for installing new solar systems on your house. But as already said, only for using the electricity for yourself.

Also a law was changed recently, so that renters can now install their own "balcony solar systems" (one panel for example) and feed that electricity right back into their grid through the wall outlet. This is only allowed with small systems though, so that you may produce enough energy for your household base load, but not make your meter turn backwards.

In the bigger picture all of this shows how Germany has, so far, failed to do a real switch to renewable energies or really take a step into that direction.

We got lots of solar systems and lots of wind turbines, but we are not able to store the produced electricity for later use. So lots of wind turbines are turned out of the wind, because there's an overproduction of electricity on windy days. And prices for solar generated electricity have dropped, as already mentioned.

Meanwhile the four large energy companies in Germany are doing what they want and are holding the government as hostage.

Chopping down woods without any need, because some coal-fired power stations needs to be run because we could otherwise lose 20.000 jobs all over Germany.

Nobody thinks about how many jobs we could create with a heavy switch and investment in renewable energies and storage solutions for energy.

After all, taking a step backwards it's kind of a sad situation.


Germany already has extremely high energy prices (~0,29€/kwh) of which nearly 0,07€ is just for renewable energy subsidies. More investments will not increase jobs, because China produces solar panels at way lower costs. While I agree that coal needs to be phased out, it's not so much about the 20k jobs but more so about base-load. You either need massive storage (which comes at massive cost) or some other form, i.e. nuclear. Germany could have very low CO2 emissions if coal would have been cut first, not nuclear energy.

No doubt that we can't produce solar panels cheaper than China. I would look more into inventing and developing storage technologies. That is a world wide market, not dependend on any specific type of renewable energy. That's probably where Germany could "shine" if you want to phrase it like that.

And if we got that going for us, neither coal nor nuclear are needed anymore. Probably.

(Although I'm all in for new nuclear technologies I think our aging reactors are nothing to be proud of. Maybe we could create new jobs in fusion reactor research and development, too. I'd like that.)


I wonder if the announced VW EV factory battery investment will have a long-term impact on lithium-ion battery knowledge and supply chain in Germany, especially for grid storage. Lithium ion batteries initially became popular for laptops and smartphones, and by a nice coincidence made it cheaper to build EVs. We need the same to happen for grid storage. Germany has the manufacturing know-how and high electricity costs, so it would be an ideal place to come up with a solution.

> (Although I'm all in for new nuclear technologies I think our aging reactors are nothing to be proud of. Maybe we could create new jobs in fusion reactor research and development, too. I'd like that.)

I think nuclear will be too expensive by the time new plants would be built - 10+ years judging by the projects in the UK and Finland. Germany would be at least as slow as them, especially with the strong anti-nuclear sentiment locally, which would probably lead to ongoing protests and lawsuits.


It seems ridiculous to pay such high prices and have high coal emissions. Someone's stealing something.

This is just politics from the four big energy companies [1]: E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall

They dominate the market, have Germany split up amongst them and are crying and threatening with job losses at the slightest sign of change.

Interesting fact (taken from the linked Wiki article): Those big four had less than 10% market share in renewables in 2013. Not sure about now, but numbers might not look much better.

They are the ones that operate coal and nuclear power plants and are not interested in any change whatsoever.

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_gro%C3%9Fen_Vier_(Energiev...


The strategy they are following: Just greenwash your advertising and Bob's your uncle.

It is just that renewable forces you to have redundant power generation, massive grid infrastructure, and because they started to early had to pay a massive premium without having the luxury of having developed domestics champions for solar due to the irregular incentives and smaller market than china.

Not sure I buy this line of argument when comparing to the UK: https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-energy-c... versus https://www.energylivenews.com/2018/09/27/renewables-hit-rec... or https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/...

The renewable fraction in both cases is just over 30%, but the UK has managed to phase out coal in favour of lower-carbon gas. UK prices average around €0.14 per kWh. Maybe the difference is made up by wind, but there Germany has a huge domestic champion: Siemens.


Germany has encountered resistance both to additional onshore wind projects and to the necessary transmission infrastructure for moving onshore wind power around the country:

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/fighting-windmill...

https://www.dw.com/en/germany-protesters-oppose-suedlink-win...

There is less resistance to offshore wind projects and to small scale distributed solar. Both of these generating resources are more expensive than onshore wind farms.

Even in the matter of distributed solar, note that the peak installation rate was back in 2012:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany#Generat...

Germany not only installed a lot of a particularly expensive kind of renewable capacity (distributed solar). It did most of that installation some time ago when it was even more expensive to install. And it did so in a very sunlight-constrained climate, so each kilowatt of capacity generates much less energy than in Italy, Spain, or the US. Since industry threatened to just relocate if higher electricity costs were passed on, residential and commercial electricity customers have borne the financial brunt of the renewable buildout while heavy industry was spared.

The UK did better by phasing out coal in favor of gas faster than Germany and not installing significant solar capacity until the hardware had become much cheaper. The UK's renewable additions were almost exclusively wind until 2011. The UK started deploying significant solar several years later than Germany:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_the_United_King...

Between deliberately choosing to pioneer solar PV installations in a low-sun country, phasing out nuclear power, and acting to placate the powerful domestic coal lobby, Germany has really spent a lot of money to accomplish a very modest degree of decarbonization.


Germany doesn't have a high enough renewable share for storage to make sense. The fundamental problem with Germany is that it doesn't deploy enough renewables. It's barely hitting 75% renewables on record days. Where exactly is all that excess energy supposed to come from?

But why aren't there enough renewables? That's the underlying question.

Building renewable energy sources doesn't pay off at the moment, so nobody is interested in doing so. If that gets fixed, the amount of renewable energy sources will rise.

I'm looking at the same problem with my parents' house at the moment. Just putting some panels on the roof won't help with anything. You need a concept for the whole house and making that is just lots of work. If people could just spend X Euro and be sure to have the money back in 5 years because they can sell the electricity or whatever, lots of people would be in, I'm sure.


I believe the english term is "feed in laws" where the utility company must pay market rate for power individuals put onto the grid. My understanding is that this was a key driver of Germany's rapid growth in wind power capacity. In the US we dont even have feed in laws

It totally was, I think. Right now building "your own" wind turbine is still a thing.

I know some villages are trying to found a cooperative, crowdfund some money and build their own wind turbine somewhere outside in the hills near the village, before some big company does it. They are looking to collect and lend 6 million Euro for a 3.5 MW, 130 meter wind turbine [1].

[1] https://www.vestas.com/en/products/4-mw-platform/v136-_3_45_...


Or, perhaps, this article is naive and the market realizes that there are some unseen costs associated with solar investment. Not to mention the opportunity cost of the capital needed to convert to another type of energy infrastructure.

Or alternatively, that the market has a better grasp of the situation than the head of solar analysis at BloombergNEF. Just because she has 'head' and 'solar' in her title doesn't mean she is all-knowing about the solar market.

If solar actually represented a better deal companies would be falling over themselves to install solar panels everywhere. It is likely that there are important realities or risks that the analysts have missed.

Either that, or someone is going to make a killing installing solar panels on a lease-to-buy basis.


When you consider that governments spend trillions of dollars a year subsidizing fossil fuels (this is not an exaggeration), maybe that’s why it hasn’t been taken up despite it being cheaper? And because like any new technologies there are additional factors, such as fear of different and new, and entrenched interests pushing against the new efforts.

https://www.vox.com/2019/5/17/18624740/fossil-fuel-subsidies...


>When you consider that governments spend trillions of dollars a year subsidizing fossil fuels (this is not an exaggeration)

It is an exaggeration, and it's mostly on the consumption side, not production. Why does the OECD come up with $150-$200BB a year in subsidies? Why is the IEA estimate ~$400BB?:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-the-challenge-of-defin...

The IMF report says a whopping $4.6TT of the $5.2TT are "externalities". I think we all agree externalities exist, but externalities are not subsidies, nor are they easy to price.


And not only are externalities not subsidies, but looking at what appears to be the original paper [0] it seems that fuels for on-road use area big focus.

Obviously, on-road fuel is not currently competing with solar panels.

[0] https://www.imf.org/~/media/Files/Publications/WP/2019/WPIEA...


Externalities that aren't priced in are distorting markets and the price mechanism in the same way as subsidies. Estimation certainly looks tricky, but I'd hope they at least get the order of magnitude right.

Markets cannot have a grasp of things because they are not people. Even if you view them as a form of group intelligence because they ostensibly involve people, a group optimises for what all of it's participants optimise for: Money, in this case. Sometimes not even money in the long term, but money in the short term.

From engineering standpoint it is not an easy task to balance random load that comes and goes from solar, centralized solar plants is one thing but panels on the roof is another. While electricity is abundant running the grid is not such an easy task as it may seem. So this might explain why there is such push back from utility companies against uncontrolled user solar devices connected to their grid.

what does "balance the random load" mean in an engineering context? i would have thought electricity would balance itself?

Solar does weird things to the baseload.

Before solar, utility companies would install baseload plants (nuclear, coal, AFAIK) which output power at a constant rate for cheap. The idea is that your baseload plants would provide power right up to the trough of the demand curves.

Solar causes that trough to deepen but doesn't get rid of the peaks (see duck curve). That forces power companies to close down baseload plants, but add peaker plants (usually natural gas) which are generally more expensive to operate.

This is where grid storage enters for a green grid. It brings two benefits, it can raise the demand trough making baseload plants attractive. It can also drop the demand peak, decreasing the need for additional peakers plants.

The problem is that we don't have a lot of viable storage options. Best case for a region is having a lot of hydro available. Pumped hydro would make sense, but there aren't many places where you can install it (it requires a lot of water, land, local buy-in). Batteries work, but have cycle limitations. You could do flywheels, but they are expensive for the power stored. Heck, one even seen "fill a pit with gravel, heat it up, boil water during peaks to generate power". Which may make sense, particularly for colder regions where that heat could also heat housing.


This little gem has been exceeding expectations from the day it went into service: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-42190358

Electricity absolutely does not balance itself. Passively, the energy that goes into the grid must come out somewhere.

Electrical utility companies manage this with two major levers:

1) Standby power plants, that are running but not producing at full load. The plant load is actively adapted to the monitored needs of the grid.

2) Hydroelectric storage, to soak up excess production, where hydroelectric dams with secondary reservoirs are available.

Grid load management is very much an active process, not a passive self-correcting one.


To add to this, when too much energy is fed into the grid, the net frequency increases slightly. Thus, the control variable is net frequency. There is lots of research on this problem.

When the net frequency increases so does the rotating speed of all turbines. The inertia of those turbines is one way how excess energy is buffered.


I'm no electrician myself, but I know that it's not easy to generate a really good sine wave with a constant frequency and match it to the grid.

While electronic componentes are making big steps in that direction, "classic" mechanical generators are still superior for this as they are running very constant.

That's why lots of people fear that solar panels with their sudden power generation (as in "clouds are gone, let's bring it on!") might be a danger to the grid as they are fluctuating quite a bit.


It's definitely a variable, but in the UK "domestic" sizing is up to 4kW. I can induce the same variability in the grid by making a cup of tea with an electric kettle.

You mean the sizing of solar panels? I think in Germany it's higher, at least my landlord spoke about something like 25 kW, but I'm not totally sure about that.

I take it to mean that sometimes you have lots of energy coming in (during daylight for example), then suddenly very little (during nighttime). Weather can affect it also.

So to balance the supply of electricity to customers you need a way to make sure there is an not too much and not too little.

Many years ago in Britain, it was predictable that at the end of the TV show Eastenders, people would all go to turn on their kettle for Tea. The surge was so big that someone had to monitor when the programme ended and initiate the additional supply of electricity to meet demand. That supply even had electricity from France as a backup.

I recall an interview where they had that energy available from a Hydroelectric Power Station where they could release the water and get an instant source of electricity.

All for tea.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/09/06/britain-turned...

[2] https://www.geek.com/geek-cetera/tea-time-in-britain-causes-...


I interpreted the term “random load” to mean unpredictable supply given variable external factors like specific locations’ weather.

Edit: fixed wording


Random as in being many many houses with different setups that themselves consume power differently/ have differing logic when to dump extra power. Therefore despite there being roughly same weather in the area each house has different levels of extra power it can dump.

This isn't meant to be troll-y / snark-y, but if the USA factored out subsidies for Big Oil, and then added in the military costs associated with keeping the oil flowing, that would make solar look much more attractive.

Even if we become energy independent from ME oil, which we’re net independent I think, (and about 90% on the crude side?) then we still have Japan, Europe and many parts in Asia which need uninterrupted oil supplies from the ME.

Perhaps. I'm only suggesting the total cost of oil be considered, presuming we're doing the same for solar.

p.s. As it contributes to/drives climate change, we might as well include storm damage and such with the cost of oil.


It's easy to ignore. Just as easy as 2003 when the American empire secured the ME oil unilaterally from Iraq by ousting Saddam while all other powers made no retaliation for the move other than strong condemnation which is really the same thing. No one liked it, but no one was really going to lift a finger to prevent it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_the_Iraq_War#Off...


Even that purported rationale for the second invasion of Iraq was false. “We” secured that Iraqi oil to export it mostly to Asia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_industry_in_Iraq


It doesn't matter where it goes per se, as much as who controls it. Oil (read: the price of) is a weapon. Look what the crash (of the price of crude) did to Venezuela. If energy (read: oil) is essential to your economy then you can't let someone else yo-yo the price at will.

And thus, the first foreign country for POTUS DJT to visit was Saudi Arabia.


The oil was already flowing in 2003.

1991 was fought over the oil, 2003 was fought over ideology and wishful thinking.


By ideology do you mean daddy issues?

I think he’s referring to some who to this day believe in “nation building” and imposing democracy where it’s not ready to take root. Ostensibly this democracy would spread and we’d have fewer adversaries as more regimes aligned with internationalism and globalism.

Yup - specifically, the neoconservative philosophy that said that now that the USSR was gone, the US had the power and hence the responsibility to reshape world political power structures in whatever way it thought was right.

This isn't only sunk cost, it's attributed to different budgets. You would struggle to get many people to accept the subsidy exists. Likewise in car manufacture, or aircraft, or almost any established industry with a large cost/price distinction and externalities unmet.

All gas and oil has fugitive C02 issues. Look what happened with that gas storage well in California which had months long leaks. Were the owners required to offset the extra CO2? Or the gulf oil leaks which have been continuously flowing since the sixties? Or tar sands?

Nobody budgets the remediation cost into the unit cost of the energy.


Sunk cost shouldn't be a factor at all. It is already spent, it shouldn't affect future investment decisions, see the 'sunk cost fallacy'.

https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/03/25/the-sunk-cost-fallac...


This quip is a common trope that has several problems with it and is years out of date. Please stop using it.

First, oil-based energy doesn't compete with solar to a large extent. That will change as EVs get more popular, but outside of islands like Hawaii, oil isn't used much for electricity generation (where solar competes).

Second, solar is already attractive for most new generation scenarios in many locations, including dispactchable situations where you also need storage. It's getting so cheap that it's starting to compete with existing generation.

http://ieefa.org/ieefa-u-s-solar-plus-storage-is-undermining...


This is the framing chosen by state propagandists.

Nothing in China is real and all the citizens are brainwashed about every topic with no accuracy whatsoever.

Remember when it was leaders from communist countries believing the US supermarkets were fake?

I think it would be more productive to dissect the particular nuances of this issue, as other comments have




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