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Gas Plants Will Get Crushed by Wind, Solar by 2035: Study (bloomberg.com)
157 points by Osiris30 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments

I hope this is a solid study and not just wishful thinking. I've been looking at pricing, and right now, fracked gas plants are running around $40/mwh, with wind at under $50/mwh and PV solar (no battery storage) at around $60/mwh. Coal and traditional nuclear are running around $100/mwh (these are all rounded numbers from memory, don't get unhelpfully pedantic!).

These numbers are obliterating both coal and nuclear. Coal plants are shutting down as fast as replacements can be built, and nuclear plants are shutting down a decade or more before official end-of-life, because they're losing major customers to cheaper alternatives that are available right now.

The cost of PV solar has dropped over 80% in the past decade, and wind like 50%, due to engineering improvements in operation and economies of scale in manufacturing. But it's a reasonable question how much farther their prices will drop. It seems unlikely to me that we'll see another decade of such radical price drops.

Gas, on the other hand, is vulnerable to markets and availability. How long will it stay so cheap? And what happens if a politically progressive government gets serious about carbon taxing? On the other hand, it's a lot cheaper up-front to build a gas plant, and a lot less painful if it closes early.

Numbers for wind and solar are now about $40/MWh unsubsidized according to current LCOE analysis: https://www.lazard.com/media/450784/lazards-levelized-cost-o... ...as you say, this is not the whole story as you still need storage (etc).

But the floor for (unsubsidized) solar may be a lot lower than that. About $14/MWh: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-floor-for-u...

And we're already seeing bids nearly that low: https://www.pv-tech.org/news/brazil-auction-sets-record-low-...

Wind is also super cheap.

I really hope so! I think we need to see wind/solar at half the cost of gas to really break gas as an energy source. And battery storage is quite expensive for now - hundreds of dollars per mwh. Of course, there are other interesting alternatives, too - thermal storage, gravity, compressed air, etc. But conversion losses will probably always limit those systems to 25-35% efficiency at best, plus much higher construction cost relative to solar panels.

> But conversion losses will probably always limit those systems to 25-35% efficiency at best

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but the "alternative" energy storage systems you mentioned have about 80% or more round-trip energy efficiency: https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/energy-storage-2019#2

I quoted alternative because pumped-storage hydro accounts for 95% of grid energy storage in the world.

And it's not like the world lacks places to put new pumped storage: https://nationalmap.gov.au/renewables/#share=s-oDPMo1jDBBtwB...

25-35% efficiency? Pumped hydro is generally over 70% roundtrip.

Yes, we are seeing very low bids. $26-$30/MWh for solar doesn't even turn heads anymore.

And battery costs are coming down too, and I think that curve looks more linear, but its coming down.

One of the issues is that these costs are so capital intensive that the financing costs drive a lot of the price drop. With near zero or negative rates in so much of the world, I think its hard to tell what the real rates would be.

Capital costs are a legit concern. If something happens in international markets that causes interest rates to spike globally, it will set back the pace of conversion tremendously.

“Fortunately” we appear to be heading into a recession, so I doubt high interest rates are on the way any time soon.

Any way to leverage negative interest rates from developed countries into renewables? Very interested if someone knows how to facilitate such a bond issue.

> and nuclear plants are shutting down a decade or more before official end-of-life, because they're losing major customers to cheaper alternatives that are available right now

How? My understanding is that most of the cost of nuclear power comes from building the plant and decommissioning it. Running existing power plants for as long as they can seems like the most economical choice.

Indeed. See page 2 (or 3, counting from the pdf) of this analysis by Lazard. In particular, the tan diamond symbol by nuclear (with a footnote). https://www.lazard.com/media/450784/lazards-levelized-cost-o...

Nuclear that's already built is very cheap AND has a very high capacity factor (i.e. doesn't need storage--although its value can be extended with storage).

Nuclear also has high operating costs, just not fuel costs.

Solar can generally just be left alone for weeks or months at a time. Nuclear however needs security guards, regular maintenance, a highly trained workforce, large insurance premiums etc. On top of that it also needs some fuel.

What’s happening with Nuclear is these older power plants occasionally need a significant overhaul and it’s at that point where they are considered too expensive.

And a nuclear plant costs about the same to run whether it's running at 100%, or 20%. Fuel costs are negligible relative to capital and operational costs. So when lower-cost competition appears and eats into the demand for nuclear power, it actually increases the per-unit cost of nuclear power, which makes alternatives more compelling, which eats into demand, which turns into a cost death spiral.

Nuclear plants are great for base demand for these reasons (ie, the power that is always needed 24 hours round the clock, 365 days a year).

Alternative energies can provide some of that, meaning that plants need to shut down because outside of providing base demand, they're incredibly expensive to make power from.

You are totally correct. US, France, Japan and UK all decided to extend the filetime of their nuclear power plants.


Wind is cheap because when the wind blows, everybody is trying to sell their wind produced energy at the same time and the country often overproduces. In Germany, we even see negative prices when the wind blows; The price is low not because it does not cost a lot, but because it is heavily subsidized (wind is 60% of subsidies in Germany, for only 18% of the production) and needs to sell fast otherwise the fines and costs for overloading the network are massive.

Negative prices? You'll pay me to take electricity off your hands that I can sell later?

That's the best argument for the battery storage market I've seen yet... (And really, it makes sense. Generate surplus when the sun is shining or wind is especially strong, run from storage when demand exceeds supply, build both until there's enough. As long as the costs are less than current baseline systems, which seems possible, then it wins.)

They won't pay you, unless you're literally running part of the power grid.

> Generate surplus when the sun is shining or wind is especially strong, run from storage when demand exceeds supply, build both until there's enough.

That's the idea, but the battery capacity required would be enormous:


> As long as the costs are less than current baseline systems, which seems possible, then it wins.

Batteries don't seem likely for a cost-effective replacement, but alternatives may develop down the road.

It is unfortunate that link didn't pursue non worst case scenarios, like being able to import some power, or have some non renewable generation used just enough that it was economic to exist at normal energy prices, with the biggest payoff being the avoided cost of energy storage for October and November.

that link is kind of unrealistically dismissive.

The question is, can you really go fully renewable with battery storage? If power can be sourced elsewhere but it comes from nuclear or fossil fuels (as in the case of Germany and France), it would be a sham. If everyone went renewable, everyone would also have the same problem of seasonal variance.

If you want to go "mostly renewable" and do the buffering e.g. with natural gas as it is currently done, that's of course a far more plausible scenario.

Negative electricity prices happen in Australia fairly regularly. The last time was just a few days ago:

Interestingly is isn't generally caused by renewables. It's caused by those "base load" generators: coal and if Australia had any, nuclear. Base load actually means "can't vary their output quickly". If you can't vary your output and you ramp down your output too early, you missing out on selling power. Too late, and the price plummets and have to sell it at loss - or worse pay someone to absorb the energy released by your boiler cooling down.

But renewables have made this worse by unpredictably flooding the market with cheap power. They don't really care if the price drops to near zero as the wind and sun cost them nothing. But jeeze it must hurt to be selling electricity for less than it cost you to dig the coal out of the ground. I'm pretty sure that's one of the things driving the early retirement of coal and nuclear.

Essentially you don't get paid to take the energy of their hands; you get paid to use energy so the grid doesn't overload. Crashing the grid is expensive as it means you won't be able to sell power (at 52Hz or so the grid operators start disconnecting larger power sources like nuclear power, above and the grid may have to be collapsed). So it's in the best interests of the power generator sites to sell energy at a loss if there is too much in the grid to push consumers (ie, big production plants) to burn more energy.

In the other direction, if there is not enough, the grid operators will disconnect power consumers, so in that case it's in the best interest of generators to prevent people from consuming power, thus raising the price dramatically.

Negative prices are not uncommon. Happens nearly every spring in the Pacific Northwest when the mountain snowpack melts, flooding the rivers and surging the output of many hydroelectric dams. The negative prices are factored into the annual revenue, and consumer prices are sort-of averaged over the year which is why you never see it on your electric bill.

I live in Portland. Last time I toured Bonneville, no turbines were operating on the East side. The ranger told us there was sufficient solar and wind at the time and they shutdown to protect aquatic life.

Assuming that's true, I assume they'd also shutdown to protect thier pocket book.

In a word, price. As a consumer, do you want a bill for 2 cents a kWh? Or one for 15 cents a kWh?

This example explainsa lot of what's happening: [1].

By way of a brief explanation, wind is expanding so fast in a lot of places that the combination of wind+LNG is just too cheap to compete with. Iowa is particularly bad, because wind is not "unreliable" in Iowa. There's a lot of wind and it's almost always blowing. So they aren't even using those LNG plants that much. Which only lowers the price to consumers even further.

In some states the government has stepped in to protect the nuclear industry. Sometimes with things like carbon credits, that are given for generating power without generating carbon. Then the nuclear plants sell those credits on the free market to raise funds. But in some places government has had to be a good deal more draconian. In Georgia, they've basically made it illegal for anyone in Vogtie's service area to switch away. That's the only way they could get the math to work. (And it still doesn't work. The federal government is still pumping billions in cash into that project.)

[1] - https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/energy/iowas-only-...

An interesting factoid I ran across when researching this stuff a while back is that no one has ever built a new reactor in a deregulated electricity market. Period. The time frame of nuclear reactors is very long - like 50 years. So they're very sensitive to capital costs, and capital is sensitive to risk.

Now, if you were doing the risk analysis on financing for a multibillion-dollar nuclear project, and you just saw the cost of a major competitor (solar) drop 80% in a decade... well, how would that factor into your risk analysis? How much would your interest rates increase?

The only safe way to finance a reactor is government-based guarantees for price regulation - the nation will consume X megawatts for Y dollars, no matter what the market thinks the price should be. And do it in such a way that some government two generations down the road can't just throw it all out and screw you.

The complexity of reactors needs to go down and they need to be smaller. Big reactors can only be cooled if they are near the ocean, otherwise they have to be shutdown when the flow rate of the river is too low, this usually happens during heatwaves. It's easier to achieve economies of scale with 16 identical small scale reactors instead of designing a custom reactor for each plant and then building only 2.

I don't see this happening. Relying on new reactor designs to save nuclear power isn't going to solve the problem in time. Right now governments are busy with massive power plant designs that suffer from multi billion cost overruns. After that experience they will probably stop building more power plants and funding for new reactor designs will be reduced.

Yeah. A lot of my attitude about pricing turns into pro-nuclear advocates treating me as Treehugging Enemy of Progress, and one of the things they point to is the always-in-the-future dream of small, simple thorium molten salt reactors. But the best I've seen on that is a company that promises 30 cent megawatts in 2030, but doesn't really have a working prototype yet. And it would take, what, two decades past that to really get that going at scale? We can't wait 30 years to do something about greenhouse gasses just because we really really really want to do it with nuclear.

A nuclear plant in Arizona uses treated sewage for cooling. In theory, any nuclear plant near any sufficiently large city would have access to enough water for cooling, unless the city was unusually water efficient.

Problem I see with nuclear, and gas and oil pipelines is the real risk of a complete default on it's bonds. Plant will either not get built or the plant may get shutdown[1] before paying off it's bonds. I think San Onofre was shutdown because it's brand new replacement steam generators showed excessive wear. And new nuclear plants seems to be costing more over time not less.

Vs solar or wind farms where default is much more likely to be 'soft'. Maybe the plant defaults on it bonds, but it still produces power. Which is preferable to both defaulting and shutting down.

"The time frame of nuclear reactors is very long - like 50 years. So they're very sensitive to capital costs, and capital is sensitive to risk"

50 years doesn't sound like all that long a timeframe when people are talking about 100 year bonds, and the idea that capital is scarce and expensive doesn't quite seem to apply when $15 trillion in global debt pays negative yields.

And that's one of the major arguments for mass produced small modular reactors.

No one-off construction, flexible siting due to no water cooling, underground for security, and meltdown proof. Just walkaway safe electricity at five cents a KWH or less. :-)

terrapower.com thorcon.com x-energy.com

And maybe someday, they'll be an actual alternative that actual power companies can by on an actual market.

But they aren't, not today, and they won't be for at least a decade. I don't want to wait, and even if I did, the market definitely will not.

> As a consumer, do you want a bill for 2 cents a kWh? Or one for 15 cents a kWh?

If that energy produces zero carbon then I'll take the later. But we're also only talking a difference of 7c for PV and 10c for nuclear and competitive prices for coal and natural gas. I'll gladly pay more for the nuclear than pay less for coal and natural gas.

I fully agree. Unfortunately most wouldn’t.

They're shutting down because it's cheaper to shutter them (even including the loss of interest on money set aside for decommissioning) than to continue operating them.

Whatever seems "obvious" to us, the hardnosed managers responsible for the actual financial decisions are pulling the plug on dozens of reactors. If it seems irrational to us, it's because there are other cost factors we don't understand. That's why I like to look at the end, rather than make assumptions on what I think I know about the means.

> If it seems irrational to us, it's because there are other cost factors we don't understand.

Since they are shielded from almost all liability by law (something like $150 million liability cap + $12.5 billion industry fund; plausible disasters could reach $1 trillion+ depending on winds), it seems like there would probably be even more shutdowns if they had to pay for real insurance.

Don't get fooled by simple price comparison. It's comparing apples and oranges. Gas, nuclear, coal, reversible dams, geothermy... are all controllable energy sources: they produce when we need it. Wind and solar are intermittent.

Equip fully the world with solar and wind and the trains will have to leave their stations when the wind blows and not at any other moment.

What's happening is that countries migrating towards wind turbines like Germany also adds coal plant to the same capacity in order to compensate for when the wind doesn't blow. For each GW of wind one can find a GW of coal or gas being installed.

Then, if we are talking about adding batteries into the mix to make it work, solar and wind become far from carbon neutral, and endangers us way more than nuclear.

I suspect that if variable electricity pricing for consumers, a great deal of the need for "batteries" will evaporate. Heavy consumer electric uses (charging the car, HVAC, hot water) can easily be time shifted. It isn't time shifted today because consumer electricity rates are constant 24/7.

Electricity price is already adapted hour per hour on the European Market. When the wind blows in Germany, price sometimes even go negative: it costs operationally less to energy producers to pay people to use the energy than stopping equipment. No change has been noted on the electricity usage.

Electricity bill is on average $100 per household per month. People won't shift their usage because electricity is too cheap anyway. 1.6% of your revenue === 1.6% of your saving effort.

Note that the periodicity of wind blowing is days and weeks, so it's too long and too intermittent to align daily routines on it. Forget about charging your car or hot water aligned on it, the only solution we have scaled to use this wind energy is reversible dams / potential energy, and of that we have no more unexploited geography to support wind turbines. Feb 2019 we produced in Germany 10,000GWh with wind versus 3,000GWh in July 2019. And between 2 consecutive weeks, it can be a factor of x10 of difference. http://energynumbers.info/capacity-factors-at-danish-offshor...

> to align daily routines on it

That's not necessary. The utility can make the current price available via an internet API. The water heater can be connected to the internet and can read that data. Heat the water to 130 or so when electricity is cheap, heat it only to 100 or so when it is expensive. From personal experience, the water remains hot enough for a comfortable shower 3 days after the power goes out. This is more than a workable system. The hot water itself becomes the "battery".

And that's only the hot water heater. You can do it with the HVAC system (the thermal mass of the house becomes the "battery"), and with charging your car.

Right there it's a huge chunk of one's electricity consumption, all without needing grid storage batteries.

While there is already variable pricing (Time-of-use) in some jurisdictions, I don't think that's what you're thinking of. "Transactive Energy" is more towards the concept of running the distribution system as a market akin to the transmission system. The company I work for has deployed a pilot program of this concept in New York. https://www.opusonesolutions.com/news/national-grid-launches...

The price for electricity already varies hour by hour. Maybe not as much as solar would, but most people (including me) are not paying a pegged price for electricity 24/7.

Not in the Pacific Northwest (Puget Power).

Also, to make this work best, appliances need to be connected to the internet and the power companies need to have an internet ABI where the current power price can be extracted by those appliances.

At last, an actual use for internet connected appliances!

Pacific Power (Oregon) also has fixed rates.

I don't think forcing people to use electricity only when it's available is a practical solution to the availability problem with wind and solar.

Not forcing... just having market forces encourage good behavior, instead of hiding the underlying cost pressures from them.

Look at it this way. With enough variation over the day, you create a market for storage. Let's say stored electricity costs twice as much as direct, but the price of direct varies by 3x over the course of the day. You've now created an arbitrage market for buying cheap electricity during the day, and selling it at night.

Of course, the more storage gets built, the more the load (and thus cost) increases during the high-availability times, and the lower the selling price during demand spikes. And thus the market attains equilibrium.

The law of supply and demand is a marvelous thing sometimes.

I understand your point, but GP is talking about avoiding the need for batteries by pricing people out of the market instead. If you're not using batteries, supply during dark or windless hours is inelastic, because there's nothing being generated - in other words you're not solving the problem and you can't really charge anyone anyway because there's nothing to deliver.

> GP is talking about avoiding the need for batteries by pricing people out of the market instead.

Nope, I talked about incentivizing consumers to shift their demand based on a volatile price. I pointed out that much of this can be accomplished without need of batteries.

For example, have the hot water tank heat up water higher than normal when electricity is cheaper, and lower when electricity is more expensive. Hot water tanks lose heat very slowly, this could result in never needing to heat water during the expensive times.

It's a heluva lot cheaper than having a battery do it.

The water in the tank is functioning as a battery in that case.

Yes, of course.

"Windless" is greatly overrated, for two reasons. First, utility-scale wind is built hundreds of feet in the air, not on the ground. Wind is much steadier there. And it's built in carefully selected locations for steady behavior.

Second, it's not a single location. Wind may be lower in one location, but strong in another location 50 miles away. The idea that wind goes completely dead all at once across statewide areas is not how wind actually works.

"The idea that wind goes completely dead all at once across statewide areas is not how wind actually works."

The idea that wind currents are uncorrelated across geographical areas, even on the scale of states, is not how wind actually works.


Yes, the demand for HVAC is very high when the winds are low.

> Equip fully the world with solar and wind and the trains will have to leave their stations when the wind blows and not at any other moment.

Wind just doesn't stop blowing across the world all at once. When one place is in the doldrums, another is likely windy. With a sufficiently connected grid, a large deployment of wind turbines can smooth out production in ways smaller, regionally focused deployments cannot. I posit that a global distribution of wind power is _more_ available than a regional one, not less, as your comment seems to imply.

Gas and hydro are highly controllable, but nuclear, coal and geothermal aren't really - just in the opposite way to solar and wind.

Those sources are slow to ramp up and down - that's why the time-of-use power prices I face right now are at their lowest overnight (so I currently time shift as much load as I can to those times).

> Wind and solar are intermittent.

True, but the story is actually worse than they paint it. Electricity from renewables + storage is now cheaper than electricity from a new coal or nuclear plant. As those old plants close, they won't be replaced. https://www.abc.net.au/news/11495558

In the tussle between renewables vs fossil fuels it's all over bar the shouting, which is to say all we will have to put up with the coal and gas industry screaming how unfair it all is until the last of them die off.

But it's is just as well renewables do cost less because if someone had to plan on losing money to save the planet it would be a gonner.

The $/mwh for renewables is only part of the story. The intermittency costs they impose on the system as a whole is higher than the direct cost of producing the energy, and the only way to solve this is through improving battery technology by orders of magnitude. Additionally, the intermittency costs per mwh will increase as the share of renewable energy increases.

In general, renewable energy investments right now are completely irrational in terms of the environmental impact, as they cost up to 10x more than the total social cost of the carbon emissions they are displacing. (And also much more than _current_ carbon sequestration tech!) [0]

[0] https://bfi.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/BFIEPIC_WP_20196...

Do those prices for solar and wind factor in storage?

Depends. But wind doesn't really need storage... a broad-based wind grid delivers a pretty consistent base load, as we've learned from early adopters like Iowa and Texas that have over a decade of wind data at scale.

edit: There's enough variation in wind farm output to maybe make some storage financially beneficial - production costs could actually go negative when there's enough wind.

As a Texas resident who lives in the ERCOT region, I am going to have to vehemently disagree regarding the "consistent base load" that should allegedly be supplied by our wind farms. We had a day no fewer than 4 weeks ago that broke every record in terms of energy cost - for over 90 minutes our electricity cost 9 entire American dollars per KWh. We were <500MW of capacity away from rolling blackouts. The cause is the fact that we had bet a certain % of the base load would have been supplied by all the new wind farms, but in reality we had to fire up every peaker plant in the state, and even request assistance from other grids in order to meet demand. The wind simply wasn't blowing. If more of our mix had been natural gas, even just 5-8%, that event would have been completely mitigated.

Adding just 10%, to Nat Gas plants, would be 5,000 MW on the Texas grid. Given that wind farms were operating at 1/5th of capacity during this Texas grid events, you would need something like double the current installed wind farm base to be able to deliver 5,000 MW at that 1/5th capacity utilization. It has taken decades to get to the current, rough, 24,000 MW nameplate capacity for Texas to get to where it is.

So help me with the costs here. Adding 25,000 MWh (5,000MW * 5 hours emergency supply) of lithium battery storage would cost... what? As compared to constructing and operating new natural gas plants? I can't get clear numbers that I trust.

The largest battery farm on earth is 100MWh and it cost about 90 million dollars. For a 25GWh battery installation, you'd be looking at 22~23 billion dollars using basic linear extrapolation, and I still question if this is enough reserve capacity for our summer peak demand.

Wow. That's quite a lot. I've seen price estimates as low as $387/kWh, which seems to come from NREL [1]. At that price it comes to something like $9.6bn. That's huge, but maybe doable. Alternatively, couldn't Texas just build some HVDC lines to other parts of the US grid to get more stability, as China is doing?

ETA [1] https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/01/02/utility-scale-solar-p...

There's still a margin of soft costs that can be reduced (more in the residential than commercial/utility sectors, admittedly): https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72399.pdf

So cost of PV solar has dropped 80% over past decade - it it reasonable to expect another 40% drop over the coming decade?

A quick Google search suggests that Solar PV efficiency is 11-22%. Could it be 20-35% in 2029?

My understanding (which is probably uninformed at best) has been that coal, nuclear, etc are used to cover base load, and basically work best when up and running at 100% all the time.

Natural gas has the advantage that it can be spun up and down pretty quickly, which has meant that it is used primarily for "peak" load, which I think used to be covered a lot of the time by things such as diesel and oil plants and have basically been supplanted at this point by natural gas.

Solar and wind have the trouble that they are unreliable, which means you need something to smooth out demand. This is something coal and nuclear are poor at, meaning if you are bringing solar and wind into the mix on a large scale, natural gas becomes even more appealing since you can spin it up / down to balance capacity.

A thing I don't see mentioned very often is the relative density of each power source. One of the things nuclear and coal have going for them, is that you can supply a lot of electricity in a fairly limited footprint.

Wind and solar a much less dense, meaning you need to cover a much larger area, and you need it to be more distributed rather than all concentrated in one place.

All of this is to say that I think everything is inter-related much more than people realize. Shifting to using more solar / wind creates a pressure to move away from coal / nuclear even without considering the "clean energy" aspect.

Pretty accurate, but nuclear can spin up and down, by controlling the fuel rods. This is one of the major advantage of the technology and why many suggest it be used in combination with solar, wind, and hydro (many as in the IPCC, which is why CNN pushed hard on everyone during the climate debates). It can be used to provide a base load (greatly reducing the need for batteries (or the need to invent good enough ones!) And can also scale back when it's sunny and windy. All while producing no emissions when running.

Chernobyl happened during a scheduled shut-down test that was delayed by 10 hours because there was higher than expected electricity demand. They tried to speed-up the shut-down and the results did not go as expected. I think it may be a little naive to say that nuclear can spin up and down by controlling the fuel rods.

I think Three Mile Island and Fukushima also had issues with getting rid of residual heat during a shut-down that at a minimum damaged the fuel and resulted in a loss of the unit at TMI and a melt-down and major cleanup at Fukushima. It seems to be the basic safety issue with fission and not one that can be dismissed so easily. 6-10 hours for a controlled shut-down seems to be the minimum safety margin.

> I think it may be a little naive to say that nuclear can spin up and down by controlling the fuel rods.

I'm not sure. Because that's exactly what control rods do. The carbon is a neutron moderator. Neutrons are the "heat" in the reaction (that creates actual heat). Less neutrons the colder the reaction is. You'll find this in any elementary nuclear or atomic textbook (which I have read).

As for Chernobyl the show actually got a lot right. But there's a lot of important things that get glossed over because it's dramatized. Like the fact that it had a positive void coefficient and no other reactor operates that way because everyone knew it had a chance is blowing up.

Similarly there's a lot wrong with your analysis about three mile and Fukushima. Both of which killed zero people btw. I'd listen to the experts on this one.

I don't know what experts you are listening to, but the idea of shutting down a nuclear reactor by lowering the control rods when the sun shines or the wind blows is just plain silly, for economic and safety reasons. Maybe for some future Gen IV design without fuel rods, but what you are talking about would require doubling the staffing and would defeat any cost savings in fuel use.

Better to curtail the wind and solar or find ways to store the excess energy in batteries, hydro, or fuel.

EDIT: Perhaps you mean something else by "spin up and spin down" but the usual sense of the words implies a complete shut-down. Nuclear reactors do have a normal operating range which can safely be reduced to half-power on a diurnal cycle (typically at night, but could just as easily be during the day.)

No I mean vary the output levels. Not complete shutdown and restart. That's how the spin up and down phrase was being used in the context of this thread (I had also used the phrase "scale back"). So you and I are in agreement.

Edit: you also replied to me twice.

HN won't let you edit a comment after a certain amount of time has passed, thus a second reply with the links.

Here a some experts you might want to listen to:



"In risk assessments, loss of decay heat removal accidents are usually the highest-risk scenario to release radiation to the public."

There was a video I saw a while ago, but I don't remember where, explaining that modern nuclear designs use passive safety mechanisms, whereas the original (currently in use) designs have active safety mechanisms that require ridiculous amounts of fallback and backup systems that make it much more difficult to guarantee safe operation in the event of an anomaly.

I think it had something to do with there being a salt plug that would melt if things got to hot, at which point everything would drain into a vessel designed to stop the reaction getting out of hand. So the cooling systems have to actively keep operating temperatures in range otherwise the plug melts and it goes into safe mode.

This is in contrast with what you describe where "shut down" is an elaborate process that takes time and correct order of operations in order to occur safely.

You're thinking of liquid reactors, probably gen IV. But I'll say that given the track record of nuclear, it is pretty safe. Only one that beats it out for safety per TW (least deaths per TW) is hydro (even wind and solar are more dangerous). The environmental damage isn't really high either, you should check out radiation maps of Japan. They're pretty much livable expect for inside the daiichi reactor. It definitely was bad, but at the same time it was sensationalized.

I can also say that there is a resistance to implementing new reactors and storage methods because they "aren't proven". I'll let you decide the irony to that statement.

Excellent point. This should be the top comment. Buying up cheap solar and wind power during peak supply times and storing it for peak demand times should be more cost effective than building expensive gas/steam plants which would only operate for a few hours a day.

It doesn't mean that we've found a solution for base load yet.

That's exactly what the market is doing, right now. The more wind/solar we get, the cheaper and more robust they are. And when they start costing a lot less than coal/nuclear (which is where we are now), then coal and nuclear basically collapse under their own cost - which is what is happening.

The fact that gas saw a big cost cut around the same time is just accelerating the inevitable. But getting off carbon will require that wind/solar become significantly cheaper than gas as well as coal/nuclear. Which may be what happens over the next couple of decades.

"...to build new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems"

I think the "with storage systems" part is crucial here.

1) I think it's certainly possible, but 2035 is still some time out. Extrapolating battery costs 16 years from now is not at all straightforward.

2) The headline result can be true even if solar/wind/storage have significant annual gaps in availability. If a gas plant was originally built on the assumption that it could run profitably for 5000 hours per year, but in the future there are only 2000 hours a year it can run profitably (due to more solar/wind), it can be financially "crushed." At least in competitive electricity markets. There could be large writedowns as plant load factors decline. Since gas plants are much less labor intensive to keep running than coal plants, I don't expect to see gas plants mothballed and demolished quite the way American coal plants have been over the past 5 years. They may still be profitable to run in the peak-demand season each year even with much more renewable capacity deployed. But they'll make less revenue and profit, burn less fuel, and emit less CO2.

I'd venture a guess that solar/wind/storage would have significant gaps in availability in this scenario. The economics of battery storage solutions scales really badly as the length of the gaps they need to fill increases. Not only does the capital cost of batteries increase in proportion to the runtime required, the utilization plummets due to longer gaps being less common and predictable than shorter ones. I can easily see it becoming uneconomical to provide a reliable electricity grid. Unfortunately, one of the other anti-global-warming measures that's being pushed for in this timescale in at least some European countries is switching to electricity for heating.

I think that you're probably right about gaps remaining, for basically the reasons you have given. And for that reason I don't expect mass demolition of American gas plants in the 2030s the way there was mass demolition of American coal plants in the 2010s.

The growth of gas capacity is alarming to many environmentalists; the phrase is that we're "locking in" decades of high emissions from gas fired electrical generators. But gas plants release the vast majority of their emissions during operation, not construction. Diminishing the plant load factor of gas plants is as good from an emissions-cuts standpoint as tearing them down. What do you do when the wind isn't blowing, the batteries are discharged, and it's night time? Burn gas. But the number of hours per year where at least one of {batteries, wind, solar} can bid below gas will go up year after year, whereas that number was essentially holding steady at zero through the whole 20th century.

This brief sketch is most applicable to deregulated electricity markets. In markets with regulated utility monopolies, unfortunately, gas plants will be subject to less competition even if the cost of storage-backed renewables keeps declining steadily. The majority of US electricity consumption now takes place in deregulated states but it's far from universal.


Gas Plants Will Get Crushed by Wind, Solar and big batteries.

Without some form of storage, peaking power plants are required to support wind and solar, and these are typically gas-fired.

This assumes that we keep supply and demand pricing models mismatched. The current "fixed price 24/7" model is not set in stone. AC/heating, EV charging, many industrial processes can shift demand and make good forecasts about how flexible their demand is vs average intra-day variation in electricity prices.

I don't have a lot of hope for people changing their behaviour based on time of day pricing. Sure aluminum smelters etc might have to flag it for a day once every 5 years but they do that currently because there isn't enough power for everyone so please help us out and shutdown for a day instead cause we are going to dump you anyway because we have to decide between giving you power or this other major load such as a big city. Perhaps there is some gradient to this and it is achieved with price signals - but basically the forecast has to be 1000+ $/MWH for a whole day instead of just a couple high prices intervals or hours, and it has to be order of magnitude higher $/MWH not just $200/MWH instead of $80.

If it is a low-wind evening and prices on the grid are higher than normal what fraction of people are going leave their electric cars with depleted batteries instead of charging them? Say a charge takes say 8 hours, there isn't a lot of room overnight to shift the load around. How many people will refrain from charging because it is going to cost you $50 instead of $10? I think the answer to that can be seen from how much people refrain from driving when fuel costs go up. Given that traffic never gets better I would say none!

1) electricity is cheap. it will have to get a lot more expensive for anyone to care enough to change the way they are using it 2) a lot of the demand is inflexible, regardless of price. lights are going to be on, dinner is going to be made when kids are hungry, car is going to be charged overnight because must go to work tomorrow.

there is going to come a point where all wind and solar must have a certain amount of firm capacity - say it has to be able to deliver 50% of nameplate rating for 5 days straight - and this is going to significantly add to the $/MWH cost of renewables. Then after 5 cloudy days in a row (unthinkable!) the output of the solar farm is 10% of nameplate until it is sunny again.

We've had time of day based pricing in the UK for years - it's called "Economy 7" (and there are variants like Economy 10). Historically this was designed for electric storage heaters which were switched on a separate circuit at night and you had two sets of wiring into the house but nowadays it can be done based on pure time of day by a smart meter.

People who have those tariffs do tend to alter behaviour to suit them - it mainly makes sense for homes with electric space and water heating, where it's more "set and forget" (and people also do change behaviour by eg putting washing machines or tumble dryers on late at night when the cheaper tariffs apply too).

Over time I imagine we might see more dynamic algorithms in use to pick and choose times when electricity is used together with more dynamic per-unit pricing.

Great examples.

These measures in the U.K. were put in place to shift demand due to constraints in total system capacity - total generation, total transmission, total distribution capacity. Eg a substation transformer couldn’t handle normal daily loads plus heating, so heating load is shifted to night.

What happens when power at night becomes more expensive due to increases demand such as car charging or low supply such as high renewable penetration and no wind?

It’s all about having the firm capacity to deliver power for hours on end. So the $/mwh of wind or solar power has to go up because grids are going to say you can only have more if you can supply firm capacity. This is already happening in Hawaii.

I implemented hot water tank load switching through smart meters on at a town with its own power plant of only 850 kw so they wouldn’t run out of power at dinner time when the river was low (and we didn’t have to fire up the diesel either)

Yes, there will always be baseload demand. But I think with the right setup more demand matching is possible for domestic and commercial buildings with relatively little effort.

One way this could work is that you have eg a smart heating thermostat which plans which hours of the day/night to turn heating on and then buys power to cover that in a day-ahead market, with the aim of minimising cost on that basis.

Wind and solar power are relatively preditable a day out so you wouldn't be paying too much to power traders for providing day-ahead liquidity vs on-demand pricing.

Likewise, EVs all end up parked somewhere during the day - the challenge is ensuring that as many of those places as possible (car parks, workplaces, etc) have charging points too; you could do something very similar there with an algorithm deciding whether to charge based on a spot price and how much is in the battery (say, owner programs car to top up to 65% and then only continue charging if power is cheap).

How much does it cost to implement and run all the demand matching, how much money does it save the loads who are willing to participate, and how much load can reliably be controlled? The marriage of electrical system reliability to real time control of tens of thousands loads over internet or cellular would be an unholy one. This will limit acceptance as the cost of outages immediately outstrips savings. So I’m back to grids requiring solar and wind to come with energy storage to firm them up. Which is a perfectly fine solution and increasingly viable as the cost per MWH of storage comes down.

I'm not talking about real-time demand matching/load shedding here as a consumer solution - as I mentioned, I think matching on a day-ahead (and perhaps also eg 6-hour ahead) basis could well be a lot better than we have now because wind and solar generation is quite predictable on a day-ahead basis, as are outside temperatures (so eg for space heating energy consumption may be relatively well predictable too).

The beauty of this type of approach is that it can be done by incrementally building on things which already exist.

There's already an electricity market, including day-ahead pricing in most pools. Professional power traders already trade these markets. Smart meters already exist and are capable of dealing with pool prices not just flat rates. Smart thermostats already exist. EVs already have the capability to stop/start charging based on more than just whether they're plugged in or not. Even better, most of these already have standardised APIs.

What's missing is the software stack which ties all of these together - and that can be done incrementally, device by device (on the load side).

Thanks for the discussion. The information we are missing is what the percentage of total load can or would be willing to be shifted, and how strong the incentive (savings) is for the load to allow themselves to be shifted versus their inconvenience.

We know that the answer is 100% as the price has no upper limit, no?

> How many people will refrain from charging because it is going to cost you $50 instead of $10? [..] Given that traffic never gets better I would say none!

Are you honestly trying to argue it doesn't have any effect? "What day of the week is best to fill your tank" is like an age-old question. Obviously within reason. Not if your tank is empty and you have to be somewhere. Less so for people who think this to be beneath them. And probably also less so in places with cheap fuel (US i hear?). But it certainly changes behavior and is a good & easy first step.

Do people with electric cars only charge once per week? I concede There could be some demand response if people could know that they can charge for less every Sunday night. But as you say when you are empty you are a price taker.

I live near Vancouver which features the most expensive gas in North America, and decent public transportation, and I believe traffic is the only thing that keeps people from driving more, not cost. So demand seems inflexible over the long term, and with electric cars I think you have even less flexibility to choose your time and place to charge, unless charging becomes ubiquitously available.

Tesla ranges (320+) are over 20 times the average commute (16 miles).

I think the more realistic scenario is that people charge less if the power is expensive, to full otherwise. Managed by a programmed policy.

Also, commute length will start trending down as we leave the cheap-gas phase of history behind - EVs are also too CO2 intensive to sustain the car based lifestyle.

Yes, many people with big-battery electric cars can charge less than daily.

We'll have to change to beat climate change and it means dramatically refucing fossil fuel use by regulations, taxes, price controls etc. When supply is limited, the price is the mechanism that decides who gets the juice and who doesn't. In plain terms, the price will become as high as necessary to reduce demand to the level of supply. And this can make storage profitable too.

I think your examples are actually all flexible use cases. Car can be charged any time, if price is unpredictable you won't leave your battery empty on a work night. But also you don't necessarily need a car. Lighting is a silly example because it consumes negligible energy, but if you look at history it's actually very flexible. Dinner also takes negligible energy but it's also very flexible (see how people cook in places without cheap eletricity - biofuels).

Not really, because seasonal variance is far greater than intraday variance.

Before you get to batteries, having a greater portion of load being interruptible would be the cheapest thing to do.

As heavy industry has declined in the West though, we have less of that than we used to.

This was the idea of "smart grids", which we seem to hear rather less about than a few years ago now.

Hydro can act as a giant battery and the reservoirs already exist in much of the US and Europe.

And they've being used as storage since the earliest days of the grid. I.e., they're already doing the balancing

The other technical alternative is constructing a global network of electricity interconnects, though storage is probably politically more achievable and cheaper, given lithium batteries are already being used instead of upgrading existing interconnects.

More complexity and cost than pumped hydro, and no real benefit? Sign me up!

This is what's currently got me excited: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19842240

From TFA: "...to build new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems"

I read the headline too fast and thought it said "Gas planets Will Get Crushed by Solar Wind by 2035".

Sounded terrifying.

I read it right the second time around, and had to think it over until I stopped imagining gas plants.

Some time, in not so distant future, we will have abundant, almost infinite, almost free, renewable energy. We will forget what an energy bill is, because administration overhead will be higher than the price of the energy itself. It will just be an inconspicuous tiny item on the city taxes. And we won't think it's amazing. We'll take it for granted. It will become new normal. Just like now we don't remember any more what it feels like not being reachable by phone when you go out for dinner with your friends.

Mark my words.

The fuel (or lack thereof) may be free, but in the foreseeable future generation capacity and transmission infrastructure is not. Someone has to build and maintain it according to demand. If efficiency or consumption limits are not incentivized then you risk demand exceeding capacity.

Civilization grows with available energy. People would start desalinating the oceans to green deserts, speed-boat cargo around the world, grow staple foods indoors or pull carbon out of the air if energy were truly free.

Windmills break down too, plenty of moving parts. idk what the maintenance window is for solar.

So you're officially saying that it will be too cheap to meter?

As you surely know, that's been said before, mostly about nuclear fusion and fission breeder reactors, both of which have inexhaustible resources. What's different this time? There's still absolutely massive amounts of major equipment needed in a wind/solar dominated energy system.

Often people consider 50-70 years to be a long time. I think the point is that we will get there, and it will seem like it had always been this way.

I'm more skeptical. I worry that energy demand will rise to the level of supply, more akin to road use than to phone access. As an example, you're going to have to deal with crypto miners and grow-ops.

Something to keep in mind is the growing trend of electrification in the 2020s. This will be both electric cars, and heat pumps for heating.

> “Our story for gas plants is, if you build it, they won’t run -- they won’t run at their expected capacity factors,” said Mark Dyson, who co-wrote both reports. “And that filters down to pipelines, too.”

I suspect that the demand for electricity will mean that we'll need gas plants much longer than the article believes.

This will be a good thing, because electric cars and heat pumps running off of natural gas generators is much less carbon than gasoline cars and natural gas furnaces.

Or to use an example closer to home, more akin to software bloat.

That's fantasy land. Half of the cost of your electricity bill is the cost to deliver it to your house. The grid costs as much as the electricity generation.

So even if it were free to generate electricity--solar panels and batteries were free--you would only see a 40-45% decrease in your electricity bill.

I believe this kind of technological breakthrough is the main point of Diamandis' book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. That would be a liberating event -- the key would be then getting the energy technology to societies in need - mainly a technological leap frogging, like mobile phones in developing nations did.

> https://www.diamandis.com/abundance

The book Fully Automated Luxury Communism gets into this as well.

It's not so simple, because energy consumption is restrained by its cost. There are also grids that will need expansion and maintenance, and both solar and winds need either baseline energy backing (such as nuclear or gas) and/or storage.

A wind-based grid, at scale, is actually a reliable baseline. We have over a decade of solid data on it now, from Iowa and Texas. Wind is much more reliable than you think.

You have links to any published research? Is it published separately or as part of larger studies? I'm having trouble finding simple numbers.

Such numbers would be useful for determining a theoretical floor for gas, nuclear, etc providing baseline capacity.

Just how reliable are we talking? The odds of being unable to fully service demand for even a single day should be really, really low for infrastructure like electrical or water supply.

Reliable enough to say "Wind will provide at least this much power, even on a "non-windy" day.

Also, keep in mind that wind is much, much steadier 200 feet in the air than it is on the ground, where it's subject to all sorts of disruptions and irregularities.

>Reliable enough to say "Wind will provide at least this much power, even on a "non-windy" day.

That pretty much means nothing. How close is that guaranteed minimum to the maximum deliverable or expected daily average power?

Thank you for these future-forward words. I am definetly looking forward to this time as well.

You still have to pay money to maintain the grid.

And at that point in time, in a cloudy night, the wind will stop blowing. And the lights will go dark.

Improved stargazing and no more blackout curtains? Sign me up. :-)

Nah, GP said a cloudy night. Though I look forward to a future where solar panels produce energy from starlight.

Hahaha. Maybe by that time we will take it so for granted that time-out periods so we can see the stars better will be socialized. I still remember the blackout of 2003 rather fondly...

Probably not, though...

I live in a 3rd world country and had to go to hospital with no power and no lights. It was chaos, amputations by flashlight, doctors unable to see where to hook up IVs, etc etc. How could you honestly think that the power going off would be anything except a horrible horrible thing?

Edited to preface: my intention certainly wasn’t to dredge up any terrible memories. I’m sorry if it did so. It was more a remark on North American “go-go-go” culture that was forced to take a pause for a day or so.

In this part of the world many critical services like hospitals run on back up generators if the main grid goes down. It was part of the main grid that went down

There was surely chaos some places where traffic lights weren’t on backup power, but otherwise the worst things that would happen were maybe you have to close up the office or the worksite for the day. Transit was down but not much else could be done anyway.

It was bittersweet. I’m sure there were problems. I’m also sure that many people who’d never seen a star in their lives saw the sky unfolded like they might never again. It was a stark reminder how much we’ve drowned out with things that “matter”

That's why we have batteries and active development on ways to manufacture hydrogen without emitting carbon.

Successful renewable energy infrastructure demands that large-scale, grid-tie energy storage is also in place. This is why battery tech and renewable tech are so intertwined at this time.

RMI has been pushing hydrogen cars for a while. I was never a big fan of their analysis there - so take their conclusions with a bit of a grain of doubt.

Ironically gas and solar / wind sometimes go together with gas filling gaps in generation on a more flexible basis. Interesting to read here that gas will be "crushed". That will need some huge battery capacity - not saying its not possible but...

Coal though - if article was coal is going to be crushed - sure.

Excess electric doesn't have to be in stored with chemicals like lithium ion, energy is still energy.

True, it can be stored in salt for example, as it currently is in multiple operational concentrated solar plants. Some have the ability to maintain output during the entire night.

I downloaded the study - it's long and filled with pictures so haven't read yet.

I expect they made the mistake of not taking into account the increase in cost due to a primarily renewable grid. Such massive changes in the type of generating supply will yield massive changes in the costs to supply power. As you remove all the dispatchable power sources (power generators that you can put on line at will) you have to build really big heat or electricity storage and would have to have emergency generating capacity for the potential of extremely low wind and sun for days and weeks at a time. Basically, you'd have to have all the natural gas generators and pipelines for the eventuality of bad renewable conditions. Who will pay for that? Just leaving them idle 95% of the time is not the best use of money and it's possible the government may have to pay for renewable's storage problems.

Geography is also a serious concern. Texas will have vastly different economics than than Washington or New York.

> Basically, you'd have to have all the natural gas generators and pipelines for the eventuality of bad renewable conditions. Who will pay for that?

Ideally the operators of facilities that tackle the storage problem with power-to-gas technology. It's by far the most scalable storage option and the discharge part of the cycle is already up and running.

Something I'm curious about is how this will affect plant manufacturers. Specifically I'm thinking about generator manufacturers like MHI, Siemens, GE, Toshiba. Do they just shut those divisions down and move on?

There's also a lot of other businesses that exist for building/maintaining/repairing plants and equipment that are non-OE and their futures seem grim.

On the week of August 12, the Texas grid, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) maxed out at around 75,000 MW of load. On one of the worst days, the approx. 24,000 MW nameplate capacity wind farms on that grid produced about 4,500 MW at the absolute peaks of demand. In other words, wind farms produced 18% or so of their maximum rated capacity.

This is a typical pattern during the dog days of August. Winds lull during the late afternoon, and pickup after midnight. Winds farms, on an annual basis, provide 22% of Texas electricity generation. However, during these peak demand hours, natural gas contributed about 50,000 MW, with coal and nuclear distant second and third place. If Texas wind farms are to displace the gas-fired plants, there will need to be 10-fold increase in their numbers, or somehow solar and battery storage will have to step in.

Saying that wind is going to crush gas, is only half true. Currently, the pipeline of new generators being built in Texas has slightly more wind (capacity factor ~ 40%) being installed than gas. Solar, during the next 5 years, is being built (allowing for capacity factor ~ 20%) at about the same rate (~12,000 averaged MW). You could call these technologies the 'three amigos', as they will be appearing, as new generating capacity, in (very) roughly equal amounts. Nevertheless, gas plants are a unique, and necessary part of the future, due to their dispatch ability. They can literally be called upon to deliver electricity 24/7/365.

Importantly, one hour of generation during these peak periods costs 450 times the average generator's fees for electricity. In other words, one hour of a natural gas plant's output, during these near-black-out conditions (properly termed Energy Emergency Alert), earns them as much as running those plants, non-stop, the previous 19 days. These extreme spikes haven't happened in Texas for a few years. Still, there is lots of opportunity for the gas plants to be the 'high rollers' of the Texas grid during their expected 30+ years of operation.

Peak usage week: http://www.ercot.com/content/wcm/lists/164134/August_PUC_Pre... Energy Emergency alert: http://www.ercot.com/content/wcm/lists/164134/EEA_OnePager_F...

The renewable capacity on the ERCOT grid is overwhelmingly wind-based since wind has been much cheaper than solar until the last handful of years. Its output tends to peak at night. I think a lot of the peak-demand opportunity for gas in Texas is going to be blunted by solar and battery projects coming online soon.

"Can more solar help Texas meet peak demand?"


There is a truly awesome amount of solar on the way in Texas, with ERCOT’s July interconnection report showing 62 GW of solar projects. And while given the highly speculative nature of project development most of those will likely not be built, there are nearly 9 GW of projects that have interconnection agreements, including 3.2 GW that have a full interconnection study completed.

Those projects that can secure financing and get built will come online over the next few years. It is difficult to say which ones will be online by next summer, but a June ERCOT report identified 1.3 GW of projects with interconnection agreements and financial security posted that are expected to come online later this year, a number which should grow as the year progresses.

"Developer eyes world's largest solar+storage facility for Texas"


"Energy Storage Developer Buys Texas Windfarms With Major Battery Retrofit Planned"


"GlidePath Builds Merchant Battery Plant in ERCOT, Bucking Industry Wisdom"


>"The authors of the study say they analyzed the costs of construction, fuel and anticipated operations for 68 gigawatts of gas plants proposed across the U.S. They compared those costs to building a combination of solar farms, wind plants and battery systems that, together with conservation efforts, could supply the same amount of electricity and keep the grid stable."

If the same amount of electricity is being supplied, why are conservation efforts needed? Has anyone downloaded the reports from Rocky Mountain Institute? They want your email address.

I had a look at the report and it looks fishy. They're not actually comparing the cost of gas plants with the cost of wind, solar and storage - they're comparing with a hypothetical "clean energy portfolio" consisting of whatever combination of energy efficiency improvements, demand shifting, wind, solar and storage their model reckons is cheapest, effectively modelling energy conservation as a source of electricity that replaces gas power plant outputs. This makes very little sense; there's nothing inherent about efficiency improvements or demand flexibility that restricts them to being used with renewables rather than gas power.

That's not the only dodgy thing either. Their proposal generates substantial excess energy throughout most of the year. In order to improve its cost effectiveness, they assume that excess energy has a value of $15/KWh and subtract that income from the cost of the renewable program. The actual value of this energy is probably close to zero; remember, we're talking about energy that has gone unused even after substantial use of demand shifting and storage.

When I see studies of this nature I always think that it is such beautiful idea to be living in a clean world. To be clear, I work in the petroleum industry; so this would most certainly be an obvious end to my line of work. I will hopefully be living in the keys by 2035.

At the rate our world population is expanding, I have to wonder if there is simply enough surface area we can turn over to power generation and lose it to things such as farming and other agriculture.

We are learning to farm land previously thought too arid for non-hearty crops.

I don't see batteries being able to store the amount of power (for a practical battery lifetime to be cost effective) needed to make solar a practical primary electricity source.

To make the system close for a single site (without any geographical diversity) is to produce about 3 times as much solar energy you need and install enough batteries to meet 48 hours of average demand. That's enough to deal with seasonality and with cloudy weather to provide a constant output for an entire year.

The 48 hours of battery would last a really long time as typically only about 12 hours will need to be used, thus you'd get very long cycle life. A battery used so lightly could get 10,000 effective full cycles, so probably would last multiples of 25 years from a cycle life perspective (calendar life may be another thing).

EDIT: If you add in geographical diversity and diversity in sources like wind, hydro, and geothermal, then you need to throw away a lot less energy and you need a lot less storage. IMHO, we should just bite the bullet and install a bunch of transmission lines (which could be done in 2 years, enabling us to decommission coal power within about 2 years in the US).

Haha lol.

Even in equatorial Africa 48h is not enough. Neither for actual usage, nor for battery life (and no one ever got marketing-leaflet-aka-datasheet-stated lifetime out of them batteries). Two years max, and hope either the project dies, or the company dies, or someone steals the batteries.

Source: been there maintaning solar offgrid.

And then --- geodiversity can only make it worse, never better.

Don't know why you are downvoted. I used to run solar powered sites that would have 5 rainy days in a row in which only about 10% of solar generation was delivered during daylight hours. We started with only enough batteries to last overnight and ended up with 10x that. Then we added 33% more when the first set of batteries had a short life due to getting so deeply discharged.

Is 10x overnight demand close to 48h of average demand? If yes then original post was right.

My average day and night load was the same so I went from 12 hours to 120 hours worth of batteries and then could get through the 5 day storm, but with batteries depleted so badly they were essentially damaged. Now we have about 150 hours worth of stored energy for our loads.

we added a wind turbine as well which was great since some of the rainy stormy days had lots of wind. I don't understand my original posts parent's comment about (geo) diversity not helping.

He’s downvoted because he’s bringing on-the-ground facts to a political discussion about solar and wind.

It may have more to do with the "haha lol", which is an antipattern for rational discussion.

Humans are irrational. And it’s hard not to laugh at wind and solar.

But you are right. I would downvote if I was wrong and laughed at.

FWIW, to arrive at my numbers, I used hourly sun data for a single site for a whole year and then optimized the amount of solar versus storage to minimize costs and prevent total depletion of the batteries while assuming a constant load for the whole year (and then iterating so that the amount of energy in the batteries at the beginning of the year is the same as that at the end). It turns out that even rainy days produce some solar power, which helps stretch the 48 hours of storage.

To make it work, it's cheaper to throw away about 2/3rds of your energy than to build 150 hours worth of storage. Some amount of "curtailment" is going to be optimal, and in my case, because solar is so cheap and my starting assumptions allowed no other energy sources, a LOT of curtailment is used. Literally most of the energy is unused.

If you ignore massive curtailment as a possibility, then yeah, haha, it's not going to work.

Don’t understand battery too narrowly here. It can be an artificial lake where you pump up the water from below, or a train full of stones that you pull up a hill.

Many countries like Israel have black water containers on top of every home to heat their water, so it stays there warm for the night.

Storing energy can be made in diverse and original ways, mostly adapted to the local constraints.

It doesn't matter whether you see it or not. What matters is if the market sees it.

If solar + storage comes out cheaper than alternatives, it wins. Period. The market will insure that. If you don't think it is possible, you need to lead with actual numbers to support your case, not just gut feelings.

Sorry to thread jack, but- important question: how are people reading Bloomberg now that they shut down incognito mode as of this week? Disabling Javascript doesn't seem to work either. I'm using Outline for the time being, but it's slow and annoying, and it won't load any longforms that contain multiple pictures or graphs. Anyone else have a better solution?

Not sure if you'll see this, but this worked like a charm for me. Thank you!!

Move on and find something else to read.

Firefox temporary containers are pretty good -- https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/temporary-con...

Temporary containers with Firefox.

Buy subscription?

View source.

Bypass Paywalls extension

What are the steps into getting there? What are the biggest roadblocks - scientific or political?

No they won't, unless the storage issue is solved.

(A comment someone else made and it got greyed out by the "we hate your poopy face!" crowd.)

And even if it IS solved. After outside wind and solar infrastructure is destroyed by the next continent wide Winter superstorm, how would having a few hours (or days) of storage help?

Clean energy sounds good to me!!

No they won't, unless the storage issue is solved.

When the future arrives, lots of people will be amazed at how little of the solution to this "issue" ended up being storage as such and how much turned out to be demand management and reasonable system architecture.

When the future arrives, we will build enough nuclear reactors.

Who is "we"? There don't seem to be any investors eager to build these...

Hopefully before China eats our lunch.

From TFA: "...to build new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems"

Right, because writing this sentence makes the technology exist.

I'm interested in understanding how this will play out with the electrification of cars. As it stands now, the production and distribution infrastructure is mostly used for homes. But you could easily double your home's electric consumption with an electric car traveling just 10 miles per day. If we see a quick change in electric car adoption, our production and distribution systems are going to be massively strained. We might be keeping gas and coal powerplants online just for capacity reasons alone.

300 wh/mile seems to be about what most electric cars achieve. 10 miles/day * 300 wh/mile * 30 days = 90 kWh.

The average monthly energy consumption per capita in the U.S. is about 1000 kWh[1], so in order to double that with electric cars every individual would need to drive an average of 110 miles per day.

[1] https://www.worlddata.info/america/usa/energy-consumption.ph...

1000 kWh/month? That seems like a buttload to me. I used to live in the US (though I never measured how much I used there) and currently, average between 6-15 KWh/day. I know this because I live in a 3rd world country and must pre-pay for my electricity by going down to the local equivalent of a corner store to add power. And I don't even turn off most of my lights at night.

Really? A quick Google shows a Tesla gets ~3 miles per kwh, so 10 miles would only be about 3 kwh. A kwh is about ten cents where I live iirc. Power's like $50 a month. So I use about ($50/10 cents)/30 ~ 13-14 kwh a day.

So 10 miles a day would be more like 20%.

That said though, a quick search shows vehicle miles travelled per capita in the US is 10k, so closer to 30 miles a day, or 9 kwh.

However, vehicles can be charged off peak in a lot of places (hot places peak during the day in the summer) so can be charged at night.

Hopefully more people will start riding e-bikes, which are much more efficient. 10 miles ~ 200Wh.

There are at least 5 better alternatives to wind and solar, but we don't teach science any more in public schools.

If we did, there wouldn't even BE climate change alarmist hysteria poised to destroy entire economies.

Please explain your points instead of off-the-hip vague statements.

I suggest you have a second look at the HN guidelines [1].

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Are you talking about natural gas?

I can think of a couple of other renewable resources: Geothermal and Hydroelectric, but Geothermal is geographically limited and Hydroelectric has proven to have more environmental impact than we would like. I have no idea on what the other three could be. I guess you could include Nuclear in the list, but the price points on that make it hard to declare it better than Solar and Wind.

What are the severe environmental impacts of hydro?

Flooding, especially when building hydro in flat areas.

Earthquakes -- there is some causality

Destruction of fish habitat -- salmon in Columbia river

In general, making water go slow when it used to go fast has a lot more negative consequence for the environment than one might expect.

I find this episode of 99 percent invisible to be really informative -- https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/fish-cannon/

I didn't say severe, but there are environmental impacts:


The biggest is the destruction of migrating fish habitat, sometimes reversible with specialized structures (salmon ladders), sometimes not. There is also some evidence for increased CO2 emissions from artificial reservoirs.

Hydro is clean and cheap baseload power. Better than nuclear.

The impact of creating water reservoirs must be immense. Because we are dreaming about replacing hydro with vastly inferior power sources.

Dams also result in large methane releases. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/09/hundreds-new-dams-co...

could you name them and explain the rationale?

genuinely curious

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