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Solar and Wind Power So Cheap They’re Outgrowing Subsidies (bloomberg.com)
623 points by ph0rque 34 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 498 comments



USD$5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017

https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Glo...

"hey fossil fuels, let's 1v1" sincerely, solar

(From Forbes: United States Spend Ten Times More On Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education)


A few things:

1) That's not what was spent, it's what this paper projected was spent.

2) I think this paper is defining subsidy in a way that we don't usually use that word. They're calling the costs associated with anthropogenic climate change and pollution "subsidies", most people would just call those things "costs."

Using the word "subsidy" implies that governments are actively taking tax dollars and giving it to fossil fuel companies and consumers. That doesn't appear to be what's going on for the most part.

Look at Figure 4, the bulk of the so-called "subsidies" are "global warming" and "local pollution" those aren't what most people would call subsidies, they're costs.

I'm saying this just to clarify things, personally I am supportive of massive tax increases on carbon and massive subsidies for renewables.


It’s an unconventional way to use “subsidy,” but I think it fits.

Imagine a garbage company. The government pays them so they can buy land where they dump their garbage. Obviously a subsidy.

Now, let’s say the government buys the land themselves then gives it to the company for dumping. No money changes hands but this is still pretty clearly a subsidy.

Instead of giving the company land, the government retains ownership, but lets the company dump there for free. Still a pretty clear subsidy.

Instead of buying the land, the government just takes it. Now no money is involved at all, but it’s still a subsidy.

Instead of taking the land, the government just declares that it’s legal for the garbage company to dump trash on other people’s land, and the owners just have to deal with it. This is quite different in the details from the original subsidy, but the overall effect is essentially the same.

Polluters are in a situation that’s exactly like this last scenario. They get to dump their trash on everyone’s property and don’t have to pay for the privilege. They’re being subsidized in an amount equal to whatever payment it would take to get everyone to willingly accept this trash.


This is wrong because subsidies aren't just externalized costs. They are defined as monetary gifts. You're extending the definition by analogy and arguing that a company externalizing its costs is the same thing as a subsidy, but a subsidy implies direct and deliberate support.

This is important for a couple of reasons: The main one is that it's confusing to redefine subsidy when you can just say "cost" and have people understand you. People reading this survey might see the $5.2T number and assume that that cost is in addition to whatever the cost of climate change is and will have to read the paper to understand otherwise. This is unnecessarily confusing even if one were to grant the logic of it.

In addition, when people discuss subsidies, they are often most interested in government policy. The purpose of a subsidy often is to increase a certain kind of business, so we might worry about unnecessarily funding the fossil fuels and thus encouraging climate change in a manner above and beyond simply allowing them to be used the way we've always done, but that's not quite what's going on here.

One thing to keep in mind is that it's a lot easier to measure a genuine government subsidy than an externality. So the distinction matters in that regard as well. Any measure of the cost of climate change is to at least some degree speculation, whereas any attempt to measure the direct amount of money given to fossil fuel companies can probably be much more exact.


Gifts in kind aren’t subsidies? If the government gives equipment or resources or labor, rather than money, it’s no longer a subsidy? That sure doesn’t fit how I understand the term. What would you call those?


"Gifts in kind aren’t subsidies?"

They can be but that's less common. The key difference is that a subsidy is direct and an active policy.

For example, when people talk about subsidies for renewables, they aren't talking about any externalized costs of manufacture, which do exist, they are talking about direct government gifts and tax breaks deliberately put in place to encourage investment in renewables. When people talk about subsidies given to fossil fuels the same is true, especially when they are being compared to renewables as is the case in this discussion.

Edit: removed word "decision" to clarify my meaning


Then it's a gift in kind and a subsidy.

When I litter, I get fined, but those companies are not when they litter e.g. carbon all over. When I dump chemicals into nature, I get fined for polluting the environment or even imprisoned outright, those companies do not e.g. when it's in the form of "emissions". Cars in my country get taxed directly or indirectly (through fuel) based in part on emissions, while a lot of commercial vehicles and fuels for these vehikles get a reduced rate or even excluded from taxation. But cars here are taxed far less so than in other European countries. etc.

The governments are clearly aware that pollution and dumping your garbage are things you should not do or at least minimize. They made laws against it, but actively decided to exclude certain business sectors and/or certain types of pollution, or actively decided not to regulate or tax certain types of pollution while regulating/taxing others.


"Cars in my country get taxed directly or indirectly (through fuel) based in part on emissions"

Unless these emmission taxes are calibrated to the cost of climate change then this argument is missing the point. Taxes and subsidies are often instituted in response to negative and positive externalities, but that doesn't change the fact that they are different things. This is important when trying to draw policy comparisons which is our situation here.

You seem to want to argue that subsidizing a business and not taxing them on an externality is somehow morally the same thing, and that's an entirely different discussion, but it doesn't mean that they are factually the same thing. There is a practical difference in terms of how things are measured and how policies are compared across industries and governments and that difference matters.


>Unless these emmission taxes are calibrated to the cost of climate change then this argument is missing the point.

The stated policy goal in part is to reduce emissions to met climate targets to fight climate change, so yes.

>You seem to want to argue that subsidizing a business and not taxing them on an externality is somehow morally the same thing

It is.

>but it doesn't mean that they are factually the same thing.

First of all, the meaning of words and political concepts are never factual.

But I'd still argue that at a high level they are the same, and both are subsidies. In both cases the government refuses money it would otherwise collect from different parties, thereby gifting those entities value you can put a price tag on.

Those decisions are active decisions NOT to do something (while doing something about the same thing or very similar things when it comes to other parts of the population), at least at this point.

The only distinction I'd make is between direct subsidies (the government forks over money) and indirect/implicit subsidies (the government decides not to make certain entities pay for certain things for which other entities have to pay the government).


">but it doesn't mean that they are factually the same thing.

First of all, the meaning of words and political concepts are never factual."

You're still missing the point. The point is that there is a distinction between a subsidy and an externality and that distinction is important. It's important for measurement reasons (The exact monetary amount a government spends on something is easier to measure than the indirect cost of a policy,) and for simple communication reasons. It makes no sense to talk about instituting a tax to cover a subsidy. You institute a tax to cover an externality. It also matters because there are ways of dealing with externalities other than taxes and subsidies and reducing the language makes this more confusing. It's especially confusing when the distinction is made in one discussion (about renewables) but not in the other (about fossil fuels.)

There is a term for using an unexpected definition for a word that already has a widely used definition during a discussion, that is a 'stipulative definition'. It's dishonest to do so without being clear upfront or in response to a discussion where the original definition is in use. This results in equivocation. Whether or not a subsidy is morally equivalent to an externality is a moot point if you're willing toss about with the language. My work involves financial reporting and if my employer asked for one set of numbers and I gave him another that I argued were 'morally equivalent' would pretty clearly be in the wrong, even if the point I was making about moral equivalence was correct.


No, you're splitting hairs.

There are direct and indirect subsidies. Indirect subsidies include externalities: external costs paid by everyone else (that the government should be incentivizing reductions in by requiring the folks causing them to pay)

Semantic digressions aside, they're earning while everyone else pays costs resultant from their operations (and from our apparent inability to allocate with e.g. long term security, health, and prosperity as primary objectives for the public sphere)


Handing money to polluters helps polluters, and failing to disincentivize externalities also helps polluters, but it's OK to call one thing a subsidy and the other thing poor governance.

"Subsidy" carries a connotation of purposeful action to help something. Subsidizing a bad thing is worse than merely allowing it to happen or looking the other way. It seems like you want to re-label things in "B" by the label for "A" to make it sound worse.


>"Subsidy" carries a connotation of purposeful action to help something.

Purpouseful action implies awareness and intention.

Externality implies not yet recognized.

Having 2 words for similar concepts does not mean they are different concepts. "heavy" and "massive" are two different words but they convey essentially the same thing.

I would agree that unrecognized externalities are not subsidies, say CO2 pollution before it was recognized, but then again since they were literally not recognized as externalities (yet).

But the very moment CO2 pollution is recognized, the previously unrecognized externality is to be instantly viewed as a subsidy.

History repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, from then on as a farce.


For that logic to work we would need e.g. a carbon tax, such that there would be a straightforward monetary value associated with any exceptions that might be granted.


Why do subsidies have to be an active policy decision?

You’re right, when people talk about fossil fuel subsidies, that’s thinking of government gifts and tax breaks. My point is that this is a deeply inadequate way to think about it. If you only look at these, and compare fossil fuels to renewables, you’ll come away thinking that fossil fuels are far cheaper than they actually are.


"If you only look at these, and compare fossil fuels to renewables, you’ll come away thinking that fossil fuels are far cheaper than they actually are."

In the case of this discussion, you're looking at it backwards. The subject of fossil fuel subsidies was brought up in comparison to subsidies for renewables which in this case were already defined as specific government programs. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't be being such a stickler. However given that we are comparing renewables to fossil fuels we need to be sure that we are measuring the same thing and to include externalities when measuring fossil fuels and not when measuring renewables is to be not measuring the same thing. (I actually got confused when I first saw the IMF link so I know my concern isn't hypothetical.)

Yes, I get that the case can be made that cost of using fossil fuels is more that the sum of direct gifts by the government to fossil fuel companies (fucking duh!) but that can be expressed without implying that governments gave $5.2T in tax dollars directly to fossil fuel companies in 2017. Where confusion is possible, it's best to make distinctions and clarify what is meant.


"subsidies" includes both direct and indirect subsidies.

We can measure direct subsidies by measuring real and effective tax rates.

We can measure indirect subsidies like healthcare costs paid by Medicare with subjective valuations of human life and rough estimates of the value of a person's health and contribution to growth in GDP, and future economic security.

But who has the time for this when we're busy paying to help folks who require disaster relief services from the government and NGOs (neither of which are preventing further escalations in costs)


Problem is that if the word "subsidies" is used exclusively to mean a specific and narrow concept around cash transfers when talking about renewables, but then you use the term to include a much broader set of scenarios when talking about fossil fuels, while directly comparing the derived numbers, then you're misusing the language in order to deceive, regardless of all else. You're communicating that the numbers represent the same calculations for both forms of energy, when you know that they actually don't.

Define the terms however you like, as long as you are careful to not to induce people to believe someone that is untrue.


It’s true that you have to measure the same thing, but you also have to measure a useful thing.

If you compare fossil fuels and renewables based on the number of letters in their names, that’s the same thing for both, but it’s not useful.

Comparing explicit monetary subsidies is like that. If you want to include the implicit ones for renewables as well, you definitely should. But giving up and only comparing direct monetary subsidies gives you a woefully incomplete and misleading picture.


You're arguing that we should be comparing the total cost of the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries. If the discussion is mainly about the direction society should take with regard to energy, then I would agree with you. But there are still contexts in which it is useful to talk strictly about subsidies. For example, when discussing how much an industry depends on direct government action, which is the context of this whole discussion we are having right now. (ie Solar and Wind Power So Cheap They’re Outgrowing Subsidies, in which the my definition of subsidy is the one being used, I'm pretty sure.) Yes, there are time where it's more important to discuss the big picture, but there are also times it's worthwhile to discuss the details and language should retain the detail to do both.

There's another reason this is important and it is with regard to the big picture. A lot of people already know what subsidy means and understand it to mean direct government gifts. When you use a different definition of a commonly understood word, what you are doing is defining it stipulatively. If you don't clarify that you are using a stipulative definition ahead of time, then you are committing a fallacy of equivocation. It doesn't matter if you think that your stipulative definition makes more sense or is more useful, people have to be using words the same way in order to communicate. I'd rather not give climate denialists any more fuel than is absolutely necessary and confusing equivocations are unnecessary. Talking about subsidies when you mean subsidy and talking about costs when you mean cost helps avoid them.


Not requiring a company pay, in some form, the cost of their externality costs is an active policy decision. It's perhaps not a frequent point of policy discussion, but it's still a decision - particularly when we know the cost of climate crisis mitigation is so high.


"Not requiring a company pay, in some form, the cost of their externality costs is an active policy decision."

No, it's a passive policy decision by definition.


Why? What definition?

The refusal to collect costs those polluters put on everybody is as active an decision as the decision not to collect taxes (tax breaks) that you'd otherwise use to keep the country running for everybody.

It's an active policy decision to have the state stay passive and do nothing.


Choosing not to make a choice is a choice itself - additionally this portion of policy has been heavily debated societally - it's not like we're talking about something so obscure that actually opening up a discussion on it will require a heavy expenditure of labour to properly research the topic.


It's an active policy decision in any country where a proposed "polluter pays" type law has been voted down.


The point is, a subsidy is when one entity possesses resources (money, equipment, etc.) and grants those resources to another party without expectation of a positive return on investment. Some argument can be made that a tax break is a subsidy, but I've often seen that framing used to mislead people into thinking that their tax dollars are actually being spent on the recipient of the tax break (e.g. Amazon in NYC). Trying to put speculative and indirect costs predicted to happen decades in the future under the label of subsidies crosses the line into intellectual dishonesty.

It's not hard to make good arguments for decarbonization of energy production, so using rhetoric with questionable intellectual honesty is often counterproductive.

Here's my reply to your comment below, HN is probably limiting a shared IP:

Your question is self-contradicting. "What if an entity doesn’t possess those resources, but gives them anyway" If an entity does not possess those resources, it cannot give them away. So the crux of the question is whether taking resources from another entity is a subsidy and the answer is no. When the Romans enslaved their neighbors and took their land, it'd be ridiculous to say that the Gauls, Carthaginians, etc. "subsidized" the Roman Republic and Empire. They did not help the Romans expand, in fact they resisted their expansion through force. Affecting climate through greenhouse gas emissions is much less direct than military conquest, but the dynamic is the same.

Good arguments can be made by pointing out that emissions are harmful and degrade our ability to live in our environments, even though carbon free energy production is more expensive. The consequence of people resorting to intellectual dishonesty to try and inflate the cost of fossil fuels make people think that proponents of climate change are naive to the economic reality that carbon free energy, especially renewables, are much more expensive to produce.


What if an entity doesn’t possess those resources, but gives them anyway by taking them from someone else because they’re powerful enough to do it, does that count?


>The consequence of people resorting to intellectual dishonesty to try and inflate the cost of fossil fuels make people think that proponents of climate change are naive to the economic reality that carbon free energy, especially renewables, are much more expensive to produce.

Except they're not more expensive. The sheer economic damage that greenhouse emissions produceare just as inherent as if your groceries are delivered by a truck that regularly smashes through people's houses on the way.

You can't say the truck delivery is "cheaper" than taking the road route, just because the government hasn't forced the truck driver to pay for the houses that were wrecked. I mean you can, but it's an accounting trick. It only exists on paper.

You could say "it's not subsidy", but semantics aside, what is it called when the government makes something cheaper through its deliberate choice to charge less than normal (or none) for a certain group? In common parlance, if EVs get 50% off their registration fees, people say "the government subsidises EV registration fees", even if technically they're simply not charging the money in the first place. How is this different to fossil fuels? You could say that they reduced the fees from historical pricing, but then Australia had a carbon price that was abolished (for purely political reasons, FYI) - does that count as subsidising fossil fuels?


"subsidy" and "externalized cost" aren't mutually exclusive concepts (as you hint at in "...because subsidies aren't just externalized costs" [emphasis mine]), so your semantic argument rests on shaky foundations. an externalized cost can be considered a subsidy in many contexts, including legal/political ones.

like most words, "subsidy" may have a more specific meaning in a particular context, but understood differently in a general context. so taking a stance that one definition is better than another is relatively futile (in the sense that it convinces no one who's not already sympathetic).

so rather than relying on semantics, make the argument you're really trying to make, which, by context, seems to be that you don't think externalized costs should be used in the comparison.


"so rather than relying on semantics, make the argument you're really trying to make, which, by context, seems to be that you don't think externalized costs should be used in the comparison."

No, externalized costs are important to take into account when making policy decision. Obviously we should be worried about the costs of climate change.

The point I really want to make is that this is the wrong context in which to include externalities in the definition of subsidy because we are already implicitly using a definition of subsidy provided by the OP which excludes externalities.


i'm not sure how it's the wrong context, but no matter. my point was that the semantic argument is entirely beside the point.

the real question is whether we should consider the externalized costs of fossil fuels in policy decisions, and if so, when and how?

fossil fuels have favored status (not undeservedly) across the world. given what we know now about how it's extraction/use effects the world, including on us humans, should we continue to favor it over other energy sources?

in my estimation, fossil fuels have a useful place in our energy history (as an energy intermediary), but can only be a stepping stone to a more sustainable energy future that more directly harnesses energy from the sun (our ultimate energy source anyway). on the way, we should reduce the harmful impacts of fossil fuels as much as possible, without regard to the profits of oil magnates.


"i'm not sure how it's the wrong context, but no matter."

Actually, this is important. The original article talks about government subsidies in the renewable energy market. It's only talking about direct subsidies and tax breaks, not externalities. In response, someone posted an IMF report about subsidies in the fossil fuel market as a comparison. This report does include externalities. This means that we are not comparing apples to apples. It creates the impression that governments directly gave $5.2T to fossil fuel companies in 2017, which is not the case.

My broader point though, is that the distinction between an externality and a government policy meant to deal with that externality is a useful and important distinction to make. Some people on this thread seem to be arguing that because they see no moral distinction between the two (this is debatable but doesn't matter to my argument,) that there should be no semantic distinction, but I disagree, and strongly.

For one, these things are measured differently, and the government policy is usually set in terms of the externality. Subsidies and taxes directly impact a government's budget whereas externalities don't (at least not in the same way) which matters when doing public accounting. Subsidies and taxes are mandated by law whereas exxternalities exist as a result of economic activity. Externalities can also be addressed by means other than taxes or subsidies.

By way of analogy, consider the reverse. There are both positive and negative externalities. We sometimes subsidize industries in order to encourage positive externalities. For example, schooling is often publicaly funded in first world nations because having an educated populace is a positive externality. If an untaxed negative externality is the same as a subsidy then it stands to reason that an unsubsidised positive externality is a tax. If in improving the appearance of my home I improve the value of my neighborhood (a positive externality) did I just get taxed the value of my neighborhood's value increase and am I owed a subsidy as a result? I think that most people would answer 'no'.


There’s one more important point: if you include externalities in your subsidy calculation you shouldn’t only count negative externalities. Maybe there are none but taxes on fossil fuels usually end up being very regressive taxes on people with older cars who can’t afford to upgrade. Just as one example of a potential positive externality of cheap fossil fuels.

And a negative externality of education might be forcing older workers out of jobs. (Admittedly a stretch, but making this just for the sake of argument.)

The point is once you start including externalities in your subsidy calculations things get super fuzzy fast.


Collecting taxes on these externalities does not say what you use those taxes for. The true cost is the inefficiency from poor resource utilization, hand that money out based on say income and people will buy more efficient cars etc.

Net result lives saved from cleaner air without undo burdens on the poor.


sure, the studies may not be exactly comparable, and pointing that out is reasonable and even helpful. and yes, costs (including externalities) are not the same as the policies (e.g., direct subsidies) addressing them. but there is a relevant term in policy and economics for non-monetary benefits: "indirect subsidies", so again, your semantic argument is on shaky ground.

anyways, these are unimportant relative to the acute problem that burning fossil fuels kills people as well as other creatures great and small (not to mention other retaliations by our planet), especially considering that renewable alternatives are becoming economically attractive.

so let's price in those negative externalities (which on the flipside is reasonable to view as subsidies to the fossil fuel industry due to their market distorting effects) so that the invisible hand considers all costs in its march toward the optimal allocation of global resources.


You are correct, at the expense of conversation.


Or in another sense, the loss of conversation is a hidden subsidy toward his correctness!


They were making the argument that the headline shouldn't use an intentionally misleading word when there is a much better suited word that accurately and clearly conveys the meaning. Using a "technically correct" word isn't a defense when the vast majority of your target audience isn't going to properly understand the true meaning.


It's also not technically correct. Externalities are externalities because they don't effect price while subsidies inherently effect price.


Pretty sure if anyone should be using 'technically correct' terms from the field of economics, it should be the IMF.


> Any measure of the cost of climate change is to at least some degree speculation, whereas any attempt to measure the direct amount of money given to fossil fuel companies can probably be much more exact.

It's dishonest to differentiate these and just opens up the agents to game your definitions. Which they of course are doing.


The fact that similar things are analogous or have similar effects doesn't mean they are the same thing. The purpose of that massive collection of words in the unabridged dictionary is to draw fine distinctions.

For an example, trade tariffs and quotas are similar in almost the exact same way you describe here and have very similar effects. However the distinction is in how the financing for the costs works. Who pays? How directly do they pay? The answers explain why tariff isn't a quota.

In your example as well, you change a payment from a direct monetary one to a diffuse externalized cost, thus creating a distinction. The language has evolved to capture that distinction, your desire to conflate the two notwithstanding.

A subsidy is a direct monetary grant.


> It’s an unconventional way to use “subsidy,” but I think it fits.

I'm just gonna stop you right here.

If your goal is to communicate effectively and honestly, using unconventional usages of words is not the way to do it. Language is a convention for transferring ideas from one person's brain to another person's brain. If you have an idea in your head and you say something that puts a different (and in this case, incorrect) idea in someone else's head, you're miscommunicating. If you do that intentionally, that's lying.

When people read the phrase "The US government subsidizes fossil fuel companies", people think that the US government is giving money or other resources to fossil fuel companies. So if that's not what you mean, when you say it, you're not saying the truth.

The rest of your post is just trying to justify why the not-truth you're saying is kinda-sorta the same as the truth, but that's really not an argument I'm interested in entertaining. Let's just say the truth, please.

It is completely adequate to say, "Solar currently needs subsidies to compete with fossil fuels, but when you figure in the cost of damages caused by fossil fuels, solar is cheaper." We don't need to lie about this.


So by this logic, allowing people to breathe and use the bathroom is a government subsidy, since its a passive policy that doesn't charge you what you would have to pay everyone in the world to let you do it? And where did the "owners" who would have to be compensated get the land and materials that they now own? Wouldn't that also count as a subsidy (every material item was at some point pulled from the ground, even though I don't feel I've been compensated for these externalities).


If the government allowed your neighbors to use your property as their sewer without paying for the privilege, that would definitely be a subsidy for them. We make people clean up their sewage before dumping it.

Breathing isn’t an issue only because it’s a negligible quantity. If it was more significant, we’d have to have rules around it just like we do for other human waste.


I mean, being able to use bathrooms in government buildings as a non-employee is definitely a service that is being optionally provided to you by the government - and that service is being supported by funding to have those bathrooms serviced and cleaned more often then they otherwise would need to be.


Definition of subsidy, from Merriam-Webster:

    a grant or gift of money: such as

    a : a sum of money formerly granted by the British Parliament to the crown and raised by special taxation

    b : money granted by one state to another

    c : a grant by a government to a private person or company to assist an enterprise deemed advantageous to the public


What a tortured analogy. It’s just an externality. We have a word for a it already, no need to try to change another word.

The only reason the paper authors called it a subsidy is because people sadly don’t care about externalities nearly as much as subsidies.


Do they really think being dishonest and manipulative won't backfire?

It's one thing to argue that we should consider unpriced externalities subsidies -- I'd even agree -- but it's quite another to use this alternative proposed definition/classifcation in order to intentionally cultivate a misrepresentation of the underlying facts.

People notice shit like this and don't take kindly to being misled.


I'm pretty sure that you and kortilla are in agreement.


We mostly are.

The difference is that I don't object to the terminology, just it's intentionally deceptive application.


> What a tortured analogy.

Reminded me of this exchange:

Bart: Uh, say, are you guys crooks?

Fat Tony: Bart, um, is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?

Bart: No.

Tony: Well, suppose you got a large starving family. Is it wrong to steal a truckload of bread to feed them?

Bart: Uh uh.

Tony: And, what if your family don't like bread? They like... cigarettes?

Bart: I guess that's okay.

Tony: Now, what if instead of giving them away, you sold them at a price that was practically giving them away. Would that be a crime, Bart?

Bart: Hell, no!


There’s a clear point where Fat Tony goes off the rails: depending on your view, it’s either right at the start (if you believe it’s not right to steal bread to feed your starving family) or at the point where he spontaneously switches from bread to cigarettes.

I’m curious which part of my comment you think plays that role.


It was just a joke, but note that an analogy can die by a thousand cuts. Fat Tony's argument is extremely weak at every step (family => "large family", bread => cigarettes, give => sell).


But turning around and trying to frame externalities as subsidies is intellectually dishonest - or outright dishonest. A lot like how people said that New York "subsidized" Amazon's NYC offices with $3 billion dollars. Many people thought that their tax dollars were being taken and given to Amazon, when in reality this was the government agreeing to give Amazon a favorable tax rate for a set amount of time.

When you're right, there's no need to stretch the truth.

Reply to your comment below, HN is not letting me respond:

> Amazon would have used city services without paying for them. Who pays for these services? The people, with their tax dollars..

No, Amazon still would have paid taxes - an estimated $25 billion in taxes over the next 5 years. This is the same erroneous thinking as people who think that they're gaming the system by buying stuff on Steam summer sales. You're not actually getting any money, the company is generating greater sales by offering customers a better deal.

> A partial truth is often the best lie.

But not when people are smart enough to see that your truth is incomplete. And while some people may fall for the conflation of externalities with subsidies, people with power and influence are less likely to do so and when they spot this ruse they're going to be even more adverse to whatever point you were trying to make because you've demonstrated as willingness to tell mistruths.


Amazon would have used city services without paying for them. Who pays for these services? The people, with their tax dollars..

A partial truth is often the best lie.


Could you find one economist that would say that an unpriced externality is not a subsidy?

This isn't a tortured analogy, it isn't an unconventional use of the term, these things are economically equivalent.

Most people don't know the word "externality," so using a less precise term that they do know is not in any way deceptive.


In my experience, economists don't usually conflate subsidies with negative externalities any more than the conflate positive externalities with taxation.

"Most people don't know the word "externality," so using a less precise term that they do know is not in any way deceptive."

People do know the word 'subsidy' and most know that it means a direct gift or tax benefit by the government which is not the same thing as an externality. What's more, they do know the word 'cost' as well, which is much clearer in this case than 'subsidy'.


Thanks for the fantastic contributions to this topic, respect.


I have a degree in economics. So you've found one.

A subsidy is a direct monetary transfer. A diffuse externalized cost does not qualify.


> Could you find one economist that would say that an unpriced externality is not a subsidy?

All of them?

>This isn't a tortured analogy, it isn't an unconventional use of the term, these things are economically equivalent.

No they are not. This isn't the equivalent of a tax break that other companies are being taxed for. It's a think for which no taxes exist for anyone. No industries are being taxed for these externalities.

It doesn't fit any of the dictionary definitions: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subsidy

>Most people don't know the word "externality," so using a less precise term that they do know is not in any way deceptive.

It's not a less precise term. It's the wrong term. Might as well call it a bailout if you're going for political outrage.


Surely the tortured is creating externality, a reasonable sounding technical term, as a shorthand for "pft, someone else's problem" in economics.

The WTO are happy to include money not spent, or tax not received as valid when deciding if a subsidy is in place.


It’s not an analogy at all, let alone a tortured one. Polluters are allowed to dump their trash on my (and everyone else’s) property without paying for it.

Now, if you object to it being called a subsidy, fine. (Although I’d like to know which step in my story stops qualifying as one.) But “a tortured analogy”? No way.


>It’s not an analogy at all

Then why are you talking about a garbage company? Your whole comment is building an analogy.

>Although I’d like to know which step in my story stops qualifying as one.

This is where it stops qualifying:

>Instead of taking the land, the government just declares that it’s legal for the garbage company to dump trash on other people’s land, and the owners just have to deal with it. This is quite different in the details from the original subsidy, but the overall effect is essentially the same.

The government saying "it's legal to do X" and all companies in any industry and any individual (what we're talking about is CO2 emissions) are allowed to do it, it's not a subsidy. It's just behavior with an externality that the government doesn't tax.


I’m talking about a garbage company because they’re an example of a polluter that can’t just dump their pollution wherever they feel like, and their pollution is much more visible. It’s not an analogy, it’s an example. Polluters aren’t analogous to companies dumping trash on your property, they are companies dumping trash on your property.


But it is tortured because the numbers are made up. Yes, there is very strong scientific consensus global warming is bad, and getting worse, but pinpointing an exact number and calling it a "subsidy" implies they know a lot more about the future than they actually do. It's untruthful and plays into the hands of those screaming "fake news!" who try to deny climate change.


"Your logic is right, but I doubt the exact number you used." is very far from saying an analogy is "tortured". It's an agreement that the analogy is correct.


I didn’t use any numbers at all. Perhaps you meant to reply to a different comment.


Makes sense, but are they also counting the externalities of solar and wind as subsidies? Sure, they aren't as much as for fossil fuels, but there ARE externalities for solar cell manufacturing.


I see this missing all the time. I don't know if it matters if the real costs of green power are counted - maybe it doesn't change the bottom line. But it seems like the general approach is that green power has no negative effects. The evil one is fossil fuels and it is all evil and the good one is green energy and it is all good. I think it makes it easier to swallow for the mainstream.


If I annoy 3 of my neighbors so much that they would pay 1000 dollars per year to have me disappear, but the government allows me to exist, or he government isn’t giving me a 3000 dollar subsidy, are they?


If it’s part of a money making business that you own, why not?


This is not a subsidy - in particular no entity can exchange this subsidy for a different one in current period when calculating an economic decision.

There are certain tax breaks for gas in us, govt could take those same $ and subsidize something else. That’s a subsidy.

Is this the kind of thinking climate science overall is built on? Very worrying if so


Stop! Stop! You're breathing my air!

That kind of thinking leads to a Logan's Run scenario. Instead, why not think of it as a part of life and work to find a solution that doesn't require the wholesale curtailment of liberties all in the name of the environment?


Absolutely not. Massive corporations (including many that are state-owned) being allowed to dump MASSIVE amounts of CO2 (etc) into the air that we humans need to breathe completely for free is not anything like the reductionist view of humans breathing air as an externality. For one thing, humans are fed ultimately by photosynthesis, which exactly compensates for the oxygen we breathe and CO2 we exhale.

But fossil fuels, on the other hand, are massive stores of an atmospheric state tens or hundreds of millions of years before humans existed. CO2 levels were so high, the modern human physiology isn't well suited, and your mental state would be as if you were in a stuffy room. The sun even was slightly dimmer at the time, it was so far ago.

And secondly, the amount of oxygen humans need and CO2 we expel is about two orders of magnitude less than that of burning of fossil fuels. To make that comparison is extreme dishonesty.

Requiring companies to pay for the externalities they foist on others is not "wholesale curtailment of liberties." In fact, companies levying those externalities on us without paying for it is stealing, i.e. the wholesale curtailment of the liberty of everyone on the planet. You have it exactly backwards.


That sounds like the slippery slope fallacy. That kind of thinking doesn't necessarily _lead_ anywhere, and even if it did, that doesn't make it wrong. The argument itself is sound.

No one suggested "the wholesale curtailment of liberties". That's a strawman.

There are negative externalities associated with many activities, coal power generation is one of them. The external cost of coal power is at least more than twice the normal market price of the electricity[1]. This is the when you ignore external effects such as those that take place through water, soils, noise, or carbon dioxide and its effect on climate change.

So the actual price is actually at least three times higher. Why not just bill the polluter for the damage they do and then let the market decide which is better based on the true price?

[1] https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.101.5.1649


But who determines the cost? Who amongst us does not produce CO2?

YOU are the customer if each of these externalities that you are arguing against. Are you willing to shoulder the cost?


That's the whole point is it not? We should each shoulder the appropriate burden of impact in the price of all the goods and services we buy.

If that means some businesses are no longer viable, they go the same way as horse buggy manufacturers. Maybe far fewer will be willing to take international holidays every year. Business will seek more sustainable ways of doing the things we enjoy.

How can a market be expected to function fairly with secret information (an externality)? It's intentionally distorted. Pollution, waste and the rest comes with negligible immediate cost, but far reaching consequences to everyone else's freedoms. If all those externalities are priced in, customers can make informed decisions.


It doesn’t matter if we’re willing to shoulder the cost. We bear it whether or not we want to. The question is whether you want to bear the cost in the form of health and climate effects, or in the form of money.


>But who determines the cost? Who amongst us does not produce CO2?

Courts are responsible for determining fiction from reality. This is true whether we're talking about gunshot murder, or climate damage.

Whether you produce CO2 is irrelevant to truth or fiction.

>YOU are the customer if each of these externalities that you are arguing against. Are you willing to shoulder the cost?

You're also the target of the damages. If you think climate change won't absolutely skyrocket food prices, I have a bridge in the Sahara to sell you.


Silly reactionary hyperbole.

Our peaceful and sustainable coexistence with the rest of the world (natural or otherwise) has always required the curtailment of some liberties.

You cannot sell tubercular beef and poison the population. For the same reason, you cannot submerge island nations and cause droughts that make other regions of the world inhabitable. Deal with it.


>> For the same reason, you cannot submerge island nations

out of curiosity, what island nations have been submerged ?


I just googled "what island nations have been submerged" and looked at the top six links. They are all about islands that have been submerged, are on the brink of being submerged, or will be submerged soon if recent sea rise trends continue for a very short time.


from the guardian article (first link) ... "The missing islands, ranging in size from 1 to 5 hectares (2.5-12.4 acres) were not inhabited by humans."

Other links were mostly "could","will","may" etc.


Tuvalu is a WIP

https://www.thoughtco.com/geography-and-history-of-tuvalu-14...

That's just off the top of my head


from Nature, " Results highlight a net increase in land area in Tuvalu of 73.5 ha (2.9%), despite sea-level rise, and land area increase in eight of nine atolls."

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-02954-1


> The beaches surrounding the atolls are sinking due to erosion caused by waves and this is exacerbated by rising sea levels.

> In addition, because the sea level is rising on the islands, Tuvaluans must continually deal with their homes flooding, as well as soil salination.

> Soil salination is a problem because it is making it difficult to get clean drinking water and is harming crops as they cannot grow with the saltier water. As a result, the country is becoming more and more dependent on foreign imports.

> Tuvalu has adopted a national plan of action as the observable transformations over the last ten to fifteen years show Tuvaluans that there have been changes to the sea levels. These include sea water bubbling up through the porous coral rock to form pools at high tide and the flooding of low-lying areas including the airport during spring tides and king tides.

Re: land increase

2% is within the margin of error and experts have raised issues about the accuracy of data collected prior to 1993.

Source : http://probeinternational.org/library/wp-content/uploads/201...

It is also understood that growing coral reefs combat sea level rises to an extent, but that this biological mechanism is not infallible.

In any case, the rising sea levels are a matter of fact :

> The 2011 report of the Pacific Climate Change Science Program published by the Australian Government,[297] concludes: "The sea-level rise near Tuvalu measured by satellite altimeters since 1993 is about 5 mm (0.2 in) per year."

Lastly, there is no meaningful difference in this context between a completely submerged island and an island that is in the process of becoming submerged by the sea. You are arguing a moot point.


So it will be a "submerged nation" in about 900 years. Which would explain ... "The threat of climate change to the islands is not a dominant motivation for migration as Tuvaluans appear to prefer to continue living in Tuvalu for reasons of lifestyle, culture and identity."

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


The liberty to dump your garbage in a community asset?

I mean, how is it considered rude to fart in someone's face but not rude to idle in front of their house?


I think carbon emitters should be on the hook to clean up an amount of carbon equivalent to what they emit. There should be nothing controversial about requiring people to clean up after themselves.


The biggest carbon emitter is the individual collective. There's nothing wrong with your concept and I don't think it's controversial at that level, but it sure creates dissension when we try and figure out what exactly "requiring people to clean up after themselves" means...


Curtailment of liberty: Why am I not allowed to take a shit on a lawn in the park? Why not think of it as a part of life?


Can I dump my trash on your lawn?


Using this terminology is manipulative because the costs are arbitrarily defined. As a massive supporter of renewables, i d prefer if they listed the real-market distance between renewables and the rest


The use of the word subsidy is a sleight of hand to double count the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

Not penalizing harmful externalities is bad policy. Subsidizing them is lunacy.


It's not lunacy, it is being done for foreign policy reasons.

Manipulating the global energy market by making the US very competitive (or just able to compete in the market) means that Saudia Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, etc. can't push us or anyone else around by threatening our energy supply.

No matter how supportive you are of renewable energy, the very solid reality is that we aren't there yet and we still very much need oil.

When it comes down to it, much of US foreign policy revolves around convincing everyone else that we could win WWIII - explicitly so it does not happen. The nuclear deterrent is weakening as time goes by as people are less and less confident that their own leaders and the leaders of their adversaries would ever actually be willing to press the "destroy the world" button. Then they get to thinking there could actually be a shooting war that didn't turn into apocalypse (we don't need nukes any more, we have precision weapons that can take out a single room in a house being fired on the other side of the planet, being able to destroy a city doesn't really seem that helpful in war any more)

The world is a more complicated place than most people really want to think about, and the wonderful period of peace we are experiencing is the result of a complex game that is being played around the world.

People grew up in peaceful times and just assume everyone will be nice forever, it's just not true. If there is some way for a player to take advantage of another, eventually it will happen, it should be obvious by now that general human decency isn't guaranteed.

War is prevented by eliminating weakness, the United States adopted all sorts of policies after WWII to ensure it had no weakness and no comparable adversary. (why do we spend such a huge portion on military when our NATO allies spend so little? we want them to spend little so that military conflict within NATO isn't even a hint of an idea)

Energy would be a huge source of weakness which could not just be magically fixed over night (or in a decade or five) by renewables. Our oil policy is a power policy, not an environmental one. Pour money into energy companies to make sure that we have a huge refinery capacity here, to make sure that we have and actively develop fossil fuel resources and maintain the expertise to continue doing so)


I was only really commenting on the manipulative wording used, not energy policy.

I'm in more or less complete agreement with what you've written here as it pertains to the past.

However, once renewables become practical for even a subset of energy production, from a national security perspective they are an absolute clear winner, because:

1) Unlike fossil fuels, solar panels and wind turbines can be imported from rivals without impacting energy independence. If the imports are cut off, the existing assets still continue to produce power. The equivalent of an OPEC has zero influence because the best they can do is force you to change your long term planning.

2) Displacing fossil fuel consumption means your domestic reserves last for longer, and can mean the difference between having energy independence or not (obviously today in the States, that's not an issue).

3) Global warming is going to create a lot of instability and that's bad for domestic security. Unlike smaller nations, the US actually has a singular impact in global emissions, but even setting this aside, contributing to the economy of scale of the global market brings the price down for everyone and shortens the transition.

A world powered by renewables is a lot safer and more stable than what we have today, and it's one that concentrates power more tightly in the hands of diversified, advanced economies without giving leverage to regimes that just happen to be sitting on reserves.


> They're calling the costs associated with anthropogenic climate change and pollution "subsidies", most people would just call those things "costs."

This is totally reasonable. You're usually expected to fix the things you damage in any activity you do. The fact that fossil fuel users are not expected to do so is clearly a subsidy.


1. Their using the word subsidy to trigger an emotional response; when we determine economic cost this is not what the word means and they know it

2. By calling it a subsidy they treat the cost as a precise quantifiable value which is most certainly is not.

The authors have taken a completely justifiable position and then thrown away their legitimacy by misrepresenting the data in an attempt to strengthen their position. You can agree with the top-level premise and agenda but how we get their is important.


> The authors have taken a completely justifiable position and then thrown away their legitimacy by misrepresenting the data in an attempt to strengthen their position

That is completely inaccurate.

The very first line of the summary of the referenced article says:

>> This paper updates estimates of fossil fuel subsidies, defined as fuel consumption times the gap between existing and efficient prices (i.e., prices warranted by supply costs, environmental costs, and revenue considerations), for 191 countries.


Do we make solar PV companies to pay into funds for people who get sick from heavy metal poisoning (which does happen and is expected to continue happening, it turns out solar is cheaper if you ship the waste to a third world country)? Do hydroelectric dams pay for water loss from evaporation?

I don't disagree that the externalities are worse for fossil fuels than other energy sources, and that's a good reason to decarbonize our energy supply. But externalities are exactly that: impacts external to the cost of power generation. When someone says "we subsidized X industry by $Y" to me it means that $Y worth of goods and services was given to that industry. In reality, the fossil fuel industry received nowhere near that amount of money. This "subsidy" is really a speculative cost of externalities. Especially when the projected cost of externalities vary widely, equating externalities with subsidies comes off as intellectually dishonest. If externalities account for effectively the entirety of this so called subsidy, you're better off calling it an externality rather than trying to redefine a term.


I’m fine with the study’s definition if we’re willing to be consistent about it. For example, what’s the cost of all violent/property crime, including jail and prosecution?

Are you willing to say that any portion of that not paid for by criminals is a “subsidy to criminals”? If so, then you’re at least using your terms in good faith. If not, you’re applying the label unfairly.


You can call it that, but where does the argument go? Do you propose we tax them?


The ad absurdum there is that you have to say that seizing all assets from convicted criminals and forcing them to work off their debts is merely “ending the crime subsidy”. Most people would feel a little dissonance at that kind of label.


I think the silliness comes from trying to apply idea of subsidies to people, the concept is meant for companies operating in a market. It's meant to address fairness of one company competing with another.


Yes, if you arbitrarily decide that “I don’t have to be consistent with regard to that issue”, you get to weasel out of all kinds of inconsistencies.


It's not arbitrary, companies and countries sue each other in WTO to address different level of subsidies. I never heard of criminals doing the same. I think we are not looking to optimise rates of car theft with market forces. Do you?

Companies are different entities entirely, we don't talk about profit when we educate schoolkids, and I can't write off expenses before paying income tax, while companies can.


Right, there’s sort of a gentlemen’s agreement not to be consistent regarding the equation of subsidies and “unrecovered negative externalities”. That just means that if you have enough political power, you can ignore demands to be consistent. It doesn’t mean, as you seem to think, that there’s an actual substantive difference between:

a) “Letting polluters get away with not compensating victims of pollution is a subsidy.” vs

b) “Letting muggers get away with not compensating their victims is a subsidy.”


This is problematic, it means I can't just send this to a pro-fossil guy I know. He would rightly dismiss it on those grounds (he is on "CO2 is not a pollutant, it is plant food" level at the moment) and will be even more convinced by his side.


Which brings another point: I think it would be more productive to focus on direct damage to environment and health than on CO2. "You will be more likely to die from cancer and your children are going to be less intelligent if they grow up here" has more appeal than: "in 25 years there will be serious food/arable land shortage mainly at the other part of the world".


Completely agreed. Standing next to a bunch of cars and breathing their exhaust is an awful, visceral experience everyone can relate to.


The reason you can't send this to your friend isn't the use of the word "subsidy". The issue is that the whole article is premised on agreeing that "increasing CO2 levels is a negative externality,". If your friend does not agree about that, there is no point in sending him this article.


If he's really on "CO2 is not a pollutant, it is plant food" level, he's not listening anyway and swaying him shouldn't be a serious consideration.


"he" is a huge powerful collective of similar viewpoints. If you don't feel the need to win them over how do you expect to ever affect change?

"he" is not just some evil, fat-cat oil company exec; they are entire communities and large groups of broad-based people

"he" is not an absolute position that global warming doesn't exist; it's a broad spectrum of opinions ranging from climate deniers to those concerned with the painful impact of treatment that may be widely ineffective.

in short: discount huge portions of the population at your own peril; don't expect them to rally to your cause if they're beneath your consideration.


> "he" is not an absolute position that global warming doesn't exist; it's a broad spectrum of opinions ranging from climate deniers to those concerned with the painful impact of treatment that may be widely ineffective.

No, you can't simply shift the ideological division line. Someone who is convinced that climate is changing doesn't believe "CO2 is not a pollutant", regardless of how concern they are with the impact of the treatment, and it's disrespectful to put them in the same bag.


> those aren't what most people would call subsidies, they're costs

Says who? There are plenty of people who term untaxed externalities as 'implicit subsidies', it isn't just this paper. Wikipedia lists "environmental externalities" under its "Types of subsidides".

So while I think there is clarity added by saying "Note that this paper includes 'implicit subsidies' such as...", there is very little value gained by telling people they cannot use the term "subsidy" when talking about this issue.


> I am supportive of massive tax increases on carbon and massive subsidies for renewables.

I've been advocating that for the last 20 years. Finally getting some traction!

It's also time to start taxing pesticides, plastics, and raw land development.


This feels like definition-specific and ultimately, it's semantics. If you say subsidy is giving tax dollars to fossil fuel companies, isn't not taking tax dollars from them for their costly pollution effectively the same outcome?

The important point is that fossil fuels receive far more government support than renewables do.


> That's not what was spent, it's what this paper projected was spent.

It's not even what was actually spent, but what the projected economic cost was due to externalities such as excess mortality from air pollution.

So, if someone from the US dies due to air pollution, that's 6.1 million dollars down the drain. The report puts that rate at 4.9 deaths per thousand, which is absurdly high in my estimation.


That big headline $5.2 trillion figure isn't money that was spent on anything. They're counting the difference between the actual market price of fossil fuels and what they think should be charged for them due to air pollution etc as a subsidy.


At least some of that was, in fact, hard cash subsidies.

The US spends around $35 billion/year in actual subsidies on fossil fuels.[1] (About $20 billion to producers, and about $15 billion to consumers.

Further more, the cost of not charging the fossil fuel industry for carbon emissions should absolutely be counted as a real subsidy, although its value is harder to calculate. But we force industries to clean up other pollutants, or we otherwise regulate their environmental impact, which costs them. If we gave one industry a pass on those regulations, that would be uncontroversially a subsidy.

1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97...


But since any activity changes the environment for the worse, by that logic everything is subsidised. We can't use language that way - words become meaningless. Logically it goes straight to a silly place where everyone is getting 'welfare' because the government isn't taxing them for breathing out CO2.

A subsidy is the government forcing more resources to be allocated to something than people with money think is good. An externality is when we believe that outcomes are affecting people who weren't the buyer/seller.

The environmental lobby wants to claim that fossil fuels are subsidised therefore we must stamp them out because it is Free Market. Charitably speaking, that really just shows the environmentalists are making an effort to use other people's language but don't understand the free market philosophy at a fundamental level. If the use of something has to stop for environmental reasons then it is taxed. Claiming that it is really reversing a subsidy comes out more as trying to shout the opposition down by changing what words mean on them. It is bad form.


> A subsidy is the government forcing more resources to be allocated to something than people with money think is good. An externality is when we believe that outcomes are affecting people who weren't the buyer/seller.

In common speech "subsidize" is frequently used in the context of people being made to involuntarily bear externalities.

For example, people who live in areas with a lot of truck traffic often complain that they are being forced to "subsidize" trucking due to the damage to their local roads. What they mean is that they are being forced to bear the externality of excessive road damage, not that they are literally writing a check to the trucking company.


They are specificly using that word to get the same errendous implication. They aren't subsidizing trucking, but saying they are instead of 'our roads get worn faster' makes it easier to lobby for changes or money to improve the road.

I.e. You are demonstrating the exact same error but don't seem to understand what's going on with the use of the word.


But it is the use of the word that gives it its meaning and the meanings of words change.

There is value in clarifying what is meant be a specific usage of 'subsidy', (which the linked paper does in the first sentence of its summary). There is value to calling people out for not doing this clarification when they use the word in its less standard meaning.

However, there is no value in saying that a fairly widespread usage of the word "subsidy" is incorrect.

It's like trying to pretend that "literally" doesn't figuratively have the same meaning as "figuratively". That boat has sailed and all we can do now is distinguish be between literal and figurative uses of "literally".


That is an excellent analogy, but in this case it is like going from 'the joke is so funny its literally killing me' (as in I'm laughing too hard) to prosecuting the joke-teller for murder. Or possibly if a clown kills someone not prosecuting that clown because "obviously that clown is literally killing someone but literally doesn't mean literally".

There are a range of actions that are appropriate to take when dealing with an unwanted subsidy. If we redefine what 'subsidy' means then the range of appropriate actions changes and we have to talk about what the new actions are. It would be far easier to use the right word, so word and action line up without the need for analogies.


> If we redefine what 'subsidy' means then the range of appropriate actions changes and we have to talk about what the new actions are. It would be far easier to use the right word, so word and action line up without the need for analogies.

I can't figure out what you are trying to say. Can you give a concrete example? What is the confusion that is added by the term 'implicit subsidies'?


> They aren't subsidizing trucking, but saying they are instead of 'our roads get worn faster' makes it easier to lobby for changes or money to improve the road.

That money they are lobbying for comes from their taxes, especially if it's local roads, so yes, if the trucking company isn't paying for the damage, the taxpayer is indirectly subsidizing them.


By that logic, everything tax revenue is spent on is a subsidy for someone. It makes the definition so broad as to be useless.


Not all unaccounted externalities (if you prefer that term) are of the same magnitude, though. It's the magnitude relative to others that matters.

If say 10% of a city's budget goes to fixing truck damage to roads without at least commensurate benefit, then it's a more important issue than whether .05% went to cleaning up cotton candy after the town fair.

It also doesn't even have to be about tax expenditure. The healthcare cost of using fossil fuels is realized in private spending on treatment for pollution triggered respiratory illnesses, and the economic cost of climate change effect mitigation, which is already being accounted for in business planning.


Yes. But there is a reason we don't call that a subsidy. That's the entire point of the comment thread.


That like saying that the porn industry is being subsidized for the costs of divorce


Not really, because in your example the consumer has a choice whether or not to consume the product. Not that there is no externality - all activities have externalities - but the scales are completely different than with electricity production, and scale is what makes the case of fossil fuels different.

Electricity is considered a human right - it is required maintain the most basic modern standard of living - and the externalities of it's production with fossil fuels are borne by everyone in some way. Therefore it's a matter of massively broader consequence and greater cost than the example you used.


Some of it is heating subsidies for the poor, which gives a misleading impression, unless we're planning for the poor to freeze once we've transitioned to renewables; the subsidy will simply transfer across.


The existing subsidies are often specific to fossil fuels (heating oil and natural gas). You don't get them for installing electric heat pumps.

The better alternative would be to provide the subsidy in cash and let the poor decide what they need for themselves, instead of trying to choose for them between heating oil vs. investing in heat pumps vs. better insulation vs. turning down the thermostat and using the money for something else they need more.


You give them the money, and they'll spend it on blackjack and hookers. Regardless of whether you give them subsidy money, you have to charge higher prices for energy if you want any hope of reducing fossil fuel use.


> You give them the money, and they'll spend it on blackjack and hookers.

Stuff is fungible. If you give someone money for heating oil then they'll spend it on heating oil and use the money they would have spent on heating oil for blackjack and hookers if they want to. The only thing you're really doing is forcing them to buy heating oil instead of actual substitutes for burning more heating oil, like heat pumps or better insulation. Because one way or another they need to heat their living space, but if you satisfy that requirement for them in a specific way, it still frees up resources that they would have had to use for that and can now use for unrelated things like blackjack and hookers.


I would say that's an administrative issue that's a bit tangential.


Carbon tax + per head tax credit. Big consumers (the rich) end up paying, small consumers (the poor) end up with cash in their pocket, the government has no extra revenue that could lead to perverse incentives.


That doesn't fix the problem.

Buying oil is already expensive, yet we buy too much of it.


It has to be expensive enough to depress consumption and/or promote more efficient use. Countries where oil is expensive have better fuel efficiency, for example.


Doubling the price doesn't help much (inelastic). Look at countries with huge petrol taxes and they still use heaps: https://www.globalpetrolprices.com/gasoline_prices/

I'm in New Zealand, and plenty of us have serious gas guzzlers even though petrol is far more expensive than in the US. A bunch of Scandinavian countries are twice as expensive as the US.


Accounting isn't just lying with numbers. Those are real costs whether they're paid for in cash or otherwise. They may be hard to estimate, but they're real costs.

For example, if you build roads and don't charge users to use them, they are going to use those roads more than if you charged users the costs that they incur for construction and maintenance. Building roads but not charging for their use is a subsidy to vehicle use, which is also a subsidy to all of the inputs of vehicle use, including mining, manufacturing, and yes, fossil fuel consumption.

The same goes for environmental costs. You either pay for them with cash or you pay for them with a destroyed environment. And even with a destroyed environment, you're probably still paying in cash, just indirectly, deferred substantially, and with significant interest.


If the society knowingly pays the difference between market price and actual price, that effectively is a subsidy.

Edit: That money is actually spent, though indirectly through health care etc.


Which is to say, it’s a subsidy that we pay with people’s health and people’s lives.


From a transportation standpoint, this is far more nefarious than people recognize at first glance. Cars and transit are economic substitutes: if you make one cheaper, you take users from the other. That much is a given, but people underestimate the impact this has on transit finances.

Transit is mostly a fixed cost business (step-fixed cost technically). That means that the marginal rider brings marginal revenue, but no additional costs. Transit operations have a break-even point: when you have X riders, you break even. Anything more is pure profit, and anything less is a negative cash flow.

When you rob transit of customers by subsidizing cars, you make transit less sustainable. Subsidizing cars literally means you'll end up subsidizing transit too. The opposite is true, and it's provable: Transit is dramatically more profitable in countries where driving is less subsidized. It was wildly profitable in the US too, before we started subsidizing cars.

The answer to getting more transit funding isn't to pay more in general fund taxes or fares, it is actually to tax road users. Tax road users appropriately, and transit will have more more users, more revenues, and little to no increase in costs. A 5% reduction in car use could double transit ridership nationwide. Oh, and our roads will have more maintenance funding, less congestion, and less wear and tear. A win-win if there ever was one.


People don't use mass transit when the density is too low for it. That happens more as a result of zoning than fuel costs, because fuel costs money but mass transit costs time. When you raise (long-term) fuel costs people mostly just buy more fuel efficient cars rather than driving less. Whereas if you increase housing density then you have more passengers per unit area and can increase mass transit frequency, which makes it more convenient, which causes more people to actually use it, which allows you to have even more frequent service etc.

The way to make mass transit work is to make mass transit better, not to make driving worse. Nobody wants something which is worse than what they already have.


But the best way to make mass transit better is often to give it exclusive use of space (aka bus lanes) and drivers moan endlessly when that happens.


That's because you're taking away space (i.e. making driving worse) in a way which is incredibly inefficient. You have an entire lane dedicated to a bus that only travels in it a dozen times a day.

It also has failure built into the mechanism, because it only "works" by making the bus lane better relative to driving, which is only effective when there is heavy congestion in the car lanes. Which means it's impossible for it to relieve that congestion or else it would lose its effectiveness. Methods that require failure and inefficiency in order to operate are inherently ridiculous.

The best way to make mass transit better is to build taller buildings. Then you can run more trains and buses while still having them full, which means they arrive more frequently and you waste less time waiting for them, which means more people willingly choose to use them over driving.

The second best way (which is complementary) is to not charge mass transit fares. Then more people use it because it's cheaper, which again justifies more frequent service and reduces the inconvenience. Yet you're not making driving worse, you're making it better by allowing more people to willingly choose mass transit rather than being pressured into it with penalties, which reduces congestion for cars. You also save a huge pile of money for not needing a fare collection infrastructure, and improve privacy because it's all too common for transit payment systems to be coupled to movement tracking infrastructure (which you also then don't have to pay for either).


> That's because you're taking away space (i.e. making driving worse) in a way which is incredibly inefficient. You have an entire lane dedicated to a bus that only travels in it a dozen times a day.

It's more efficient, not less. Bus lanes don't get built for buses that only have 12 trips a day. They're typically for places that have 10 minute frequencies or better. At 10 minute frequencies, with standard 40 foot buses, the lane capacity is about equal. With 2 minute frequencies, a single bus lane has a capacity about four regular lanes.

Under peak loads, during rush hour, that lane is worth every second of inconvenience to drivers. If they would rather have an extra lane and 3,000 additional drivers on the road, they'll regret it.


> At 10 minute frequencies, with standard 40 foot buses, the lane capacity is about equal.

At 10 minute intervals at 40 MPH, you have 35200 feet -- more than six miles -- of empty lane between each bus. At a 15 foot car length and one car length between each car, you could fit more than a thousand cars in that lane instead of that one bus.

Even if every car has only one occupant and not one of the bus passengers are people who would have taken the bus if not for the bus lane, buses don't carry more than a thousand people, so you've reduced the carrying capacity of the road.

Using two minute intervals would still be consuming space that could fit hundreds of cars, so to be worthwhile you would have to have very large buses, they would have to be entirely full on every trip, and every passenger would have to displace a whole car, which is implausible because some people would have taken the bus either way and some cars would have had more than one occupant.

Moreover, if you would fill a bus every two minutes then you have enough density to justify operating a subway, in which case you still don't have a bus lane.


> People don't use mass transit when the density is too low for it.

This isn't quite right. There are many reasons people use public transit besides convenience (poverty, disability, inebriation). My home town is very spread out (1000 per square mile) and many of its buses run only every hour or two. This doesn't mean there are no riders, it just means that people who can drive do.

Density impacts the costs of operating transit and makes it more cost effective to provide higher quality transit. Higher quality transit means more people will use that transit.

> Nobody wants something which is worse than what they already have.

I want something better than what we have, which is walk-able city centers and less space wasted on mandatory parking. Just because driving has been subsidized for decades doesn't mean we can't stop subsidizing driving and shift that money to subsidizing mass transit instead.


> There are many reasons people use public transit besides convenience (poverty, disability, inebriation).

Sure, but those aren't really helpful ways to increase ridership. Increasing the number of people with a disability or promoting poverty or alcoholism in order to increase use of mass transit is not a reasonable plan even if it would be effective.

> I want something better than what we have, which is walk-able city centers and less space wasted on mandatory parking.

Mandatory parking is indeed very stupid. If there isn't enough parking then people will build more. There is no legitimate reason to mandate it by law.


> People don't use mass transit when the density is too low for it.

Density is too low for it because driving is artificially cheap.


Density is too low because urban housing is artificially expensive.


Yep. With California’s for all its environmentally table pounding, I still can’t get from LA to Palm Springs by train.


Sounds to me like another coastal hippie who hates the middle class.

Literally we're in the middle of this fight right now in Canada with carbon taxes. The right wing party is losing their mind over a 4c/L price hike on gasoline even though there was an upfront rebate before the tax kicked in this summer. Check out the madness: https://arealplan.ca/about-our-plan/#failedTrudeauCarbonTax

So we know where we need to go. What's the sane political path that gets us there?


Canada is doing it the best way that I know how. Calculate the funding gap that is made up by general fund taxes, charge it directly via road use taxes or gas taxes, and then allocate the general fund savings to everybody in the form of a tax refund.

Then you have to sell it, and that's where Canada doesn't seem to be doing it right. For the vast majority of road users, this would be a net win. For those that drive a lot of miles, to the point where it would not be a financial win, it's still a quality of life win: most of the cost is offset, and some of it goes towards reducing traffic and having better roads to drive on. Those points need to be hammered home. Hell, I'm mostly a tax-hating libertarian, but I'm practically begging for this.


I will agree that the current Liberal government really botched the messaging and rollout of this, but it's been immensely frustrating watching the opposition party go to down on it with bad-faith arguments and misinformation about how the tax is "costing Canadians".

And that doesn't even get into distractions like the provincial government in Ontario putting propaganda stickers on pumps and a tempest in a teapot about how sales tax is being charged after the carbon tax, and the sales tax is not also being rebated, therefore the whole thing is a giant fraud.


The US government lets oil companies get away with drastically underpaying royalties for oil extracted from federal land. That's pretty close to a direct cash subsidy.

The government could deal with its deficit problems and have a de facto carbon tax just by auditing the oil companies and making them pay the royalties they agreed to pay.


Are there actual direct tax breaks, direct government funding for oil companies?

I'm pro-solar, a TSLA investor, but also feel it seems dishonest to use the word subsidy to mean long-term environmental costs. Those costs are obviously not good for us, but they are not subsidies per-se, using that word gives the impression that the government is directly wiring money to oil corporations.


It's not honest to use vaguely defined externalities defined as subsidies when they influence the results this much:

https://imgur.com/a/HioRu4X


It is perfectly reasonable use of the word for public discourse, and it's explicitly outlines.


It's not? Our externalities might literally put some nations completely underwater. How much would it cost to raise the entire Maldives by 1 meter?


Might is a big word. Climate change might cause the Earth to turn into Venus, or it might just involve nation's doubling thir seawall budgets.

Climate studies have wide error bars.


And you might die tomorrow, so stop saving for retirement?

I would imagine the error bars on a 1m sea rise to be a lot narrower than the error bars for Earth turning into Venus.


You almost had a good point, but we know for a fact that simply doubling sea wall budgets is a dramatically inadequate response to climate change.

For example, obviously that won't do anything to mitigate the temperature increases, agricultural problems, or ecological damage.


What is your point? In this case "might" is used quite responsibly and arguably, understates the likely-hood. While the error bars on how much ocean level rise we will see are fairly large, the chances that some (small island) nations are going to be put completely underwater are fairly close to guaranteed.


These calculations are made up from more or less arbitrary numbers and assumptions. Let me make a similar spurious calculation, but from the other side of the fence:

Renewable subsidies in the US cost 14 billion/year, which could be spent on cancer research instead.

The average cancer drug costs 1,4 billion dollars to develop, so renewable subsidies are equivalent to 10 cancer drugs.

Let's say that there's 30,000 cases of cancer annually that each of these drugs can treat successfully. Let's take the "mortality value" of $6,1 million per US citizen straight out of the IMF report: That's 10 x 30,000 x 6.1million = 1.83 trillion dollars.

In other words, by using the same kind of spurious reasoning, fossil fuel subsidies in the US alone would account for almost two trillion dollars.


>"hey fossil fuels, let's 1v1" sincerely, solar

Let's do it. Let's see how well solar does at night, or on a cloudy day, or during winters, or evenings, or early in the mornings.

The problem with solar (and wind) is not really the price. The problem is that it is intermittent power source that cannot, by itself, power a modern economy and there is no battery technology to bridge the intermittency gap. That's why it needs to be paired with natural gas (or bio-fuels, or another carbon-based energy source) to make it remotely viable. This is why natural gas companies are one of the biggest lobby groups for wind and solar.

Worse, wind and solar are atrocious for nuclear, because nuclear cannot wind-up and wind-down the way a natural gas generator can.


This is one of the most blatantly pro-fossil, anti-renewable posts I have seen on HN.

First off, yes there is battery technology to bridge the gap. Solar+battery storage is an increasingly common purchase for utilities today, there are home-batteries for purchase for consumers from multiple companies. To say battery storage doesn't exist and isn't cheaper than oil/coal grid power is simply false.

Second, renewables can have higher capacity factors than many fossil-fuel plants, so saying they're intermittent and fossil-fuel is not is false. Surely, solar is weaker in winter, but wind is stronger at night, and seasonal storage is the main issue here. Yes, we will be using natural gas for winter and certain Northerly regions for decades to come, but it will become increasingly niche/reserve as batteries, solar, and wind get even cheaper.

Renewables absolutely do not need to be paired with natural gas to make it "remotely viable". There are numerous markets with very high % of renewables already, and it turns out utility operators are very smart and know how to plan very well. Renewables can reach very high market penetration, given solar is a day resource and wind is a night resource, in general. The main issue is bringing demand response online to tailor your loads to fit your renewables: charge EVs, batteries, use AC/heating, industrial processes, all can be tailored to the price of electricity, given a smart utility.


>This is one of the most blatantly pro-fossil, anti-renewable posts I have seen on HN.

Reality itself is pro-fossil. Fossil fuel is very damaging, but it's also an excellent, almost free, source of huge amounts of stored energy left for us to discover and use...

Solar/wind are much cleaner, but oversold.

If we got rid of fossils tonight, we'd be in the dark ages for decades (if not permanently). Even building solar/wind installations, at the moment, relies on fossil fuel infrastructure, plus the traditional grid required...

>First off, yes there is battery technology to bridge the gap.

Not at the scale requited to bridge the gap. "home-batteries for purchase for consumers" do their job because the demand and use is still very small...

>(...) so saying they're intermittent and fossil-fuel is not is false (...) Yes, we will be using natural gas for winter and certain Northerly regions for decades to come

Well, they are intermittent, and fossil fuel is not.

>Renewables absolutely do not need to be paired with natural gas to make it "remotely viable".

You just wrote: "we will be using natural gas for winter and certain Northerly regions for decades to come"...

Countries don't spend trillions on fossil fuels because "solar/wind is cheaper" and storage is "a solved problem", or because of some big conspiracy - they do it because it's not...


No, it just expose the realities of that market, seasonal storage is not a solved problem. Why would it be pro fossil ?

Battery do not solve seasonal storage, for the USA it needs 8 to 16 weeks of it, and Tesla global battery output is just a few minutes of it per years.

Higher capacity factor still doesn't mean on demand.

Markets with very high % of renewables all benefits form big hydro or geothermal sources, it doesn't apply in every countries.


Technically, storage is a solved problem. It's not even hard, and y'all keep saying it's impossible. The unsolved problem is cost. And it's a simple formula... how much grid storage is needed to account for variations? And what does that storage cost? The moment the combined wind/solar + storage cost drops below the cost of coal/nuclear, it wins.

And intermittency for wind is completely overblown (no pun intended). Tower-height winds are much steadier than surface-height winds, due to lack of surface-related turbulence. And we have a couple of decades of measurement of large wind installations, so the expected variation isn't exactly a surprise unknown.


"No, it just expose the realities of that market, seasonal storage is not a solved problem."

It's called a flywheel, batteries, pumps to power hydro reservoirs, and more. The solutions are there, you refuse to see them.


I have suggested multiple times on HN that we should set a date where all burning of fossil fuel for power and heat is banned.

The answer I kept seeing from pro-renewable/anti-nuclear people is that banning fossil fuels is unrealistic and impossible. Battery is a tiny part of a tiny part when solar/wind is not producing, as can be seen in sites that provide real time data from EU.

Take a random country in EU. Look at how much energy is produced by wind at peak. Compare it to the lowest lowest point, remove nuclear and hydro, and you get how much fossil fuels that country use at peak. For most countries that is natural gas or coal and it matches wind production almost (only almost as natural gas is a bit more expensive than peak wind, as peak wind can even get negative in purchasing price).

There is also numbers on what power plants countries are currently building. The top one: natural gas power plants. Second one, wind. The power plants we build today is what will produce power tomorrow, and the vector of where investment and constructions is being put is in favor of more natural gas, not less. Nuclear is in many places being replaced by natural gas.

But to get back on track, lets have this ban of fossil fuels in energy and heating. I wish it would happen. It would be great for the environment, force an answer with money on the table on question if nuclear is cheaper than battery, and finally distance the renewable movement away from natural gas. The Northerly regions are not really a big coal/gas users anyway because they also tend to have mountains, rivers, and few people. Hydro will work perfectly fine as long the energy does need to go to southern regions.

To put it simply: countries need to stop building natural gas powers plants and put those investments into battery or nuclear. That is the progress bar for a completely renewable energy grid. As far as I can read it stand right now at almost 0%.


Thank you for being the voice of reason <3 Small correction though on your last paragraph: nuclear is not a renewable energy, but it does not emit carbon.


Geothermal is not renewable either, but we say it is. There is so much Uranium, I would consider it "close enough"


If geothermal isn't renewable, then neither is solar. Or wind. Or hydro. Those all trace to irreversable conversion of hydrogen to helium. Geothermal comes from fission, just like nuclear.


Geothermal does not come from fission. It comes from some combination of primordial heat (which is gravitational), and alpha and beta decay (not fission).


I had gathered that primordial heat would have petered out billions of years ago. That the radioactive decay cited as providing long-term heat is not primarily fission is a surprise. But isn't alpha decay really a kind of fission? It's not useful for chain reactions, but that's a whole other topic.


No, alpha decay is a distinct nuclear process.


And the article is blatantly pro-renewable, what’s your point? If anything, the parent comment brings up issues that are often ignored and glossed over.


>To say battery storage doesn't exist and isn't cheaper than oil/coal grid power is simply false.

If that were true, nobody would be using either fossil source.

Of course it’s not cheaper. Battery technology costs so much it’s the whole reason we have the base load discussion all of the time.


Transitions take time. We can't just flip a switch from one technology to another. What we are seeing is that the cost drop over the past decade for wind/solar/gas is so drastic that coal and nuclear are simply shutting down, because it's cheaper to shutter the plant than to keep it running. Electric utilities are taking multi-billion dollar writeoffs, because that tech is obsolete.

Nobody is building coal plants now, period. Most of the nuclear projects on the drawing board are getting canceled before ground is broken, because they can't hit the necessary price targets.


The main problem with nuclear in the west is mismanagement and loss of skills amongst construction and engineering staff. Many countries haven't built a nuclear powerplant in decades, and are having difficult now.

China is doing much better, and so is France and even Russia is doing ok, as they have a larger and more experienced workforce regularly building reactors.

I live in the UK and for the past decade every major construction project I can remember was massively delayed and over budget. Currently its HS2 and crossrail. So the faults don't appear to be specific to nuclear in industry.


Nuclear failed to hits its price points in the US even back in the first building boom. There was never a time here when nuclear was economical.


> If that were true, nobody would be using either fossil source.

Sunk costs are a thing.


I want to someone to lay out for me what a solar/wind grid would look like. I WANT to be convinced. How is the intermittency gap actually bridged. Tell me. I WANT to know.

>There are numerous markets with very high % of renewables already

And what do those markets do when the sun ain't shining and wind ain't blowing?

>all can be tailored to the price of electricity, given a smart utility.

And this 'smart utility' it exists in the real world? Where?


You build a shitton of wind and solar and a good grid that is as large as possible so that it's always windy somewhere in your grid. Peak production capacity should be a good bit higher than peak consumption. During the buildout phase you replace coal with gas peaker plants (you'll need them later). Then you add enough batteries and hydro storage to get you through a night or a bad day. If you can, use demand shaping technologies, e.g. charge electric cars and run aluminium smelters when it's particularly sunny or windy. Then you add power-to-gas facilities that produce Methane from electricity and use the existing infrastructure for strategic NG reserves to store it. For long periods of low production (e.g. winter) you turn the gas back into electricity.

How much wind and solar you need depends on how good you are with lowering demand, for example by insulating homes, shifting transportation to trains and building heat pumps.


> Then you add power-to-gas facilities that produce Methane from electricity and use the existing infrastructure for strategic NG reserves to store it. For long periods of low production (e.g. winter) you turn the gas back into electricity.

The efficiency of this process is like 35%. (power to gas to power with methane).

If you're making a bunch of methane anyways, it might be OK to fill in a little with this, but this does not sound like a great overall strategy.

Why not just throw in a little nuclear for base load, and then everything looks a lot better/easier?


If solar costs less than a third what nuclear does (which is where we're headed, we're already down to half), why do you need nuclear base load? Why not just do this gas conversion?

Nuclear is basically dead right now because of cost. The biggest factor in nuclear cost is financing and interest rates, which are very risk-sensitive. When existing nuclear plants are shutting down right now, because they're losing major customers to cheaper wind power, what happens to the risk on 50 year investment scales? Risk goes up, interest goes up, and plant cost skyrockets. So the very fact that nuclear costs more than renewables makes nuclear even more expensive than before.


> If solar costs less than a third what nuclear does (which is where we're headed, we're already down to half),

Because power to gas to power delivers a fraction of the input power, and has a bunch of cost itself-- it isn't free.


I'm not saying it's free. Sheesh. I'm saying that there's some point on the price curve where it becomes cheaper than nuclear, even for base load. Now, that point may never happen. Or maybe it's already happened, and will be scaled out over the next couple of decades.

The cost of PV solar has dropped over 80% in the past decade, and we don't know what the bottom is yet.


I am saying that even if pv gets cheap enough that the input power through 1/3rd efficiency is the same as nuclear... power to gas costs a lot IN ADDITION to the input power. And then burning that gas in a power plant costs something, too.

So reaching parity seems difficult.


The cost of electrolyzers has also fallen dramatically.

On the other side, gas turbines are incredibly cheap. A simple cycle gas turbine plant costs as little as $400/kW, vs. $10,000/kW for a nuclear plant.

It's this huge cost advantage of combustion turbines that is making natural gas such a killer competitor these days (along with fracking).


Sure, but the point I am making is: having the input power alone cost the same as something else is not the same as reaching cost parity with it. Because one must consider all expenses, not just the expense of the input power.


Solar has not reached cost parity with nuclear. It has blown through cost parity. Solar and wind are 3-4x cheaper than nuclear, on a levelized basis (depending on location). This gives them both plenty of space to implement storage, curtailment, transmission, and/or demand management and still beat nuclear.


Person A says if solar is 1/3rd the cost of nuclear, and energy-to-gas-to-energy is 1/3rd efficient, it should be cost-neutral with nuclear.

> If solar costs less than a third what nuclear does (which is where we're headed, we're already down to half), why do you need nuclear base load? Why not just do this gas conversion?

I objected, because energy to gas costs money, and gas to energy uses money. You have to count the other costs before you can assume cost parity.

Simple enough?


It is cost neutral with nuclear during those occasional times when you're burning the gas to make power.

It blows the socks off nuclear at other times.

But nuclear needs to get its high prices 24/7 to make economic sense. Otherwise, the cost of that 20% capacity factor nuclear is going to balloon even higher.

Simple enough?


We are talking in two different subthreads at the same time.

Stick to the argument here. It is very simple.

Power->gas->power requires capital costs and operating costs. Even if PV is 3x as cost-efficient as nuclear, PV power divided by three and then paying for p->g->p is not cost neutral.

P->g->p has to pay for its costs over the narrow times where it is actually filling in. The rest of the time it is a dead weight.


Ah, but the capital cost of p->g->p is very low, per kW of capacity, compared to a nuclear plant. Like, an order of magnitude cheaper. Combustion turbines are so damned cheap compared to nuclear plants.

(The p->g part can be spread out over longer time periods, with the gas stored underground.)


Capital cost is around $3000/kilowatt of output for p->g.

This is hardly negligible-- indeed it's nearly half the capital cost of nuclear, and doesn't include the costs of storage, the cheap combustion turbine, or the infrastructure to produce the extra input power. Duty cycle for this infrastructure is going to suck, too, because presumably we're not going to be overproducing all the time.

Also, burning the fuel may not be so cheap. Best way to improve the capital cost of p->g relative to actual work done is to do combined heat and power... but this adds its own complexities and costs.

It may prove to be an important piece of the mix, but again: diversity is good.


I want you to be explicit in that $3000/kW figure. Is that per kW of peak OUTPUT, or per KW of effective INPUT? The input cost is spread over a longer time, so the capital cost there per kW is less important. Using nuclear for this would put all the capital cost on the output side, where it is more expensive, operating at a low capacity factor.

Consider a system intended to cover occasional shortages, happing 10% of the time. The p->g->p system would have to generate hydrogen at ~1/10th the rate it is consumed. So, if the turbines are 40% efficient, 1 kW of output capacity would require .25 kW of hydrogen generation capacity (measured in the energy content of the hydrogen; multiply by another smallish factor for efficiency of the electrolyzers).

In contrast, 1 kW of coverage from nuclear would require 1 kW of expensive nuclear capacity. You might be able to claw back some of that cost by selling power at other times, but you'll be getting only a small fraction of the total cost of making it at those times. So, the fixed costs of that nuclear capacity are going to have to be earned during that 10%, and the rate that would have to be charged would be ruinous.

I don't see how nuclear could possibly be competitive for this, if one analyzes the situation properly.


> Consider a system intended to cover occasional shortages, happing 10% of the time.

Which means, in turn, that renewable has to be engineered to be sufficient for 90th percentile circumstances.

And that GTP has to have turbines sufficient for 99.99th percentile - 90th percentile circumstances. This may be a rather long tail-- in the 99.99th percentile circumstance, renewables may be making very little and demand high.

And that PTG has to have electrolyzers that have enough capacity on, say, 0-60th percentile circumstances (because you don't want to tap some things, like reservoir hydroelectric, to run PTG) to make enough gas for those outcomes.

If you have 20% of your power coming from a reliable, constant source, every step in the above chain can be much more than 20% smaller, because you absorb a lot more of the long tail and because load shedding, etc, is more effective against the remaining unreliable power.

As an aside, there's a bit of an analogy to investing. Having a bit of a low-return, reliable instrument in your portfolio is helpful. Yes, it "costs a lot" compared to investing in the market-- that 2% interest bond costs 5x as much as investing in the market to 10% average returns-- but it is a stable source of value and reduces the volatility of the cost of spending money a whole lot.


I'm in favor of doing that, but I don't think it's necessary or helps a whole lot. Nuclear power plants need to run close to max capacity all the time to make financial sense at all. So you can't use them to bridge over low production for wind and solar. They also take ages to build. Nuclear might make sense for district heating in winter, but people generally don't like having nuclear plants close to where they live.


Yah, you use nuclear for base load, and then conserve hydroelectric resources for times when you need to bridge over missing wind/solar.

It's almost like you're saying that having 30% of the power completely reliable and non-variable doesn't make the problem considerably easier.

Nuclear makes an annoyingly constant amount that has little to do with demand. Wind makes an annoyingly variable amount that has nothing to do with demand.


>Nuclear power plants need to run close to max capacity all the time to make financial sense at all.

That's right. And we know that they work and they can scale with our needs. We know we can make them cleaner and more efficient.

Maybe wind and solar just isn't the technology of the future for anything by niche applications.


Nuclear would have been a good solution if we started thirty years ago. By today we don't have enough time to go 100% nuclear before we emitted to much CO2. We have less than ten years of current emissions left if we want to stay below 1.5°. Building nuclear power plants takes longer than that.


>Nuclear would have been a good solution if we started thirty years ago.

Talk about an understatement. Imagine the trillions of tons of CO2 that would not have been emitted into the atmosphere had the developed world invested in nuclear to the same level as France. It would maybe bought us another 50 years.

Really puts into perspective the destructive force of anti-nuclear environmentalism.

>We have less than ten years of current emissions left if we want to stay below 1.5°

Hate to break it to you, solar/wind/battery isn't going to do it. It can't do it today, and there's nothing forthcoming to change that. Germany who went all in, is projecting 2060s as the time they wean themselves off of fossil fuels. France on the other hand is essential fossil-fuel free from power generation today, as is my home province on most days (thanks to Nuclear and Hydro) [1].

[1]http://live.gridwatch.ca/home-page.html


We can't get to 100% with solar/wind in a decade, either. Do what we can with solar/wind, and also start building nuclear base load.


Production of all carbon free energy, sources: solar + wind + nuclear, is not enough to get to 100%in a decade, unfortunately


"Building nuclear power plants takes longer than that."

So fix that broken process. This is a nonsense result.


And we know they will cost two arms and a leg, compared to renewables.


Yah, I don't advocate a majority-nuclear grid.

But at some point, the variability of renewables is going to start costing two arms and a leg, too. So a bit of dependable, low-carbon power in the mix sounds really good.


But that doesn't work. Adding a little bit of nuclear to a mostly renewable grid is useless. Most of the output of the nuclear plants is thrown away when the renewables are generating, so the marginal cost of covering the remaining slack periods is hideously bad. Other sources would be cheaper (in particular, burning CO2-free hydrogen in turbines, or using natural gas w. atmospheric CO2 capture.)


You add a bit of nuclear-- 10 to 30%.

Then you size wind and solar for the remaining 70-90% of load, say 70th percentile.

During the remaining 30% of the time, you use agreements that allow you to shed load and you draw upon intermittent hydroelectric resources.

The solar/wind overcapacity factor and the remaining bit of battery or power->gas->power you need can be much, much smaller because the reliable nuclear base load really stretches the hydro and load shedding.

And you can use the "extra nuclear power" when wind/solar are overproducing to pump hydro, charge batteries, or make gas for power->gas->power.

Put another way: the reliable nuclear energy just subtracts a constant amount from grid demand, and the remaining wind/solar production variability is reduced proportionally.


Your proposal doesn't work, though. It requires that nuclear be subsidized by buying its power 24/7, even when much cheaper sources are available. This opportunity cost, if properly accounted for, makes the cost for the gaps that nuclear fills in for very very expensive. Trying to use the excess nuclear for hydrogen production, battery charging, etc. doesn't save you, for basically the same reason.

Nuclear is expensive, and you can't shuffle that expense around under three walnut shells hoping it will somehow disappear.


Obviously the proposal does work, in that France basically has it implemented. and has 1/10th the emissions per unit of electricity of countries that have moved heavily towards renewables only, and some of the lowest electrical prices in Europe. ;)

You're playing with apples and oranges. You want us to look the other way while all the exotic things done to fill in for renewable supply/demand mismatches are not amortized over a tiny number of hours of operation, but want to point to the same problem with nuclear.

A diversity of power sources, each with their own problems (cost [nuclear/storage], invariability [nuclear], volatility [wind/pv], total resources available [hydro/geothermal] is what will get us through this. Especially since we're really maxing out what we can do with wind and solar and it's not going to ramp high enough in time to save us.


No, I continue to think you are mistaken, for the reasons I've given. I think if we optimize out the energy system of the future, taking into account cost of construction and operation, it's going to optimize to 0% nuclear.

France's past system is irrelevant, since it was built at a time when renewables were completely noncompetitive. The world has changed now, and changed radically. Going forward, France will be going renewable too.


France is evidence that we can readily get to low carbon electric grids using nuclear power and relatively little technology.

Sure, it's expensive, but all the things we'll have to do to have an all-renewable grid are pretty expensive themselves and unproven.

Yes, we should end up with a much smaller mix of nuclear than France had, to help optimize cost. But it is an option available now that we know will work, and I believe that the optimum point is not 0% nuclear. (In western democracies, though, nuclear has become practically impossible. This hasn't stopped a large amount of reactor construction in China, so obviously planners there disagree with your assessment).

Further, nuclear and wind are comparable in CO2 emissions, and PV is a few times worse. So if we really care about minimizing CO2 there will be some nuclear in the mix.

Betting everything on power->gas->power when we have basically no evidence that this will be economical at scale is crazy. Betting on pumped hydro or battery storage is also dubious. We should be pursuing all avenues available to us.

Also, making a pure opportunity cost argument is a little weird as well. The investments are not purely fungible. That's why we should both give extensive resources to ramp PV and resources to ramp nuclear and resources to ramp p->g->p, because they're not the same resources.


France is evidence that putative economic buildouts of nuclear are not repeatable, if they were ever actually economical in the first place.

It is not an option we know will work. The inability of France to replicate their previous putative success means we can't take any of that for granted.

We have evidence that nuclear will NOT be economical at scale. The evidence is there in a cavalcade of disastrous experiences, even in places like France were experience supposedly, by your reasoning, would have told us to expect otherwise.


Well, France exists and is not bankrupt. France has managed to do it, and leads Europe in carbon output per unit of electricity, and will not be matched for quite some time.


"How is the intermittency gap actually bridged. Tell me. I WANT to know."

There are several different ways. Demand response is significant. Large users are already paid to reduce their usage during times of tight supply. It should be economical at some level to push that much further down the list. Some utilities today already do time-of-day pricing, so make it much more explicit and allow many more people to participate. The idea that we must allow anyone to use as much electricity as they want at any time is ridiculous.

For seasonal and time of day issues, the intermittency issue is mitigated by the fact that different technologies are strong at different times. Wind is most active at night. So the answer to "what do you do when the sun isn't shining" is in fact "install wind". Similarly, wind is weak in summer. Guess what? Summer has the longest daylight periods. So solar panels produce electricity for many more hours per day. "Use electricity during the day and use much less at night" is a reasonable solution. Again, the bullshit idea that we need to allow everyone to use all of the electricity that they want at any time needs to go die in a fire.


I like to point out that at the very worst you can keep existing nuke plants and nature gas fired peeking plants around for another 15-30 years. Which means you kick the solar and wind will never work because of storage 'problem' 15-30 years into the future.

And as you said a significant proportion of 'baseload' customers will chase price whatever it is.


>Wind is most active at night.

No it isn't! Wind speed goes down at night! Wind is also highly variable across seasons and across years. Wind and solar do not complement one another very well (though, geography permitting, they may - see Texas).

>the bullshit idea that we need to allow everyone to use all of the electricity that they want at any time needs to go die in a fire.

This is your problem. You're expecting that our energy use will go down and align with what solar and wind can do. This isn't going to happen. The population is growing. Energy use is growing faster than population is growing. Third-world has still decades of growth to go. Energy use will go up. Accept that, and internalize it.

Maybe if we had no options I would be amenable to hoping for lower energy use, but we have nuclear technology that can scale to our needs, is carbon-free, and has tiny land-use. All the alternatives have major downsides. Biofuels require thousands of acres of corn or whatever. Wind is terrible for birds, requires building high-tech machines (equivalent of jet-engines) with a lot of moving parts, needing lots of maintenance. Solar has huge land-use requirements. Both wind and solar contain rare earth elements which need huge mines to extract and we're not even sure we have enough of those to meet demand if everyone switches to those technologies.

Meanwhile, there's nuclear. All ready for a major renaissance, and people who purport to care about fossil fuel emissions are still spreading FUD about it.


> First off, yes there is battery technology to bridge the gap.

Not really, worldwide production capacity is several magnitudes below what would be necessary to buffer a large renewable rollout. The most realistic way to do it is natural gas, as they do in Australia.

Plus, current battery production requires materials that are highly problematic from an environmental standpoint.

> There are numerous markets with very high % of renewables already, and it turns out utility operators are very smart and know how to plan very well.

Which ones would that be? Look at Germany: Total failure to reduce CO2, high reliance on coal. Look at Australia: Supported almost entirely by natural gas. Those are the biggest rollouts of wind energy besides China, but you cannot trust any numbers coming out of China.


> Not really, worldwide production capacity is several magnitudes below what would be necessary to buffer a large renewable rollout.

Which definition of 'buffer' are you using here? Enough to supply day to day drops, or some kind of year-round system?

Wind and solar would need to scale up two orders of magnitude, and it's not hard to imagine batteries scaling along with them. How many more orders of magnitude would batteries need to scale up?


Current battery production is tiny, services small consumer electeonics and some cars. It's at least two orders of magnitude. Day to day drops are realistic, but buffering from summer to winter is out of question really.


> Current battery production is tiny, services small consumer electeonics and some cars. It's at least two orders of magnitude.

That is 100% fine. It only has to scale as fast as the power production. If they're both scaling two orders of magnitude, they should work hand in hand just fine.

> Day to day drops are realistic, but buffering from summer to winter is out of question really.

Good! Day to day is all you need. It's ridiculous to use batteries between seasons, and there are far better technologies to use.


Battery production needs to scale about two extra orders of magnitude- current production can't backup current renewables.

The current battery prices are reflective of relatively small spale, high value needs of consumer electronics industry and a nascent electric car industry. Hopefully the price will drop massively, like it did for solar panels, but currently we can't even produce enough for cars


I wholly agree with your start - let's do it. The best example we have so far is the Orkneys. Tiny, but a nett power exporter built on renewables, and managing easily. A proper example is sorely needed.

Kit out a nation with wholly solar, wind, hydro etc. Add whatever pumped storage and battery the grid might require. Start moving to modern standards of insulation and community heat and power schemes. Stable, secure, and cheaper heat and power.

If, as you claim, there is a gap in the capability of renewables (which I don't believe for a moment), we need to learn how large it is, as soon as possible.

I suspect it's only vested interests stopping us.


>The best example we have so far is the Orkneys.

Orkneys is a tiny (20k) region, that is connected to the national grid. That's how they solve their intermittency. That they produce excess energy during peak, is fine and dandy, but that's not what we're trying to solve here.

>Add whatever pumped storage and battery the grid might require.

Woah woah woah woah. You just yadda-yadda over the MOST important part. You know, the thing that makes solar/wind unworkable. Pumped storage requires very specific geography and huge land-use. It is not a general purpose answer. And there is no battery technology to power a modern city (much less a nation) for even minutes, much less weeks.

Now what?

>I suspect it's only vested interests stopping us.

No. It's not. It really isn't.


I specifically called out their being tiny. Which is why we need a larger scale example. Nevertheless, despite having the interconnect they are a nett exporter each year, and at the export capacity of that interconnect. Being tiny there is nowhere to put pumped storage, yet they are already using a smart grid managing household, and I think EV batteries. So yeah, they use the grid as storage.

Of course pumped storage, and other storage is a general purpose answer. You don't need 100% capacity to power a nation for weeks. Chances of no sun at all, no rain and empty rivers, and no wind across the whole British Isles, or Europe, including offshore? Nil. So now it needs an appropriate balance of sources, and storage. I don't know what that is in TWh, but I know with certainty it is not "running a nation for weeks".

In reasonable terms, some mix of new projects like Dinorwig, that can run for about 6 hours at max power, battery, managed battery and the more exotic like power to hydrogen - already in use in Orkney, and molten salt that can cover some period far less than weeks will be the right answer.


A house with a solar panel can be a net exporter. So can an island tied to a larger grid.

It is completely orthogonal to the intermittency problem mentioned.

The grid isn't "storage". And yes, Orkney is tiny, but it also needs proportionally less storage.


No, it really isn't. They are inseparable in building a smart grid of intermittent sources.

A house that is an overall exporter still needs coverage for the night time. Maybe household battery, maybe import from the grid. It does not need a battery capable of weeks or even an entire day.

A city needs some TWh capacity when solar is not functioning, some other capacity when wind is not functioning, etc. It's perfectly reasonable to import some of that from other parts of the country or region which aren't currently cloudy or wind-free, and export when there is excess. Storage needs to cover any shortfall, and some excess to cover growth and the unforeseen. It doesn't need to run for weeks assuming zero replacement for a period of dead calm, or assuming country or continent wide dead calm.

If you want every house or city a self contained island without grid interconnect, then your storage requirements ramp up markedly.


Sure, the covariance between solar and wind production at one site isn't 1; and the covariance between all the contributing sites for wind isn't 1. So it does smooth out to some extent. (To some extent-- there are practical limits on grid size).

However, it's inescapable that you need a whole lot of storage. As we conceptualize it now, the grid has to remain available during 1% and 0.1% events.

Again, your point is orthogonal to what was said. If someone grouses about storage, mentioning a net exporter provides zero information. Mentioning that my house is a net exporter does nothing to inform them.


Wind and solar produced electricity. Electricity is a subset of energy (around 20% i think)

Last summer in Denmark was amazing. The best we have had in a long time, the result was that the wind didn't blow wich meant no energy.

So Denmark had to buy their energy from Germany, another country who is all in on trying to use alternatives.

Of course that couldnt' deliver and instead they got energy from coal.

There is so much misinformation going on when it comes to how wonderful solar and wind is.

The reality is that they are less than 1% of the worlds energy production and not projected to be more than around 30% in 2040.

In short. You are as wrong as you can be with regards to your believe in wind and solar.

Hydro is better but only works in some places.


Solar growth projections vs reality: https://steinbuch.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/photovoltaic-grow...

Electricity can be used to replace all uses of energy we have today more or less economically. AFAIK anything but airplanes has replacements that are as good or better than the fossil fuel variant. Problematic are things like concrete and steel production, where we don't have good replacements yet.


Bear in mind that solar capacity and actually fulfilling electricity demand from that capacity are two very different things. The capacity factor of solar is between 20-30% as compared to >50% for fossil fuels and >90% for nuclear [1].

Hydrogen powered aircraft are hypothesized, but require lightweight hydrogen vessels. Maritime vessels can only be feasibly powered by nuclear power. The energy density of batteries is orders of magnitude less than fossil fuels, and sail boats cannot feasibly fulfill demand for shipping. There's a very strong aversion to nuclear energy, so we'll probably be burning fossil fuels in ships for a long time.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacity_factor#Capacity_facto...


Thank you for mentioning nuclear ships, they are a very important and totally ignored piece of the puzzle.

We already have a large nuclear fleet of ships, but they are mostly warships and ice breakers. But as soon as you mention that giant containerships should be nuclear people go ballistic!

They also miss the fact that a nuclear container ship would be 2-3 times faster as fuel economy is a non-issue. That means it would go a long way in replacing air freight and land freight, where you don't need shipment in a day but can't wait a month.

By the looks of it's due to public fear, we will end up using synthetic fuel. You might have a point on offsetting normal fuel by sequestation, but in terms of policing and managing abuse, synthetic fuel might be easier.


Ships can probably be run off hydrogen, and if that is impossible for some reason you can always make synthetic fuels. Airplanes could also run off synthetic fuels, but since airplane emissions are actually a lot worse than just their CO2 output, that is not a good solution.


Hydrogen has good energy per kilogram, but bad energy per square meter even in its liquid form [1]. Liquid hydrogen is less than 10 times as dense as water.

Synthetic fuels either require considerably greater arable land and water consumption to grow biofuel, or the use of things like algae cultivation and accelerated decomposition. It's probably more effective on a $ / CO2 mass basis to just sequester carbon and keep using refined fossil fuels. Airplanes account for a single digit fraction of the CO2 emissions from transportation, though, as their mass and drag are both tiny as compared to cargo ships.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density#/media/File:Ene...

Reply to your post below, HN is not letting me respond:

Those synthetic fuels are effectively the same as biofuels. You're using energy to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere (or a body of water, in the case of algae based biofuels) and using that carbon to power a machine.

You can either do this by using electricity generated from another artificial power source, as in your example. Or you can do this by harnessing natural energy, like setting up transparent pipes to collect solar energy into algae or by farming biomass on land. Since most energy decarbonization plans assume modest energy consumption growth, and sometimes even an overall energy consumption reduction the former plan is less feasible than harnessing naturally occurring energy.


With synthetic fuels I don't mean biofuels, which I think are a terrible idea, but instead something like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-diesel


No, it can't be used for that and the size of the batteries even for those things it can be used for is a giant issue (and thus cost)

Solars capacity factor is around 20-30 or something like that. It's not even close to being a realistic deliverer and wind doesn't change that either.

I am not joking here. If you can point me to any solution that can economically power ex. the shipping industry using electricity please point me to it so I can invest in it right away.

The reality is that we are decades if not longer away from anything close to the dream scenario you read about everywere around you which becomes very very obvious the second you start looking for investment opportunities and is a good reason why it's primarily driven by politicians, not the market.

Investments in solar and wind are declining too because china is reducing its investments. If it was so great why wouldn't the private market just take over?

My guess is that in 5 years a lot of people are going to get a rude awakening when they finally realize they've been told dreams rather than reality.

But as I said. If you can point to actual solutions to these problems then please let me know so I can invest.


You say "economically" as if there was an alternative to stopping global warming. The shipping industry won't survive catastrophic climate change.

That being said, if you google around a bit you find a number of studies showing how 100% or close to 100% renewable energy can be achieved with today's technology. There is for example

http://energywatchgroup.org/new-study-global-energy-system-b...

or this (just for Germany)

https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/ise/de/documents/p...


I don't need to google around, I know the litterature and I know the difference between what can be speculated and what can be demonstrated :) So don't worry about that.

Fusion is theoretically possible that doesn't mean we are even close to it and neither wind nor solar will be able to deliver anything close to the amount of energy (not just electricity) we need.

Again point me to a concrete solution that is currently being developed and I will invest instantly.

With regards to climate change then, first of all, it's not going to be catastrophic not even IPCC thinks that. Second of all the climate has always been changing and giving us challenges with fossil fuel we've managed to combat most of that.

You live in a rich society BECAUSE of its use of fossil fuels not despite of it.

Nature doesn't give us a safe and friendly environment we make unsafe, it gives us a hostile and dangerous environment we then make safe.

Try and give me a single example of a scientifically demonstrated consequence of the climate changing we can't deal with today.


Phytoplankton is declining: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature09268


Shame they couldn't buy it from France.


That's why a lot of big power lines between European nations are being upgraded so the grid will become more flexible in the future.


Correction 3-4% in 2040!

In other words not even close to being a realistic alternative.


That's a fair argument. Allow to counter this with: how much of this modern economy do we need ?

- high distance vs local

- high output ? (we waste 30% of food, have tons of electronic waste too)

- high frequency vs calm

I'm not trying to troll you, I'm really asking people to consider how much of this feverish economy we need.

If we cut fossil fuel for most and keep it for those with too low solar input, how would be our current society ?

It annoys me to know end when people consider the world as a fixed absolute best. Especially since there are clearly flaws.


How about when a single centralized oil refinery gets bombed by an unhappy middle-eastern country and your global productivity drops 5%?


How about the fact that we know that fossil fuels and nuclear (and hydro and geothermal if the geography allows it) can actually power a modern economy? Is there a comparable example you can point to where solar or wind successfully replaced traditional power generators?

You don't have to convince me fossil fuels are shitty and need to be replaced. I'm with you. Tell me how solar/wind replaces those.


Batteries and building _more_ of it. Batteries work. We know how to store energy. And we don't need some perfect, uber efficient storage system yet to at least begin heavily investing.

Fossil fuels have an artificial advantage simply due to oil subsidies. Even Germany is 20% wind power already.


>Batteries and building _more_ of it. Batteries work.

Point me to a battery deployment that can store enough energy to power a modern reasonably-sized city for even hours at a time, much less days or weeks.

That Tesla battery deployment in Australia? It provides a few seconds of energy.

>We know how to store energy.

No. We don't. Not at the scale we need to power an economy. That's the problem.

>Even Germany is 20% wind power already.

Sure. And the rest?

Germany is signing multi-decade, multi-billion dollar deals with autocratic Russia to import their natural gas. Is that because they believe that wind and solar can fully replace fossil fuels? Or is that they know, that solar and wind have a hard ceiling on how much power they can provide and the rest needs to be bridged by burning natural gas, or coal, or biofuels (i.e. garbage, or corn, or whatever) to make it work?


> Point me to a battery deployment that can store enough energy to power a modern reasonably-sized city for even hours at a time, much less days or weeks.

https://electrek.co/2017/12/21/worlds-largest-battery-200mw-...


The battery’s purpose is to provide power during peak hours of demand, to enhance grid stability and deliver juice during black-start conditions in case of emergency. The system is expected to peak-shave about 8% of Dalian’s expected load when it comes online in 2020.


> Point me to a battery deployment that can store enough energy to power a modern reasonably-sized city for even hours at a time, much less days or weeks.

> That Tesla battery deployment in Australia? It provides a few seconds of energy.

Let's see.

129 Megawatt-hours.

The 20th largest city in Australia has about 90 thousand people.

One estimate says that if this battery is drained at the designed 100MW it can power 30 thousand homes. And there's 2.6 people per household. So if the battery was adjusted to drain at 115MW it would power that city for over an hour.

Another estimate is that Australia averages 10MWh per person per year, that's about 103 megawatts for 90k people.

So if we pick the 23rd largest city instead then we can supply 100% of the city's power with this single installation for well over an hour.

That's a lot better than "a few seconds".

You can't drain lithium ion batteries in "a few seconds" anyway.

And for that many people, it cost around a thousand dollars each. With electricity around 30 cents a kWh, you could take a third of that and install another hour of battery each year.


>So if we pick the 23rd largest city instead then we can supply 100% of the city's power with this single installation for well over an hour.

Color me unimpressed.

>That's a lot better than "a few seconds".

It's also a lot smaller than any city that matters. 90K people is more like a town (and small at that) than a city...

It would be seconds for a city with a few million people...


> It would be seconds for a city with a few million people...

Australia only has two of those.

If you get picky enough about what counts as a city, then the problem solves itself; they become irrelevant compared to the bulk of the population.

You don't need one facility to feed an entire city.

What matters are the per capita numbers. $1000 per head, lasts an entire hour.

Install 300 of those batteries and it will cover the entire country.

And "seconds" is still wrong.

Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. 3rd, 4th, and 5th largest cities in the entire country. If you feed one of them off 129 megawatt hours, it's somewhere in the low hundreds of seconds.


>What matters are the per capita numbers. $1000 per head, lasts an entire hour.

Australian GDP per capita is $53k. So a national battery deployment to supply overnight power is roughly 1/5 the GDP of Australia. But we need more than overnight storage, since we need to account for daily and seasonal variability. Estimates range at around 8-16 weeks of storage. This isn't even remotely in the realm of reality. For comparison, at the peak of World War 2, American defense spending was roughly 1/3 of GDP.

Come on man. This is all unicorns and rainbows.


You do not use lithium ion batteries for seasonal storage. Use something else, or build enough generation for the weakest season.

1/5 of one year of GDP is not unreasonable for a major component of energy infrastructure. It's not going to be built all at once. I can't find the exact numbers for Australia, but the US has a similar GDP, similar use, much cheaper electricity, and pays 6-8% of GDP for energy. That does include more than electricity, but it's all relevant expenditure.

A fraction of 20% of GDP, because it's across many years, is firmly inside the realm of possibility. If we had to double energy costs it would still be feasible, but that's overkill. We need less than that feasible amount to fund all the necessary construction.


>You do not use lithium ion batteries for seasonal storage. Use something else

Like what?

You think I'm saying these things because I hate renewables. I'm trying to understand what people are arguing for! So you say Lithium ion batteries shouldn't be used for seasonal storage. News to me. News to a ton of people who believe that Tesla battery site can scale to that level. What is the battery technology that can store enough energy for weeks at national-scale.

Maybe there is no battery technology? Then why are coming up with these examples that you know don't work! If you look at my original post that all I said is that there is no battery technology that scales to economy-size and therefore you need fossil fuel backup for solar and wind... Which part of that is wrong?

This is my frustration because regular people and experts just handwave the answers. Germany is all on in solar and wind and fighting climate change and is hailed as a model for the world and also invest billions into gas pipelines to Russia to provide them with huge volumes of natural gas for decades!!!

What the fuck is going on? I just want to know. I'll post something, told I'm wrong but nobody will post the answer.


Most of that is negated by the rest of the sentence you cut off.

If you build enough generators for the weakest season, then you don't need to store energy for seasonal variations.

It's an option that exists as a worst case, and it's not that bad. If you're extremely worried that all your renewable generation might fail for over a week then you can have backup fossil power plants that run an average of a couple days per year.

It's not cheap but it's not outrageously expensive either. It's entirely possible to afford if it was a priority. I might even argue that it's easy for the US to afford it, if we increased electricity prices to match Australia's...

But as for long term storage, there are a few options. Other kinds of batteries exist, and are in development. Producing hydrogen or other fuels is possible, and would be carbon neutral. Even if it has bad efficiency, we'd have tons of extra electricity during the good seasons.

> all I said is that there is no battery technology that scales to economy-size and therefore you need fossil fuel backup

Well that's not the post I was arguing with. The post I was arguing with was calling it impractical to store energy for a few hours!

If we can't store for a few hours, then we need a base load backup half the time.

If we can store for a few days but not more, then we need a base load backup 1% of the time.

Huge difference. We can do the former. We can maybe do seasonal storage, but it's the former that matters.


Those numbers are not very favourable, you need at least a night of backup, so like $10k per head for batteries alone.


Well, like I said, 30 cents per kWh gives you a huge budget. If you can add one hour of capacity per year, and the battery facilities last 30 years... seems affordable.

Also wind does not stop overnight. You don't need to supply all the power.


I was assuming 100% solar, but sure you could go for wind. There is the general game of how much overcapacity you are willing to build -> in traditional grids your generation is slightly exceeding you peak needs. However, in renewable grid you probably should build significantly more (>>2X) than your peak needs, and minimise your need for battery storage.

That gives funny dynamics, where for some days electricity prices could be 0 or even negative.


>and the battery facilities last 30 years

Try 10 to 15 years. And we've never even attempted to hold energy for days or weeks at a time in these large scale deployments.


> And we've never even attempted to hold energy for days or weeks at a time in these large scale deployments.

Wouldn't that greatly reduce the wear rate?


To be clear, fossil fuels are already insufficient to power a modern day economy without trillions of artificial subsidies.

We are not in a mode where we can wait to deploy perfect technology. We will also not be going solar 100% anytime soon, but perhaps in the next few decades. The atmosphere and ocean are already unhappy, and maybe if we also invest in carbon sequestration technology we can roll back a century or so worth of damage.

You're in this mindset that immediately it's all or nothing, and that's not the case. But we do need to start investing large sums of money now instead of making oil cheaper than it would normally be on a free market.


>To be clear, fossil fuels are already insufficient to power a modern day economy without trillions of artificial subsidies.

The subsidies are part of the economy too, so clearly fossil fuels are capable to power a modern day economy. Else the economy would have gone down (due to the subsidies cost).

The problem with solar/wind is that even with the same or larger subsidies we haven't yet solved many problems for powering a modern economy with them. Even if we had a huge budget to do so with just the proviso that no fossil/nuclear is used.

And that doesn't even include the problem of replacing the fossil fuel based infrastructure itself. We don't even have enough electric battery making capacity for double the insignificant amount of electric cars sold now for example, much less for replacing every gas based car with an electric equivalent...

The


Global oil production is artificially constrained, it could be increased substantially if producers weren't afraid that prices would tank.


Which demonstrates nicely how absurdly broken our dependence on fossil fuels is.


" Let's see how well solar does at night, or on a cloudy day, or during winters, or evenings, or early in the mornings."

Hi, I work in solar, specifically cell and panel design and construction and testing. You're so dead wrong in your assumptive non-answering statement that you might as well just bury yourself.

Signed ~someone with real semiconductor experience - what do you have?


Using your definition, we could point at all the incredibly poor policy decisions the US has with China as a huge subsidy to solar and wind. China's destructive environmental and humanitarian policies are propping up solar and wind's competitiveness. Best to just stick with comparing apples to apples, or if you bring up a banana don't be shocked when someone else brings up a watermelon and you are left wondering wtf fruit has to do with energy subsidies.


Some, perhaps, but nowhere near the figure given ($5trn). Saying that they'es $5 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies makes people think that if we just cut these subsidies then we'd have $5 trillion of spare cash. That's not the case, these subsidies are really speculated externalities.


There's less direct subsidies that would free up some spare cash, like the military budget spent keeping middle eastern oil wells flowing.


If you want to play that game then sure.

They factor in what they should have been paid because of externalities.

What should then be deducted because of the positive externalities? All the positive things that are the very reason why most of us are even alive today which is a direct consequence of fossil fuel.

Without fossil fuels, we would be living like they do in the poor areas of the world.


The positive externalities already have a market value i.e. people are willing to pay for them and already do so.


The market value is lower than the maximum value that would be paid for fossil fuels because pretty intense competition drives the price down pretty close to marginal costs. Fossil fuels (obviously) aren't capturing all of the value they produce.


Then they wouldn't be externalities.


I looked up the definition of externality again - you're right.

Then there are no positive externalities of fossil fuels. All of their benefits are already priced into their cost. Otherwise someone would be profiting off the arbitrage no?


There are so many positive externalities that it's not even possible for me to list all of them but let me give you a couple of examples.

Our use of fossil fuels secures:

Safer environments: (access to water, safer buildings, the ability to build infrastructure, healthier citizens, food supply security)

The ability to innovate: No matter which innovation you want to talk about it requires fossil fuels, without fossil fuels no ability to innovate like we don. All of the alternative energy developments require access to fossil fuels).

Dual use.

You can use oil from so many different things pesticides, plastic, energy, medicin, building materials, steel and I could go on. This is from the same "mining" of one material. What do you think it would cost the environment if you had to pick different material up for each of the things fossil fuels can be used as.

These are advantages not built into the price of oil. You don't pay for that but that's what you get.

There is currently no realistic useful alternative to fossil fuels and no person I know who started looking into this came out negative about fossil fuels.

Yes, there are some negative consequences as with all other things we do in life but they are by far dwarfed by the positive attributes.

Nature doesn't give us a safe and friendly environment we made unsafely, it gave us a hostile and dangerous environment we through our use of fossil fuels have managed to make much much safer.


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