Sunday, November 7, 2010

Where's the Friendly Energy?

From an National Geographic article entitled "Shining Light on the Cost of Solar Energy":
Capturing that power, and putting it to work in the form of electricity, is relatively expensive.

It’s true that the cost of solar electricity has declined over the past ten years. Along the way, the popularity of solar electricity has risen. A decade ago, fewer than 25,000 solar cells and modules were shipped in the United States every year. In 2008, that number had skyrocketed to more than 500,000. But that is still a drop in the bucket. Only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the energy consumed in the United States came from solar sources in 2008.


The U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that it’s the most expensive form of electricity among current technologies for new electricity generation, about $396 per megawatthour for PV. That’s more than double EIA’s estimate of the total system levelized cost of wind, and almost four times the cost of conventional coal.

And that analysis looks at large-scale solar, the kind usually owned by utility companies. Small installations on home rooftops are even more expensive, because they don’t take advantage of buying—or installing—in bulk. To be fair, over 20 years, a homeowner will earn back between 76 percent and 109 percent of the system’s cost in the form of lower electricity bills, because the fuel that powers solar energy is free, according to a 2009 report on financing solar installations in the residential sector by the U.S. DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


Thanks to the rising cost of coal and natural gas—as well as the short-term cost benefits of cadmium telluride, and falling costs of silicon and other solar options—the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that solar energy could reach nationwide grid parity by 2017. That’s without any subsidies and with only small, incremental improvements on current technology.

But Seth Darling at Argonne says the United States won’t be likely to see hundreds of gigawatts of solar running at grid parity until 2025, at the earliest.
Go read the original article to get the embedded links.

The article doesn't address one big problem with solar (and wind): the fact that this is an intermittent power source not in sync with power demand. That means you need to build a power storage infrastructure and distribution system to even out the disparity between power creation and power demand. That adds to cost and since power is lost in these intermediate steps, it effectively raises the cost of solar (and wind) generated power.

I've got nothing against solar (and wind) power. But you have to be realistic. The Germans subsidized a huge installation of solar power and they will be paying ridiculous power bills for over a generation to make up for their ideology-driven "green" agenda.

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