The Grattan Report on low-emissions energy technology – some critical comments

Guest post by Dr Ted Trainer, University of NSW (http://ssis.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/).

Wood, A, T. Ellis, D. Mulloworth, and H. Morrow (2012) No Easy Choices: Which Way to Australia’s Energy Future. Technology Analysis. Grattan Institute, Melbourne.

This report is a valuable addition to the literature on the prospects for renewable energy in Australia, providing some recent data on key output and cost factors. It is especially to be commended for expressing a considerable degree of caution about this possibility, and pointing to the difficulties and problems that would have to be overcome. Almost all literature on renewable energy reinforces the faith that it can fuel energy intensive societies, and enable smooth transition to a carbon free economy. Over some years I have groped to a more confident statement of a case contradicting this position. (Trainer, 2012.)

The following brief comments indicate the strength of this case, and argues that the Grattan Report fails to recognise the reasons why it is very unlikely that the world can run on renewable energy.

The Report’s cost and output assumptions for the various renewable energy technologies seem to be inline with those in other recent documents. The explanation of the limits and difficulties associated with geothermal, carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear and biomass are especially valuable. Their estimate of biomass potential is a remarkably low c 500 PJ of primary energy, about 8% of the present Australian total, and their discussion of the logistical problems in getting large quantities of this low density material to generators is sobering.

I think that the major problem in the Report is that there is no analysis of the quantity of plant and the resulting capital cost of a total renewable energy supply system. Two years ago I published an attempt to do this, (Trainer, 2010a), and have now considerably improved the application of the approach based on more recent and more confident data. Trainer 2012 explores the amount and cost of plant needed to meet a 2050 world renewable energy demand assumed to be 1000 EJ of primary energy, about twice the present amount, in winter and net of long distance transmission energy losses and the embodied energy cost of the plant.

The conclusion arrived at is that the ratio of energy investment needed to GDP would be much less than derived in Trainer 2010a, but still unaffordable. It would be around 15 times as great as it is now – even though a number of significant factors difficult to quantify were not included in the analysis. These would multiply the ratio several times. (The output and capital cost assumptions used were more or less in line with those in the Grattan Report.) Combining more optimistic assumptions (including solar thermal plant costing one-quarter of today’s cost) would only reduce the total capital cost by 40%.

A draft paper applying the same approach to the Australian situation concludes that the investment to GDP ratio would be more than 10 times the rich world average, again not including several major factors.. Australia has much better renewable energy resources than most countries, especially regarding biomass (I assume 35 million ha, around 20 times the Grattan assumption, I do not say that this is a plausible area.)

The crucial issue, on which the Grattan Report does not comment and which makes a very big difference to the viability question, is to do with the effects of variability and intermittency on plant required and thus on capital costs. More accurately the question is, how much plant would be needed to maintain supply when demand peaks and when wind and solar energy are minimally available. Most renewable energy analyses discuss only in terms of average or annual demand, output, DNI, capacity factors, wind strength etc., and this is highly misleading.

Especially important is the question, how often is there a total or almost total absence of both wind and solar energy in the collection region, and for how many days do such gap events last. It does not seem that anyone has analysed Australian climate date to provide an answer to this question, let alone a thorough and convincing answer. However it is well established that Europe can experience several days of continuously negligible wind and sun. For instance Oswald et al. (2008) document several days in February 2006 when both sources contributed almost no energy, and one of these days was the coldest for the year in the UK, probably meaning that demand peaked.

Such gap events could only be dealt with satisfactorily via renewable energy if the capacity to store vast quantities of electricity was available, and it is not and is not foreseen. Mackay shows that even in the rainy UK pumped storage potential capacity would fall far short. Trainer 2012 details the impossibly high cost of tackling the storage problem via hydrogen. Nor can solar thermal heat storage do the job, because the required quantities would be much too large.

Note that the target taken in my approach, 1000EJ for the 2050 world, would provide all the world’s people with only about one third of the present Australian per capita consumption, so if the expectation is that renewable could fuel rich world affluence for all, the target taken in my analyses would have to be multiplied by 3 for this factor, and by another number to take into account any increase in Australian per capita energy use in the next 38 years.

Note also that the derivation takes the generally accepted projection IEA and others make/assume of a future 50% fall in PV and solar thermal plant capital costs, and 20% for wind, and this is very likely to be quite wrong. Materials and energy prices look like they will increase rapidly from here on. Clugston, 2012, reports a 13.5% p.a. rise in energy prices since 1999, and for minerals a 14.3% p.a. rise from then to 2008. For two years since the GFC the rate has actually risen to 20.1% p.a. (…all in inflation adjusted terms).

Unless the assumptions and/or the arithmetic in my analysers are quite mistaken they seem to constitute strong cases against the possibility of renewable energy meeting world or Australian demand.

This is not an argument against transition to full reliance on renewable energy sources. It is only an argument against the possibility of sustaining high energy societies on them. Trainer 2010b and 2011 detail the case that the limits to growth predicament cannot be solved by technical reforms to or within consumer-capitalist society and that there must be radical social transition to some kind of “Simpler Way”. This vision includes developing mostly small and highly self-sufficient local economies, abandoning the growth economy, severely controlling market forces, shifting from representative to participatory democracy, and accepting frugal and cooperative lifestyles. Chapter 4 of Trainer 2010b presents numerical support for the claim that footprint and energy costs in the realm of 10% of those in present rich countries could be achieved, based on renewable energy sources.

Although at this point in time the prospects for making such a transition would seem to be highly unlikely, the need to consider it will probably become more evident as greenhouse and energy problems intensify. It is not likely to be considered if the present dominant assumption that high energy societies can run on renewable energy remains relatively unchallenged.

References

Clugston, (2010), Increasing Global Nonrenewable Natural Resource Scarcity—An Analysis, The Oil Drum, Apr. 6.

Oswald, J.K., M. Raine, H.J. Ashraf-Ball (2008) Will British weather provide reliable electricity? Energy Policy, 36, 3202 – 3215.

Trainer, T. (2010a) Can renewables etc. solve the greenhouse problem? The negative case. Energy Policy, 38, 4107 – 4114.

Trainer, T. (2010b) Transition: Getting To A Sustainable and Just World. Sydney, Envirobook.

Trainer, T. (2012) Can the world run on renewable energy? A revised negative case.

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68 Comments

  1. Ted Trainer – “. It is only an argument against the possibility of sustaining high energy societies on them. Trainer 2010b and 2011 detail the case that the limits to growth predicament cannot be solved by technical reforms to or within consumer-capitalist society and that there must be radical social transition to some kind of “Simpler Way”. This vision includes developing mostly small and highly self-sufficient local economies, abandoning the growth economy, severely controlling market forces, shifting from representative to participatory democracy, and accepting frugal and cooperative lifestyles.”

    Completely agree with you Ted. The literature shows that we are in overshoot and trying to power our present society with anything is likely to cause us to overshoot harder and faster.

    I do think however that whatever renewables we do manage to install are a better fit for the Simpler Way.

    I see the small and self sufficient communities based around microgrids:

    http://www.rmi.org/nations_largest_microgrid_online_esj_article

    Though as I as previously said I am not really a Simpler Way sort of person I can see the benefits. Perhaps you can detail in this post a transition path for a techno junkie like myself to get to a Simpler Way. Maybe Barry would give you a guest post on the subject.

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  2. You are pointing out problems that the advocates of renewable sources of energy refuse to address.

    A number of times I have asserted that the belief is unproven that tying renewable sources together will provide the reliable and uninterrupted power that is required. To prove that it would work, it would be necessary to put sensors in most of the locations where wind and solar systems could be installed and, on a continuous bases, transmit the data to a central location to determine how much power would be available at any instant. Moreover, the data would have to be collected over an extended period of time, probably for more than one year. So far as I know, that has never been done.

    Until about three years ago, I had assumed that renewables must be practical else we would not be building wind farms, solar installations, etc. But then, on a cross-country motorcycle trip, I noticed that many wind farms were not operating. In doing considerable studying, I was unable to find that there had never been a thorough analysis that supported the practicality of renewables.

    It is appalling that there are proposals to spend billions of dollars on a technology without first proving that it is practical.

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  3. It is a highly salient piece on the issue of energy. There is hardly a “100% renewable energy plan” in existence that doesn’t deal with lowering overall consumption of energy, thus a form of draconian energy starvation, thus de-development and spiraling downward decent toward poverty, globally, war and, barbarism. It’s that serious.

    The energy along to produce wind turbines and solar PV, mirrors, collectors, foundries for turbine casings, etc etc are all high energy. The world actually don’t use *enough* energy. This is not to say we can’t, or shouldn’t, address wasteful use of energy, but we actually need a lot more just to get off of fossil fuel. I think we have to pound this issue home.

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  4. Last night I heard a show on the Progressive Radio Network about environmental tipping points. I had heard of some of them but others just blew my mind, like declining ocean salinity and the shrinking of the Sahara. I thought shrinking deserts would be a good thing but it just shows how everything on the planet is connected. Here’s the link http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/progressive-commentary-hour/2012/2/6/progressive-commentary-hour-020612.html
    MODERATOR
    Thank you for your comment, however it is off-topic on this thread. As you are a new commenter I have left it here but, in future, please continue posting, on general themes, on the Open Thread.

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  5. David,

    I do think that part of the solution is to reduce consumption, but not so drastically as to impact the quality of our lives. For example, better city planning would reduce the need to commute and have multi-car families. Actually, that would improve the quality of lives for many people because they wouldn’t be forced to spend so much on private cars.

    Buildings, including homes, could be made more energy efficient.

    Obviously these changes would not solve our energy problems, but they would make a significant dent. Then, assuming that we take the nuclear route, for which I see no promising alternative, we wouldn’t need to spend quite so much on nuclear power. In any case, it would be unreasonable to try to reduce our energy consumption so much that renewables would satisfy our needs. People who advocate that are not being realistic; it won’t happen.

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  6. This is probably a good place to point out that Tony Wood, primary author of the Grattan Institute energy report, has responded to criticisms by renewables cornucopian Matthew Wright (Beyond Zero Emissions) over at Climate Spectator: http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/bright-shine-small-solar-fixes

    Needless to say, Wright’s critique is diametrically opposed to that of Trainer. I wonder if this is one of those instances where being criticised from both opposite extremes means they (the Grattan Institute) have probably got it about right?

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  7. I cannot concur with Ted’s ‘better way’ involving abandoning the growth economy. It sounds like a return to Malthusianism.

    I agree with Frank Eggers. We should make any energy efficiency improvements that we can that improve quality of life but do not restrict economic growth.

    For economic growth we will need growth in energy demand. This is probably not possible with renewable energy, which is why 100% RE plans from many sources such as Greenpeace and BZE advocate substantial cuts in energy demand. In 2007, Greenpeace advocated a cut in total energy demand by 2050 when it is widely expected that the world population will increase from 7 to 9 billion. This would surely make the world a much poorer place.

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  8. Martin, I agree that Ted’s simpler way is impractical to implement, even if we could get enough people to assent to it (and we can’t, for innumerable reasons).

    What I find valuable about Ted’s conclusion here is that if a 100% renewables path is attempted (as Ted would prefer – he does not support nuclear energy as a solution), then it MUST, axiomatically, go hand-in-hand with a massive power down of society. I think Ender agrees with this conclusion too.

    At this point people like you, me, PL, JM and indeed most commenters on this blog diverge. We argue that: (i) only having access to more, cheap and CLEAN energy will be able to fix the problems we now face, and (ii) the only practical energy source that can deliver this sustainable, in sufficient abundance, and at a reasonable cost, is nuclear fission. Hence the evolved advocacy on this blog.

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  9. I concede this is a minor point, but one I have seen from a few nuclear advocates:
    “The following brief comments indicate the strength of this case, and argues that the Grattan Report fails to recognise the reasons why it is very unlikely that the world can run on renewable energy.”

    The Grattan report is on Australia’s energy future, while the professor is talking about running the World on renewables.

    To whose advantage is it to blur this boundary and erase any regional advantages? I see no compelling case for analysing or advocating an international solution. We have many economies, countries and possible solutions. Why not just answer the question as it was presented?

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  10. Australia has a land mass similar to that of the contiguous states of the United States, but approximately 10% of the population at last partly because much of Australia is uninhabitable. Thus, if any large prosperous country were able to use renewable energy to maintain a high standard of material living, Australia could. Per capita, it probably has more land mass available for wind and solar projects than any other large prosperous country, yet there is general agreement that even Australia would find renewable energy sources inadequate. That would seem to indicate that renewable energy is not practical as a significant source of power for large prosperous countries.

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  11. Barry Brook – “he does not support nuclear energy as a solution), then it MUST, axiomatically, go hand-in-hand with a massive power down of society. I think Ender agrees with this conclusion too.”

    Yes I do but this does not mean living in caves or abandoning technology. The idea is that we reduce mindless consumerism, of which I am as guilty as most, and embrace things that last rather than thrown away. Also the concept of 100% recyclability to reduce waste.

    The changing is thinking of Earth as a spacecraft where what you have at the start of the journey does not change. Therefore nothing is wasted but stored and re-used and re-made into something else.

    The point is that it will take incredibly high technology and sufficient energy to do this. So there is a place for nuclear and renewables as long as it is in this framework.

    “We argue that: (i) only having access to more, cheap and CLEAN energy will be able to fix the problems we now face, and (ii) the only practical energy source that can deliver this sustainable, in sufficient abundance, and at a reasonable cost, is nuclear fission. Hence the evolved advocacy on this blog.”

    We have had access to cheap and clean energy for the last 100 years. We only now regard it as dirty because of climate change. Modelling done by Meadows et al and published in an updated book “Limits to Growth – the Thirty Year Update” Chapter 7 shows just such a society as you advocate. The curve shows overshoot and collapse despite unlimited energy as this energy only allowed us to exhaust the Earth’s natural resources and sinks.

    I also disagree that nuclear is the only practical energy source. I have sufficiently changed my position to admit that nuclear is one part of the solution. However the solution, assuming there is one, is a combination of a technological simpler way, low or zero growth, and all zero or low carbon energy sources that are compatible with this lifestyle. If nuclear is chosen so be it.

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  12. I would like to understand Ted’s position better. Is he opposed to nuclear power because, for various reasons, it cannot provide adequate, clean power along the lines of current European energy consumption?

    I had always assumed that his opposition was not to growth but to a GROWTH IMPERATIVE (big difference). That said, does he oppose a hi energy steady state economy or a high energy slow growth economy or a high energy growth-when-needed economy because natural constraints will not allow such an economy?

    Put another way, is he for the simpler way because there is no other way? is he for the simpler way because nuclear power cannot work due to some version of peak materials? I would like to see a paper from him on nuclear.

    I would also like to read his more recent stuff, since the 2010 paper. The links did not work when I tried them. did they work for others?

    Ender: I don’t quite understand your point about unlimited energy. If generation four gave us for all practical purposes unlimited energy, this is not incompatible in and of itself with recognizing planetary boundaries.

    On the other hand, I simply do not understand how a capitalist economy can fail to exhaust the Earth’s natural resources and sinks. I’m not at all opposed to the employment of technology to find substitutes for what is at one historical moment a scarcity of resources. But with a society committed to a growth imperative (grow or die), you simply have to find these substitutes as a matter of faith. With a steady or need (democratically and rationally defined) based economy, you can respect planetary boundaries finding substitutes where we can in order to live better. In the latter case, we are not DRIVEN by an imperative (grow or die) which cannot even be rationally planned at global scale, since competition and short term horizons make this seemingly impossible. Green liberal types like to point to world war two, over and over, as their example of “national purpose,” and the great cooperative effort involved. what is left out is that such “national purpose” was inseparable from WORLD WAR, the nastiest form of competition. What we need now is INTERNATIONAL PURPOSE, a concept that scares some of our contributor’s shitless. Fine: how solve the climate problem without massive INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION to build a global energy infrastructure with the best technologies?
    MODERATOR
    You are veering off topic here. The majority (all but the last paragraph) of this post is about the technical and operational limits of renewable power.This is what is important in the context of BNC. The philosophical arguments for a simpler life belong on the Open Thread.

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  13. I’m glad we are discussing growth (and logically how renewables can’t come close to supporting it).

    Let me suggest that at the floor level: without growth in absolute terms, the tendency will be a downward slide in prosperity on a per capita basis. No growth but increase people equals impoverishment.

    I agree that radical social change is necessary. I call this “socialism”. But this not the place to discuss it (unless a socialist on the list posts a BNC quest column based on this thesis). However, as David B. Benson pointed out in the very first comment here, Ted does seek to prescribe a solution based on his view of radical social change. Again, I will quote here:

    This vision includes developing mostly small and highly self-sufficient local economies, abandoning the growth economy, severely controlling market forces, shifting from representative to participatory democracy, and accepting frugal and cooperative lifestyles.”

    This is ‘catholic’ position (universalist) position and not a ‘policy’ one, that is, it’s a view that requires two things, as I see it:

    1. Either a universal adoption of such a vision by 7 billion folks or
    2. A Pol-Pot imposed position requiring massive coercion (as some in the “Peak Oil community” support).

    It would be impossible to have a ‘small is beautiful’ revolution as only a very few of the earths already “subsistence” people *forced* to live under these conditions are either for continuing to live this way or want to impose heir energy starved society on someone else. I know this is not what Ted is advocating, but it would be helpful if continued to explore this issue.

    The idea of voluntary down-gearing is truly insane and is counter our species development to ever higher forms of organization, labor power, efficiency and…abundance. Ted’s prescription is pretty stark…and scary.

    David

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  14. “participatory democracy” only works if people are well informed. They aren’t. Ask anyone on the street how a nuclear reactor works. They don’t have a clue. As a consultant, I realise the value of knowledge – the more you know the better a consultant you’ll be. An ignorant consultant is a disaster for a company. An ignorant public in charge of a “participatory democracy” is a disaster. Besides that, putting everyone in charge doesn’t work – you need leaders to make harmonic well informed decisions.

    Small and highly self sufficient. Right. This means primitive. The smaller the society and the more self sufficient it is, the more primitive they are. Look around you – inuit tribes are small and highly self sufficient, but it means living in a tent. No modern technology. Guess what, 99% of the people won’t agree with that (now imagine, then, what would be decided in a “participatory democracy”). Modern life requires a big economy to support the knowledge house and specialisation required to maintain advanced technologies. There’s no other way about it. Ted’s failure to recognize this makes him lose credibility.

    Small is not beautiful. Small is primitive and backward.

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  15. Even then it doesn’t always work because not all people can participate…what of them? A good balance in institutions is a good thing. The advocates of participatory democracy are however, seek a mechanical solution, as if the “process is everything” to what ails us. It’s not the problem.

    I’m against this primitivism advocated by this counter-cultural we ‘use to much’ crowd.

    We are talking serious International and national energy policy here that requires serious buy in from many sectors of society. The report, I’m afraid, falls short of this.

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  16. Gregory Myerson – ” I don’t quite understand your point about unlimited energy. If generation four gave us for all practical purposes unlimited energy, this is not incompatible in and of itself with recognizing planetary boundaries.”

    The problem is, as detailed in Limits to Growth – the Thirty Year Update and the original book, that high energy growth societies tend to become more affluent. Affluent people eat more, pollute more and consume more resources. If you accept that wealth and economic growth are just a function of energy then increasing energy allows more economic growth and wealth. Eventually all the wealthy people consume and pollute more than the Earths resources can supply and sink despite all the technology, as the law of diminishing returns means that every technological fix is less and less successful at either supplying more food, eliminating more waste or finding new resources.

    In very short the exponential function wins every time.

    The idea is having a vibrant steady state economy that does not grow but functions more like a bio-system. 100% recyclable means that your iPhone10 when it is not required anymore should break apart at the touch of a button and the parts reused in the iPhone11. This should apply to everything. Rather than the novelty be adding new features rather we should be devising ways of better recycling. James Moody wrote an excellent book on this entitled “The Sixth Wave” in which he says the next wave on innovation will be recycling. It is worth a read. Another book worth a read is the Toaster Project (http://www.thetoasterproject.org/) although it seem innocuous, reading it gives you an idea of the amount of energy and technology involved in even the most simplest of things.

    The point made in the toaster project is high-tech alloys and plastics are difficult to recycle. Right now we refine oil and make plastics however recycling involves lower grade products. That is iPhones become plastic floor mats because we cannot seperate the materials well enough to make the high grade plastic that the manufacture specifies. Similarly with metal often the recycled product cannot be used for high spec devices where the properties must be tightly controlled. This needs to change.

    Really if you are wanting unlimited energy then you need something like the space elevator that would allow all the resources of the solar system to be available. However exponential growth would (if you do the maths) have humanity using the entire solar system in a surprisingly short space of time.

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  17. Cyril R – ” Look around you – inuit tribes are small and highly self sufficient, but it means living in a tent.”

    However the Inuit people have been around for thousands of years. Our consumer society has been around for about 50 years after an industrial revolution 200 years ago. Inuit’s to our eyes appear primitive however their society is in fact extremely complex and has very high technology. Anyone that can survive for thousands of years in that environment must be pretty smart.

    I am not, nor is Ted, advocating a return to tents. You should not dismiss people as primitive simply because they do not conform your way of thinking. Put an Inuit and yourself in the Arctic with nothing and see who is still alive after 10 years. My money would be on the ‘primitive’ Inuit.

    The point is that while small may not always be beautiful – big is not always better.
    MODERATOR
    You are off-topic on this thread. Please move to the Open Thread to discuss power down theories.

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  18. If you accept that wealth and economic growth are just a function of energy then increasing energy allows more economic growth and wealth.

    Wealth and economic growth are not JUST a function of energy. But if this is a core assumption of the Limits to Growth people, I’m glad you informed me of this. Thanks. Increasing energy does ALLOW MORE ECONOMIC GROWTH but does not dictate it. Nor does increasing energy dictate what we choose to grow and what we choose to reproduce.

    Moderator: I’m a bit confused. Ted’s post raised the simple life motif. Powerdown is a consequence of his position. If this is off topic then he is off topic on his own topic.
    MODERATOR
    You are veering off topic here. The majority (all but the last paragraph) of this post is about the technical and operational limits of renewable power.This is what is important in the context of BNC. The philosophical arguments for a simpler life belong on the Open Thread. Please re-post on the Open Thread.

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  19. Ender, you’re like a broken tape recorder, you just keep looping. We’ve hashed out that exact same issue on a previous comment thread (starting here and going across multiple comments). Raising this point here again, as if it’s some new or revelatory insight, won’t change what I said last time. It’s just tiresome.

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  20. As Ted Trainer points out the concept of replacing our existing fossil fuel energy system with a new system based purely on renewables and then continue with BAU is simply not possible. The problem revolves about Capital Cost per MW capacity. I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusions in this respect but there are a few points that I would like to take issue with.

    In his analysis he has assumed that there will be a 50% reduction in the cost of Solar PV and Solar Thermal plant. I have worked extensively on the costing of Solar Thermal plant for more than ten years and can categorically state that this is not possible. The capital cost of Solar Thermal plant is made up of approximately 70% collectors and 30% conventional steam plant. The conventional steam plant portion have been developed and refined by engineers for more than a century. There are no more technology improvements to be made with this portion. The collector portion is already being mass procuced in quantities of 10s of thousands of units. While there may still be some small production efficiency gains to be made in this area they will be minimal and more than offset by the higher energy input costs that will be experienced over the coming decades. The net result will be that around $4000/kW will be as good as it gets.

    The other issue I would like to correct is the idea that “the problem” can be somehow addressed by adoption of distributed micro generation. When the problem is $/MW capacity, how can anyone believe that microgeneration plants with inherantly higher capital cost per MW capacity can be a possible solution. Anyone who advocates that the solution to high cost energy is to increase both the capital and operating costs of the plant should try out for a position at the IMF or ECB. These organisation endorse this type of thinking.
    Phoenix
    MODERATOR
    BNC requires refs/links to support your comments. Please supply these where they are available.

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  21. I’m amazed at the cost estimate of a mere US$4000/kW for a solar thermal installation. The estimates I’ve seen point to a figure more like US$8000/kW being as good as it gets. I would greatly appreciate John Roles offering a justification for his low figure.

    In any case, the price to beat is the LCOE of an NPP with a similar thermal storage attached. That attachment adds only a very little to the cost of an NPP; the all-in cost of a new NPP seems to run from around US$4000/kW to about US$5600/kW depending upon location and ancillaries. While Peter Lang keeps harping on lowering the cost of an NPP I see no way to do so which will satisfy society’s need for a perception of safety. Current designs are safer than eating peanut butter but it seems that nothing riskier will suffice without a sea change in the public’s perception of risk.

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  22. John Roles wrote:

    In his analysis he has assumed that there will be a 50% reduction in the cost of Solar PV and Solar Thermal plant. I have worked extensively on the costing of Solar Thermal plant for more than ten years and can categorically state that this is not possible. The capital cost of Solar Thermal plant is made up of approximately 70% collectors and 30% conventional steam plant. The conventional steam plant portion have been developed and refined by engineers for more than a century. There are no more technology improvements to be made with this portion.

    John … have you considered single-tank direct thermocline storage for solar plants (optimization of filler materials and heat transfer fluids forthcoming), rather than the more common two tank TES system in use at many plants today (such as Gemasolar in Spain). From one recent review paper on TES in the scientific literature: “In cost comparisons, the thermocline system is about 35% cheaper than the two-tank storage system, due to reduction of storage volume and elimination of one tank” (2010, p. 68).

    Are you also suggesting there are few cost reduction gains to be had via learning curves, volume production, plant scale-up, technology development, improvement in power electronics, better solar field optical efficiency, minimizing receiver and piping and storage thermal losses, EPGS efficiency, electric parasitic loads, O&M, minimizing forced and scheduled outages, and more. A research paper prepared by EPRI (2009) for the Australian Government on energy costs projects a 30-40% reduction in solar thermal capital costs by 2030 (relative to 2015 costs) on some of these and other factors (for parabolic trough and central receiver plants with or without thermal storage, see p. 6-56). Do you have any research or documentation to provide (via BNC comments policy) indicating that these reductions in capital costs (or cost of energy) are not likely or achievable in the foreseeable future (and would contradict available research and documentation I have provided above)?

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  23. Barry Brook wrote:

    Thanks John Roles, a very useful insight – I’d never heard the 70/30 % figure for collectors/steam plant before, but now that you say it, it sounds about right.

    When did we stop following BNC citation guidelines for claims of this sort?

    From 2010 review article on CSP system costs (and other topics) in scientific literature:

    “These large mirrors make up about 50% of the total system’s cost” (p. 2710).

    “The quest for cheap materials for heliostat fabrication is a crucial one, as the large mirrors can make up close to half the cost of an HFC [Heliostat Field Collector] plant” (p. 2723).
    MODERATOR
    “When did we stop following BNC citation guidelines for claims of this sort?”
    We didn’t – I am not online 24/7 so moderation may be delayed at times.

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  24. Are you also suggesting there are few cost reduction gains to be had via learning curves, volume production, plant scale-up, technology development, improvement in power electronics, better solar field optical efficiency, minimizing receiver and piping and storage thermal losses, EPGS efficiency, electric parasitic loads, O&M, minimizing forced and scheduled outages, and more

    All theoretically potent cost reduction factors. In practise, we see higher cost for recent projects than projects in the 80’s and 90’s (SEGS versus Solar One and the Spanish plants). Apparently the cost reductions haven’t weighed up to inflation, so far. But maybe it will get better with some market momentum.

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  25. Cyril R. wrote:

    Apparently the cost reductions haven’t weighed up to inflation, so far.

    There are many reasons why early stage development technologies (at a smaller scale) have an initial high capital costs. The 2010 IEA roadmap for CSP is clear about this and cost reduction potential in the future:

    Investment costs per watt are expected to decrease for larger trough plants, going down by 12% when moving from 50 MW to 100 MW, and by about 20% when scaling up to 200 MW. Costs associated with power blocks, balance of plant and grid connection are expected to drop by 20% to 25% as plant capacity doubles. Investment costs are also likely to be driven down by increased competition among technology providers, mass production of components and greater experience in the financial community of investing in CSP projects. Investment costs for trough plants could fall by 10% to 20% if DSG were implemented, which allows higher working temperatures and better efficiencies. Turbine manufacturers will need to develop effective power blocks for the CSP industry. In total, investment costs have the potential to be reduced by 30% to 40% in the next decade (page 27)

    And it’s much the same for solar tower plants: “As the solar tower industry rapidly matures, investment costs could fall by 40% to 75%” (page 28).

    We really have to start providing citations for some of these things (rather than intuitions based on faulty comparisons and guesswork). The early SEGS plants did show significant cost reductions over time (slide 15). A look at past and present performance of CSP in scientific literature reports the same: “Due mainly to the cost reduction of the systems, the costs of CSP electricity have fallen from around 80 US cents/kWh in 1980 to less than 20 US cents/kWh in 2005, expressed in constant 2005 US$ (Schilling and Esmundo, 2009). At present, the costs of CSP electricity range between 12.5 and 22.5 US cents/kWh, mostly depending on the location (IEA, 2008), and are still diminishing as CSP markets expand and R&D efforts improve performance” (2012, page 185).

    Like

  26. Barry said:

    Thanks John Roles, a very useful insight – I’d never heard the 70/30 % figure for collectors/steam plant before, but now that you say it, it sounds about right.

    And EL asked for a reference:

    NEEDS (2008):
    http://www.needs-project.org/docs/results/RS1a/RS1a%20D12.2%20Final%20report%20concentrating%20solar%20thermal%20power%20plants.pdf

    NREL SAM (2010) Parabolic Trough Cost Model
    https://sam.nrel.gov/cost
    Down load the Excel file at:
    https://sam.nrel.gov/webfm_send/55
    MODERATOR
    Thankyou PL.

    Like

  27. Peter Lang wrote:

    And EL asked for a reference:

    NEEDS (2008):
    
http://www.needs-project.org/docs/results/RS1a/RS1a%20D12.2%20Final%20report%20concentrating%20solar%20thermal%20power%20plants.pdf

    NREL SAM (2010) Parabolic Trough Cost Model
https://sam.nrel.gov/cost
Down load the Excel file at:
https://sam.nrel.gov/webfm_send/55

    This is not helpful, and it is against the comments policy of the site to provide a series of links with no additional comments or analysis to go with it. Please show us in any of these links where the cost breakdown is 70% heliostat field and 30% steam plant!

    The citation I have provided does answer this question, and provides a breakdown of total plant investment costs (by percentage) for a 50 MW parabolic trough plant with 7 hour storage (see pie chart page 27). The breakdown is as follows:

    30% Solar Field, 14% allowances, 9% storage, 8% project management, 8% balance of plant, 7% civil works, 5% power block, 5% HTF, 6% project finance, 3% project development, 3% grid access, 2% Misc. While different studies do not always use comparable numbers, I have provided another source reporting less than 50% cost for solar field when direct costs are considered (rather than total plant costs). If you have evidence to the contrary, please produce it and make your case. The spreadsheet you provided for download reports for reference plant 38% solar field, and 62% remaining plant costs (direct costs), or 31% solar field and 69% remaining, including 17% for power plant (total installed costs). This doesn’t appear to be all that different from the numbers I have provided, so I am not sure what your argument is here (especially since they don’t show a breakdown as you suggest)?
    MODERATOR
    “This is not helpful, and it is against the comments policy of the site to provide a series of links with no additional comments or analysis to go with it”
    Peter was not the original commenter so he does not need to add any comments. He was responding to your request for reference to support the original comment.

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  28. If you are not across the two sources I posted, I wonder where you are getting your information from. My suggestion is for you to read them, disgest them, understand them, determine the ratio yourself and post it here. I’ll undertake to review your attempts for you and point out where you go wrong.

    By the way, I’d add to John Roles’s comment that, for plants with energy storage, the ratio comprises three main parts rather than just two:

    – solar field
    – thermal energy storage
    – power block

    Like

  29. Peter Lang wrote:

    My suggestion is for you to read them, disgest them, understand them, determine the ratio yourself and post it here. I’ll undertake to review your attempts for you and point out where you go wrong.

    Wow … this is frustrating. Not a single study has been provided showing a 70% solar field and 30% steam plant breakdown, and somehow I am being accused of not reading the links. From your spreadsheet above (as I have already indicated), 31% for solar field and 13% for power plant (both reference plant and project plant). 17% for thermal energy storage (despite my quick typing error above). I’m awaiting your reply.

    To the moderator,

    At some point, facts have to matter in these debates (especially when they are as objective and well documented as these), or else this entire exercise is futile and we’re all wasting our time.

    Like

  30. Looking back at my spreadsheets from 2 years ago I found these figures for parabolic trough with 7.5 hours storage:

    Collector field = 58%
    Storage = 16%
    Power Block = 25%
    Total = 100%
    Source: NEEDS (2008), derived from p12, p30-31, Fig 3.7

    Like

  31. One of the problems with solar thermal systems is that they require cooling. Deserts are good places for them because they are less often cloudy, but the problem there is that solar thermal systems require cooling water else their efficiency is too low and water is scarce in deserts.

    According to what I’ve read, and it does make sense, tower systems are able to generate much higher temperatures than are trough systems thereby making tower systems more efficient and reducing cooling water requirements. Also, it would seem to me that because of the higher temperatures, the cost of turbines would be lower. Tower systems also require less modification of the terrain and are therefore more acceptable to environmentalists.
    MODERATOR
    “According to what I’ve read,”
    Please be aware Frank that BNC requires references to support comments. Please supply links to what you have read.

    Like

  32. Frank R. Eggers,

    I think you are correct on both your points.

    Solar thermal does use a lot of water for cooling unless it is dry cooled in which case there is significant auxiliary load – so less energy sent out. EPRI (2010) Section 8 provides estimate water consumption for dry cooling plants.
    http://www.ret.gov.au/energy/Documents/AEGTC%202010.pdf

    The use of dry cooling greatly reduces the water requirements of the plant as well. Water is used for makeup to the steam cycle and for mirror washing which is very important to maintain the capacity of the solar plant. The amount of mirror washing water consumption is based on a use rate of 52 litres per hour per m2 of mirror area. Approximately 45% of the water used in the solar plant is for mirror washing.

    It should also be remembered that the construction of solar thermal plants needs about ten times as much water as nuclear per kW of plant capacity (because they require about ten times as much concrete).

    And, yes, it does appear that central receivers are likely to be less expensive that parabolic troughs.

    EPRI (2010) and the Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (DRET) (2011) provides these figures for the capital cost of solar thermal in Australia in 2015 (in constant 2009-10 A$/kW, converted to ‘sent out’):

    Central receiver, no storage = $4,559 (EPRI Table 8-5)
    Parabolic trough, no storage = $5,677 (EPRI Table 8-2)

    Central receiver, 6 h storage = $6,475 (EPRI Table 8-5)
    Parabolic trough, 6 h storage = $8,751 (EPRI Table 8-2)

    http://www.ret.gov.au/energy/Documents/AEGTC%202010.pdf

    Like

  33. Looking back at my spreadsheets from 2 years ago I found these figures for parabolic trough with 7.5 hours storage:

    The above source you provided has the following figures (adding up to 100%), and neatly summarized in a pie chart:

    Reference Plant (Total Installed Costs not Direct Costs):

    31% Solar Field
    9% HTF system
    17% Thermal Storage Energy
    13% Power Plant
    7% Contingency
    12% EPC Costs
    3% Project, Land, Misc.
    5% DC’s Sales Tax
    3% Site Improvements

    Project Plant (Total Installed Costs not Direct Costs):

    31% Solar Field
    9% HTF system
    17% Thermal Storage Energy
    13% Power Plant
    7% Contingency
    12% EPC Costs
    3% Project, Land, Misc.
    5% DC’s Sales Tax
    3% Site Improvements

    This is very close (if not identical) to the documented sources I have provided, and suggest 70% for solar field is unsubstantiated. If you wish to provide your spreadsheet from 2 years ago, with references attached and representing a higher 58% figure for solar field, that would be terrific. And it would allow us to properly examine and substantiate results (per BNC citation policy).

    Like

  34. EL, if those latest cited figures are correct, then a total of 43 % goes into costs (Power Plant, Contingency, EPC Costs, Project, Land, Misc., DC’s Sales Tax,Site Improvements) that will NOT see noticeable ‘learning curve’ reductions, since these are already well known and common to any energy source (fossil, nuclear, wind, etc.). This reinforces rather than rebuts John Roles point that:

    The conventional steam plant portion have been developed and refined by engineers for more than a century. There are no more technology improvements to be made with this portion.

    The more of the BoP costs that are associated with known and difficult-to-reduce costs, the worse it looks for forward price projections of significant reductions in the currently high cost of solar thermal.

    Like

  35. Barry Brook wrote:

    EL, if those latest cited figures are correct, then a total of 43 % goes into costs (Power Plant, Contingency, EPC Costs, Project, Land, Misc., DC’s Sales Tax,Site Improvements) that will NOT see noticeable ‘learning curve’ reductions, since these are already well known and common to any energy source (fossil, nuclear, wind, etc.).

    True to some extent (but not all). 2010 IEA Roadmap document for CSP foresees cost reductions as a result of: power plant scaling (12 – 20% in costs per watt), power blocks, BoP, and grid connection (20 – 25%), competition among technology providers and mass production (no estimate given), direct steam generation (10 – 20%), and greater experience (“learning curves”) in financial community familiar with CSP projects (no estimate given). The relevant quote from document is the following:

    Investment costs per watt are expected to decrease for larger trough plants, going down by 12% when moving from 50 MW to 100 MW, and by about 20% when scaling up to 200 MW. Costs associated with power blocks, balance of plant and grid connection are expected to drop by 20% to 25% as plant capacity doubles. Investment costs are also likely to be driven down by increased competition among technology providers, mass production of components and greater experience in the financial community of investing in CSP projects. Investment costs for trough plants could fall by 10% to 20% if DSG were implemented, which allows higher working temperatures and better efficiencies. Turbine manufacturers will need to develop effective power blocks for the CSP industry. In total, investment costs have the potential to be reduced by 30% to 40% in the next decade (page 27),

    Duly noted, projected cost reductions are always an estimate (and they can be especially rosy when attracting new development capital is concerned). The more experience we have, obviously, the better these estimates get. If anybody has a better source for this than the IEA … I’m all ears.

    Like

  36. EL,

    You have misunderstood that indirect costs are a multipe of Direct costs. So if you increase the direct sosts, the indirect costs scale up in proportion. Therefore, what I provided the first time (from NEEDS) is correct. And I provided the references, including the page numbers.

    Like

  37. The following two quotes suggest some of the costs that are not included in the current estimates for Australian implementation of solar thermal power stations:
    https://bravenewclimate.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/lang_2010_emissions_cuts_realities_v1a1.pdf

    p12:

    The NEEDS (2009) costs are based on constructing the Andasol 1 solar thermal power station in Spain. The cost of constructing widely distributed solar thermal power stations over an area of some 3000 km by 1000 km in Australia‟s deserts will be higher than the cost of constructing in Spain – where there is well developed infrastructure and larger work force nearer to the sites. To construct the solar thermal power stations in areas throughout central Australia will require large mobile construction camps, fly-in fly-out work force, large concrete batch plants, large supply of water, energy and good roads to each power station. Air fields suitable for fly-in fly-out will be required at say one per 250 MW power station. That means we need to build such air fields at the rate of about two, then three, then four per year.

    P21:

    The assumed rate of commissioning solar thermal in these analyses, seems highly optimistic. The quantity of steel and concrete required is an indication of the amount of construction effort required. Solar thermal requires about 8 times more concrete and 15 times more steel than nuclear per MW of capacity (Table 5). The build rate for solar thermal, assumed in these analyses, is half the rate of nuclear, so each year we would need to construct solar thermal plants comprising 4 times more concrete and seven times more steel than the nuclear plants. But that’s not all. Nuclear would be built relatively close to the population centres, where services, infrastructure and work force is more readily available. Conversely, the solar plants need to be built in the desert regions. They will require four times as much water (for concrete) as nuclear [per year during construction]. Water pipe lines will need to be built across the desert to supply the water. Dams will need to be built in the tropical north to store water and desalination plants along the coast elsewhere. To develop and retain a skilled work force to work in such regions will be costly. Work will be for about 9 months of the year to avoid the hottest periods. Based on the quantities of steel and concrete, towns will be required in the desert that accommodate about four times the work force required for constructing a nuclear power station. Fly-in-fly-out airports will need to be built for each town with a capability to move much larger numbers of people than the largest mining operations. Two such towns and airfields must be built per year to achieve the solar thermal build rate. It is hard to imagine how a build rate for solar thermal could be even 1/10th the build rate that could be achieved with nuclear.

    The build rate for nuclear would be difficult to achieve. But the build rates for solar thermal would be much more difficult to achieve.

    Like

  38. EL,

    You have misunderstood that indirect costs are a multipe of Direct costs. So if you increase the direct sosts, the indirect costs scale up in proportion. Therefore, what I provided the first time (from NEEDS) is correct. And I provided the references, including the page numbers.

    (The statement doesn’t make sense to me) And I find no page numbers in your comments? I’ve read through the NEEDS report, and no data is provided to substantiate your claims.
    MODERATOR
    Inflammatory statement re-worded

    Like

  39. All
    I apologise if I have caused some misunderstanding with respect to the figures I have quoted above. So in order to qualify the figures and to respond to some of the comments above I would like to make the following points:
    – The costs quoted are meant to represent full EPC project delivery costs. They do not include project development, land aquisition, financing costs etc.
    – These additional project development costs should rightly be spread proportionally over the collector, steam system and storage or however you wish to divide up the EPC cost. If you do spread these costs proportionally then you come pretty close to the 70/30 ratio that I mentioned.
    – The price I quoted above of $4000/kW did not include any heat storage. Inclusion of heat storage will increase the capital cost of the collector field proportional to the storage capacity relative to the base collection capacity. You then need to provide additional costs for the heat storage equipment and the reduction in overall thermal efficiency of the plant because of the “double handling” of the heat. Note: i am trying to put this in terms that non-engineers will be able to relate to.
    – As a result of the above you cannot simply quote plant costs including storage on a $/MW basis as this number will alter considerably with the amount of storage and the insolation rate used to determine the plant capacity. The only sensible way to compare figures is to quote plant costs without storage.
    – I have no independant source for the numbers I have quoted. They are my direct work, having worked on real cost estimates (where your job and future livelyhood depends on the answers being right) for real plants to be built in Australia. I have prepared detailed estimates for all three major technologies, parabolic trough, linear fresnel and central tower.
    – From what I have seen I believe ultimately the optimal single technology on a $/MW will be linear fresnel. However there is some further potential efficiency gains to be made by combining linear fresnel and central tower technologies. Unfortunately at this stage the owners of the respective IP will not consider cooperation with their rivals.
    – Another point in respect of technologies is the slight of hand used by many of the arms length proponents of a 100% renewables future. They are happy to use the cost reduction potential of one technology while combining it with the proven efficiency of another. For instance I am unaware of any proven technology that provides for heat storage at temperatures consistent with central tower plant efficiencies.
    – I have noted numerous international papers have been quoted regarding costs. People need to be careful when using these numbers. Construction costs in Australia are considerably higher than anywhere else in the world. Close to double the costs of building equivalent plant in Asia and probably 50% higher than the US or Europe.

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  40. John Roles,

    Thank you for your informative comment. (Deleted inflammatory comment)
    Are you able to provide any links to the actual historical performance and costs for solar thermal plants, preferably ones with significant storage. I would like to see output data over several years like the half hourly output I provided here https://bravenewclimate.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/peter-lang-solar-realities.pdf for the Quenabeyan solar farm (55 kw PV fixed array in Queabeyan, NSW). And actual costs data for capital (ROI and capital repayments), fixed O&M and variable O&M.

    Like

  41. EL

    (The statement doesn’t make sense to me)

    Look at the NREL SAM spreadsheet again. Look at the Direct Costs and the Indirect Costs sections. Contingency is 10% of the preceding direct costs and is insluded in total of Direct Costs.

    The Indirect Costs are percentage of Direct Costs.

    I hope this helps.

    And I find no page numbers in your comments?

    I don’t know what you are looking at. The page numbers are still there. Have another look @ 23 February 2012 at 10:27 AM

    By the way, if you remove the Storage cost component (16%), then the ratio of collector field to Power block is 70% / 30%, just as John Roles said in his comment where all this began.

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  42. John Roles,

    You mentioned “100% renewables future”

    Another point in respect of technologies is the slight of hand used by many of the arms length proponents of a 100% renewables future.

    I wonder if you would have time to look at this recent rough estimate posted about two weeks ago.
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2012/02/09/100-renewable-electricity-for-australia-the-cost/
    I’d suggest reading the PDF version (down load from the link at the top of the thread). There is also an excel spreadsheet you can download that may be of interest.

    Like

  43. Please ignore the last paragraph in my comment @ 23 February 2012 at 5:51 PM

    By the way, if you remove the Storage cost component (16%), then the ratio of collector field to Power block is 70% / 30%, just as John Roles said in his comment where all this began.

    This is not quite correct because the solar field size also has to be reduced – from solar field multiplier of 2 (for 7.5 h storage) to 1 (for no storage). All this is explained in NEEDS (2008).

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  44. John Roles stated:

    – I have noted numerous international papers have been quoted regarding costs. People need to be careful when using these numbers. Construction costs in Australia are considerably higher than anywhere else in the world. Close to double the costs of building equivalent plant in Asia and probably 50% higher than the US or Europe.

    The 50% higher than USA is roughly equivalent to what the EPRI (2010) study found. The EPRI study explains the differences in labour productivity and labour costs at the lecel of the trades that would be involved in the work. The EPRI (2010) figures are the basis of the ACIL-Tasman (2010) report for the Energy White Paper, the DRET (2011) costs, the Energy White Paper (2011), the Treasury modelling and charts presented in ABARES reports. My point in saying this is that these are the cost figures being used by government for new entrant electricity generation technologies.

    However, one word of caution with using these figures. The EPRI and ACIL-Tasman reports are presented slightly differently. Different assumptions have been used in preparing the LCOE such as (from memory): discount rate. plant book life, base year, exchange rate to US$, and ‘sent out’ versus ‘as generated’. So care is needed in using the figures from the different sources.

    References:

    ACIL-Tasman (2010), Preparation of energy market modelling data for the Energy White Paper
    http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/0400-0019.pdf

    DRET (2011), Fact Sheet – Australian Electricity Generation Technology Costs – Reference Case
    http://www.ret.gov.au/energy/facts/Pages/EnergyFacts.aspx

    EPRI (2010), Australian electricity generation technology costs – Reference case 2010
    http://www.ret.gov.au/energy/Documents/AEGTC%202010.pdf

    Like

  45. John Roles wrote:

    The costs quoted are meant to represent full EPC project delivery costs. They do not include project development, land aquisition, financing costs etc.

    Thanks for the additional clarification. No argument here.

    John Roles wrote:

    – As a result of the above you cannot simply quote plant costs including storage on a $/MW basis as this number will alter considerably with the amount of storage and the insolation rate used to determine the plant capacity. The only sensible way to compare figures is to quote plant costs without storage.

    This is on a plant capacity basis, and not energy output basis (where insolation rate is a factor). I’m unclear why we can’t use capital costs for storage, and factor this into overall direct or installed costs for the plant (and relevant shares for total investment or developer costs)?

    John Roles wrote:

    From what I have seen I believe ultimately the optimal single technology on a $/MW will be linear fresnel.

    Terrific. I would be interested to hear more why you think this is the case. Presumably, this is because the land requirements are much reduced, and lower costs from simplified reflector design and elimination of heat transfer fluids and exchangers from collectors? Some, however, report LFR plants are “more difficult to incorporate storage capacity into their design” (p. 12), so it seems they might have limited application (due to decreased efficiencies and limited storage capability) restricted to peak and intermittent applications (rather than full 24 hour baseload operation … where other designs may be better suited)?

    John Roles wrote:

    … however you wish to divide up the EPC cost. If you do spread these costs proportionally then you come pretty close to the 70/30 ratio that I mentioned.

    Lastly, given the large percentage share you report for solar field in EPC costs (without storage), I’m curious if you have followed developments in potential cost reductions from newer Trough and LFR mirror designs and materials? These are mentioned in IEA roadmap: “Effective but costly back-silvered, thick-glass curved mirrors could be replaced with troughs based on less expensive technologies such as acrylic substrates coated with silver, flexible aluminium sheets covered with silver or aluminium, or aluminium sheets glued to a glass-fibre substrate. Wider troughs, with apertures close to 7 m (versus 5 m to 6 m currently) are under development, and offer the potential for incremental cost reductions (p. 31). For more information (or anybody who is interested), NREL provides a group or research papers on alternative mirror concepts which they say may “reduce cost, improve reliability, or increase performance.”

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  46. EL,

    I fail to understand why you cannot accept the facts that are staring you in the face. Solar power is not economic and not even close. Nor is wind power. This fact has been clearly demonstrated in the thread here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2012/02/09/100-renewable-electricity-for-australia-the-cost/ and again in this thread.

    Furthermore, it is clear that many additional costs that would apply to solar are not included in the estimates, such as listed here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2012/02/09/100-renewable-electricity-for-australia-the-cost/#comment-150610 and here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2012/02/14/grattan-report-2012-critique/#comment-151121

    This statement summarises the situation:

    For the EDM-2011 baseline simulation [ of a 100% renewable electric NEM], and using costs derived for the Federal Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (DRET, 2011b), the costs are estimated to be: $568 billion capital cost, $336/MWh cost of electricity and $290/tonne CO2 abatement cost.

    That is, the wholesale cost of electricity for the simulated system would be seven times more than now, with an abatement cost that is 13 times the starting price of the Australian carbon tax and 30 times the European carbon price. (This cost of electricity does not include costs for the existing electricity network).

    After 130 comments this statement remains correct. The 130 comments included many by renewable advocates such as yourself, Michael Goggin, (American Wind Energy Association), Stephen Gloor (Ender), Neil Howes. Despite yours and their best efforts, no errors were found in the analysis (so far).

    Given this, don’t you think you should acknowledge that renewables are totally uneconomic and there is no justifiable reason to argue that they can become economic in the foreseeable future?

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  47. Peter Lang wrote:

    Given this, don’t you think you should acknowledge that renewables are totally uneconomic and there is no justifiable reason to argue that they can become economic in the foreseeable future?

    Not at all. As your own excel spreadsheet and analysis suggests (drawing on DRET and EPRI estimates for Australia), current costs for CSP with 15 hours storage is already at a low LCOE of $286/MWh. Factor in a capital cost reduction of 30-40% by 2030 (as recommended by both DRET and EPRI analysis, p. 6-56, and EIA 2010 Roadmap, p. 27), and we get a range $177-204/MWh AUS (using your spreadsheet). My current retail cost for energy in Chicago, where I live (with 50% production from nuclear), is $174/MWh ($162/MWh AUS). So we’re getting pretty close.

    What else are we likely to see in next 20 years: higher fossil fuel prices, better financing schemes for renewables, and carbon pricing programs. And perhaps even further CSP cost reductions from thermocline storage, direct steam generation, and lower cost and higher performing mirror manufacturing and materials. Wind costs are likely to be lower than CSP, and MIT reports yesterday early stage solar PV on par with coal by the end of the decade. When it comes down to it, I think electricity is too cheap today (we get what we pay for … basically a lot of pollution and carbon emissions), and this leads to a lot of waste. Inflation adjusted prices for oil have spiked from $35.88/bbl in 2000 to $87.33 in 2011 (and few people are anticipating a decline). I don’t see why electricity should be any different, and why we can’t absorb higher costs in the future (particularly from a mix of energy resource that are abundant, sustainable, and have very low carbon emissions).

    You are suggesting current costs are too high. And I agree. You have demonstrated this with your usual deft skill and methodological rigor. Which is why we subsidize early stage renewable energy technologies, as we have done with every energy technology in our current mix (nuclear included), in the hopes it will continue to power and enrich our economies and communities, provide jobs and business competitiveness in emerging markets, and enhance our national security and improve our quality of life. In short, my energy costs are currently very high. By your own demonstration, if I moved to Australia in 18 years (with some share of renewable energy in the mix and nuclear too), plus anticipated cost reductions, they would likely still remain about the same. I’m fine with that, and I bet you I could convince a great many others to be fine with that too.

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  48. Peter
    WRT your question on long term historical records of plant performance. Sorry I am a builder of plant not an owner. You can probably obtain this information as suggested above however i would be cautious in the interpretation of much of the publically available data as in many cases it has been prepared as a sales tool to push individual technologies or companies.

    I will have a look at the estimate you referenced but it may be some time before I can get to this.

    EL
    Yes, naturally you need to extrapolate the costs of non storage plant in order to determine the costs of plant incorporating storage. My concern is that I have seen a number of cost comparisons made between plants and technologies where the proponents appear to ignore the variable costs associated with the degree of heat storage. They then make statements and draw conclusions that are invalid.

    WRT preference for LFR I agree with the factors you nominate except the impact of land area. I have not heard this before and cannot see how the differences in the land requirements between technologies will seriously impact the overall cost.

    On a detailed level
    – the costs of manufacture, transport handling, logistics, assembly and construction of flat mirrors for LFR is considerably cheaper than tthe curved mirrors for troughs. As far as i can see this will always be the case.
    – the fact that trough technology requires a secondary HTF has a major impact on plant complexity and efficiency. Again this will always be the case with a two stage heat cycle.
    – as a further point on the above you mentioned that LFR is not as adaptable to storage as a trough based system. The reason for this is that the solar trough already incorporates some of the high complexity and low efficiency elements that are associated with heat storage. Hence the cost impact of storage is considerably higher than for troughs.

    From a broader perspective it appears that LFR technology is already at a slightly lower cost ( from the information and data I have been privy to) than trough technology. This is despite the fact that LFR technology is at a much earlier point on the cost development curve than troughs. It is reasonable then to conclude then that LFR will ultimately be the winner.

    As an aside I do not understand the unreasonable push to incorporate high levels of storage onto solar thermal plant. The LCOE for solar thermal without storage will probably end up at around $150/MW. While I have not run any definitive numbers I believe that the marginal LCOE for additional storage will not be any lower than this. For plant without storage you are competing with a current spot price of maybe $50. This is bad enough but for the marginal addition of storage the LCOE will be $150 and the relative competitive spot price will be $20.

    Why, it simply does not make sense. You are eroding the one factor, the match between output and demand, that is attractive about solar thermal. To use a mixed analogy, pigs are good for bacon why even bother puting lipstick on it.

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  49. It would be interesting to compare the cost of wind and solar power with the cost of nuclear and coal power if the wind and solar systems were totally free. Then the costs of using the generated wind and solar power would be determined exclusively by the increased costs of distributing it and storing enough power so that reliable power would be available at all times.

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  50. EL, 24 February 2012 at 10:17 AM

    Not at all. As your own excel spreadsheet and analysis suggests (drawing on DRET and EPRI estimates for Australia), current costs for CSP with 15 hours storage is already at a low LCOE of $286/MWh. Factor in a capital cost reduction of 30-40% by 2030 (as recommended by both DRET and EPRI analysis, p. 6-56, and EIA 2010 Roadmap, p. 27), and we get a range $177-204/MWh AUS (using your spreadsheet). My current retail cost for energy in Chicago, where I live (with 50% production from nuclear), is $174/MWh ($162/MWh AUS). So we’re getting pretty close.

    You mentioned in an earlier comment that you find answers to some of your comments frustrating. Well, I find this comment of yours very frustrating.

    You compare your retail price of electricity in Chicago with the projected future wholesale cost of electricity from a solar generator. That’s not comparing apples and oranges. That’s comparing apples and rocks.

    You also want to apply projections for cost reductions for solar and ignore there will also be cost reductions for nuclear, coal, gas.

    You also put a lot of faith in hypothetical cost reductions for a technology that is totally uneconomic and supported almost entirely by subsidies and think this situation can continue indefinitely.

    I find it frustrating that you, and the other RE advocates who posted comments on the EDM-2011 thread, and gave it your best shot to find fault with the analysis, failed to do so totally, yet you cannot admit you are wrong.

    You state:

    current costs for CSP with 15 hours storage is already at a low LCOE of $286/MWh

    That is about seven times the cost of current coal fired electricity. Furthermore, the coals generators provide power that is fit for purpose. The solar generators cannot. So there are a whole host of other costs that must be included so you can get a fair comparison for a product that is fit for purpose. When you add all the extra costs in that have been pointed out to you, it is clear to anyone who has an engineer’s sense of scale and proportion, or is even mildly numeric, that the renewable system is totally uneconomic, is not close to being economic, and cannot be economic in the foreseeable future.

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  51. Frank R. Eggers @ 24 February 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Yes. A very interesting question.

    My crude cost estimate for the transmission system for the EDM-2011 simulation of a 100% renewable electric NEM (https://bravenewclimate.com/2012/02/09/100-renewable-electricity-for-australia-the-cost/), suggests that the cost of the transmission and distribution system enhancements alone is nearly as much as the nuclear component to provide a low emissions electricity generating system. In fact, the nuclear system would have about 1/3 the CO2 emissions of the EDM-2011 Scenario 4. Scenario 4 is the most realistic of the four scenarios considered, IMO.

    The cost of energy storage is far to high to be economically viable. Here is one very rough estimate of the cost of storage (and land area required) for the NEM using pumped hydro (which ignores the fact that suitable sites are not available) and also the cost based on using NAS batteries: https://bravenewclimate.com/2009/08/16/solar-power-realities-supply-demand-storage-and-costs/

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  52. David B. Benson wrote:

    “While Peter Lang keeps harping on lowering the cost of an NPP I see no way to do so which will satisfy society’s need for a perception of safety. Current designs are safer than eating peanut butter but it seems that nothing riskier will suffice without a sea change in the public’s perception of risk.”

    One thing that would change public attitudes would be seeing a severe escalation in the cost of electricity. If, as the result of a gradual shift to renewable sources of power, the cost of electricity began to rise steadily and hit perhaps three times the present cost with every reason to believe that the rise would continue, attitudes towards nuclear power would change.

    There have been numerous cases in which the media has brought the attention of the public to leaks of tritium; it would be practically impossible for anyone to be unaware of such articles. It may be that these leaks have posed no significant risk to the public, but why do they occur? Is it really difficult to design nuclear plants so that leaks will be confined to the plant? Whether it is reasonable or not, there are people who are looking for reasons to bolster their opposition to nuclear power. Therefore, the nuclear power industry must adhere to a high standard of excellence to make it as difficult as possible for the opposition to find reasons to oppose nuclear power. In addition, the nuclear industry must become more aware of the importance of public relations.

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  53. Peter L.,

    From quickly reviewing your material, which I had previously read, it does appear that the costs of gathering, distributing, and storage alone would make renewable sources economically impractical. The material to which you have linked seems very thorough. Even so, it could be helpful if, in a very condensed manner, you put the summary figures in this thread, indicating the current total cost of electricity to consumers compared with the projected cost of only moving electricity from the renewable power stations to the consumer. That’s partly because some readers have not taken the time required to examine thoroughly the material for which you have provided links.

    Grid technology has been around for a long time and has matured to the point that further changes to increase reliability and reduce cost will probably be slow in coming. Thus, it would be difficult to argue that improved grid technology would be likely to reduce the additional costs incurred as the result of moving power from widely scattered sources.

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  54. Frank R. Eggers,

    OK. That will take me a bit of effort to think how best to present it. We have to be careful to separate wholesale cost from retail costs, and also to be consistent in comparing wholesale cost of generation, generation that is fit for purpose (i.e. with sufficent storage and back up to deliver reliable supply) and generation plus transmisison and distribution. It’s not as easy as simply writing a comment. I’ll think about it and would probably post it on the “100% renewable electric NEM” thread to keep it and any follow discussion together.

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  55. Frank R. Eggers — Without further increasing the costs of an LWR NPP there is no way way to prevent an occasional small and harmless expression of tritium, AFAIK.

    As this is going off-topic, followups on the Open Thread will you will.

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