The hardest part of being an activist on almost all issues is that you have to tell people bad news and then you have to get them to feel motivated to do something. “Nuclear meltdowns are not a 1 in 10 thousand year tsunami problem that are half the world away, they are a 1 in 20 year problem in a state where you might well have relatives” or “If you don’t want your grandchildren to hate you, you need to learn to share” and the like.
So whenever i get a chance to point at good news, i try to do this. Over the past few weeks, three increasingly important clean energy stories have caught my eye and i want to hype them.
The first hails from Bloomberg and describes wind’s bright future, specifically noting:
- Wind power costs have dropped 43% in the last 4 years
- Almost 5% of the US’s electricity comes from wind and it is rapidly increasing its share
- US natural gas can now be exported, which will increase US prices and thus favor wind solutions
- Even without the wind tax credit, there are lots of approved projects in the pipeline for years of construction
The second article from Quartz Magazine about decreasing solar energy costs including:
- Solar just beat out natural gas and coal solutions in oil rich Dubai
- Dramatic price decreases around new thin film solar technology will be coming soon
- Onshore wind energy and energy from natural gas had parity pricing in the US last year.
But the most important article is not about wind or solar, it is about batteries. This article is complex and it takes the form of a tutorial in energy economics. It includes the following gems:
- Solar need not be cheaper than gas to get implemented. It is already cheaper than gas turbines in handling peaking power (times of peak demand)–a time which is a major headache for utility companies
- Three states are going to buy 6GW of battery storage, about 6 full size reactors worth
- Grid deployed giant batteries already make sense in natural gas rich and cheap Texas (and California)
- Retail customer grid defection is coming soon (first in the West, Southwest and mid-Atlantic regions)
So there is good news. We are still in trouble, but don’t be blinded by it. And when people tell you that “renewables can’t compete,” try not to laugh. Politely inform them that they are living in a past which was going to kill us.
Nuclear boosters and most power utility executives are fond of telling us that renewable power can’t fill the need for reliable electricity and its costs are too high. The graph below is telling because it shows that the path being blazed by Germany is actually representative of the entire European continent. Specifically, newly installed capacity of wind and solar far exceed all other fuels. And that even with record low natural gas prices, over half of the amount of new installed capacity in gas was decommissioned last year. Despite dire warnings of increased coal burning, the amount of decommissioned plants well exceeds new installed capacity. Little new nuclear went on line and a fair amount was pulled from the grid (almost all this year from Germany, but with many more countries likely to close them in the coming years). There are only 4 reactors currently under construction in all of Europe – excluding Russia.
And while it is not as sweeping, there is good news inside the US about California’s progress in supporting local, decentralized solar power for economic classes that are not at the very top of the scale. One of the leading non-profits working to provide lower coast solar installations is Grid Alternatives. Which uses volunteers and local staff to install home based renewable solutions (especially solar) at low rates. They have completed 2,000 home systems in their first 2 years.
State wide programs for single family and multiple family housing units being converted to solar are receiving increased attention and funding. And with a bit of luck we can have our national energy mix shift like our smart friends in Europe have already figuring it out.