Renewable Energy and the Economy

I recently visited a blog talking about nuclear power and some of the comments got me to thinking.  (BTW: It’s an excellent blog, lots of pictures!)

If (as some claim) global warming isn’t an issue.  And if (as some claim) that renewable power is less efficient than nuclear (and some will even say fossil fuels).  And if (as some claim) that renewables will never provide enough energy for the world…

Then why are all these major companies getting involved in renewables?

Here, I’ll make the case that renewable energy is not only good for the environment, but it is economically viable, even beyond the ‘fad’ issue that some claim is the only reason we have renewables.

First of all, is renewable energy a ‘fad’.  That is, after a few months/years of developing renewable energy, will people forget about it and move on, back to nuclear or coal or whatever?

I don’t think so, and here’s why.  What do coal power plants produce?  electricity and pollution.  What do gas-fired power plants produce? electricity and pollution.  What do nuclear plants produce? Electricity and waste (yes, I know about using the waste as fuel.  I also know that very few places are doing it for a variety of reasons.)  What do wind turbines produce?  electricity.  What do solar plants produce?  Electricity.

You see, unlike pet rocks and the milkshake diet, the product that we want produced by power plants is exactly the same.  Computers do not run better on electricity produced by nuclear plants.  Old-school incandescent lightbulbs are not brighter using old-school coal-fired electricity.  It doesn’t matter where we get the product from.  make sense?

Now, with that in mind, which would you rather have?  electricity or electricity and pollution?

I think everyone, except a few really die hard global warming denialists, will say we don’t want pollution. 

But at what cost?  You’ll have to do this for yourself, but I could probably live with pollution if my cost for electricity from renewables was about $0.30 per kW hour. 

So, the real question is, can renewables provide enough power at a competitive cost?  The answer is yes.

First, anecdotal evidence.  I get all my electricity from a renewable only provider.  And yes, I know that it is all from the same grid and it doesn’t matter where the electrons come from.  The point is that I purchase x kWh and pay for x kWh and my money goes to a company that produces electricity only from renewable sources.  In other words, I’m encouraging expansion of renewables, because I’m using my wallet to tell other companies what I want.

So, is my electricity competitive?  I think so.  You can go to Whitefence.com and get a list of providers (for any home service) and their prices.  If you do this for my area, then you’ll see that Green Mountain Energy is very competitive with non-renewable suppliers.

Here’s the results from 3/25/11 (price per kilowatt hour)

  • Green Mountain (100% renewable) 6 month contract – $0.099*
  • Green Mountain (100% renewable) monthly flex (no contract) – $0.109
  • Green Mountain (100% renewable) 12 month contract – $0.114
  • TXU (non-renewable) monthly flex (no contract) – $0.10
  • TXU (non-renewable) 12 month contract – $0.104 
  • TXU (100% renewable) 12 month contract – $0.115
  • Reliant (non-renewable) monthly flex (no contract) – $0.091
  • Reliant (20% renewable) 6 month contract – $0.093
  • Reliant (20% renewable) 12 month contract – $0.094

*This is all I worry about, because in Texas, the only time you care about electricity is during the summer.  It’s more expensive and you need it a lot more.

There are others, but those are the main three competitors.  Many of the other companies have, shall we say, questionable reviews and are very small.

Now, because I’ve been a loyal Green Mountain customer for some time, I’ve got $0.095 for the next 6 months (yay summer).  And I really don’t suggest you use the non-contract options unless you know that you will only be in a location for less than 6 months.  Non-contract changes to rates can vary hugely.

So, for electricity purchases for your home, 100% renewable power is competitive.  Not the cheapest, not the most expensive.  I, for one, am willing to pay an extra 5/1000 of a dollar to use zero pollution electricity.

Now, what about companies?  Are electric cars a fad?  Chevrolet and Nissan don’t think so.  They are building pure electric cars… and I have heard rumors of solar powered charging stations for these vehicles being placed in a variety of useful locations (shopping centers and malls).

First, consider the companies that are investing in solar energy product manufacturing: GE, Sanyo, Sharp, Samsung, BP Solar, Canadian Solar, Suntech, Mitsubishi, etc.  These are just the major players.  There are too many start ups and solar only companies to list.

What about wind turbines?  Wikipedia has a list.

There are some very large names here and a lot of small fry.  This doesn’t even get into solar thermal (which is much more industrial scale and requires dedicated structures).

Now, why are all these companies getting into a fad? 

Worldwide the report said $162 billion was spent on renewable energy, down just 6.6% from the year before. That compares to a 19% drop in investment in the oil and gas industry, according to the report.

In 2010, Bloomberg New Energy Finance is expecting a 25% increase in renewable energy investments to $200 billion. (from: http://money.cnn.com/2010/03/25/news/international/china_energy_spending/index.htm)

This isn’t pet rocks here.  There is even a new concept for it.  The Clean Energy Economy.

According to a 2007 report, the spending on renewables in 2017 should approach $254 billion dollars.  Yet, we’re almost there in 2011.

Even if you don’t think about global warming, renewable power is already economically viable.  These companies are proving it.  The world markets are ready for an end to pollution.

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2 Responses to Renewable Energy and the Economy

  1. Joffan says:

    Correction:
    What do wind turbines produce? Electricity and pollution.
    What do solar plants produce? Electricity and pollution.

    And it matters that these plants do have polluting aspects, because their overall production per structure is relatively low. It matters that their electricity production is intermittant, because usage isn’t, and continuous support is not free. It’s relevant (on a positive note) that solar produces during the day, because that’s when the peak usage is. It’s important that investment and tax credits are available, because they shape industrial decisions. Grid priority and feed-in tariffs, accelerated depreciation and sweetheart land deals, there are dozens of levers being pulled for renewable systems and indeed for some that merely pretend to be (burning tires, anyone?)

    So I don’t think that the involvement and commitment of these companies demonstrates with any degree of certainty the stand-alone economics of renewables. It demonstrates the economic and policy framework they operate in, along with a bucketful of public relations zeitgeist.

  2. ogremkv says:

    Correction. If you will look at the link I provided it is LIFECYCLE pollution. That is, construction/manufacture through operations and decommissioning.

    Wind and Solar routinely are 1/6 the the lifecycle CO2 emmisions of nuclear and between 1/100 and 1/1000 the emmisions of coal.

    For every ‘sweethear’ deal for renewables, there are hundreds if not thousands for fossil fuels. World wide, the fossil fuel industry recieved north of $300 billion in subsidies. This when all the companies making fossil fuels are already making a profit.

    If you level the playing field, no subsidies or equivalent subsidies, renewbales beat fossil fuels hands down in every respect.

    Intermitent Power: is not a problem. I will prepare a blog post to explain why shortly.

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