Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Cost of Clean Power

It is a commonplace on that we are building no more nuclear plants and shutting down existing plants because they are too expensive. But…

They are less expensive than wind and solar – variable renewable energy (VRE.) Good, fine. But VRE has its limits, and somewhere between 60% and 90% of grid power, and something more reliable is needed for the balance, either fossil energy, large-scale long-term storage, large-scale hydro, or nuclear. Right now, that something is fossil energy, derived from natural gas and coal, both environmental problems. Natural gas plants is what we currently building and we have to stop burning natural gas. Not only is it a fossil fuel, and therefore a contributor to carbon emissions, it is itself a potent greenhouse gas, though a less persistent one than CO₂.

So, a bit of qualitative economic modeling. While we are building the smart grid, everything is fine for a while. VRE is ramping up and fossil fuel plants are shutting down. But when we arrive the limit of VRE (60%? 90%?) we have to either keep the fossil fuel plants going, driving the warming of the world, turn out the lights (or life-support) somewhere, or find something else to fill in the gap. By that time it will be very late and the necessary work will be very expensive. It would be wiser to start investing and researching now.

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