I’ve been struck by the lack of panic in the energy industry about President Trump’s decision. This article goes into that underlying confidence that the momentum appears unstoppable.
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Accord will slow the battle against climate change in the U.S., but there’s too much momentum in the nation’s clean-energy economy to shut it down, energy experts say.
Source: Clean energy too big to be shut down by Trump – San Francisco Chronicle
Five graphics that show strong growth in U.S. wind energy after a two-year slowdown
Source: How the US Wind Sector Is Building Momentum, Driving Economic Benefits | Greentech Media
Portugal just ran its entire grid for 107 straight hours on 100% renewables. That’s four and a half days. The country now gets about 48% of its energy from green power.
Source: “Real” Electricity Still Comes from the Grid
Catherine Wolfram at UC Berkeley posted about their paper looking at costs of distributed energy systems in Kenya and concluding that these were too expensive for households compared to connecting to the grid. However, the paper came under immediate criticism.
Here’s my thoughts based on her representation of the paper’s findings, some of which are mirrored by other commentators:
First, the paper talks about costs on one side, but doesn’t put them in perspective to the alternatives. The post lists the cost of the individual systems, but not the expected connection costs to the grid.
Further the paper takes a static look at current costs and doesn’t account for the differential trends in the sets of costs for an home-based system versus connecting to the grid. The latter costs can be expected to be steady or even rising, while it’s well known that both solar and storage costs have fallen rapidly.
Different scales of “grid” also are important. For example, solar projects show scale economies up to about 3 MW but then modular construction flattens the per kW cost. A village microgrid separate from a national central grid may be quite cost competitive.
Finally, the paper appears to lump large hydro in with other utility-scale renewables. The environmental (and economic development) record for large-scale hydro projects in the developing world is dubious at best. There is evidence of significant methane emissions from tropical reservoirs. Habitat is destroyed and poorly designed projects don’t deliver expected benefits. Hydro is by far the largest energy supplier on these grids, and they may be little better than coal from an overall environmental perspective.
This New Yorker article, “Power to the People,” is one of the first mainstream press articles discussing how the energy utility landscape is being transformed. (This was sent to me by one of my non-energy clients.) It prompted one thought: the “death spiral” only occurs if we hold on to the traditional model of utility investment and regulation. Allowing utility shareholders to participate in the transformation through their unregulated holding companies can mitigate much of the potential for a death spiral.
Severin Borenstein at UC Energy Institute blogs about the push for distributed solar, perhaps at the expense of other cost-effective renewables development. My somewhat contrary comment on that is here: https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/is-the-future-of-electricity-generation-really-distributed/#comment-8092
Here’s a good description of different types of community solar garden configurations:
You can read about community solar garden policies in one of my past blogs.