Colorado Latest Battle Ground as Utilities Realize Solar Energy’s Threat to their Survival

September 7, 2013

solarroof1

More in the continuing series on emerging impacts of distributed energy technology on the electric utility business model. In recent weeks I’ve pointed to press items from Georgia and Arizona on how solar photovoltaics could make our giant electric utilities go the way of typewriters and buggy whips.

Denver  Post:

The problem, said David Eves, chief executive officer of Xcel’s Colorado subsidiary, is that the benefits of rooftop solar do not cover the program’s costs.

“This is not about putting the brakes on solar,” Eves said. “It’s about having an honest discussion about costs and benefits.”

If changes aren’t made, however, Xcel said it wants to cut back its Solar Reward program to 6 megawatts of new solar arrays from a planned 36 megawatts.

It’s not just a Colorado fight — the battle is being waged at utility commissions from Georgia to Louisiana to California.

“We see utilities in state after state fighting,” said Carrie Hitt, vice president for state affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

Because rooftop solar cuts demand and puts kilowatt-hours on the grid, it undermines the utility’s business model, Hitt said.

“Rooftop solar doesn’t amount to a lot now,” she said. “They are worried about the future.”

Xcel is proposing cutting from 3 cents to a fraction of a penny a 10-year incentive that it offers for every kilowatt-hour a new installation in the Solar Rewards program produces.

The main battleground, however, is the price homeowners with rooftop solar get for putting kilowatt-hours onto the system — the so-called net-metering credit.

Xcel customers get a credit for each kilowatt-hour they put on the grid equal to what a residential customer is charged for a kilowatt-hour — 10.5 cents.

But rooftop solar’s benefit to the overall system is limited and worth only 4.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to an Xcel study.

The remainder, as well as the cost of servicing lines, is picked up by other customers, said Karen Hyde, Xcel vice president for rates and regulatory affairs in Colorado.

Solar-industry executives and advocates contend that Xcel is minimizing the benefits and overstating the costs.

“There are concerns about the size and diversity of the study sample,” said Edward Stern, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

About 17,800 residential and small-business solar systems have been installed under Xcel’s Solar Rewards program — with customers receiving about $276 million in incentives.

new-solar-cells-efficiency

The Xcel study was based on detailed data from nine meters in 2010 and 14 meters in 2011 from larger, usually commercial installations.

That was compared with data from about 100 residential meters to create a profile of net-metering use.

The study found that while the bulk of solar energy is put on the grid midday, residential demand comes in the late afternoon and evening.

“It’s fuzzy math,” said Megan Nutting, policy and markets director at SolarCity, a San Mateo, Calif.-based firm that leases arrays in 14 states and has about 4,000 customers in Colorado.

Forbes:

To the list of industries at risk of complete obsolescence – which at the moment includes daily newspapers, government postal services, and men-only barbershops, among others – you can add U.S. power utilities.  The creeping sense of impending peril that has enveloped the power sector was made explicit earlier this year in a widely distributed, and remarkably candid, report from the Edison Electric Institute entitled “Disruptive Challenges.”

solarprice

Warning of “irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects” of utilities due to the spread of distributed power generation from renewable energy sources, the report foresees “a day when battery storage technology or micro turbines could allow customers to be electric grid independent.”  The result: a “cycle of decline [that] has been previously witnessed in technology-disrupted sectors (such as telecommunications) and other deregulated industries (airlines).”

Bloomberg BusinessWeek story last week put an even finer point on it: “In about the time it has taken cell phones to supplant land lines in most U.S. homes, the grid will become increasingly irrelevant as customers move toward decentralized homegrown green energy.”  NRG EnergyNRG +1.28% CEO David Crane told the magazine that microgrids, small wind and solar, and net metering constitute “a mortal threat to the existing utility system.”

In the Kubler-Ross end-of-life model, U.S. utilities are still mostly in the denial stage.  Utility executives spend a lot of time these days decrying government subsidies, particularly for rooftop solar.  To be sure, several big utilities have at least hedged their bets by investing in alternative forms of power generation; Duke EnergyDUK +1%, for example, entered the renewables business in 2007 and has built some 1700 megawatts of renewable capacity since then.

Daily Tech:

Utility companies around the U.S. fear that solar companies and renewable energy incentives will replace traditional electricity.

According to a report from The New York Times, utility companies view rooftop solar energy as a threat to their traditional business model of providing electricity maintaining the grid.

In fact, some utilities have said that they should’ve fought the solar “disrupt” and are currently working to push back against government incentives for the renewable energy.

The utility companies’ worries may seem a little ridiculous at present, considering rooftop solar energy alone accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation.

However, incentives around the country aim to expand the use of solar power in a big way. For instance, California has a system called net metering, which pays both commercial and residential customers for their excess renewable energy that they sell back to utilities. California pays customers very well through this credit system because the payments are bound to daytime retail rates that customers pay for electricity — such as utility costs to maintain the grid.

NYT reports that from 2010 to 2012, the amount of solar installed each year has increased by 160 percent.

At present, 43 states, the District of Columbia and four territories offer incentives for renewable energy in some form or another.

Solar proponents add that solar customers deserve payment and incentives for their efforts because making more power closer to where it is used (when resold to local utility companies) can alleviate stress on the grid — making it reliable. It also helps utilities by relieving them from having to build infrastructure and sizable generators.

However, utility companies feel differently. Their argument is that solar customers, at some point, may stop paying for electricity, which means they also stop paying for the grid. This shifts the costs to other non-solar customers.

About these ads

17 Responses to “Colorado Latest Battle Ground as Utilities Realize Solar Energy’s Threat to their Survival”

  1. MorinMoss Says:

    I’m so glad that the unselfish utilities have only the best interests of the “non-solar” customers at heart.
    Oh, the humanity.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    “Because rooftop solar cuts demand and puts kilowatt-hours on the grid, it undermines the utility’s business model, Hitt said.”

    So, change the business model!

    Electric utilities have a new mission – to build and deploy only new renewable energy infrastructure, and scrap the old fossil fuel systems asap. Obviously, this does not fit into an economic paradigm that demands short-term ROI, otherwise they would not be fighting what is a national imperative – building renewables.

    So, stop demanding electric utilities produce a ‘profit’. Put them squarely, not partially, in the public sector.

    We don’t demand that our Fire Departments show a profit – only that they function well and efficiently. Same for our Police Departments, Health Departments, Water Departments, etc, etc. Electric Utilities should be the same, because we need to invest a whole lot on the capital costs of new infrastructure.

    ” how solar photovoltaics could make our giant electric utilities go the way of typewriters and buggy whips.”

    That is ridiculous. Our global future is clean electricity. Rooftop solar will be playing a small role in that future while power generated in large-scale projects in the American Southwest will be playing a larger role. Remember, we not only need to replace all the electricity currently produced in fossil fuel-burning power plants, but we must also replace the equivalent power of billions of barrels of gasoline, diesel and natural gas used to run our transportation system, our home heating and cooking, industrial processes, etc.

    Our electrical grid and distribution system will be more important than ever in the future. It’s how we structure the fiscal mission of these utilities that needs to go the way of the horsewhips and buggies, as we transform our energy paradigm from fossil fuels – which have low capital costs and high fuel costs, to renewables, which have high capital costs and zero fuel costs.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      The utilities are in a prime spot to take advantage of the coming electricity market but are too stubborn to see the opportunity.
      Very few are going to disconnect from the grid and those that do might rethink it after 1 disaster.
      Distributed generation will ease the pressure on the grid and will allow utilities to lower their running costs.
      There’s nothing stopping them from investing in solar tech, doing solar installation, renting roof space.

      Hey, they have all the skills, equipment, know the regulations and where the weak links are. They could totally own it all, if they could get their heads out of the Carboniferous period.


  3. Its not about (distributed) rooftop solar vs utilities. Public utilities will resist any competition, because they want to , to survive. Case in point, (centralized) wind farms. All this is hiding the 600 pound gorilla in the room. That is, demand has sagged. Utilities built a lot of large centralized plants. Now they are sitting on huge plants with not enough demand. They are looking to blame their planning failure on someone else. Now utilities are complaining about wind (centralized) and solar (distributed).The thing is, the utility response to a changing market landscape is to lobby the government to kill their competition. Huh? But that is not the intent of giving public utilities a monopoly. The intent was to defend ratepayers against unfair monopoly gouging. Instead, the utilities want protection? So what should we do, pay more money to a utility that is losing out? Pay for the idled coal and nuclear plants they built? (We do) The public is dragging some utilities into the future and they are resisting. If they were more visionary, they would have gotten into the solar and wind business themselves. They lost out because they refused to see the future. There is no reason to reward them for that, even less reason to encourage it as time goes on. So the debate goes on. Should public utilities have competition? They are limited monopolies. Why does a limited monopoly with a guaranteed rate of return need protection from competition? We should let the market reward forward thinking (like the Texas consortium that built more transmission for wind energy)

    http://climatecrocks.com/2013/09/04/lumbering-toward-a-new-grid/#more-15997

    Yes, we need to look at a new paradigm for energy. Rewarding utilities that see the future is the answer. Those that do not will be relegated to the past.

    Wind energy can be implemented quickly in small capital increments.
    Coal and nuclear must be implemented in large capacities to achieve economy. Case in point, Vogtle, 14 billion not counting over runs.

    http://www.sej.org/headlines/vogtle-nuclear-project-take-longer-cost-more

    http://southeast.construction.com/southeast_construction_projects/2013/0821-Builders-of-Vogtle-Nuclear-Plant-Face-Growing-Costs-Concerns.asp?page=2

    The state legislature is deliberating whether they should make the utility eat the cost over runs.

    http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2012/09/17/sagging-economy-doubts-about-coal-prompt-power-companies-to-sell-more-plants/


    • Why does a limited monopoly with a guaranteed rate of return need protection from competition?

      Because their competition would otherwise be able to take advantage of the legal restrictions and market defects created by the limited monopoly itself.  Think of California’s disastrous “deregulation” law, and how it was played.

      Rewarding utilities that see the future is the answer.

      You seem to have only one future in mind.  The real world has a way of giving surprises.

      Wind energy can be implemented quickly in small capital increments.

      That’s really a misnomer.  Wind energy it isn’t; wind farms are not a stockpile of energy which can be tapped.  Neither is it wind power, because you cannot get power on demand (no dispatchability).  A wind farm is wind generation, with a certain nameplate (maximum) rating.  How much it generates is only controllable by the grid operator to the extent that it is curtailed from the instantaneous available flow.

      When the nameplate rating of a wind farm is divided by its capacity factor, the capital cost per average kW does not compare nearly as well to the alternatives.  There is also the detail that other generation must handle the difference between instantaneous wind (and PV) generation and instantaneous load.  This constrains options and drives up the cost, in no small part by favoring particular generators (gas turbines) using a particular fuel (natural gas).  The gas lobby knows this, which is why they want to shut down nuclear plants and substitute “wind” (which means 70% NG-fired turbines).

      Coal and nuclear must be implemented in large capacities to achieve economy.

      A lot of the trend to large nuclear units is driven by regulatory policy which imposes high per-site and per-unit costs.  Nuclear generators can be a few tens of megawatts, or even less.  Regulations can be changed, physics can’t.

      Case in point, Vogtle, 14 billion not counting over runs.

      Speaking of regulation, part of the Vogtle costs comes from NRC regulatory delays related to some trifling difference between two versions of a specification for reinforcing rod in concrete.  This is a problem that can be fixed by reducing the amount of “oversight” and the number and authority of the busybodies involved.

      The state legislature is deliberating whether they should make the utility eat the cost over runs.

      They should send the bill to Jazcko and MacFarlane.


  4. Take a look at this article on the coming energy paradigm shift. A benefit of distributed energy: reduced transmission costs

    http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2013/06/03/utilities-and-the-distributed-energy-paradigm-shift/

    Here is a pdf about micro grids:

    http://www.psma.com/sites/default/files/uploads/tech-forums-alternative-energy/presentations/2012-apec-254-worldwide-microgrid-development-evolving-power-supply-paradigm.pdf

    Chris Marnay has an article in September IEEE power and energy:
    Challenges of Supply
    an evolving energy paradigm
    Featured in the evolving energy paradigm: distributed energy, micro grids, smart grids, EVs as energy storage, the so-called vehicle to grid (V2G), CHP also known as cogeneration.
    A near universal feature is flexibility and the need for change.


    • Take a look at this article on the coming energy paradigm shift. A benefit of distributed energy: reduced transmission costs

      In the real world of RE, Germany is facing massive increases in transmission costs as it is forced to build many new lines to move power from North Sea wind farms to the south of the country.  An all-RE grid for the USA would be staggeringly expensive just for the pieces to carry mid-western wind generation to the coasts.  Then you’d have even more massive costs for storage systems on a scale never seen.

      There is a push to switch generation to local fuel cells, coming from (you guessed it) the natural gas lobby.  The NG lobby would love to have no electrical grid and everyone locked into natural gas as the sole fuel.

      The gas lobby views nuclear power as the enemy, and is trying to kill it nationwide.  Obviously, they know where their self-interest is.  If you think that’s the same as your interest (and they’re not paying you), I pity you.


  5. Engineer-Poet

    >Wind energy can be implemented quickly in small capital increments.

    You said a lot, but nothing contradicted this statement. Please provide references and a logical explanation if you have something meaningful to add to the discussion. Many of your other statements are factually incorrect and lack references. I do not feel the need to correct them all, since the subject has been addressed at length in these pages already and there are too many errors. Do yourself the favor by reading those before expressing opinions or at least provide references for your statements if you think otherwise.

    >Coal and nuclear must be implemented in large capacities to achieve economy.

    “A lot of the trend to large nuclear units is driven by regulatory policy which imposes high per-site and per-unit costs.”

    What of it? Are you proposing we cut safety regulations to make nuclear cheaper? Shall we drop safety standards for other energy sources or only nuclear? Wouldn’t all sources of energy be cheaper if we dropped safety standards? Again nothing factual to reference, just an opinion.

    >Take a look at this article on the coming energy paradigm shift. A benefit of distributed energy: reduced transmission costs

    “In the real world of RE, Germany is facing massive increases in transmission costs….
    wind farms”

    Please take the trouble of reading the comments and the article referenced to distributed energy (solar), not wind. Distributed solar does reduce transmission costs. If you want to refer to transmission costs for centralized power, offer references to the costs of transmission. All generators must share transmission costs. I think utilities purchasing wind know that. It has not stopped them buying a huge amount of wind. One might think they know what they are doing. Nine states have over 13% wind market penetration.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2013/08/11/us-wind-power-prices-down-to-0-04-per-kwh/

    Please address your comments to the subject of discussion and refrain from personal derogatory comments. They do you no honor.
    Blogs are full of people that think they know everything and are eager to express an opinion. That does nothing to advance knowledge or educate. You can find such discussion in any bar or barbershop. Please try to rise above that level and show that you have informed yourself. Better yet, provide useful, informative, reliable, factual references, just as a teacher might do. It takes some effort, but everyone will be the better for it. If it is as factually referenced and researched as the articles in climate crocks, it may well be worth reading.


    • You said a lot, but nothing contradicted this statement.

      I pointed out that the very description “wind energy” is inaccurate and misleading.  If you think that isn’t contradicting it, you need to go back to school.

      What of it? Are you proposing we cut safety regulations to make nuclear cheaper?

      Many regulations, such as the ones regarding documentation of each manufacturing step for nuclear-grade parts (far more onerous than the requirements for safety-critical aircraft parts), add nothing to safety.  So are the recent requirements for high-level (meaning, costly) security at each site, when the threat models are just not credible.  They are a pure deadweight loss, a deliberate system of hobbling the industry.

      It’s easy to show that this is anti-safety.  More people die every year in accidents with coal trains than have been killed by radiation in the entire history of commercial nuclear electric generation in the OECD, not to mention the mortality and morbidity from combustion emissions.  There are many fatalities in the construction and maintenance of industrial wind turbines and rooftop PV as well (roofing is dangerous work).

      Shall we drop safety standards for other energy sources or only nuclear?

      I’d like to see a level playing field.  Why not allow nuclear plants to emit as many curies of whatever as coal and natural gas plants emit of radon?  Or didn’t you know that both coal and NG carry radon?  And let’s force cleanup of the toxic byproducts (e.g. heavy metals) in fracking fluids and coal ash to the same standards as nuclear.  If that’s not economical, it means that we are SAFER if we hold nuclear to a less-stringent standard in order to let it grow.

      Let’s also internalize the safety-related costs of solar’s gas-fired backups, since it cannot do without them.

      Distributed solar does reduce transmission costs.

      Distributed solar still requires the entire transmission system to be there at night, and whenever an area under cloud needs to get power from elsewhere… but it’s actually much worse than that.  The entire “distributed solar” model is known to be unable to meet needs, so Desertec was dreamed up to generate power in N. Africa and transmit it all over Europe.  This will require many, many thousand-mile power lines.  Some “reduced transmission costs”!

      All generators must share transmission costs.

      So the wind and solar people build a lot of stuff out in deserts and oceans, and force generators located just miles from their customers to shoulder the bulk of the cost of the new lines.  Nice scam.

      utilities purchasing wind know that. It has not stopped them buying a huge amount of wind.

      It hasn’t stopped legislatures from mandating the purchase, you mean.  It’s a headache most of them would rather do without (Kodiak Electric Association being a conspicuous exception).

      Nine states have over 13% wind market penetration.

      I think this would be a good thing, IF (and ONLY if) the wind farms met the same dispatchability requirements as conventional generation and could not force other generators to curtail output to manage their unpredictability (an externalized cost).  This could actually be a good thing, because one of the best ways to perform such management is with dump loads which displace e.g. natural gas heat.  If all the ethanol distilleries in Iowa were set up to use 1¢/kWh surplus (interruptible) electric power instead of $4.50/mmBTU natural gas, it would actually reduce carbon emissions as well as their energy costs.  But that’s not how the regulatory system is set up.

      Please address your comments to the subject of discussion and refrain from personal derogatory comments. They do you no honor.

      If you want that, do not make ignorant errors and then accuse me of ignorance.  This is one of my major areas of study.


  6. Peter –

    “However, utility companies feel differently. Their argument is that solar customers, at some point, may stop paying for electricity, which means they also stop paying for the grid. This shifts the costs to other non-solar customers.”

    I guess non-solar customers might get the idea that they should switch to solar, too.
    Should we be forced to buy power from a monopoly for their benefit? Not a very appealing argument. If everyone could buy solar PV cheaper than utility rates, how could that ever be stopped? Like you say. Cell phones happened. Can that progress be stopped? Is there really any point to it? Maybe we should reverse the whole idea and ask in what way could households (local microgrids, CHP, other independent generators) be benefitted by grid connection and how much is it worth? Utilities are complaining that they have too much competition, but their worst enemy is conservation. Demand has sagged. That’s what we wanted. Now what to do about utilities based on a model of compound (exponential) growth. Behind them, the banks demanding rate of return. (compound interest). See how it works? Sustainability is incompatible with compound growth.

  7. Cy Halothrin Says:

    Utility companies aren’t always lovable, but I am going to say something in their defense here…

    At least in states which force the utilities to buy solar power (which is most states), a large number of home owners installing solar PV panels can bankrupt the utilities.

    This is because their cost does NOT go down by any significant amount just because they’ve got a bunch of customers feeding solar-generated electricity into the grid. In theory, the PV panels can help the utility cut down on their natural gas use a little (assuming they are using natural gas, not coal or nuclear). But large-sized power plants cannot just be shut off by flicking a switch. It takes almost a whole stay to stop/start a natural gas powered plant, and coal takes several days. So if solar panels feed electricity into the grid for about six hours a day (which is about the most you can expect – about 25% availability), the utility doesn’t get to shut down and mothball their power plants. Rather, they must run them continually, and buy the solar PV power too even when it’s not needed. This is a significant cost, and holds the ability to bankrupt them unless a large rate increase or government subsidy is made available to the utility.

    There seem to be a lot of people on this board cheering for bankrupting the utilities. They say we don’t need them, we can get all our power from solar. OK, fine, then kindly disconnect from the utility and generate all your own power off-grid. Just don’t expect the utility to pay you for it. And don’t expect the utility to come to your rescue by providing power from about 4 pm to 8 am, when solar produces nothing, not to mention rainy or snowy days when daytime output is poor.

    I’m expecting a whole lot of negative replies for saying this. All kinds of people are going to tell me that they can generate all their own electricity from rooftop panels, plus a backyard windmill for night time power. To which I reply (in advance): great. Do it. Go buy the panels and wind mill, disconnect from the grid, and produce your own power. Show it’s really possible by actually doing it, not just claiming you can. Actions speak louder than words.

    By the way, I have solar panels, and solar hot water. It works…up to a point. I can generate about 1/3 of my power needs this way, but the rest comes from the grid. Outside the approximate 6-hours-per-day window for solar, the grid is the only realistic alternative I see. Wind power is not even feasible where I live (it just isn’t windy). Battery storage…better than nothing, but very limited – fine for keeping the lights on at night, but not much else.


    • Hear, hear!

      People on the grid receive a lot of services that they don’t understand.  Because they don’t appear separately on their bills, most of them don’t even know they exist.  If they had to provide for themselves, they’d quickly learn that such things aren’t cheap and quickly become much less easy as they move away from conventional generators.

      Who knows?  They might even begin to appreciate nuclear power.  Yes, even the greens.


  8. Engineer – Poet

    Well, we know one thing. You are not above slinging insults.

    I am truly sorry you felt insulted.

    What I said was:

    “Please try to rise above that level and show that you have informed yourself. Better yet, provide useful, informative, reliable, factual references, just as a teacher might do. It takes some effort, but everyone will be the better for it.”

    Nowhere was the term “ignorant” used. That was an appellation you applied to yourself completely unsolicited. Your comments display some intelligence and you write reasonably well. My only interjection is that you could do yourself more honor by avoiding distasteful behavior. But I digress.

    >You said a lot, but nothing contradicted this statement.

    I pointed out that the very description “wind energy” is inaccurate

    Which has nothing to do with the original quote which is about the rate of implementation.
    You left out the original quote. That sounds like a good way of dodging the issue. Go back to this:

    >Wind energy can be implemented quickly in small capital increments

    You changed subject from the rate wind energy can be implemented to complaining about the word “energy”. The subject was rate of implementation. Nothing you stated contradicted that. That sounds to me like you lost the topic and:

    >You said a lot, but nothing contradicted this statement.

    >Distributed solar does reduce transmission costs.

    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/The-True-Value-of-Arizona-Solar-By-the-Numbers

    There are others references, some from an APS study that show reduced transmission and distribution costs. Wear and tear is significant due to peak loads. Distributed PV lowers peak loads. ergo, lower costs.

    “Distributed solar still requires the entire transmission system to be..”

    You are doing it again. Sidetracked. You get far from the question. Somehow you get to Solar in the Sahara. That is not “Distributed”. Your sequence of statements is illogical. It does not follow that the only conclusion from distributed solar is “unable to meet needs” that a remote Solar has to be built in the Sahara. See climatecrocks.com for examples of European countries with high wind and solar generation. Denmark does not seem to be importing any electricity from the Sahara lately. Not only that, but it actually might make economic sense to put in transmission lines to get renewables from great distances. You assume it is too expensive without proof. Please try to make logical inferences more carefully. And give references. You are supposed to recognize that your opinion alone without factual references is not proof. Its part of separating opinion from fact. Do you get that? Am I wasting my time asking for references?

    Meanwhile you ignore the fact that transmission costs might actually not support your assertion.

    Just what percentage of utility costs are in transmission?

    About 7%.

    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/tablebrowser/#release=AEO2013&subject=0-AEO2013&table=8-AEO2013&region=0-0&cases=ref2013-d102312a

    Here is a quote you might like to read,

    “People tend to have an inflated sense of just what portion of their overall bill affected by transmission,” Fagan said.

    In a breakdown of consumer costs, a typical bill of a Michigan customer of Consumers Energy shows that a customer who uses 1,000 kWh, the component that applies to transmission is only 5%. The bulk of the electricity cost applies to generation and distribution.

    http://www.aweablog.org/blog/post/fact-check-pacific-research-institute-report-by-benjamin-zycher-filled-with-inaccuracies

    http://www.renewablesbiz.com/article/12/05/study-midwest-wind-and-transmission-build-out-lowers-power-prices-and-minimally-impacts-rates&utm_medium=eNL&utm_campaign=RB_DAILY2&utm_term=Original-Member


    • What I said was:

      “Please try to rise above that level and show that you have informed yourself.”

      “Uninformed” is synonymous with “ignorant”.

      I am truly sorry you felt insulted.

      But not for writing the insult in the first place.  I refuse to feel guilty about writing anything you choose to interpret as an insult, however much I do regret how you choose to interpret it.

      Also, your habit of bottom-posting your replies instead of threading them properly appears designed to throw off continuity of discussion and break the connection between claim and rebuttal.

      You changed subject from the rate wind energy can be implemented to complaining about the word “energy”. The subject was rate of implementation

      I’m sorry that you lost the point in the explanation.  What you expect from the electric grid is “power on demand”.  You want the light to come on when you flip the switch, and the furnace and air conditioner to run when extremes of temperature demand it.  This requires a store of energy which can be fed in as necessary.  Wind and PV are not such stores of energy, or even remotely close.  Neither are they amenable to “distributed” collection without massive storage and a strong long-distance transmission network, because renewable intermittency is real.

      Wind is a flow of power, some of which can be extracted reasonably cheaply… in those areas where it is abundant.  However, turning it into power-on-demand is a far bigger issue with many other costs, which are currently being transferred to other generators on the grid in the mistaken belief (or orchestrated denial of contrary facts) that this is simple and has no impact.  Really high penetration of wind requires electric storage on a massive scale never attempted before, mass electrification of many applications including many which would have to be termed “dump loads” due to their low value, or demand-side management so pervasive that people are already calling it a host of nasty names (see what skeptics call the “Smart Grid”).  One inevitable requirement is a huge expansion of long-distance electric transmission, which is financially costly and politically difficult.  That’s a bigger problem than you think.  When there’s massive opposition to building lines to carry power from Iowa wind farms to Illinois suburbs, you’re never going to get juice from the Dakotas to New York and Georgia.

      There are others references, some from an APS study that show reduced transmission and distribution costs. Wear and tear is significant due to peak loads. Distributed PV lowers peak loads. ergo, lower costs.

      You’re generalizing from one study about Arizona, where electric load peaks are mainly from air conditioning and occur on hot sunny days.  It’s irrelevant to areas where demand peaks come from from other loads, and also irrelevant to wind.  I keep telling you that this is not simple.

      You are doing it again. Sidetracked. You get far from the question. Somehow you get to Solar in the Sahara. That is not “Distributed”.

      You missed the point:  distributed systems cannot meet year-round demand in many (if not most) places.  You can distribute PV everywhere, and people at the 45th parallel (where I am) will have to draw power from something or somewhere else for the bulk of the year.  Even if it was possible to store a winter’s worth of electric power during the summer, it would cost more than you could afford.

      You can calculate this if you like.  Lead-acid batteries are some of the cheapest storage you can find.  If you drain the acid, you halt self-discharge, grid corrosion and sulfation reactions.  At some reasonable number like $50/kWh of storage, tell me what a winter’s worth of electricity would cost to lay aside during the summer.  Even assuming Passivhaus standards where no extra heat is required, how much battery would you need?  What would interest on the purchase price cost you, even assuming negligible wear?  Just how BIG would it be?

      If you know a fully-distributed (no grid) scheme is practical, you have to know all of this for batteries or some equivalent.  Post it here.  Not some future technology, something off the shelf.

      Your sequence of statements is illogical.

      The logic does not disappear because you fail (or refuse) to follow it.

      It does not follow that the only conclusion from distributed solar is “unable to meet needs” that a remote Solar has to be built in the Sahara.

      For northern Europe, that is the closest region where solar energy is abundant in the winter season.  Any other solution would require storage on an absurd (and even more unaffordable) scale, or transmitting power from much farther away.

      There actually is a solution which transmits power from many times farther away and produces it in all seasons and at night.  It is Glaser’s Space Solar Power Satellite concept.  This appears to be politically unacceptable, despite the required receivers being on the scale of wind farms and producing far more average power per hectare.

      Denmark does not seem to be importing any electricity from the Sahara lately.

      Denmark has massive interconnections to hydro-heavy Norway, and still has the highest electric rates in Europe.  This cannot be replicated to most of the world simply because the required hydro backup doesn’t exist due to geography.

      it actually might make economic sense to put in transmission lines to get renewables from great distances. You assume it is too expensive without proof.

      Well, yes, it might make sense.  However, siting any sort of intrusive energy-transmission system (whether HV towers above ground, or pipelines below) is expensive and fraught with political problems.  There are many tales of relatively short lines which have taken well over a decade to construct because of legal issues with the right-of-way.  Now multiply those issues by a couple orders of magnitude.  If you are relying on this being built out as quickly and cheaply as small wind farms, you’re going to have a very rude awakening.

      Please try to make logical inferences more carefully. And give references.

      I am no longer in the habit of posting many links because most sites have spam filters which hold or even automatically delete comments with many links.  This is contrary to my own desire to extensively footnote everything I write to forestall objections before they’re made, but spammers have made a habit of destroying everything since Canter and Seigel’s green-card spam of 1994.  (It’s a pity they’re both still listed as alive; if someone had made good on a death threat, spamming might have been set back a number of years and dozens or hundreds of man-years of spam-fighting effort would have been saved.)  I’m adding links to this entry and will see if it is allowed to be posted.

      Just what percentage of utility costs are in transmission? About 7%.

      That’s losses, not cost.  The table you cite shows about 10% fraction for transmission cost for 2010, which reflects the relatively local nature of generation in the current regime.  If you depend on RE for everything, you will be reliant on far-flung sources to get even moderate amounts of diversity in RE availablity conditions and that number will skyrocket.  I have calculated the cost (and losses) of HVDC transmission from the Dakotas to points east, west and south based on line cost per mile, but I doubt this has any applicability to the all-in price including the inevitable legal challenges and the interest costs they pile onto projects.

      The irony of this just struck me:  the escalating costs due to interest on projects halted by legal challenges are exactly what was used to pronounce nuclear power “too expensive”.  Given the vastly larger number of people affected (and thus with standing and motive to challenge), the grid required to support an all-RE electric system is certainly far less affordable.


  9. Cy – Not everyone is cheering to bankrupt utilities. Sluggish demand due to conservation and utilities with an economic model that depends on ever increasing demand are pressurizing utilities. We cannot very well abandon conservation just so utilities make money can we?

    “This is because their cost does NOT go down by any significant amount just because they’ve got a bunch of customers feeding solar-generated electricity into the grid.”

    A study in Arizona found that:
    “The study found that for each dollar of cost, DG provides $1.54 worth of benefits to APS customers.”

    http://sonoranalliance.com/2013/05/10/new-study-distributed-solar-energy-provides-34-million-in-benefits-to-arizona-ratepayers/

    Among the benefits, reduced peak power demand, transmission and distribution cost savings, and fuel savings.

    “It takes almost a whole stay to stop/start a natural gas powered plant,”
    Natural gas plants are either load following or peakers. They generally do not have any trouble starting up.

    http://www.kcet.org/news/rewire/explainers/explainer-base-load-and-peaking-power.html

    http://www.technologyreview.com/article/424118/a-gas-power-plant-to-make-renewables-more-practical/

    GE’s new plant can ramp up electricity generation at a rate of more than 50 megawatts a minute—twice the rate of current industry benchmarks. The plant can start from scratch in less than 30 minutes.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,665 other followers

%d bloggers like this: