The Weekend Wonk: Skip Pruss on the Value of Solar

June 28, 2014

After a stream of grim and grimmer news on the climate front, I’ve been putting together a new video on solutions to the climate crisis.
To do so, I spoke to some of the most insightful and experienced people I know in and out of the utility industry, academia, and government.

Skip Pruss is a former advisor to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and an advanced student of energy economics.  His explanation of Minnesota’s “Value of Solar” initiative is clear and valuable.  He is among the luminaries who will appear in the upcoming video, the first, I hope, of many highlighting the way forward.

17 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Skip Pruss on the Value of Solar”

  1. astrostevo Says:

    Good article. But one minor nit to pick. I’m pretty sure you’ve done a few videos highlighting the way forward already no? Like, say, this one :


    • This video is enlightening. The daily load curve shows a daytime peak. Utilities normally have to buy expensive gas peaking power plants to provide the peak demands, even for a short time, sometimes only a few days during the year. Solar is the perfect daytime peak generation source. For now, a full US fleet of EVs can be supported with night time charging. The update is that in the Southwest, California, and places with a lot of solar PV, even Germany, there is a daytime surplus. That surplus is the reason that workplace charging is being discussed in California to take advantage of the daytime surplus. In addition, a large fleet of EVs can use Vehicle to Grid to provide grid services, enhancing stability and providing storage to reduce peaks and lower energy costs.
      A popular phrase, “think globally, act locally” applies. Rooftop solar, utility solar, community solar, and other renewables with V2G EVs can combine to a whole greater than the sum of the parts. There is no need to have solar PV on your own rooftop. You can be part of community solar project and live in an apartment. Electrons flow on the grid freely. A roof top solar PV could be charging your EV during the day. An EV could be powering the grid at 7PM. Or concentrating solar can be providing power at night. Researchers have collected real world grid and renewable data to study the possibilities and agree that renewables can provide base load power.

  2. astrostevo Says:

    Plus one of my (many) faves of yours :

  3. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    Brilliantly explained and not too wonky at all!

  4. Peter, are you willing to at least give fourth-generation nuclear power equal time to make its sales pitch?

    Energy from Thorium

    “Pandora’s Promise” is a pretty good documentary for some background. Unfortunately, you can’t see the whole thing on Youtube, at least not yet. I understand it can be watched on Netflix, but since I live in Taiwan I can’t watch it. Anyway, you can see some parts of it for free on Youtube:

    Part 1

    Part 2

    Part 3

  5. We already have a fusion reactor, all fueled up and running and transmitting energy to us all the time. It is even at a (relatively) safe distance – and it is *free*.

    With a little bit of storage, solar and wind and wave and tidal and biomass – can *easily* provide all the energy we need. We can have sustainable abundance with what we already can do with renewable energy.

    • I don’t suppose you actually clicked on any of those Youtube links and bothered to watch them all the way through, did you?

      • Its a sales pitch. How about a peer reviewed scientific paper showing future successful, economic nuclear projectections? Not there. Even the EIA agrees nuclear is not going to increase significantly. In fact, nuclear is in decline. In US, both coal and nuclear have significant amounts of aging PP. These will need to be replaced. Nuclear is declining and will continue to decline. 5 reactors in Illinois have been losing money and the utility wants to shut them down. Economically, nuclear is dead in the West. The new reactors are prohibitively expensive.
        Flamanville, Oilkiliuto, Vogtle, Summer, all over budget, behind schedule, and cost over runs. The cost of new nuclear is estimated at 11c/kwhr and rising. Wind is at 5c/kwhr competing with gas.

        Citigroup declares the age of renewables.
        nvestment bank Citi says solar and wind are competing on costs with fossil fuels in the U.S.

    • Yes.
      “The principal barrier is resistance from vested interests and their supporters in the big greenhouse gas polluting industries and from an unsafe, expensive, polluting, would-be competitor to a renewable energy future, nuclear power.”
      “Since then Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and I have performed thousands of computer simulations of 100% renewable electricity in the National Electricity Market (NEM), using actual hourly data on electricity demand, wind and solar power for 2010. Our latest research, available here and reported here, finds that generating systems comprising a mix of different commercially available renewable energy technologies, located on geographically dispersed sites, do not need base-load power stations to achieve the same reliability as fossil-fuelled systems.”
      “The myth that renewable energy sources can’t meet baseload (24-hour per day) demand has become widespread. After all, the wind doesn’t blow all the time, and there’s no sunlight at night.

      But detailed computer simulations, backed up by real-world experience with wind power, demonstrate that a transition to 100% energy production from renewable sources is possible within the next few decades. ”
      This same concussions have been reached independently by researchers from NREL, Jacobson, Budischak, and so on.
      Baseload power is a myth.
      No matter how many peer reviewed papers show renewables can do the job, nuclear cheerleaders and fossil fuel interested come back with what? Instead of scholarly research, its infotainment?
      Its a campaign of renewable energy denial.

  6. climatebob Says:

    In New Zealand I buy electricity at $0.20 and sell my surplus at $0.10. Even with this deal I do not have an electricity bill and this saves me $1500 a year. The panels cost $10,000 which gives me a return of 15% which is an excellent investment.

  7. jimbills Says:

    Recent study:

    “Although carbon dioxide emissions are by far the most important mediator of anthropogenic climate disruption, a number of shorter-lived substances with atmospheric lifetimes of under a few decades also contribute significantly to the radiative forcing that drives climate change. In recent years, the argument that early and aggressive mitigation of the emission of these substances or their precursors forms an essential part of any climate protection strategy has gained a considerable following. There is often an implication that such control can in some way make up for the current inaction on carbon dioxide emissions. The prime targets for mitigation, known collectively as short-lived climate pollution (SLCP), are methane, hydrofluorocarbons, black carbon, and ozone. A re-examination of the issues shows that the benefits of early SLCP mitigation have been greatly exaggerated, largely because of inadequacies in the methodologies used to compare the climate effects of short-lived substances with those of CO2, which causes nearly irreversible climate change persisting millennia after emissions cease. Eventual mitigation of SLCP can make a useful contribution to climate protection, but there is little to be gained by implementing SLCP mitigation before stringent carbon dioxide controls are in place and have caused annual emissions to approach zero. Any earlier implementation of SLCP mitigation that substitutes to any significant extent for carbon dioxide mitigation will lead to a climate irreversibly warmer than will a strategy with delayed SLCP mitigation. SLCP mitigation does not buy time for implementation of stringent controls on CO2 emissions.”

  8. This link shows how Minnesota Power is integrating renewables into the grid and is making good near term progress. Too few people are aware of how successful renewables really are. Its not for lack of renewable technology or economics. Its a story of progress driven by public choice and economics against a backdrop of fossil fuel and nuclear competing interests driven by self interest and played out by lobbyists, not free markets. At the moment its ridiculously lopsided, with 100 year old industries still getting subsidies while wind has none and solar subsidies are already under threat of phase out. Despite the unfair competition from large, well established FF, renewables are unstoppable. Some utilities are fighting to stop solar making them unpopular with ratepayers. Minnesota is visionary and progressive. Minnesota has already met its states 2025 goal of 20% renewables and has reduced its coal consumption.
    There are reasons renewables and solar in particular, are unstoppable.
    ” Swanson’s law, named after Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower, a big American solar-cell manufacturer, suggests that the cost of the photovoltaic cells needed to generate solar power falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity. The upshot (see chart) is that the modules used to make solar-power plants now cost less than a dollar per watt of capacity.”

  9. Two myths always appear when discussing renewables and a 100% future scenario.
    Baseload power, and the need for storage. Turns out renewable overcapacity may be cheaper than storage and base load can be provided by renewables.
    “the mix of renewable energy technologies in our computer model, which has no base-load power stations, easily supplies base-load demand. Our optimal mix comprises wind 50-60%; solar PV 15-20%; concentrated solar thermal with 15 hours of thermal storage 15-20%; and the small remainder supplied by existing hydro and gas turbines burning renewable gases or liquids.”

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