Guest Post: Zachary Shahan on the State of Renewables
December 21, 2015
I’ve paired his update on renewables with some important interviews with renewable experts Brewster MacCracken of Austin’s Pecan Street Project, and Michael Osborne, Chairman of the Austin Texas Electric Utility Commission.
Saving society from self-destruction should be reason enough to tackle global warming and limit climate destruction. After all, the economy is totally screwed when record-shattering and city-destroying natural disasters are handicapping state after state and country after country, and public health emergencies are multiplying. Yet, even if you completely ignored global warming, clean technology is now often better and even cheaper.
Starting with solar, rooftop solar panels often have an attractive return on investment, especially when compared to paying ever-increasing electric bills for the rest of your life. If buying solar panels outright or with a loan from the bank doesn’t work for you, leasing them may still be cheaper than paying your normal electricity bill. When it comes to wholesale electricity, utility-scale solar is increasingly more competitive than electricity from fossil fuels.
On the grid side of things, solar power is very beneficial since it is so decentralized, so widely distributed, and often put in place near the point of electricity use. Decentralization and wide distribution help grid security and improve reliability. The grid as a whole becomes more stable. When implemented near the point of use (like on rooftops), solar power reduces the transmission length of electricity, which saves money on expensive transmission infrastructure and also improves efficiency of the electricity transfer. Solar power also creates electricity in the middle of the day, a time of high electricity demand, which reduces the need for expensive peaker plants.
Wind power is often the cheapest option for new electricity generation plants. The typical levelized cost of electricity from wind power is lower than any other source of electricity. Wind power is also quite decentralized and distributed, offering similar benefits to solar power.
Wind and solar power, despite often being cheaper, also create a lot more jobs per dollar invested (or, more practically, per million dollars invested — $1 doesn’t create a job).
Jumping to transport, electric cars typically have much lower operational costs than gasoline- or diesel-powered cars (even hybrids). They are approximately 3-4 times more efficient, and that combined with the price of electricity vs the price of gas often means much lower “fuel” costs. Electric cars also have a lot fewer moving parts under the hood, reducing maintenance needs, and don’t need oil changes (or oil at all).
They do have much higher upfront costs because of the high cost of batteries, however, so you have to do the math for you own situation to see if an electric car would save you money (variable inputs include which car you’d be getting and in place of which non-electric car, how many miles you typically drive, how much gas costs in your area and how much you expect it to cost over the period of time you have the car, the same with regard to electricity, available subsidies, projected maintenance costs, differences in insurance costs, and perhaps some other factors).
The best parts of electric cars for many of us, though, are how much better they are to own and drive. They have instant torque, which allows for super quick acceleration off the line. They drive much more quietly and smoothly. And they allow for more relaxing one-pedal driving. Furthermore, with electric cars, you can charge while at home doing other things. You don’t need to go out of your way, find a gas station, pull over for gas, get out and fill up at a stinky and unhealthy pitstop, pay, get back in your car, and get back on the road. In other words, they are typically much more convenient.
Of course, all of the technologies above also massively reduce air pollution, improving our health and wellness.
When you look at all of these benefits of clean technology, even if global warming didn’t exist, why wouldn’t we switch to these options?
Zachary Shahan is the editor of Sustainnovate.ae, CleanTechnica.com, EVObsession.com, SolarLove.org, and several other websites. You can make friends with him on just about any social network you like.