Eliminating the Achilles’ Heel of Green Energy

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Eliminating the Achilles’ Heel of Green Energy

Contrary to what “green energy” advocates would have you believe, wind and solar technology, as currently imagined, will never be cost-competitive with natural gas, coal, or the next-generation of small-scale nuclear reactors.  The need for enormous land areas, added transmission infrastructure, and disposal of the hazardous waste associated with making and recycling photovoltaics and windmills, pose huge problems. 

But the real show-stopper is the need to cost-effectively store or generate electricity for use at times when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow.  So, even if we wanted to run the grid entirely on renewables, it would currently be impossible because the grid needs fossil-fueled turbines to make up for the fact that renewable electricity cannot be created anytime, anywhere in the necessary quantities.  This means that the extent to which renewables can be used on the grid is limited by the need for some form of “energy storage.”  As a result, the so-called “storage problem” has emerged as one of the most important technological hurdles for those who seek a world free of fossil fuels.

Currently, the cheapest grid storage technology is pumped hydroelectric storage, which has a high roundtrip efficiency of 80-to-90% and has an average cost of about $200 per megawatt-hour.  The biggest problems with pumped hydroelectric, as well as compressed air energy storage, is that they both require lots of space; and, in the case of pumped hydroelectric, the prime locations have already been exploited. 

Some electrochemical batteries have promising new chemistries, but it is unclear if any will out-perform Lithium-ion batteries whose prices continue to drop from $267-to-$561 per megawatt-hour toward a predicted limit of $150 per megawatt-hour.  And, even this lower target for Lithium-ion storage cost is still not cheap enough to go beyond the eventual 10-to-15% penetration now targeted for renewables.

Consequently, a new storage technology is needed.  And that new technology needs to cost substantially less than the best case for batteries, to eventually realize anything approaching 100% penetration of the stationary power sector. 

Today, U. S. customers pay a levelized rate of about $0.10 per kilowatt-hour or $100 per megawatt-hour for electricity generated by a mix of natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants.  Of that total $100, about $70 is for generation and $30 is for distribution.  If we start with the Energy Information Administration’s projection of $63 per megawatt-hour for generating photovoltaic electricity in 2023 and add $30 for distribution plus $100 for best-case battery storage, we get a total of $193 per megawatt hour...

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