Dec 22, 2013

Solar Energy is not a Replacement Technology for Fossil Fuel

The solar and wind energy enthusiasts continue to talk about the cost of the solar energy and the recent declines in cost.  It is important to note that implicit in their discussion is their understanding that solar and wind are not replacement technologies, but rather supplemental technologies.  Most renewable energy programs don't explain well for you that these are NOT replacement programs, they are supplemental.

Before I get into the details, let me say I support solar energy, biomass, wind energy, oxy-fuel cycles, nuclear, clean coal, natural gas and fuel cell.  I support an all of the above approach.  We don't know where the next big technological development will come from, so let's not limit innovation.  There is a cost point that makes solar energy cost effective for certain applications.  Let's use it there.

The difference between cost of production and cost as consumed is in availability, those two numbers are not apples-to-apples.  The cost to produce fossil fueled energy is still $.05 to $.08 per KWh.  The sun doesn't always shine when you need the energy.  In fact, the availability of solar energy is about 25%, so you would need 4 times as much installed capacity and a way to store the energy for when you need it.  That brings solar energy to a cost as consumed of about $ .52 per KWh.  The solar energy cost doesn't capture frequency regulation, backup costs and a subsidy to provide power for un-collectible utility bills, low income energy subsidies and energy efficiency programs either.  Now before everyone blows a lid, I know it doesn't exactly translate to four times--but neither do the solar energy costs capture all the government programs that burden your utility energy costs.  Evenso, my point is made, it is not $ .l3 per KWh for a large replacement of utility scale energy program.  The cost of solar energy as proscribed in most articles depends on the fact that other energy sources are present and providing services to support solar energy, and the solar energy advocates are not being entirely transparent with you.

Lastly, if solar and renewable energy were in fact less expensive and a replacement, then the utilities would be giving you a discount to choose renewables instead of charging more if you select renewable energy.

(1) Solar Energy Industries  Association, "A Bright Future", Fortune Magazine/Adsections, Dec 2013, p125