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Analysis: 50 Percent Reduction In Renewable Energy Cost Since 2008

Renewable energy becoming more cost-competitive with fossil fuels isn’t news – as technology improves and more clean power generation comes online, electricity without emissions gets cheaper. But one new analysis reveals just how shockingly cheap it’s gotten.

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from wind and solar sources in America has fallen by more than 50% over the past four years, according to Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 7.0recently released by global financial advisor and asset manager firm Lazard Freres & Co.

Lazard’s analysis compared the LCOE for various renewable energy technologies to fossil fuels on a cost per megawatt hour (MWh) basis, including factors like US federal tax subsidies, fuel costs, geography, and capital costs.


Unsubsidized LCOE for US energy graph

Utility-Scale Solar, Wind Lead LCOE Charge

The LCOE analysis shows that even during one of the most turbulent times in recent memory for renewables, the environmental and economic benefits of clean energy continue to spur technological innovations and utility-scale deployments across the globe.

According to the analysis, utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) and leading types of wind energy are leading the surge – the LCOE of both power sources has fallen by more than 50% since 2008. Lazard estimates that utility-scale solar PV is now a competitive source of peak energy compared to fossil fuel power in many parts of the world without subsidies.

In fact, Lazard finds certain forms of renewable energy generation are now cost-competitive with many fossil fuel generation sources at an unsubsidized LCOE, even before factoring in externalities like pollution or transmission costs.

Specifically, solar PV and wind energy both fall within the range of $68-$104 per MWh, making them extremely competitive with baseload power from coal ($65-$145 per MWh), nuclear ($86-$122 per MWh), and integrated gasification combined cycle ($95-$154 per MWh).

Financial Incentives, Energy Storage Could Boost Fortunes

The LCOE of electricity from those renewable energy sources falls even further when US federal tax subsidies are included in the equation. Lazard realistically admits incentives are key to pushing renewables toward grid parity without subsidies, but finds wind ($23-$85 per MWh) and thin-film utility scale solar PV ($51-$78 per MWh) especially competitive.

LCOE for US energy with tax subsidies chart

While wind is progressing quite well – generally speaking – against fossil fuel generation in Lazard’s analysis, it could get much cheaper much faster in the near future when combined with energy storage. The report cites numerous examples of existing battery storage combining with off-peak wind production to demonstrate value in load shifting and peak power applications.

And while utility-scale solar PV leads the LCOE charge, rooftop solar PV remains expensive by comparison – a trend evident in recent summaries of the US market. Ironically, Lazard says this may be attributable to the generous combination of multiple levels of tax incentives, which distort resource planning by excluding externalities in long-term outlooks.

Power generation rates for US metro areas chart

Interestingly enough, solar is becoming an economically viable peaking generation source in many geographic regions of the US. This trend is especially apparent in transmission-constrained metropolitan areas like New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Lazard estimates solar could become even more competitive as prices continues to fall, but the observation is somewhat muddled by factors like system reliability, stranded costs of distributed generation for existing systems, and social costs/externalities of rate increases.

“Increasingly Prevalent” Renewable Energy Use

But the most promising potential for the future of renewable energy sources may be their value as distributed small-scale generation. Lazard estimates that the expensive capital construction costs of fossil fuel generation boost their LCOE when utilities consider future resource planning across an integrated system, and make them less cost-competitive – without even considering externalities.

US energy capital cost comparison chart

Lazard concedes that the future of renewable energy is far from set though, and still faces significant challenges like establishing long-term financing structures in the face of falling subsidy levels, excess manufacturing capacity, and the globalization of markets.

However, renewable energy’s role in America’s energy mix is likely to continue growing despite these challenges, concludes the analysis. “We find that alternative energy technologies are complementary to conventional generation technologies, and believe that their use will be increasingly prevalent for a variety of reasons.”

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Silvio Marcacci's picture

Thank Silvio for the Post!

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John NIchols's picture
John NIchols on September 26, 2013

Alternative Energy is non-dispatchable; which means an equal amount of reliable energy must be available to meet demand. As a consequence, society pays twice for the same required megawatt of energy. Once for alternative energy, and again for reliable energy, in the form of dispatchable coal, nuclear and natural gas. Levelized cost does not take this into consideration. 

Alternative energy adds little to capacity value, because no cost-effective utility scale storage solutions exists. I doubt it ever will exist, because of the costs associated with the manufacture and disposal of batteries. 

It will take, a yet undeveloped technology, to surpass the energy density of coal, nuclear or natural gas. Which are the only fuel sources capable of meeting the needs of a modern industrial society.  

Lazard is trying to help their rent-seeking clients determine the best way to game the system.  Take away the subsidies, and utility scale turbines and PV disppears. Take away the normal business deductions for reliable energy and it still exists – it just costs a little more.

At this point, most green believers site “externalities”, which are extra health costs associated with the use of fossil fuel.  The claims are based on models, which in no way conform to the scientific method. 

Hmm, seems CAGW is based on models too.  I wonder if there is any connection?



Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on September 26, 2013

The RE (renewable energy or Alternative energy) naysayers like John continue to keep their heads in the sand and ignore reality. PV accounted for nearly half of ALL new generation in the US during Q1 2013. On CA’s peak demand day (June 7), RE provided over 12% of our State’s peak hourly demand with PV providing over 5% alone. Combined, RE provided a RELIABLE 24 hour supply of over 4 GW of generation with wind and PV neatly filling in each other’s gaps in generation (PV in the day, wind mainly at night). At system peak itself, RE provided over 20% of needed generation. 

As part of an energy mix RE does NOT require storage to make a very real contribution — in fact, RE, including a very strong and growing supply of PV, is already making real contributions to the CA and US energy supply. 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on September 27, 2013

Are we supposed to live off Peak Energy? Will  That stop CO2 and GW?

John NIchols's picture
John NIchols on September 27, 2013

My hope is real workable alternatives present themselves.  Until then, natural gas and clean coal, can serve as the bridge to nuclear.  Clean coal means scrubbers for pollution contols, based on studies that are peer reviewed. deemed to be dangerous to human health, and most importantly, conform to the scientific method.  This excludes pollution controls for PM 2.5 levels below 10 micrograms, mercury emissions, and CO2.  Please don’t ask me to defend my postion of these issues. I don’t have the time or desire to engage in a long debate. I do suggest you do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

Silvio Marcacci's picture
Silvio Marcacci on September 27, 2013

In just about every instance, clean coal scrubbers or carbon capture and sequestration push coal power past the point of competition with all other sources of energy except for new nuclear. And that doesn’t include the external costs of climate change, sick populations from air pollution, or environmental impacts like mining or mercury pollution. You can’t ignore those factors if you ignore LCOE for renewables. 

Silvio Marcacci's picture
Silvio Marcacci on September 27, 2013

Thanks for flagging, Willem. While I wasn’t saying Lazard’s analysis is the definitive measure, the differences between the two are notable. Without knowing all the factors that went into each report, it’s tough to say which is more accurate.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on September 27, 2013

” Please show the graphs to illustrate/support your comment. What happens in sunny CA and the sunbelt, is not replicable throughout the US. “

Dag willem,

I am pretty sure you can find those graphs very easily, you smart as a fox rascal….

The South West US approach does not need to be replicated all over the USA. In fact, Washington and Oregon are mostly hydro power powered, so they do not need wind and solar power resources, although they have some pretty large wind turbine parks too, next to a lot of waste wood biomass simply left to rot from beetle infections damages.

The North East part has good wind resources, and could pipe in a lot of hydro power from Quebec for a very very low price, IF you guys could put your pride away and upgrade the 1950’s electricity distribution grid to the 21st century, instead of wasting it on bringing democracy to Iraq  …..

The central plains are the Saudi Arabia of wind, unequalled in the world. And the massive amount of wasted biomass in the central plains could easily be converted into biogas power, especially given the abundance of spread out small localities with huge waste biomass resources all around them.

Thank god RPS are in place. Otherwise, you would still be using fossilised strategies dating from the 1960’s. I just read elsewhere that the USA will again show how innovative it can be when it has exhausted all other solutions, by deciding to put carbon maximums per cubic feet of exhaust in coal/ng plant, instead of taxing it, thus forcing the closure of 1960’s very inefficient coal/ng plants and requiring the build up of the most modern available efficiency coal/ng plant technology in the place, IF utilities are willing to reinvest in that technology.

That is the correct approach. Replace old with new far better modern stuff, instead of doing like Communist Cuba, continuing to drive 1950’s Chevrolets and just replacing the pistons when they are used up.

met vriendelijke groeten,

Ave Maria

EPURON, a member of the Conergy Group, is currently developing a 1.79 megawatt biogas installation in Jüterbog, Germany (near Berlin in the state of Brandenburg). Energy generated would be sufficient to supply the entire Jüterbog community with electrical power. The installation, which will go on stream in April, is designed to handle the fermentation of approximately 24,500 tons of pig liquid manure and 31,500 tons of corn silage per annum. Input feedstocks will be supplied by a neighboring pig farm and the Jüterbog agricultural co-operative society. A long-term supply has been contractually secured. The fermentation substrates by-product from the power generation process will, in turn, be purchased by the agricultural co-operative society and used in local fields as organic manure. This mass has less odor compared to conventional manure and does not pollute the environment. Six and a half million cubic meters of biogas will be produced annually in three fermenting vats with a total capacity of 7,500 cubic meters. The biogas will thereupon be converted to approximately 13.7 million kilowatt hours of electrical power in three block power heating stations. The electrical power will be fed into the E.ON.edis grid over a period of at least 20 years. The annual electrical power output is sufficient to supply some 4,000 households; i.e., more than the population of Jüterbog. In addition, e.distherm, a partner company of E.ON.edis, has agreed to purchase a large portion of the heat produced by the power generation and feed this into its long-distance heating network.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on September 27, 2013

” Alternative Energy is non-dispatchable; which means an equal amount of reliable energy must be available to meet demand. As a consequence, society pays twice for the same required megawatt of energy. Once for alternative energy, and again for reliable energy, in the form of dispatchable coal, nuclear and natural gas. Levelized cost does not take this into consideration.  “

That may be an issue in your area, but other areas of the world have solved the conundrum, without paying twice. And some of those area’s like Portugal and Spain, are bonedry.



April 15, 2013. Portugal Achieves 70 Percent Renewable Energy in First Quarter. Hydroelectric power supplied 37 percent of total electricity. Wind energy represented 27 percent of the total share.


Portugal continues to improve RE grid capabilities. Five years ago only 17% of Portugal’s grid power originated from clean and renewable energy resources, but that number is now half of the nation’s grid power (2010).


The share of renewable energy in per cent in Sweden was 48% in 2012 and 38% in 2000. Wind power accounted for approximately 2.4% of the electricity use in Sweden in 2010. Hydroelectric power accounts for more than half of energy production. More than 1900 power stations operate all over the country. More than 35% of the energy is produced by 10 Nuclear reactors, previously 12. They are spread out on 4 power stations


31 March 2011 – Spain’s central government objective for renewables to cover 40% of total electricity supply by 2020 is achieved in 2010. Red Electrica reported that in the first quarter of 2011, the renewable technologies covered 40.5 percent of the demand, a little less than in the same period in 2010 when it reached 44 percent.


In March 2011, 57.9% of Spain’s electricity was generated by technologies which do not emit CO2, and wind power energy was the technology with the largest production of electricity. Spain generated nearly 3 percent or 6.7 TWh of its electricity from solar energy, wind turbines generated 21 percent or 55 TWh, and hydroelectricity’s share was 17 percent or 44 TWh.


The new renewables of wind and solar in combination provided nearly 24 percent of supply. Together both new and conventional renewables delivered 40.5 percent of Spain’s electricity. Cogeneration (15 percent), natural gas CCGT (17 percent), coal (13 percent) and nuclear (19 percent) provided most of the rest.


Spain’s climate, geography, and population are similar to that of California.



September 11, 2013. Chile’s Road To Solar Grid Parity. High electricity prices ($0.15-0.25/kWh), high irradiation, and rising energy demand all play in Chile’s favor. A third of the overall country is hydro-based, but almost all of it is in the south. Most of the coming solar capacity will be in the north which is currently dominated by hydrocarbon generation (45 percent coal, 8 percent oil), as opposed to the central’s nearly 50 percent hydro portfolio. Only 3 solar projects with 3.5-MW grid-connected capacity are currently operating in Chile; 70 MW of projects are under construction, and there’s a 3100 MW pipeline backlog. Most projects are debt-heavy (70-80 percent), but equity-funded solar installations achieved permitting to generate LCOEs of $0.12-$0.18/kWh, cost-competitive with other forms of energy generation. Chile’s mining sector produces a third of the world’s copper, representing more than half the country’s annual exports and a fifth of its GDP. Mining companies have been signing long-term solar PV PPAs in the $100-120/MWh range, which is competitive with gas (~$120s/MWh) and coal (~$80s/MWh), with no commodity risk. All these factors point to increasing investment in large PV projects. An early example of Chile’s solar grid parity: SunEdison’s 50-MW project in the Atacama region, with a projected cost of $142 million (helped by World Bank funding), and generating electricity at an LCOE of $0.12/kWh using mostly equity financing — and selling into the spot market without incentives.


May 28, 2013. Morocco on May 10th officially launched the construction of a 160-megawatt solar power plant near the desert city of Ouarzazate, the first in a series of vast solar projects planned in the country. Meanwhile the country is also ploughing ahead with a programme to boost wind energy production, particularly in the southern Tarfaya region, where Africa’s largest wind farm is set to open in 2014.


The kingdom, with no hydrocarbon reserves of its own, hopes to cover 42% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2020, and has launched a plan to produce 4,000 megawatts.


Half of this will come from solar energy while wind power will supply the remaining 2,000 MW, and Morocco’s wind-blown southern coast, where many of the new farms will be built, already resembles a huge building site.


Sep 19, 2013. Scatec Solar Grid-Connects South Africa’s First Renewable IPP Project. Scatec Solar’s 75 MW solar PV plant is connected to the regional grid, 3 months ahead of schedule. The 135 million kWh annual production cover the electricity demand of 33 000 South African households. The capital investment for the project is financed through South Africa’s largest commercial bank, Standard Bank. Scatec Solar has been awarded a total of 3 projects with total capacity of 190 MW.











Paul O's picture
Paul O on September 27, 2013

I think you are missunderstanding my question. Our Living encompasses far more than Peak Energy periods. Cold Winter night being one example.

Peak Energy, while being a reality is simply not enough, and if solar power is going to help retire Coal and Natural Gas, it needs storage.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on September 27, 2013

I do not think anyone is suggesting solar only but a broad mix of energy resources enabeling us to substaintially reduce fossil fuel use. We already see a developing and increasing mix of clean renewable resources being able to pick up greater and greater portions of the overall load, and not just peak, though just reducing peaks is of real value by itself.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on September 27, 2013

I do not think anyone is suggesting solar only but a broad mix of energy resources enabeling us to substaintially reduce fossil fuel use. We already see a developing and increasing mix of clean renewable resources being able to pick up greater and greater portions of the overall load, and not just peak, though just reducing peaks is of real value by itself.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on September 28, 2013

This is quite reasonable and understandable.

What is not understandable (although it is somewhat off topic here) is the notion that is often fanatically expressed by renewables advocates,  that Only Solar and Wind (an some other “renewables”) may be  considered.This point will be my largest departure point from many renewables advocates.

I am happy to see renewables integrated into the energy mix, but I am not happy or willing to wilfully and scornfully exclude nuclear power, and thus end up forcing our citizens to live with/by “Net Metering” and  such, thereby loosing the freedom of using energy for whatever purpose the need it, whenever they need it, or paying an ungodly price for that priviledge.

All this just because we have been straight jacketed into a non-dispatchable energy mode with no other CO2 free dispatchable energy sources/options allowed by the renewables crowd.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on September 28, 2013

It is that fear of nuclear that will ultimately destroy the biosphere…

The renewables costs more, (on an accelerating scale) once storage is required past the 20% max grid “limit”. The renewables would require close to 1% of the Earth’s land in order to replace FF’s and to power 10 billion at close to western average standard of living. We can continue research on advanced machine automation of collection and (battery) storage in order to make it cheap but there is a fundamental disadvantage to using sparse and intermittant sources on the global scale, that of scaling up the hundreds of thousands of sq miles of collection, storage and cleaning, removing toxicity issues and some nations having to import most their electricity. Obviously, it will be much easier to continue to burn coal.

A carbon tax will only make things worse…

Aside from any economic issues, such carbon fees will simply cause CCS. Carbon Capture and Storage will eventually resurface and acidify ground water and continue the acceleration of global warming. Centuries from now, all of the biosphere including our descendants will be trying to live on a dieing planet!

The only REAL solution is the development of the least expensive carbon free alternative…

The unlimited power from properly designed, modular manufactured and inherently safe nuclear. Wastes should be properly contained in a volume occupying about one million times less space than that of CCS. Such wastes (unlike concentrated CO2) actually go away, they become radioactive free in about 300 years due to the nature of physics, unless reprocessing of “spent” fuel and or the molten salt reactor is not used.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on September 28, 2013

It should be wind, solar and nuclear, not wind, solar and coal. Excess CO2 is, indeed becoming a problem for the biosphere. The object to saving the biosphere is to reduce the excess carbon dioxide emissions into the air and future concentrated carbon dioxide into the ground (via CCS). Nuclear can also solve the many problems that even renewables pose, as long as it is done properly (i.e, recycle spent fuel or redevelop and scale up LFTR).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on September 28, 2013

Biofuels require on the order of 10x the land as solar (and an all solar powered world would require about 1% of the Earth’s land).

Biofuels also would take away from that necessary requirement of putting the biomass back into the ground, thus taking away from that extra and natural CO2 sink.

Burning coal is what people used to do hundreds of years ago… burning biomass is what they used to do thousands of years ago. There is no reason for us, in our supposed advanced state, to continue to do so. 

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on September 29, 2013

Data for daily loads and renewable production is available here:

As a rule of thumb, the base load is 20 GW, evening load is 30 GW, and peak load is 40 GW (late afternoon on weekdays in summer). 


Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on September 29, 2013

Thanks Bill. Please note that CalISO does NOT include distributed (“rooftop”) solar which is about half of all PV in CA. So you basically need to almost double the PV portion of what CalISO shows.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on September 30, 2013

“I do not think anyone is suggesting solar only but a broad mix of energy resources enabeling us to substaintially reduce fossil fuel use”


This is fine, but those suggesting a ‘broad mix’ sure as hell better explicitly call out nuclear if you are at all serious about making significant reductions to global emissions. It is an essential part of any largely clean energy mix (unless large hydro expansion is available), any assertion otherwise avoids economic and technical realities. We need more people advocating for Nuclear AND solar/wind rather than the two groups continually fighting.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on September 30, 2013

You’re understanding of the costs of nuclear and carbon capture are a bit off, watch this interview with the US DOE sectretary which provides commentary on most available generation technologies:

In terms of comprehensive cost new nuclear energy is much lower than most forms of RE. A typical nuclear plant provides 1GW of baseload electricity with a 90%+ capacity factor, doing the same with wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, or even hydro in the modern era would be more costly when the land, transmission, storage, and labor requirements are all considered.

Comparing the /kWh cost to erect a few dozen wind turbines without storage is not a fair comparison to the reliable and dispatchable energy that a nuclear plant provides.

Yes renewables are dropping in price and becoming more practical, but if you want to be taken seriously as a writer you best gain a comprehensive understanding of the economics of different energy options.

John NIchols's picture
John NIchols on September 30, 2013


You are speaking about facts.  This debate is not about facts.

It is about ideology for some, an irrational fear of nuclear energy for others, but for most, it about money. 

A rent-seeking approach to making money that enriches those few on the inside, while impovershing those on the outside.

It is not possible to power a modern industrial society using wind and sun. Anyone, who is honest, understands this reality, but far to few in the debate are honest.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on September 30, 2013

We do, however, need to do the battery thing as if renewables are the only way… Advanced machine automation could make EV’s cheap enough to be powered by nuclear, and to make the price of renewables less expensive.

Still, we need to deal with the spent fuel “problem” of the LWR. Why deal with hundreds of thousands of years of isolation (and many times the waste) when fission products alone require just hundreds of years?

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on September 30, 2013

I agree there is a heavy amount of dishonesty and blind ideology, but I think there are likley more people that are just plain uninformed. For this reason I will continue to try to inform people how essential nuclear fission really is to combatting enormous losses in global biodiversity.

We should all do the same. No need to sugar coat it. A) societal fears of nuclear energy are unsubstantiated based on real world data B) there is no realistic scenario where we could globally reduce emissions significantly with out an enormous deployment of advanced nuclear reactors

The amount of evidence that supports these viewpoints is enormous. The assertions aren’t even debatable, they are a matter of fact given current technologies.

Given this reality, being an environmentalist can only mean one subscribes to a belief that global energy consumption and associated standard of living should drop or alternatively that nuclear fission should be the primary energy generation source and the standard of living should continue to gradually rise.


George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on September 30, 2013

EVs will find a niche for which they are very practical, but will not come close to replacing liquid fueled vehicles entirely due simply to the fact that most car owners drive more than 300 miles several days a year (I would guess average is close to a dozen times 300+ miles/day).

The idea that battery storage will make RE less expensive is suspect.

Consider that solar and wind lower utilization of dispatchable plants which specifically compensate for their variability. This lowered utilization leads to higher /kWh rates from these generators in order to cover the ammortized cost…..

Missing from the ‘battery storage is the solution’ mantra is any real analysis of the implementation and utilization of said battery bank capacity. In other words, if a backup natural gas plant for a given capacity of solar is uneconomical how can we expect a battery bank with equivalent capacity to be economical given that it would have the same low usage rate.

Furthermore batteries have limitations on rate of discharge and photovoltaic plants routinely experience drastic output swings in a matter of seconds (commonly known as cloud cover). To rapidly respond to the variability a PV plant can experience the battery bank would need to be very largely oversized (due to rate of discharge limitations) or would have to be supplemented by rapidly responding storage technology such as ultra-caps, flywheels, compressed air, pumped hydro, or a conventional generator.

Basically the idea that battery storage is a perfect partner (technically or economically) for solar PV is a very popular fallacy. Batteries, like EVs, will find a niche for which they will be cost effective solutions for a utility, but grand projections of their future use are entirely unrealistic before even delving into the environmental impacts that manufacturing and disposing of them has..

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on September 30, 2013

I mean, we need to make EV batteries cheaper or, perhaps swappable.

Thanks for the insight concerning utility scale battery concepts…

Once the world gets its act together and realizes that nuclear will replace FF’s, we will have to either make liquid fuels from it or make and charge batteries from it. Liquid fuels will be less efficient in the conventional engines thus tempting me to say that batteries will be the ultimate choice. But, then again, a cheap fuel cell might also be developed for whatever best liquid fuel there is to synthesize.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on October 1, 2013

Yes EVs are much advanced in terms of performance and efficiency, but I know that personally I couldn’t do with the range constraints and I don’t see that changing. I like the Volt, I think maybe that is the best solution.

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on October 2, 2013

You wrote, “The renewables would require close to 1% of the Earth’s land in order to replace FF’s and to power 10 billion at close to western average standard of living.”  And so?  What percentage of the Earth’s land have we ruined through our exploration, production, and combustion of fossil fuels?  What percentage of the Earth’s land will we turned into monoculture to feed those 10 billion.  What percentage of the Earth’s land have we paved as roads or parking lots?  But the difference with renewables is their land is useable by other human activities.  The typical wind turbine is surrounded by fields or forest.


“Aside from any economic issues, such carbon fees will simply cause CCS.”  Incorrect.  CCS is far more expensive than simply converting to rebewable power generation. 

“The only REAL solution is the development of ….. properly designed, modular manufactured and inherently safe nuclear.”  Bring it on, Robert, but make it affordable (good luck) and let us know from where all that fuel will come.





Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on October 2, 2013

And so…

We have to do it or re-develop the molten salt reactor. I believe that excess CO2 will eventually destroy the biosphere, regardless of wether or not the politicians are using that truth as an excuse to tax carbon. Seach LFTR. you will see that it was already a demonstrated technology way back in the 60’s.

Nuclear is only expensive because of all the safety regs that require higher priced construction. If it was, instead, made to be meltdown proof (inherently stable), and combine that with modularity, then I think it is obvious that there is no reason for it to be more expensive than the current $10 or so per watt. If we really wanted safe nuclear, we would embark on an ambitious plan to reduce costs to just above the costs of new coal plants. And fuel is totally insignificant (because it is a million x denser than coal). This means that the environment shall see 1,000,000 x less distruption for mining, etc. Right? Especially for the LFTR which is on the order of 100x more efficient than the LWR.

Now, when I say “renewables will require up to 1% of the land”, by no means do I say “No, don’t do it”. I’m just saying that we need to make sure that the costs of such and the multiples thereof, and the storage required to do so, must, together be made cheaper than this LFTR could be made. When you add up all the parts to cover quite literally hundreds of thousands of sq mi, you will realize that in order for diffuse and intermittant resources to power a growing planetary civilization, it is a fundamental premise that it must contain more parts and thus, more expense, from a purely scientific or materials pont of view.

If you can make all those parts cheaper, then yes! I would love to see my childhood dream of solar… WIN…



Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on October 2, 2013

Again, Robert, if it can’t be built and operated economically, why bother.  That said, there is no reason to apply the wrong construction/operation standards, but until proven otherwise the risks remain and I see those safety regs as unimpeachable for now.  Your conclusion regarding the impacts of mining uranium is specious because of the low concentrations of that more energy-dense fuel.

My issue with the 1% land requirement for renewables is that those calculations always include the land in between an array of wind turbines that remain perfectly useful for other purposes (except residential).  The point is, an economy fully fueled by renewables would have a far smaller land footprint than our present approach or your LFTR vision. 

But these issues are not black and white and we do not need to choose one single energy source, rather the combination that gets us off fossil fuels as soon as possible.  Look around if you want to see the beginnings of your childhood dream, then pitch in.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on October 2, 2013

Oh, that 1% was for solar only, including shadow spacing. For wind, it would probably be much less because the actual footprint is just a road and a tower. The fuel for LFTR is thorium (but it has to be “kick” started with a certain amount of uranium… searching it now). And so, that would entail far less space and possibly clean up the spent fuel waste problem. These LFTR’s can not melt down but the higly ionizing radiation must be isolated from the environment, just as how pollution from other sources should be. The fission products produced from the process have a half life of up to 30 years, thus in 300 years, it’s basically radiation free. Spent fuel from the common LWR, on the otherhand is less radioactive but last for thousands of hundreds of years. And toxic pollution from, say Carbon Capture and Storage, will last forever (and eventually seep back up to contaminate ground water and the biosphere). Realize that the fission products can be isolated for 300 years whereas CCS can not be because it is too expensive to properly “can up” that wastes which would take up a million times the volume.

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on October 2, 2013

Thanks for the clarification.  You’d said, “renewables would require close to 1% of the Earth’s land.”  Doing this with 100% solar would not be a defensible approach.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on October 3, 2013

Solar does, however, have more potential than wind since it is the source of wind.

Concentrated solar from mirrors can be stored in the form of molten salts which would make electricity in the conventional steam process. Overall, I think the efficiency is slightly better than PV. The only problems are that of the large areas needed and (I would think) mirror cleaning without scratching.

This beats wind only because of the built in storage and, aside from costs, is thus a very real fossil free, almost unlimited clean energy option!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on October 4, 2013

I hate to nit pic, but I imagine that today’s hybrids will be hell to fix as they age because of all the extra parts… and the battery replacement!

So, we need to make the LiFePO4 battery (or better) cheaper and just add more to the car. The disadvantage is (I think) 30% less density. The cars still wouldn’t be much larger than they are now (and these batteries have about 4x the life, can be charged and discharged faster and less thermal issues as the li-ion). This is one technology that I would LOVE to see get mass produced by the billions via advanced machine automation.

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