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India Wants to Become a Solar Superpower, But its Plans Don't Add Up

Ban Ki-moon inaugurated Canal Top Solar Power Plant in Gujarat India Oct 2015 (photo UN)

Ban Ki-moon inaugurated Canal Top Solar Power Plant in Gujarat, India, Oct. 2015. (Photo: UN)

India aims to build 1 terrawatt of global solar power – four times the current worldwide total – and become a 100% electric vehicle nation by 2030. Those are great ambitions, but they still far short from what is needed for a true energy transformation away from coal, writes Dénes Scala of Lancaster University. Courtesy of The Conversation.

One of the world’s largest solar power projects has just been completed in southern India. At 648 megawatts (MW), the Kamuthi solar plant can generate as much electricity as most coal or nuclear power stations.

This is great news. But it must be only the start of an unprecedented Indian solar boom. For the country to achieve its Paris climate pledges it will need hundreds more Kamuthis.

India solar power

India has become one of the big names in renewable energy in recent years. The country championed the International Solar Alliance, an initiative launched a year ago at COP21 in Paris which is expected to be ratified at the follow-up COP22 in Morocco. It aims to mobilise US$1 trillion (£790 billion) to develop 1 terawatt of global solar power by 2030 – that’s four times more than the current worldwide total.

India has made a good start. Among its many ambitious policies include plans for more resilient grids and the deployment of large-scale energy storage to retain intermittent solar and wind power for when it’s needed. The country also aims to become, by 2030, a 100% electric vehicle nation.

All those newly-commissioned solar farms won’t be able to power the electric cars by themselves – and existing coal power plants will still be needed

Impressive renewable energy projects are springing up across India. Kamuthi’s completion means the state of Tamil Nadu now hosts both the world’s second largest solar plant and one of the world’s largest onshore windfarms. Even bigger solar plants are being built further west, in Kanataka state and in Andra Pradesh along the east coast.

This is all part of an ambitious plan to deploy 100GW of solar power by 2022 (for reference, the current the global total is around 223GW). The government has pledged tens of billions of dollars to these projects, while a very strong private and foundation grant-based movement is encouraging smaller-scale solar, including micro-grids and off-grid systems.

But India is still powered by coal

Huge headline-grabbing solar projects don’t tell the whole story, however. India’s energy generation remains among the least sustainableof the world’s large countries.

Fossil fuels, mostly imported, account for 75% of primary energy. More than 80% of its electricity comes from coal. India couldn’t replace that overnight – even if it wanted to, there aren’t enough wind turbines and solar panels in the world. The transition to renewable energy could take decades.

Ahead of the Paris conference last year, India pledged that, by 2030, coal would generate only 60% of its electricity. However this is not because coal plants would be phased out, but because more solar and wind farms will meet growing demand. This won’t reduce the country’s emissions – it’ll simply decrease the rate at which they are growing.

Our scenario calls for 1,500GW of Indian photovoltaic generation capacity by 2030. This will be tough but is certainly not impossible

To further back up the idea that Delhi isn’t about to ditch fossil fuels any time soon, just look at the recent US$13 billion (£10bn) investment by Russia’s state-owned Rosneft in India’s Essar Oil, or early plans to construct a gas pipeline from Siberia to India worth US$25 billion (£20bn).

Even the electric car strategy isn’t as good as it first sounds. On the surface, the government’s plan to introduce subsidies and ensure all vehicles on the road are electric by 2030 sounds similar to proposals in Norway and Germany.

But there is a missing link in policy coordination somewhere: all those newly-commissioned solar farms won’t be able to power the electric cars by themselves – and existing coal power plants will still be needed. Effectively, India will replace petrol with coal and may even need to expand coal power: thus actually increasing emissions.

Can India turn things round?

To appreciate the scale of the challenge, let us compare a few different future scenarios for the country’s energy system.

In the chart below, A and B represent the predictions of the International Energy Agency and the US government respectively. Scenario C is India’s own pledges under the Paris agreement, including its solar plan – this is what the government is hoping to achieve.

My colleagues and I engineered a best-case scenario, where India generates enough energy to keep its economy running, but still does its fair share of global efforts to keep warming below 2°C. This is scenario D in the chart.

India solar scenarios

Squint and you might spot solar and wind in the first three scenarios (charts also include hydro, in light green, and nuclear in purple). Denes Csala (data IEA, EIA, BP, UNSD), Author provided

Scientists have calculated there is a certain amount of fossil fuel we can safely extract in future while still staying within the 2°C carbon cap. This is the global carbon budget. In all four scenarios, we assumed that India would be allocated a very generous 50% of the global budget – yes, half of the world’s safely extractable fossil fuels – despite having just 18% of the population.

Yet even if India is “allowed” these generous emissions, it will still need around ten times more solar and wind power than under the government’s current trajectory. Just look at the enormous difference in the green and yellow sections of the above charts.

Our scenario calls for 1,500GW of Indian photovoltaic generation capacity by 2030. This will be tough but is certainly not impossible. First India must keep on track with its 100GW by 2022 plan and continue to boost its solar panel manufacturing industry to compete with China. Perhaps then, with a little nudge from the private sector and small community cooperatives, we might well witness a true energy revolution.

by

Dénes Csala (@csaladenes) is Lecturer in Energy Storage Systems Dynamics at Lancaster University in the UK. See his website.

This article was first published on The Conversation and is republished here with permission from the author and under a Creative Commons licence from the publisher.

Original Post

Content Discussion

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on November 25, 2016

If you ignore innovation, you can calculate doubts.

But even stodgy Foxnews.com has featured a business story excited about the return of the Mazda Wankel rotary engine for hybrid electric cars.

http://www.foxnews.com/auto/2016/11/23/mazda-rotary-engine-returning-in-2019.html

I have spoken with Indian scientists regarding “solar biofuels,” and “fiberglass” roofing concentrating into a fiber cable, and even PV cooling water processes.

India now has a lot of trained scientists and engineers ready to do something other than working in telephone service centers. The arrogant Western energy policy leaders might be working telephone service centers if they don’t wake to opportunity soon.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on November 25, 2016

Solar is great for public relations, but fundamentally needs fossil fuel backup to be useful for reliable power; for countries rich in coal but poor in fossil gas, that means coal fired stations are needed, which creates a group of stakeholders to lobby for the continued use of coal – it will result in a self-perpetuating cycle of coal use.

Nuclear power does not need backup from fossil fuel, won’t abandon electricity users during the monsoon season, and is being pursued aggressively by developing nations such as India and China.

India has a goal of 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. India has produced about 4 GWatts of domestically designed heavy water reactors. It has also chosen to end its decades long nuclear isolation by agreeing to an international non-proliferation inspections regime (at least for nuclear power plants with imported technology), and as a result has built 2 GWatts of nuclear reactors with Russian technology, with more under construction. This 6 GWatts of nuclear likely puts out about triple the annual energy of India’s current solar installations (about 9 GW).

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on November 26, 2016

http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/22/13712750/tesla-microgrid-tau-samoa

^ Can scale to *any* level.

Your argument for solar power needing fossil fuels to back them up is no longer valid.

Solar panels and batteries get cheaper every single year, fossil fuels and nuclear do not. You FUNDAMENTALLY cannot win.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 26, 2016

Solar is great for public relations…

…as is news of the circus coming to town, or that the most recent public lottery offering has reached some vast amount.

But the errors in this article by an academic are insidious, not benign, like a pitch for weight loss pills or homeopathy in place of serious medical attention. Granting that the premise is good for PR is to also acknowledge the premise as well intentioned if misguided. The premise here, that India can resolve it’s emissions problems with a trillion dollars and half the world’s fossile quota, is not fair.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on November 26, 2016

You FUNDAMENTALLY cannot win.

It’s not about me (I’m an all-of-the-above person). It’s the anti-nuclear lobby that wants to block the world’s access to one of the most potent clean energy options, and they don’t care if the climate is destroyed as a result (they would obviously rationalize it as someone else’s fault). Pretending that cost is the only/main reason to avoid nuclear (when irrational fear is the true reason) is simply dishonest, especially given that the only major grids in the entire world which have deeply decarbonized are those based on nuclear and big hydro.

I would certainly acknowledge that a tropical island, with almost no variation in weekly electricity demand or solar insolation, extremely high cost for electricity made from imported diesel fuel, and a tiny 83 kW average demand would be a good candidate for solar+batteries and diesel backup. (But I do wonder if they’ll dispose of the old batteries and PV panels on the island too).

Note: nowhere does it say the Somoan island’s solar PV system uses no backup, in fact, the article says that it supplies only “nearly 100 percent” (90%, 80%?).

But there is no doubt that places that are not near the equator and are not deserts will definitely need a backup generator that uses some sort of fuel. NOAA (i.e. the US weather service) has used their data to analyze a hypothetical US supergrid powered by renewables. The found that the cost began to skyrocketed around 30% solar and wind, and that even storage which is 3x cheaper than today’s would not be economical where fossil gas or coal is available.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 26, 2016

Solar panels and batteries get cheaper every single year

Ah, yes, the PowerPack is down to only $445/kWh.  That comes to a mere $10,680 to supply 1 kW continuous for 24 hours… plus the inverter system and whatever you use to charge it, of course.

Need to ride out 2 days without RE production?  That’ll be $21,360/kW.  That’s why Ta’u still has its diesel generators on call.  The Vogtle plants will cost about $6000/kW including financing, and are GENERATION systems, not storage.

Your argument for solar power needing fossil fuels to back them up is no longer valid.

Musk says that the cost of the materials for a Li-ion battery is about $80/kWh.  If your RE generation, inverters and battery fabrication were all free, you’d reach a cost breakeven at about 75 hours of storage (3 days).  Even with 3 days of battery, off-grid RE specialists say you should still have a backup generator.

Maybe you should, you know, listen to the people who do this for a living?

fossil fuels and nuclear do not [get cheaper]. You FUNDAMENTALLY cannot win.

Even if all you need is raw materials, you’re still behind.  Meanwhile, S. Korea and China are building faster and cheaper all the time.

I smell desperation with a whiff of hysteria.  This is good.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on November 26, 2016

Heat engines powering air conditioners at 25% efficiency to blow hot air on your neighbor won’t work in India.

Just like the US where “I’ve got a bigger SUV than you” has created road rage competition during traffic lock-ups, India will have their “I’ve got a bigger air conditioner than you” during life threatening heat spells. This mentality finds its greatest champions with nuclear enthusiasts playing with the doomsday clock. MADness.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 27, 2016

And why do you think only tesla power packs can be used to do the job? India can as well add some power lines to the east connecting to the chinese grid and getting solar power in the morning to cover this peak, and connect to the arabic peninsula and east africa for the evening. costs much less, and provides the peple at the other end of the power line also with extended times of solar and wind power available. No problem then with 4/7/365 when adding hydro and little biomass from waste.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on November 27, 2016

Solar is great for public relations, but fundamentally needs fossil fuel backup to be useful for reliable power

“Needs” is the wrong word. It creates unnecessary confusion and contention.

What solar fundamentally needs is a backing source for power when the sun isn’t shining, or demand is higher than the solar power system is able to supply directly. What it gets is fossil fuel backup, because in the absence of a meaningful price on fossil carbon emissions, that’s always the easiest and most economical option.

Contention arises when advocates point to any of various alternative solutions that don’t involve fossil fuel backup. They’re not wrong; for the most part the alternatives that they point to would, in fact, work. It’s just that they’re not economically competitive. Nor are they ever likely to be, absent a meaningful price on fossil carbon emissions.

The resources needed for fossil fuel backup already exist, and the advance of subsidy-driven renewables leaves them increasingly under-utilized. So of course utilities will strive to reduce the bleeding by utilizing those resources to provide the necessary backup. They should voluntarily commit economic suicide?

The solution is simple and obvious: a price on fossil carbon emissions that fully captures their external costs. But that solution has been rejected by a faction of environmentalists who recognize — correctly — that it would play to the advantage of nuclear power. They care more about eliminating nuclear power than they do about reducing carbon emissions.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 27, 2016

which is not completely correct, transporting power long distances with UHV HVDC is cheaper than coal power plants + fuel, this is why the chinese build lots of long distance transmission.
Its just there are less people advocating grids while a lot praise nuclear as holy grail although being about the most expensive solution. fortunately grids can be built fast when there is a political will to do so.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 27, 2016

India can as well add some power lines to the east connecting to the chinese grid and getting solar power in the morning to cover this peak, and connect to the arabic peninsula and east africa for the evening.

In other words, have its essential energy supplies coming from or across the territory of its military enemies like China and Pakistan. Not to mention the expense of all that transmission gear that doesn’t generate a single watt.

You’re not so good as this “reasoning” thing, are you?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on November 27, 2016

Roger, agreed for the most part. Re:

The solution is simple and obvious: a price on fossil carbon emissions that fully captures their external costs.

I will take issue with the “simple” part. Capturing external costs has become one of the most fraught and contentious undertakings in reducing carbon emissions. Lengthy laws and international agreements, like the 559-page Energy Act of 2005 and the Paris Climate Accord are the legal analogue of hypercomplex physical systems: they tend to break a lot. They are magnets for influence by special interests, and fraud.

Frequently, reps of TEC-sponsor Royal Dutch Shell appear on this board with analyses of Paris, of carbon pricing, credits, cap-and-trade, etc. What they have never addressed publicly are simple revenue-neutral taxes, like that of British Columbia (successful) or the recent Washington State Proposition 732 (defeated). Though there seems to be a de facto moratorium on Shell discussion of both this topic and nuclear energy, their vigorous behind-the-scenes efforts to defeat them speak volumes. They put Shell (and other oil majors) in league with the faction of pseudo-environmentalists who “care more about eliminating nuclear power than they do about reducing carbon emissions”.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on November 27, 2016

I suspect, Helmut, that you have an unrealistically rosy view of the cost and capacity of HVDC transmission lines in general. But the cost does depend heavily on where the lines are being built. It’s one thing to cross vacant desert or rural lands in a country like China, where the government can simply declare where the lines will go and tell anyone in t he way that they have to move. Then it’s only the material and construction costs for the towers and lines that figure in.

In the U.S. and most of the developed world, OTOH, the dominant cost of new transmission is more likely in the drawn-out political process of negotiating approvals and acquiring right-of-way. The NIMBY factor is large, and complicated by the fact that it’s a line crossing hundreds to thousands of miles of back yards that needs to be permitted.

All of that is moot, however, when you’re talking about converting an existing energy economy, rather than building a new one from scratch. In that case, the cost of building a new fossil-fueled plant is irrelevant. The plant already exists, and it’s just the marginal pay-as-you-go cost of fuel vs. the large up-front cost of a new transmission project plus the cost of transmission losses that weigh in the decision. Guess which way it tends to go?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on November 27, 2016

Roger, you’re correct about the details of course, but as you’ve demonstrated, it takes a very wordy exposition to describe the situation in detail. I think in many cases a shorter statement is much more readable and equally convincing/unconvincing. However, I admit that I should have added a qualifier such as “in practical cases”. I’ll try to summarize again:

Solar is great for public relations, but in essentially all practical cases, will have fuel combustion backup as part of a reliable solution for power; for countries rich in coal but poor in fossil gas, that means coal fired stations will be used, which creates a group of stakeholders to lobby for the continued use of coal – it will result in a self-perpetuating cycle of coal use.

Regarding carbon taxes, yes, I agree that carbon taxes are a good mechanism to allow market forces to find the best mix of solutions, given the goal of reducing CO2 emissions. For the reasons which Bob mentions and others, that is a solution for the future. In fact, I’m quite certain that our generation will not rebuild the energy systems of the big three (US, China, and India) to deeply reduce CO2 emissions as needed. The best that we can do is to keep the necessary solutions on the table so that our children can implement them at scale.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on November 27, 2016

Helmut you keep telling us that super-grids + renewables are a cheapest alternative than nuclear at high penetration, but:
– NOAA has shown that a US supergrid does not provide adequate smoothing of solar and wind to economically achieve low fossil fuel contribution, even at 3x today’s fossil fuel prices.
– Nuclear has actually been used to implement low-emissions grids in several countries, but variable renewables only exist today in fossil fuel (or nuclear) dominated grids!

It is reckless environmental policy to advocate for suppression of the only proven solution.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 28, 2016

Contention arises when advocates point to any of various alternative solutions that don’t involve fossil fuel backup. They’re not wrong; for the most part the alternatives that they point to would, in fact, work. It’s just that they’re not economically competitive. Nor are they ever likely to be, absent a meaningful price on fossil carbon emissions.

The alt backup proposals via storage (batteries, P2G from solar-wind, CAES) are wrong, including under any reasonable carbon tax. The alt-backup proposals imagine carbon fuels priced as high as it takes, without limit, to force acceptance. But “reasonable” has a definable meaning here: the high end occurs when energy begins to be priced above what many can pay and must do without.

Consider some of the high penetration solar/wind scenarios that have been published. These take as a premise an absolute minimum of carbon fuels in the scenario, and include the possibility high price carbon fuels. They nonetheless depend on either i) large amounts of natural gas, ii) magic geothermal or magic hydro scaled 50X, or iii) magic biomass. There are no published plausible proposals that assume i) all solar/wind, ii) some 100 TWhs of battery storage, as the price alone is not practical in the developed world and would starve people in the developing world.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 28, 2016

The trade off is not coal power versus HVDC transmission to wind/solar. HVDC plus intermittent power does not achieve a reliable grid.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 28, 2016

Ah, yes, the PowerPack is down to only $445/kWh. That comes to a mere $10,680 to supply 1 kW continuous for 24 hours… plus the inverter system and whatever you use to charge it, of course.

To the extent the 62% overhead of a bi-directional inverter and installation holds, then $720/kWh.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 28, 2016

NOAA (i.e. the US weather service) has used their data to analyze a hypothetical US supergrid powered by renewables. The found that the cost began to skyrocketed around 30% solar and wind …

Also from the NOAA graphic, the best case solar/wind scenario, assuming low cost solar/wind, is 55% penetration, and this is obtained by a 560% increase in the cost of wholesale electricity in the US (baseline $2.5/mmBTU gas)

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 28, 2016

^ Can scale to *any* level … needing fossil fuels to back them up….cheaper every single year …

… FUNDAMENTALLY

The article you reference on the Samoan solar-battery project offers no cost information on the project; it does not say the island uses no fossil fuel backup. Similar remote locations with solar/wind projects found it necessary to keep the diesel generators in place (El Hierro in the Canaries, Tasmania) The article does state that the solar PV provider is running at a 6:1 loss, which detracts from the case for scalability.

To gain acceptance of a claim as fundamentally true, i.e. true under all conditions, scale, and time periods, provide detailed evidence.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 28, 2016

No problem …

Your transmission proposal, India to E. Africa, to collect solar from the West as the daily sun retires, is a 2700 km marine intercontinental transmission of several hundred gigawatts, fed by intermittent power, likely terminated in another country also subject to monsoon season, with an unstable government, and upon which India would be completely reliant at times. There’s never been any serious proposal for such a system, much less any slight example of one.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 28, 2016

bilateral trade always halped to make enemies less enemies. So I would see it as positive if india sells power to china and vice versa as well as in the other direction. And the transmission gear is cheap compared to the gain.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 28, 2016

Well there are several states in east africa in similar distances, as well as several countries on the arabic peninsula, so similar amounts of trade partnes as you have when importing oil or Uran. Nothing new here. And several hundred GW – look at the chinese East-West Power lines built so far and planned for the next years – similar amount of power transfer, and similar distances to cross, the longest line in china under construction norw 3284 km long, 12 GW transfer capacity per system. The only difference is the sea cable instead of a overhead line.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 28, 2016

It tends to go towards large grids at the time when the fossil fuel power plants is retired, since building it new costs too much already. Nearly no fossil fuel power plant existing today will be in a low O&M cost state in 2050, almost all will be worn out and ready to retirement. Most of them many years earlier, beginning with this year.

In China – and in France for example – the power line can be ordered, correct. Swizerland would have a different solution, they would make a direct referendum of all population about the power lines, and when the populations decides it has to be built, than there is also no room left for NIMBY-Protests.
(The same Nimby-Protest you wil get wif you build hundreds or thousands of nuclear poer statios in peoples backyards, so thats a technology independent topic).

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 28, 2016

Read e.g. the work of Gregor Czisch, how the neccesary amount of biomass, fossile fuel or storage for residual power vanishes with rising grid sizes.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 28, 2016

the neccesary amount of biomass, fossile fuel or storage for residual power vanishes with rising grid sizes.

Which is a transparent ploy to keep his claims from being falsified by fact until everything has been invested in making such a massive system… and if it fails, we’re screwed.

You really need to be less disingenuous/gullible (pick one).

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on November 28, 2016

From the NOAA web site regarding the study you are citing – ‘If renewable energy costs were lower and natural gas costs higher, as is expected in the future, the modeled system sliced CO2 emissions by 78 percent from 1990 levels and delivered electricity at 10 cents per kWh.’

Looking at their methodologies it would appear that they are not using next generation wind turbines (140m hub heights) so they are not capturing the 65% CF available. So it would appear that the study is pretty conservative.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on November 29, 2016

The alt backup proposals via storage (batteries, P2G from solar-wind, CAES) are wrong, ..

Not sure what you mean by wrong. You mean morally wrong, as in “it’s wrong to steal”? If that’s what you mean, sorry, I don’t think that way.

If you mean wrong in a technical sense — i.e., unworkable — I have to disagree there as well. P2G, for example, is workable and fully scalable, as long as society is willing to pay the high cost of a round trip energy efficiency well below 50%, plus the high capital cost of the equipment. You can call it stupid, but wrong? Only if you go off on a philosophical tangent and define stupid as immoral.

Hmm, perhaps there’s something there worth considering? Nah, bad idea. We’re all stupid enough at times that we’d be condemning ourselves as immoral sinners. Who needs that?

Anyway, P2G is just one example of proposed solutions to intermittency that are theoretically workable, aside from economics. There are even solutions that look pretty good in terms of economics. A group at MIT, for example, has proposed a form of geothermal energy storage that could store gigawatt-years of energy at very low cost. Of course, in their proposal, the source for the stored heat was high pressure steam from a nuclear power plant. But it could work for solar thermal…

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 29, 2016

So as usual you start to insult, instead of reading and understanding. Gregor Czisch did propose nothing, he just let a optimisation algorithm optimise the energy generating system. Although the grid costs were significant higher than it is possible today with HVDC, the optimisation did choose grid extensions connecting all available area with a very strong grid, while not even utilising all existing hydropower storage since grid was cheaper in the end.
By the way recent unexpected outcome for solar power were 5,37ct/kWh in Danmark, which has as much or less sun than Alaska.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on November 29, 2016

Roger,
I estimate that the P2G solution which the Germans are expanding, is far more economic. Storing large amounts of gas in earth cavities is very cheap and done during many decades in places in NL and Germany (assume other countries have those too).
There is no loss of heat as with steam, etc.

The round trip efficiency would be hardly less than with steam, as there is no loss of heat. The gas can easily be stored for years without substantial loss (which is done).
P2G is now at 70% efficiency (increasing) and G2P is at 65%, so an overall efficiency of 40% is reachable.

German wole sale prices are gradually decreasing towards ~€25/MWh on av. They are already lower substantial part of the time.

So if the P2G plant only operates when the price is below €25/MWh (which results in an av. of ~€20), P2G2P can operate when it can sell the produced power for €60-€70/MWh.
An exceptional high price now (for the German market). But that price may become reality in the future when:
– present over-capacity is competed off the market; and
– wind & solar do not produce for more than a few hours (first hours batteries will fill the gap).

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 29, 2016

Well, I do not beliee that much in Power to Gas for huge amount of power supply, but as supply for chemical industrie and some unavoidable liquid fuels it will surely work nice.
Question is how cheap the equipment can become. There was nearly no development in such equipment for the recent decades. And especially not towards higher amounts of power.
This is why it is tested in germany, to research on it and see if the equipment can be produced cheaper over time.
As things are today, expanding grids is more than one digit cheaper than PtG. On the other hand calculations of Fraunhofer have shown thats its a expensive, but technically working Plan B for the unexpected case that trading power over borders is forbidden sometimes.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on November 29, 2016

So Nathan, I must be looking at a different study, from the abstract, “carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity.”

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on November 29, 2016

The relevant factors for successful backup of intermittent are technical and economic. They’re both necessary. Currently, nothing but conventional power (hydro and fossil, some biomass) passes both tests. Statements to the contrary are wrong in that sense.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 29, 2016

Unless you’ve paid $32 to get past the paywall, you don’t know what’s in that paper any more than I do.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on November 29, 2016

Actually EP, unless the abstract contradicts the paper, I’ve an excellent idea what’s in the paper, namely:

“Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment of wind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculate the cost-optimized configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial (13-km) and temporal (60-min) resolution over the contiguous US. Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission.”

italics mine.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on November 29, 2016

Yes Rex, we all can read the remarkable claims made by the authors, with no accounting given to the national political considerations or regulation such a supergrid would require. We couldn’t begin to fathom what assumptions were used to “cost-optimize” their “configuration of variable electrical power generators” until we fork over $32.

Seems like a good deal – almost too good to be true. After you buy it, with adherence to acceptable standards of fair use, please share with us the breakthroughs the authors have made to arrive at this stunning conclusion.

‘Til then, it’s worthless.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on November 29, 2016

It’s quite valuable Bob, in that it contradicts Nathan’s take on NOAA supergrid studies.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on November 29, 2016

OK – let us know how these remarkable claims are justified after you buy it.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on November 29, 2016

Don’t hold your breath Bob, I’m quite satisfied with the abstract and with the credibility of NOAA and Nature. Apparently Nathan is too.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on November 29, 2016

A lot can be gleaned from this supplemental piece which is not behind the pay wall.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on November 29, 2016

Rex, glad you’re so easily satisfied. I was quite certain a renewables advocate would be, so I wasn’t holding my breath. You guys aren’t known for your rigor.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on November 29, 2016

Rigor Bob? You’re one to talk, you once cited a BPA wind study as though it were representative enough that it could be extrapolated nationwide.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 29, 2016

unless the abstract contradicts the paper, I’ve an excellent idea what’s in the paper

Like assumptions which are based on analysis of one cherry-picked day out of history like Mark Z. Jacobson’s paper purporting to “prove” the same thing, and specifying state-by-state breakdowns of energy contributions by source to the precision of a tenth of a percent?

That’s not in the abstract, but given the history of these propaganda efforts we don’t have to pay $32 to know we’d find something like it in the body.  Further, if we look at the funding for the paper we’d ultimately track it back to a fossil-fuel interest, or some foundation or “charity” receiving a lot of donations from the same.

We know how to nearly eliminate CO2 emissions from our electrical grid.  Sweden has done it.  France has done it.  Ontario has done it.  These propaganda papers are aimed at diverting effort from the things that have been doing the job of decarbonization, despised and neglected, for decades on end and pushing “renewables” plus gas until their grand vision finally has its bugs worked out.

Excuse us if we’re too jaded to fall for that one again.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on November 30, 2016

Well, if I look at the prices per kWh the french cour de comptes thinks the neccesary minimum for keeping the french nuclear fleet running ( let alone building new power plants) and the recent prices for new offshore wind and solar capacity in danmark, there is little or no economic value left for nuclear power.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on November 30, 2016

Propaganda EP, well then surely you must believe that NREL’s 2012 RE Futures is too, although the 2015 DOE Wind Vision study was a close match to its wind component. There were several long distance transmission lines proposed in RE Futures too, and also 80% reduction in carbon emissions. Trouble is, I’ve seen no convincing rebuttals. Sure, some have taken issue with them in some forum’s comments section, but no comprehensive rebuttals that I’ve seen published.

So, I suggest nuclear advocates do just that, provide a comprehensive rebuttal to e.g. RE Futures, and for good measure, the UCS document on nuclear subsidies as well, not here in the comments section of TEC, but hosted for instance on the NEI website; spread the news far and wide.

I am surprised by the continued reference to France as a success story given the many travails they’re enduring. RTE shows 14 units at 0 available power at the moment. The Swiss are suing to shut down Bugey, the Germans are demanding Fessenheim be shut down, and EDF board members themselves are legally challenging Hinkley development. 20 irregularities were found in components at the Flamanville EPR. Moody’s downgraded EDF’s credit rating in May and again in September.

I’ve said before we need at least some nuclear contribution, e.g. an SMR purpose built for economic load following. Also, RE Futures has about 15% biomass, so there’s a use for MSR driven torrefaction. In case you missed it, Southern and Hitachi are collaborating to license Prism. Besides, if nothing else it’s a backup plan in case we need it. But, as for a large scale nuclear solution in the US, that doesn’t seem likely. There are plenty of large scale renewable plans, don’t see many calling for large scale nuclear.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on November 30, 2016

Propaganda EP, well then surely you must believe that NREL’s 2012 RE Futures is too

Yes, I do.  Not because its short-term projections (driven by quotas written in law and supported by massive subsidies) are inaccurate, but because its charter is to promote “renewables” (narrowly defined) and “renewables” alone.  This charter specifically does not include reducing carbon-based fuels, GHG emissions, criteria air emissions or anything else.  NREL as an organization is not aimed at the essential goal, but off to the side.

We have multiple independent lines of evidence showing that unreliable generators like wind and solar have a rapidly-decreasing rate of fossil-fuel abatement with increasing penetration.  You can invert this and call it a rapidly-increasing cost per ton of emissions abatement.

Along come MacDonald et al. who tell us that a sufficiently large HDVC network will cut the cost of an 80%-RE system to the point where the levellized cost will not increase.  But taking a look at Figure 8 on page 25 of the supplemental information, they don’t seem to have allocated much if anything for the cost of acquiring right-of-way.  Neither the legal cost nor the time needed to so much as set routes for all the necessary lines is going to be short of immense.  That’s just the first problem I found; I’m sure there are many, many more.

There’s also the unanswered question:  is an 80% reduction sufficient, and what do further incremental decreases in FF use cost under their scheme?  Under the precautionary principle, I posit that an 80% target is irresponsibly lax; we should be going for negative net emissions.  No wind-solar scheme ever proposed has a prayer of getting that far.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on December 1, 2016

Bear in mind that RE Futures was proposed as a 38 year program; 4 years on things are going well.

The continued decline of renewable’s costs means quotas and subsidies can decline as well. The DOE’s SunShot initiative has met with great success, after half the allotted schedule they’ve achieved 70% of their goal of $0.06/kWh unsubsidized PV. So, they’ve set a new goal, $0.02-$0.03/kWh by 2030. LBNL has published current average subsidized prices of $0.02/kWh for utility scale wind.

The 80% figure in RE Futures excludes nuclear, little known fact but nuclear is actually 8% of the plan. So, it’s only 12% shy of totally carbon neutral. Perhaps NREL’s direct goal is not reducing carbon emissions, but a plan that achieves an 88% reduction is significant progress. Speaking of little known facts, 75% of the biomass specified is actually from various waste products, so the frequent objections to land use for fuel crops are not as bad as it might first seem.

WRT the issues in siting the lines, I had always thought a solution was underground HVDC along interstate highways and rail lines. The NOAA plan calls for overlay of the existing grid, page 65: “An additional overlay HVDC transmission system is used to transmit power between the 32 regional market areas.”

As to costs, RE Futures employed two distinct electric-sector models: NREL’s ReEDS and ABB’s GridView. ReEDS is a least-cost optimization capacity expansion model, and GridView is an hourly chronological production cost model. In Volume 1 Appendix A, 3 scenarios are presented which rely on three renewable technology cost and performance projections: (1) No Technology Improvement (RE-NTI), (2) Incremental Technology Improvement (RE-ITI), and (3) Evolutionary Technology Improvement (RE-ETI).

From section 3.3: Under the 80% RE-ETI scenario, in which greater, but only evolutionary, technology improvements were assumed, the present value of electric system costs increased by a much lower 8% (+$320 billion) relative to the baseline scenario, while average retail electricity prices increased by 21% (+$24/MWh).

For the NOAA plan, from the section ‘Summary of Assumptions and Key Model Features,’ “The level of penetration of wind and solar PV power is determined solely on an economic basis; using a cost-sensitive optimization based on three years of meteorological data at hourly resolution obtained from a state-of-the-art numerical weather prediction assimilation model on a 13-km grid over the US.” There’s a long list of assumptions, but they too model 3 scenarios, including one with low cost renewables and high cost gas.

Now, in the NOAA study Figure 23 shows the generation share (%) by technology for the natural gas sensitivity study, no surprise the higher the price of gas, the more solar and wind you get, so once again a carbon tax seems an obvious solution.

I agree we need to go carbon negative, so building on the good news about CO2 and basalt, perhaps direct air capture with injection into basalt can one day make that happen.

Rex Berglund's picture
Rex Berglund on December 1, 2016

Thanks Clayton!

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on December 1, 2016

The continued decline of renewable’s costs means quotas and subsidies can decline as well.

What’s the LACE on those, though?  When grid prices brush zero it doesn’t matter how cheap your generation is, the next watt isn’t worth what you paid to make it.  This is doubly true if it’s achieved at the cost of fossil fuel lock-in.  Natural gas even at $4.50/mmBTU burned in a 40%-efficient gas turbine costs just 3.8¢/kWh.  PV needs the GT anyway, so there is no savings available by removing it.

Storage is always touted as the answer to this, but there are no options on the table that are (a) economic and (b) scalable.  Elon Musk touts the end-point of the Li-ion battery cost curve at the cost of materials, about $80/kWh.  The problem is that really making wind and PV do the job doesn’t need $80 batteries, it needs $8 batteries.  Not even Sadoway will go there.

little known fact but nuclear is actually 8% of the plan.

So why not make it 80% of the plan and get rid of most of the need to cope with the weather?  France hit 78% without even trying to dump off-peak electricity into other uses.

If decarbonization of US energy was made part of the NRCs charter… think about that.

Particularly think about why it isn’t already.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on December 2, 2016

This is a ‘deja vue’ discussion for those who were involved in the German ‘feasability of the Energiewende’ discussion in the nineties.

While at that time PV solar did cost ~$1/KWh (!) and wind was 3 – 8 times more expensive, the discussion ended (with help of consultancy studies) with the acceptance that 80% renewable was reachable against insignificant costs (necessary for population support) if a 50years transition scenario was followed.

So German govt decided in 2000 towards the present Energiewende scenario which targets 80% renewable in 2050.
After 15years they are now at 30%, some years ahead of the schedule, while population support increased from 55% towards >90%.

USA now
For USA it is many times easier as the then predicted costs decreases for wind & solar once a mass market would be created, are realized. So more wind & solar is n times cheaper for USA than it was for Germany.

Furthermore:
– USA has far more insolation; so cheaper solar power
– USA has far better winds; hence cheaper wind power
– USA is much thinner populated, so far less NIMBY problems.

It’s a pity that so much of USA stick to the past.

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