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Power United States Science Technology

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 182

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
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Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production

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  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @02:37AM (#55736529)

    Look, if we're serious about addressing climate change then we'll need to ramp solar and wind to the point where they are widespread enough that politicians will stop turning a blind eye to the serious damage being done. This of course means either campaign finance reform or clean energy companies bribing politicians better. I'd like to see laws on the books that would require new commercial developments to include solar+battery for each housing unit.

    The good news is that solar+battery installations are recursive self-improvement as each installation reduces the amount of emissions while decreasing the market price of solar installations. Elon really needs to get his battery factory building in gear!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I'd like to see laws on the books that would require new commercial developments to include solar+battery for each housing unit.

      This is one of the dumbest things we could do. In order to make a real change, alternative energy HAS TO ACTUALLY MAKE ECONOMIC SENSE. Requiring companies to buy their products regardless of the efficiency will take away incentives to improve and impede progress.

      "Feel good" subsidies and mandates only work in the 1st World, and nearly all growth in energy use is coming in the 3rd World, where they can't afford such foolishness. India isn't going to switch from coal to solar until solar is cheaper.

      • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @03:12AM (#55736581)

        Seed money from the government is often very useful. They are not just "feel good" because existing methods have huge built in subsidies. For example..we spent 4,000 lives and 2 trillion dollars protecting oil.

        There are large subsidies for coal, gasoline, etc.

        Oil and Gasoline would be much more expensive without those subsidies and coal wouldn't even be remotely competitive.

        That said, I agree that excessive subsidies and mandates can be counter productive.

        As far as India goes.. uh. They have massive subsidy programs.

        a) they don't want to be stuck in dead end technologies.
        b) they don't want to sped a billion building coal plants that won't be needed before paying for themselves.
        c) they really need to reduce pollution (which raises health care costs).

      • by Freischutz ( 4776131 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @03:32AM (#55736625)

        I'd like to see laws on the books that would require new commercial developments to include solar+battery for each housing unit.

        This is one of the dumbest things we could do. In order to make a real change, alternative energy HAS TO ACTUALLY MAKE ECONOMIC SENSE. Requiring companies to buy their products regardless of the efficiency will take away incentives to improve and impede progress.

        "Feel good" subsidies and mandates only work in the 1st World, and nearly all growth in energy use is coming in the 3rd World, where they can't afford such foolishness. India isn't going to switch from coal to solar until solar is cheaper.

        Define ECONOMIC SENSE. Is economic sense calculating the total cost of using renewable energy sources AND their minimal carbon footprint? ... Or is economic sense to use coal/oil/gas count only the price of extraction/transport/energy-generation? Because that is how things usually work with people arguing that fossil fuels make more economic sense than renewables. The fossil fuel pundits never count the cost of the enormous carbon footprint of coal/oil/gas and the cost of the damage that carbon footprint does. Once you factor that in, the picture of the argument that coal/oil/gas make superior economic sense looks a lot weaker. The basic truth is that coal/oil/gas are wreaking havoc in the life support system of this planet (hint: the part of your environment that produces oxygen for you to breathe) that makes them a liability, economically, environmentally and even in the USA they will eventually become a liability politically. Coal/oil/gas is already a political liability in much of the rest of the world. But do continue to argue in favour of coal/oil/gas and ignore the fact that wind/solar/battery are already cheaper than coal and according to the summary they are now getting cheaper than gas. You seem like to type who'll enjoy being like one of those guys 20 years ago who kept arguing long after the writing was on the wall that digital cameras will never replace film cameras because of the superior quality of film.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          "Economic sense" means positive return in the next quarter" - have you not got an MBA?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Define ECONOMIC SENSE.

          Economic sense: An Indian farmer in Uttar Pradesh installing a solar panel to reduce his electric bill so he can afford to feed his family.

          Is economic sense calculating the total cost of using renewable energy sources AND their minimal carbon footprint?

          Do you think a 3rd World parent with hungry kids gives a crap about "minimal carbon footprint"?

          Look, America emits 14% of global CO2, and that percentage is declining. The growth in CO2 emissions is coming almost entirely from the 3rd World, and we need to find solutions that work there. Policies that make us feel good about reducing America's emissions, while leaving

          • Do you think a 3rd World parent with hungry kids gives a crap about "minimal carbon footprint"?

            He doesn't, but given the state of Indian coal plants, he might very well care about breathable air in the cities.

          • Totally agree about 3rd world. It really is about what is affordable. In this regard, having first and 2nd world (including China ) install more AE equipment will lower costs. Oddly, many ppl do not realize it is cheaper to save watts, then to generate them. And when it comes to CO2, it is far more productive to STOP new production as those nations will push those plants to run 50+ years.
          • Perhaps if we led, the world would follow. But we stopped leading a while ago.

        • In fact, to add to bill's point, China is currently building another 700 coal plants ( this is after stopping the 100 ). About half are foreign. China is going to add new coal plants to nations that do not even have coal and continue to sell them coal. Keep this in perspective. Each of those are ~1 GW or China is adding another 3/4 TW of coal plants. Instead itakes far more sense to make these solar/wind, but nuclear SMR should be an option. But coal is the worst option going.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Thursday December 14, 2017 @03:34AM (#55736633) Homepage Journal

        A better option is to mandate efficiency standards for buildings. The builder can meet them any way they like. In practice solar plus battery is the most cost effective option, but they can still choose the supplier and configuration.

        • by shilly ( 142940 )

          The standards are already out there, like BREEAM: https://www.breeam.com/ [breeam.com]

          But I'm skeptical that the current Trump administration would be interested in mandating that new builds reach BREEAM Outstanding, much though I might want it to happen.

        • by jbengt ( 874751 )

          A better option is to mandate efficiency standards for buildings.

          Too late, already done. California has had mandatory efficiency standards for buildings since at least the 1980s. Most building codes currently include energy efficiency standards, at least in the US. I believe there's a federal mandate for states to adopt an energy code in order to receive certain federal funds.

      • by idji ( 984038 )
        go please and look at what india is doing already in solar. they don't want pollution. look at New Delhi's air recently. They are jumping on solar as fast as they can.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 14, 2017 @05:50AM (#55736901)

        You can thank Germany for cheap solar cells. How did they do that? The "Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz", the law for renewable energy, gave electricity generated from renewable sources priority over other electricity sources and guaranteed a fixed price per kWh. The cost is now part of the electricity price in Germany: A couple of cents are added to the price of every kWh sold to cover the price guarantee for solar and other renewables*. That's because it did not make economic sense to install solar panels when they were a niche technology. A lot of the technological development and mass market expansion resulted from that political decision. Solar is price competitive now because it was given a chance when it wasn't price competitive yet.

        *) The price guarantee has come down as the price for solar has come down, and the price guarantee is time-limited, so the "tax" is slowly going to go away. In 10 years, it will be almost gone, but the positive effect of that law is permanent.

      • by pots ( 5047349 )

        alternative energy HAS TO ACTUALLY MAKE ECONOMIC SENSE

        Alternative energy has always made long-term economic sense, the point of the article is that it now also makes short-term economic sense. Did you miss the part about solar+batteries being cheaper than natural gas? Here, I'll quote from the summary for you: "Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant."

        And that's only how it is now, the cost of photovoltaic cells is still falling incredibly fast. It is now cheaper than any other

      • by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @06:44AM (#55737029) Homepage

        I'd like to see laws on the books that would require new commercial developments to include solar+battery for each housing unit.

        This is one of the dumbest things we could do. In order to make a real change, alternative energy HAS TO ACTUALLY MAKE ECONOMIC SENSE.

        It only sounds dumb if you keep ignoring the elephant in the room: external costs.

        The economic fact of the matter is, fossil fuels cost us a lot more than the sticker price, and not only in nebulous future climate costs but in real, measurable damage to our health. US coal alone costs $300-500 billion a year [reuters.com], easily doubling the wholesale cost. When you look at the whole picture, it actually made economic sense to get off fossil fuels a long time ago, and what doesn't make sense is why people keep pretending these costs don't exist.

        Since it's abundantly clear that the energy market is in no hurry to factor these external costs into their prices, the issue has to be forced - ideally by government evaluating full, levelised costs for all the alternatives then applying a suitable market correction (regulatory mandate, carbon price, cap & trade, whatever suits your politics), or the hard way - let the problem keep getting worse until the pain can no longer be ignored, and hope that the alternatives aren't too unattractive.

        We've done exactly this in any number of other industries (sulphur emissions cone to mind), but the energy industry has been pushing back extra hard.

      • by Subm ( 79417 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @08:19AM (#55737423)

        By your definition it doesn't make economic sense to

        - require seat belts

        - require air bags or other safety features

        - require catalytic converters

        - prevent factories from dumping toxic waste into rivers and the air

        - etc.

        Not everyone considers human and environmental safety just "feel good" mandates.

        • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

          By your definition it doesn't make economic sense to
          - require seat belts
          - require air bags or other safety features

          Without them, people would drive more safely to protect themselves, and this would make the streets safer for people who walk and ride bikes.

      • Actually, in America, I would like to see us require on new buildings below 6 stories, enough on-site unsubsidized AE to equal the monthly energy of HVAC usage. This leaves things up to builder how best to do things. More importantly, they can choose more insulation, better HVAC ( i.e. geothermal ) and lower the energy needed a great deal.
      • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @08:53AM (#55737611) Journal

        Does your economic model figure in the massive subsidy that fossil fuels receive in the form of not having to pay liability damages for the hundreds of thousands of respiratory problems caused every year from externalization of the exhaust going up the stack?

        If they started putting a rider in your generation charge to pay back the Medicare claims for downwinders, solar starts to look real good. And this doesn't even touch any arguments about climate change.

      • It makes economic sense. We have a lot of reserve agricultural land we don't want destroyed, and which isn't necessary for environmental management. Pay a subsidy to retain it; make half that subsidy conditional on only covering the full costs of installing new, non-permanent solar generation capacity on that agricultural land. Simple, efficient, and cuts into the cost of electricity. Retains our farmland. Uses some of the sunniest areas to collect solar energy.

        • Plants also require sun.

          • The area under solar panels can support shade-tolerant grasses (and full-sun-intolerant grasses). The area around can support low-growing cover like micro-clovers, clovers, and some short-growing grasses. This is relatively-common and nurtures the land, preventing erosion and soil death.
      • In order to make a real change, alternative energy HAS TO ACTUALLY MAKE ECONOMIC SENSE.

        It already does make economic sense. Long-term macro-economic sense.
        The problem is that we don't think in this way, only "what is the best possible money I can make before I bail out of this". That is in the grand scheme short term and very localised.

        NOTHING our industry currently does makes this same kind of sense. We already have an incredible amount of regulations, we already have compliance related costs, and all of these comes from the governments in the interest of the general population at the expens

      • Economists tell us that the correct thing to do is to tax the externalities instead of subsidizing. Of course, we never do that.

    • by Freischutz ( 4776131 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @03:13AM (#55736587)

      Look, if we're serious about addressing climate change then we'll need to ramp solar and wind to the point where they are widespread enough that politicians will stop turning a blind eye to the serious damage being done. This of course means either campaign finance reform or clean energy companies bribing politicians better. I'd like to see laws on the books that would require new commercial developments to include solar+battery for each housing unit.

      The good news is that solar+battery installations are recursive self-improvement as each installation reduces the amount of emissions while decreasing the market price of solar installations. Elon really needs to get his battery factory building in gear!

      There is one way and one way only to phase out fossil fuels. You have to roll up your sleeves and make solar and wind so totally ridiculously cheaper than coal or natural gas that the bottom will fall out of the natural gas market because you can bet your bottom dollar that there is a delegation from the natural-gas /fracking industries in the White House now pounding a table yelling: "Something must be done Mr. President!!!". Next thing you know a delegation is on it's way to WTO headquarters to lobby for import tariffs on wind/solar tech to protect fossil fuels (if they haven't done all these things already) and the only way to beat that is make the alternatives so much cheaper they cannot be ignored even with protective tariffs in place. When the fossil fuel barons run to the politicians for protection, like the coal lobby has already done, you know you are winning.

      • by jbengt ( 874751 )

        You have to roll up your sleeves and make solar and wind so totally ridiculously cheaper than coal or natural gas that the bottom will fall out of the natural gas market . . .

        Too late, the bottom has already fallen out of the natural gas market. Nobody's drilling new fracking sites at today's prices.

    • If we're actually serious about addressing climate change, we will use geo-engineering. The price tag is 1/1000th that of carbon, it will actually work rather than something that will be rejected after wasting tens of trillions of dollars and killing hundreds of millions of people with energy poverty, and it is effective after two years instead of 70 years.
      • Depends on the type of geo-engineering you're talking about.

        Albedo management works for temperature, but does nothing about the acidification of the oceans. The type that may work involves removing carbon dioxide from the air, like ocean iron fertilization, burning biomass with carbon capture, or enhanced rock weathering. They all need more research.

        • by nasch ( 598556 )

          the acidification of the oceans

          Maybe we should pour, like... lots and lots of baking soda into the ocean.

      • by shilly ( 142940 )

        So glad you're really confident about this. I feel very reassured. You wouldn't be able to provide any actual evidence to back up your numerous really quite bold assertions, would you, by any chance?

    • So find a way to make alternative energy appealing enough to convince everyone to spend their own money to switch to alternative energy. Which seems like some of the other responses, get alternatives to the point that it makes economic sense.

      While it seems like a great idea to have the government write laws to guide people in the direction that is best for everyone, the government represents the people and if you can't convince the people, it is hard to get the government to follow.

      I think the only real ho

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Ontario did that. [globalnews.ca] Electricity prices are now unaffordable, and the government just finished passing a law that stops the utilities from disconnecting people in the winter. [globalnews.ca] Your entire idea hurts the poor.

      So now I want you to tell me: How many days will you survive while it's -14C outside(in Southern Ontario), and you have no electricity, no other forms of heating.

      • Ontario did that. [globalnews.ca] Electricity prices are now unaffordable, and the government just finished passing a law that stops the utilities from disconnecting people in the winter. [globalnews.ca] Your entire idea hurts the poor.

        This is actually one of the few good points, the poor are hurt most by people leaving the grid. It's precisely this reason that we should be fully subsidizing solar+battery installations for people below the poverty line. Subsidies should be a gradient so that people just above the poverty line aren't hit the hardest.

        The massive number of solar installations that would start occurring would be a boon for the unemployed who could then get jobs as installers.

        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          The massive number of solar installations that would start occurring would be a boon for the unemployed who could then get jobs as installers.

          The problem in Ontario isn't the unemployment it's that most jobs being created are service sector jobs. Those jobs you're talking about as installers? Short term work, maybe a year, maybe two. Then you're right back at the same problem. On top of that, the problem is the cost of electricity is so high in many places that people can barely scrape by between rent and electricity. The peak rate is 0.185/kWh when most people are doing anything. The poorest try to use electricity in off-peak(after 8pm) alre

          • Those jobs you're talking about as installers? Short term work, maybe a year, maybe two. Then you're right back at the same problem.

            Nobody said it was a permanent solution, just a boon.

            On top of that, the problem is the cost of electricity is so high in many places that people can barely scrape by between rent and electricity.

            You conveniently ignored a vital section of my post: "we should be fully subsidizing solar+battery installations for people below the poverty line. Subsidies should be a gradient so that people just above the poverty line aren't hit the hardest."

            So those people that can't afford it would suddenly not have to pay for electricity.

            • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

              You conveniently ignored a vital section of my post: "we should be fully subsidizing solar+battery installations for people below the poverty line. Subsidies should be a gradient so that people just above the poverty line aren't hit the hardest."

              No, I just missed it. It doesn't work like that here, it's too expensive. It's cheaper to build a gas powerplant in the middle of nowhere in Ontario then it is to subsidize the cost of solar+batteries or even wind. The people who suddenly can't afford to pay for electricity, couldn't afford the cost to do this even with 80% subsidies in the first place. Things are really that bad.

              • The people who suddenly can't afford to pay for electricity, couldn't afford the cost to do this even with 80% subsidies in the first place. Things are really that bad.

                read closer, i wrote "fully subsidizing" meaning it would be free for them.

                • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

                  read closer, i wrote "fully subsidizing" meaning it would be free for them.

                  Doesn't work that way in Canada, not enough money. Let me explain simply how strained resources are, 13k illegals from the US showed up in Quebec and Ontario and broke the welfare system. Private charities that cover only heating, and get 90% of their funding from the government for the year had spent it all by December of the previous winter seasons(2016). No money for your pipe dream, none at all. It again makes better sense to build cheap NG plants and push the price of electricity down.

                  • Doesn't work that way in Canada, not enough money.

                    Well if it doesn't work in Canada then it must be impossible for the whole planet! Oh wait, that's not how reality works.

                    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

                      Well if it doesn't work in Canada then it must be impossible for the whole planet! Oh wait, that's not how reality works.

                      I'm pointing out the flaws in the reality of your idea. You can take it or leave it like that as you want. The reality is: If a country/state/province/etc doesn't have the money for it, your idea is never going to happen.

          • by mbkennel ( 97636 )
            Peak rate of 0.185 per kWh? Canadian dollars? ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! That's kitten stuff.

            San Diego peak rates: 0.54297. http://regarchive.sdge.com/tm2/pdf/ELEC_ELEC-SCHEDS_DR-SES.pdf

            The problem is rent.
      • by fygment ( 444210 )

        Ontario is an interesting case. Overall, it produces enough electrical to cover all it's power requirements. Unfortunately, it cannot control production sufficiently to follow demand so at peak. Equally unfortunately, it has negligible electric storage capacity and that is everything. No matter how you cut it, 'fossil' fuels still represent the most efficient energy storage at hand, and the means of extracting energy from 'fossil' fuels are well established, increasingly efficient, and cost effective.

    • If we're going to spend tax money on the electrical grid, let's actually spend it on the grid. And let's decouple grid management completely from power generation, while we're at it, and mandate net metering. That will do plenty to promote solar, and also pay other dividends.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are expensive to run. They are inefficient and the hotter the outside temperature is the more inefficient they are. And they are basically jet engines so they need a lot of maintenance. Battery prices are declining so as soon as it dips below the price difference between baseload generated power and peak generated power then the peakers GT are gone.

    • They are inefficient and the hotter the outside temperature is the more inefficient they are.
      Not ore inefficient than any other thermal power plant, like a nuclear or coal plant.
      The temperature difference regarding outside heat is close to irrelevant.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • by stooo ( 2202012 )

      >> they are basically jet engines so they need a lot of maintenance

      Jet engines don't need a lot of maintenance.
      In fact they run for many years without any maintenance at all.

  • GE expanded rapidly into the gas turbine market because of the high demand to replace coal-fired power quickly due to regulation. Now that that business is functioning efficiently, the workforce doesn't need to be as big.

  • by bferrell ( 253291 ) on Thursday December 14, 2017 @10:20AM (#55738189) Homepage Journal

    a forecast of battery shortages due to vehicle demand. That was predicted last year with a forecast of a "hockey stick" price rise in batteries.

    That little factoid isn't mentioned here and THAT is the entire flaw in battery land. capacity is dependent on physical "expensive" batteries; electrical "tanks" that are semi-expensive to make and very much to be in demand. Hdrogen... Well, gas storage tanks are MUCH cheaper and easier to make in huge volumes.

    In the movie, Mrs Robinson, the word was plastics (and kind of still is).

    Now the word is infrastructure (tank manufacturing/sales). Not kewl or sexy, but in the long haul...

    • Energy per unit weight is the limiting factor for electric vehicle batteries. Weight is not a constraint for stationary batteries, so other more cost effective technologies can be used. Of course, one dirty little secret nobody mentions is that lithium ion batteries can be damaged by cold weather, in addition to being much less efficient. So we would like to see a battery technology with a much wider temperature range.
  • I work next door and overlook the roof of the major natural gas supplier in my state- they own pretty much all the pipes in the state. Do you remember those "NG fuel cells" that were all the rage and would aid large energy consumers in states like CA? You'd think they would install those to reduce their electric bill.

    Well the gas company just installed solar panels on the roof of their building last month. Corner to corner.

    Everyone gets it. It's cheaper. Yes, the state does have incentives to turn solar

    • Even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is now running off of solar power, which deserves some kind of award for irony!
  • Solar and wind power generation by themselves don't reduce the amount of peak power production capacity by other means necessary, since peak demand can coincide with times with no sun or wind. However, if an energy storage media is available, then all power needs can be met by just enough solar and wind capacity to meet _average_ demand -- which is significantly lower than peak demand. I always imagined pumping water uphill into a reservoir to feed hydroelectric turbines as a way of storing power, but if ba
    • Solar and wind power generation by themselves don't reduce the amount of peak power production capacity by other means necessary, since peak demand can coincide with times with no sun or wind. However, if an energy storage media is available, then all power needs can be met by just enough solar and wind capacity to meet _average_ demand -- which is significantly lower than peak demand. I always imagined pumping water uphill into a reservoir to feed hydroelectric turbines as a way of storing power, but if batteries really become cheap and reliable... I'll take whatever works.

      In the bigger picture we should be using high voltage DC lines [wikipedia.org], a proven 80 year old commercial technology, to ship power long distances so that peak demand cannot coincide with times with no sun or wind since the sun and wind resources of the entire continent is connected together. It never happens that no sun and wind is found anywhere.

      And by the same token pumped water storage can be used for the entire national grid, not matter where the storage is.

      With a properly implemented national grid the use of ba

    • by steveha ( 103154 )

      I always imagined pumping water uphill into a reservoir to feed hydroelectric turbines as a way of storing power

      It's not just something you imagined; it's done all the time.

      pumped-storage hydroelectricity [wikipedia.org]

      However, all the really good sites for this have already been built, and if you try to build more, environmentalists will try to block you.

      The battery technology I am keeping my eye on is liquid metal batteries as developed by Ambri. Their batteries are heavy so they would be lousy for cars, but for massiv

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