How affordable is alternative energy?

Aug 01, 2012 By Roni Robbins

Alternative energy sources that are cost-competitive with fossil fuels may be closer than most people realize. Recent renewable energy research has shown that solar, hydropower, wind and other alternative sources are closing in on the cost of traditional electricity providers.

-Solar: The cost of PV has fallen by more than 60 percent in the past two years to as little as $1 a watt, which is competitive with residential electricity, according to a report released last month by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Continued capacity growth in solar energy, along with other , is expected to contribute to further cost reductions, the agency reported.

-Hydropower: The most economical alternative energy source for could be hydropower, the study showed. The levelized cost of electricity from a large hydropower plant, which considers costs distributed over the project lifetime, typically ranges from 0.02 to 0.19 cents per , IRENA reported.

-Wind: Wind-turbine prices also have started to fall, and the cost of electricity from wind energy sites in North America, for example, range from 0.04-0.05 cents per kilowatt hour. This is competitive or cheaper than gas-fired generation, according to the report.

Further alternative energy options that can cost less than electricity from the grid include using agricultural and forestry wastes, or biomass, as to provide power and heat. The most competitive projects produce electricity for 0.06 cent per kilowatt hour..

-Natural gas: Cheap natural gas also is gaining attention as a competitive alternative energy source in the United States. The price of natural gas is at a record low in the US. because of increased drilling of the country's vast shale gas formations. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported earlier this month that the natural gas spot price, which averaged $4 per million British thermal units in 2011, is expected to average $2.58 per MMBtu this year.

Crude oil prices, though, have also been falling. EIA has lowered the average regular gasoline retail price forecasts for the third quarter of 2012 to $3.39 per gallon. Regular gasoline retail prices, which averaged $3.53 per gallon in 2011, are expected to average $3.49 in 2012 and $3.28 per gallon in 2013, EIA said in its Short-Term Energy Outlook release.

Affordable are more readily available, more abundant and generally less damaging to the environment, but skeptics say renewables might not be as efficient as fossil fuels, such as coal and gas. Still, growth in alternative energy continues at an impressive rate considering it has experienced so much competition, consolidation and government cuts.

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User comments : 16

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_ob_mery
1.8 / 5 (6) Aug 01, 2012
Solar and wind produce electricity and less than one percent is produced from oil in the US. The sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow 24/7. Comparing the subsidized cost of RE electricity to home retail prices is a non valid comparison. According to an Energy Information Administration study the U.S. subsidizes solar power to the tune of $24.34 a megawatt hour, $23.37 for wind, 44 cents for coal, 25 cents for natural gas and $1.59 for nuclear power. If Renewable Energy was a prevalent as fossil fuels, we couldn't afford the subsidies.
antialias_physorg
2.8 / 5 (6) Aug 01, 2012
Given that the cost of fossil (or even nuclear fission) is only going to rise while the cost of alternative power is only going to fall it really makes no sense to invest in 'traditional' energy anymore other than as a token emergency fallback system.

Given that investing in such old-style powerplants now means building this stuff in 3-5 years and wanting (needing) to profit off of it for decades afterwards. I'm just not seeing how conventional power sources can remain competitive over such timescales.
Deathclock
2 / 5 (4) Aug 01, 2012
How is the cost of nuclear power going to rise?
Doug_Huffman
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2012
wattsupwiththat?
dschlink
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 01, 2012
A few minor points:
1. There are no unused large hydro sites available in the USA.
2. PV panel costs are down, but installation costs are flat or rising.
3. Micro wind turbines (see U.K. results) have been demonstrated to be a waste of money. Most cannot produce enough power to run their own electronics.
CapitalismPrevails
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 01, 2012
"Given that the cost of fossil (or even nuclear fission) is only going to rise while the cost of alternative power is only going to fall it really makes no sense to invest in 'traditional' energy anymore other than as a token emergency fallback system."

The cost of fossil fuel energy is only going to rise because of government actions like this: http://dailycalle...in-2012/
CapitalismPrevails
2.3 / 5 (6) Aug 01, 2012
Just go to wikipedia and it will tell you the cost of solar is actually at $4.00 because of the balance of system cost.
http://en.wikiped...per_watt

1. There are no unused large hydro sites available in the USA.

Except for places like the Grand Canyon and damming up the bay area. Just kidding but it would be awesome to sink San Francisco.
:D
SatanLover
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2012
How is the cost of nuclear power going to rise?

same problem as gas coal and oil: fuel.
Bob_Wallace
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2012
There are around 80,000 existing dams in the US, we use about 2,500 for power production. Based on a couple of studies around 10% of these existing dams could be used for electricity generation. Some are now being converted.

The cost of solar installation is falling along with the price of panels. Racking and wiring systems are being redesigned so that they are more affordable. Installed solar in Germany averaged $2.24/watt last year while it was $4.44/watt in the US. That's over $2 of inefficiency that we can get out of our industry as it matures.

The cost of nuclear (already so high that nuclear is priced off the table) is rising because construction costs are rising and following Fukushima safety systems are going to be more extensive.

Deathclock
1 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2012
How is the cost of nuclear power going to rise?

same problem as gas coal and oil: fuel.


Oh, so AA meant in hundreds of years... because the estimate is something like 150 years of Uranium left, not including breeding.
djr
3 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2012
Antialias - " I'm just not seeing how conventional power sources can remain competitive over such timescales." The Chinese are showing interest in liquid thorium - and are perhaps going to become the world experts in this area. Don't you think it beats building more coal plants. I agree that solar and wind will continue their downward price trend. I hope we will realize the need for massive scale desalination - and use nuclear for this purpose. I would be interested in your view of Kirk Sorenson's presentation. http://www.youtub...YjDdI_c8
MCPtz
1 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2012
How is the cost of nuclear power going to rise?

If U-235 is the only fuel used in nuclear power, then yes.
"Uranium-235 is an isotope of uranium making up about 0.72% of natural uranium."

If instead we switch to the much more abundant Thorium as the fuel for fission, the cost of fuel will decrease*. The U.S. has stockpiles of thorium all ready to go.

*From what I've read so far.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 01, 2012
How is the cost of nuclear power going to rise?

If nuclear is ever to play a substantial role in world energy production then we'll need an order of magnitude more nuclear reactors (and orders more disposal sites). That will surely drive costs of nuclear up.

As for fossil fuels (quite besides the added cost of changing the climate)
Fossil fuels are a limited resource. Using limited resources for unlimited time just doesn't work.
tarheelchief
5 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2012
It is not the kilowatt per hour costs,it is the cost of creating and maintaining a grid which seems to befuddle cost estimates.
Many alternative fuels can maintain homes,apartments,villages,and farms.Take away the costs of linking up with the expensive utility grids and almost any fuel source beats carbon based fuels.
axemaster
5 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2012
I like how the article listed each resource using a different system of measurement. That really helps us compare them... NOT!

Just go to wikipedia and it will tell you the cost of solar is actually at $4.00 because of the balance of system cost.


On the same page it also lists natural gas as $6. So solar isn't in such a bad position.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2012
Many alternative fuels can maintain homes,apartments,villages,and farms.Take away the costs of linking up with the expensive utility grids and almost any fuel source beats carbon based fuels.

I think that really depends on the situation. If structures are disconnected from the grid they must have either fallback or buffer systems large enough to tide over any slump in energy production.
With a grid the buffer doesn't have to be as large as the sum of all these small buffers.
The larger you make the grid the more unlikly that no one will produce power and also the more unlikely that all will require their peak power at the same time (something that can even be actively prevent with information linkup)
It also provides the ability to get power to a region should the production capabilities be destroyed by natural catastrophe (decentralized power production is probably more flimsy than a centralized power plant).
So there are some advantage to having a grid.

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