Renewable Energy cost reductions of 50% since 2008

by Silvio Marcacci

That renewable energy is 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 7.0, recently 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
Unsubsidized LCOE for US energy graph via Lazard

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
LCOE for US energy with tax subsidies chart via Lazard

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
Power generation rates for US metro areas chart via Lazard

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
US energy capital cost comparison chart via Lazard

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.”

This article, Analysis: 50% Reduction In Cost Of Renewable Energy Since 2008, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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A Cleaner Future For China Lays Ahead

by Joshua S Hill – Special to JBS News

Coal’s dominant share of China’s power capacity is set to slowly erode over the next twenty years, thanks primarily to the growth of the country’s renewable sector, in particular large hydro, which will account for more than half of new power plants before 2030. And while China’s power capacity is expected to more than double by 2030, estimates suggest it’s carbon emissions could be in decline by 2027.

These findings are part of a new report released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), entitled ‘The Future of China’s Power Sector: From centralized and coal powered to distributed and renewable?’

BNEF expects an additional 88 GW of new power plants annually [in China] from now until 2030, which would be the equivalent of building the United Kingdom’s total generating capacity once a year.

Unsurprisingly, China is currently the world’s largest power producer (and subsequently, the world’s largest carbon emitter), and could end up installing 1,500 GW of new generating capacity over the next two decades, and investing more than $3.9 trillion in power sector assets. However, and happily, because of China’s focus on renewable energy, their total power sector emissions could start declining in 2027.

“China has started to change course towards a cleaner future,” said Jun Ying, country manager and head of research for China at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ”But despite significant progress in renewable energy deployment, coal looks set to remain dominant to 2030. More support for renewable energy, natural gas and energy efficiency will be needed if China wants to reduce its reliance on coal more quickly.”

Due in part to their reliance upon manufacturing, China has made large strides in the renewable energy sector, specifically in the solar and wind industry. This has led to an industry-leading manufacturing infrastructure, supplying great swathes of the world’s photovoltaic and turbine products. Unsurprisingly, while economically beneficial to China, this industry leadership has also benefited the country’s power mix, especially in light of the need to minimize the horrific amounts of coal-based carbon emissions the country has been pumping into the atmosphere.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyzed China’s power sector based on four separate scenarios — Traditional Territory, New Normal, Barrier Busting, and Barrier Busting with Carbon Price. The central scenario (New Normal) sees China’s total power generation capacity more than double by 2030. Together with an increase in renewables (featuring large hydro) enough to supply more than half of all new capacity additions, the scenario saw an increase in gas-based generation, which would drive the share of coal-fired power generation down from 67% in 2020 to 44% in 2030.

Even in the New Normal, however, coal’s production capacity is still set to grow rapidly until 2020, adding an average of 38 GW per year. Following 2020, coal will see smaller growth — only 10 GW per year — until 2030. Due to the longevity of China’s coal industry, the country’s carbon emissions and atmospheric problems causing poor air quality will continue through the next 10 to 15 years, and could take many more before any considerable beneficial effects are seen.

The remaining three categories are described as follows:

  • Traditional Territory — which sees a heavier reliance on coal and fossil fuels
  • Barrier Busting — in which barriers to the adoption of clean technologies are systematically eliminated by policy-makers
  • Barrier Busting with Carbon Price — which includes the above category and then includes a carbon price.

Commenting on the final scenario, BNEF noted that they believe themselves to be the first to produce “…the world’s first forecast of a Chinese carbon price, based on stated national goals for emission abatement.”

Specifically; An average carbon price of CNY 99/tCO2e ($16/tCO2e) will result in 23% fewer new coal plants being built compared to the New Normal scenario. The difference would be made up by more renewables and natural gas. The sector’s carbon peak would arrive four years sooner as a result, in 2023.

“The wide range of outcomes in our scenarios demonstrate the extreme uncertainty facing China’s energy sector,” said Milo Sjardin, head of Asia Pacific at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ”The future depends on a number of big questions, questions on which one can still only speculate: the cost at which China may be able to extract its shale gas reserves, the potential impact on fracking and thermal generation of water constraints; and potential accelerations in climate and environmental policy, including a potential price on carbon.”

“It is hard to underestimate the significance of China’s energy consumption growth and its evolving generation mix,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ”The impacts will reach far beyond China and have major implications for the rest of the world, ranging from coal and gas prices to the cost and market size for renewable energy technologies – not to mention the health of the planet’s environment.”

This article, A Cleaner Future For China Lays Ahead, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.
 

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Commercial Solar PV In China Primed For Growth Surge

by Cynthia Shahan — Special to JBS News

China’s Bureau of Energy has announced a designated group of Distributed PV Generation Application Demonstration parks. This focus on self-consumption of photovoltaic solar power generation by the Bureau of Energy moves China in a clear direction. Over 1.8 GW of solar PV pipeline was approved (out of which up to 750 MW may begin construction in 2013).

The rooftop segment of the Chinese PV market, along with the desired supply pipelines, will expedite completion of the remarkable renewable energy plans.

First Batch of Distributed PV Generation Application Demonstration Parks by regions (MW)

Steven Han from Solarbuzz has more regarding this noteworthy news from China:

Until now, financing and tariff distribution timeliness have been major barriers for developer groups. Sources say that additional policies will be established in the second half of year to lower these barriers.

All sixteen commercial developer groups and two utility developer groups can now receive FITs of CNY 0.42/kWh, in addition to the desulfurization tariff. In some regions, such as Jiangsu and Anhui, developer groups can also receive extra rebates.

Figure 2: All developer groups have promised to use no less than 70% of their PV power generation Source: NPD Solarbuzz

Everyone in the solar industry is keeping a close eye on China. The country has very ambitious solar PV growth plans, and it has increased those on a number of occasions. From small-scale solar to utility-scale solar projects, China is sailing forward with solar PV.

The country’s 2015 solar PV target (21 GW) is currently quadruple the 2015 target (5 GW) it had set in 2010. The urgency, from what coal power plants are doing to the country and the world, is quite clear.

This article, Commercial PV In China Primed For Growth Surge, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is an Organic Farmer, Classical Homeopath, Art Teacher, Creative Writer, Anthropologist, Natural Medicine Activist, Journalist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

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Cold Lake Alberta oil spill is ‘unstoppable’

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

The Alberta oil sands are either a curse or a blessing, depending on your point of view

For some Canadians (and American guest-workers) the Alberta oil sands mean long-term employment with good wages, and the chance to raise a family in Canada’s north which, if you can tolerate the cold winters, is a beautiful place to raise an outdoors-oriented family, spending the weekends with your kids exploring the thousands of square kilometres of snowy mountains on snowmobiles, hitting the touristy ski slopes, and photographing sweeping prairie vistas.

For others though, the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands are a blight on the collective conscience of all Canadians and a black eye on Canada’s otherwise good reputation among nations.

Image courtesy: desmogblog.ca
Alberta Primrose oil spill — 6000 barrels of oil seep to the surface every two days, and officials concede there is no known way of stopping it — other than just waiting for it to stop. Image courtesy: desmogblog.ca

 

The battle for, or against, the harvesting of the oil sands resource see-saws back and forth. It is has turned into an epic battle between oil companies and environmentalists spanning decades of time, and very clear battle lines between the two groups were drawn long ago.

Renewed interest in the oil sands fight began in 2010, with news that Canada was allowing Chinese companies to purchase multi-billion dollar Canadian and American oil companies which operate in the oil sands region.

And when talks began with the European Union on a massive Free Trade deal between Canada and the EU in 2012, the oil sands business once more came under the media spotlight.

This time, the spotlight is on an ‘unstoppable’ oil spill near a Royal Canadian Air Force base, where the crude oil is bubbling up from deep underground at high pressure in four locations. One of the places where the oil is rising to the surface, is under a lake — which is making a mess of the once-pristine lake and adjoining forest, as more than 3 feet of oil floats on top of the lake and overflowing into the surrounding area.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on August 1, 2013 that; “Nearly 1 million litres of bitumen leaked into bush on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range” – and the company is reporting the spill as “contained” and will “seep small amounts of oil for years”.

How reassuring NOT!

After bursting to the surface under pressure, the oil mixes with snow, water, and organic materials on the forest floor and the whole oily mess tumbles downhill, creating small ‘rivers’ of oil, heading toward the larger rivers and lakes common in the region.

Cara Tobin; “With any incident the company would go to the site and identify the outer boundaries of the affected area.

There’s two things – one is control and one is containment.

What they have done, to the best of my knowledge, is that they have identified the outer extent of the impacted area, which is generally called delineation. I think they were finishing that process [Friday]. And so they are getting to know and rope off the outer extent of the impacted area.

So that’s one thing. And that’s basically containment… In this case, this is still an ongoing incident. There is no control on this incident.” – Cara Tobin, Office of Public Affairs spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator

If the employees of Canadian Natural Resource Limited (CNRL) hadn’t reported the leak to the media, it may have gone unreported.

The company in charge of the High-Pressure Cyclic Steam Stimulation (HPCSS) oil extraction process (where high-temperature steam in injected deep underground to separate the oil from the sand it is embedded with) at first reported only one spill from one site — saying it had begun leaking only days before. Now we find out four boreholes have been leaking for months.

The one thing you need to know about about ‘unstoppable’ oil spills is that until the underground pressure lowers, the oil will continue pouring out. This de-pressurization might take a month, or it may take 60 years. Nobody knows for certain. It will stop when it stops.

In the case that anyone thinks that this is a minor matter, the total amount of oil trapped in the oil sands is roughly equal to the remaining total oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. Not that all of it will suddenly burst forth from these four locations and empty the entire mess onto the landscape, but there is opportunity at least, for major ecological disaster. There are millions of barrels of underground oil and it is under pressure and connected to thousands of similar boreholes in the area, which is why the oil companies are there, and not somewhere else.

Over the weekend, some 6000 barrels of oil overflowed into 51 acres of forest and lake country, and in some places the oil is one metre deep.

With no end in sight, no available man-made solution, and no future plan to control what is admittedly an ‘unstoppable’ oil spill — all we can do is wait.

And this has happened just when it looked like the oil companies were winning the public relations battle…

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Less than 1% of tar-sands environmental infractions are penalized

 By Kevin Grandia – Special to JBS News

By Jungbim (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Jungbim

A new report out today finds that enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report [PDF], authoured by the environmental non-profit Global Forest Watch, looked at more than 15 years of data on recorded environmental mishaps by oil sand companies, tracking the follow-up actions taken and the final verdict on fines.

The findings are shocking and come at a very inconvenient time for government and industry supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would greatly increase tar sands processing and shipments to the United States.

Of the more than 4,000 infractions reported, less than 1 percent (.09 to be exact) received an enforcement action (that would be less than 40 of 4,000). Compare this to the EPA, which has an enforcement rate of 16 percent for similar infractions by companies under the Clean Water Act.

Global Forest Watch also found that the median fine for environmental infractions in the oil sands over the past 16 years was $4,500. If you were an oil-sands player like ExxonMobil, who reported a profit last year of $44.9 billion, would you change your ways over a $4,500 fine?

Royal Dutch Shell Oil’s CEO, another big player in the oil sands, probably spent $4,500 on golf and dinner yesterday.

TransCanada, the company trying to convince President Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, was out last week touting Canada as a world leader in environmental protection.

TransCanada wrote in the Globe and Mail

The only relevant question is whether the U.S. wants to source its heavy oil from Canada, a friendly and stable ally with strict environmental standards, or from other suppliers whose interests are not aligned with those of the United States and have limited or no environmental standards.

Relevant question indeed, and here’s the answer: Canada does not have “strict environmental standards” at all and this report puts even more pressure on President Obama to not approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Kevin Grandia is a researcher and writer on environment and human rights issues. He is the president of Spake Media House Inc., a consulting firm that brings online power to non-profits, campaigners, and advocacy groups. His article appears in JBS News with the kind permission of the authour.