The Economics of Green Energy

by John Brian Shannon

Back in the old days of sustainable energy, circa 2000, the cost of switching to solar or wind was so expensive that only the well-intentioned considered it — and only the wealthy could afford it.

How times have changed!

Nowadays, utility-scale solar power and wind power are cost-competitive with utility-scale coal-fired and nuclear electrical power generation.

And obviously, solar and wind are much better for the environment.


That’s not to knock coal, which has provided reliable power for decades and still has a great future in Coal to Liquid fuels — that is, coal processed into extremely pure transportation fuels. Gasoline for your car, diesel for cars, trucks and ships and jet fuel are all created from coal using CTL technology.

South Africa’s SASOL have been using CTL technology successfully since 1955 and 30% of all the transportation fuels in that country are made from domestically-sourced coal. No alterations to vehicle engines or aircraft turbine engines are required to use fuels which are made from coal — as the CTL technology produces almost laboratory-quality fuels when using the Fisher-Tropsch catalytic process.

However, electrical power generation which burns raw coal releases billions of tons of CO2 and carbon monoxide, along with huge amounts of hydrogen sulfide, arsenic, lead, cyanide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other toxins into the atmosphere every year — all of which easily cross state lines, national boundaries and even the oceans before settling in both populated areas and farmland.

One brand new coal-fired plant per week is completed and goes into service in China these days and this has been the case since late 2008.

In 2010 for example, China operated 620 coal-fired power plants which burned over 3 billion tons of coal per year. Just the CO2 emissions alone from coal-fired electrical generation in China surpassed 7.2 billion tons in 2010.

Which leads to higher health care costs in both the developing world and the developed world. According to

“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.”

In addition to being cost-competitive with coal, solar and wind are also cost-competitive with nuclear. In the case of solar and wind power there is no need for very costly nuclear spent-fuel storage — as some types of nuclear fuel rods must be stored in terrorist-proof bunkers and be constantly-cooled 24 hours per day/365 days per year for up to 20,000 years — without any interruption lasting longer than 36 hours. The cost of just one failure here would be catastrophic.


Nuclear power has been statistically safe – with only one serious incident about every ten years on average. However, we have seen deaths caused by exposure to radioactive emissions from nuclear power plant accidents and indirect adverse health effects on population centres near nuclear disaster sites. Some particles remain radioactive at toxic levels for many decades.

Which leads to higher health care costs in many nations as the wind can carry radioactive particulate thousands of miles — just as it can carry toxic gasses and soot from coal-fired power generation for thousands of miles.

For the most recent example of the cost to clean up nuclear accidents, the Fukushima disaster had been estimated at between $15 – 45 billion dollars, but more recently a $50 – 100 billion dollar price-tag has appeared and full decommissioning may take until 2030 to complete. The Japanese government is covering all the costs of decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear site — which means Japanese citizens will end up paying the full cost through taxation.

From the perspective of taxpayers everywhere who bear the brunt of health care costs and disaster mitigation, the full cost of a given kind of fuel must include the costs of all adverse health effects, deaths, damages and lost productivity caused by each kind of fuel.

Which is why solar, wind and biomass are still the better deal by far – even at the same per-gigawatt price.

John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, the Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his green energy blog at:

Check out his economics blog at:

Follow John on Twitter:!/JBSCanada

The Economist: China and Europe’s emission-trading scheme – MY COMMENT

Not free to fly  — Feb 8th 2012, 18:55 by J.A.

Why not the simplest solution of all?

Every country should copy the EU law and apply it in 2013.

To eliminate double-charging, the fee need only be charged to each airplane at landing, (or, at take-off) but not both.

Airlines, such as Virgin and others which already use a 50/50 blend of biofuel, should receive a ‘free pass’ regarding this program – everywhere they fly.

Net reduction of emissions is the goal – after all.

The difference flying with biofuel? Reported up to 80% reductions in CO2 according to Boeing. See: for more information.

AFP Photo

The Economist online — Watts Next? | MY COMMENT

What will be fueling the world in 2030?
The Economist online | January 25, 2012


“THE world will consume 40% more energy in 2030 than it does today, according to BP’s World Energy Outlook, though the rate of growth will decrease…” — The Economist

Global primary energy use
Global primary energy use

On sustainability front-runners, Germany, Spain and Argentina

Germany, Spain and Argentina are getting close to 25% of their electricity from solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power. It’s a safe bet that within five years, those targets will be met or exceeded.

On top of all that, Germany is shutting down it’s entire nuclear power industry by 2022 and is ahead of schedule there too. (They’re German’s after all!)

A new industry is taking hold in Germany, the UK and in other European countries – pure vegetable oil is being used to fuel (formerly) diesel cars and trucks.

It’s NOT bio-diesel as there is no petroleum diesel mixed into the veg oil fuel. Bio-diesel is a different product altogether, but IS available there as an optional fuel. (minor alterations are needed to the vehicle in order to use each different kind of fuel)



On German environmental law

“The 2012 EEG sets a minimum requirement of not less than 35 percent of renewable energy in electricity supply by 2020, not less than 50 percent by 2030, not less than 65 percent by 2040 and not less than 80 percent by 2050.

However, the law actually sets a target of between 35 and 40 percent of supply within the next decade. This conforms to a decision made by the Ministry of Environment in 2010. Rather than reducing its commitment to expanding renewable energy, Germany has codified a more aggressive target than in the previous law.”

This quote is from:


At the same time as all the above is occurring

The UK has already dropped it’s feed-in tariff for sustainable electricity. Germany is lowering theirs twice within a 12-month period.

It’s a simple equation, solar panel prices have dropped dramatically in the past 24 months, which is why Solyndra (and others) failed.

In 2011, China passed both the U.S. and Germany as the world’s largest manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines.

Here’s a basic, but excellent link for you:…


On conventional nuclear power

Many nuclear plants are getting close to the end of their lifetime. It is often less expensive to build new, state of the art nuclear plants – than to refurbish or renovate old plants to meet modern standards – as the Japanese are now finding out.

A majority of Japan’s 54 nuclear plants are shut down for inspection since the Fukushima disaster. Japan has just inked a deal with Saudi Arabia to purchase more oil to make up for the loss of all that nuclear power generation. How much more oil? THREE TIMES Japan’s total 2010 oil imports from all sources!



On ‘Modular” nuclear power:

To help you get up to speed in the modern nuclear power age, here is some general info.

Old, large nuclear plants all over the world, are nearing the end of their (safe) lifetime. They need to be decommissioned as soon as time and circumstance allows. Germany is decommissioning all their plants by 2022. Japan has shut down most of it’s 54 nuclear plants – a few may restart if, after rigorous inspections they are deemed safe enough.

The trend now is towards much higher safety and security standards and much smaller nuclear power plants – so called ‘modular’ nuclear power.

Here’s a great link for modular N-power:…

If you need more info on this use keywords “modular, nuclear, power” on Google, plenty of info there.

Modern and safe, modular nuclear is the perfect partner for solar and wind power – as N-power can quickly ramp up to meet demand (at sundown) or when wind speeds suddenly drop. Nuclear does this far better than any other electrical grid partner.

The sore point with nuclear for decades – apart from old, obsolete N-plants has been ‘spent’ fuel rods. Some types of fuel rods require secure storage facilities and continuous cooling for 20,000 years(!) which significantly add to the cost of nuclear power.

Those old rods are hot and can become very dangerous if allowed to come into contact with the atmosphere, or if mis-handled in any way. Terrorist incidents are always a danger with both nuclear plants and long-term storage facilities, again, adding to the overall cost of nuclear.

Yet, there is a solution if the option is chosen. France’s nuclear power plants can ‘burn’ our ‘spent’ rods and eventually render them into a low radioactive state and France can store those (almost) fully-spent rods. The cost to dispose of N-rods in this way are much lower than 20,000-year storage.

Safe transport to France is imperative.

What I have outlined above is not the entire solution to all of our electrical power generation requirements, but can be considered huge steps in the right direction.

We need voices on this to make it happen.