Clean Energy: How To Get There From Here!

by John Brian Shannon

Everyone knows more electricity is needed in developed nations and electrical needs in developing nations are skyrocketing. No problem there — everyone deserves to live a good lifestyle and enjoy our modern technology to the fullest.

The problem occurs in the means used to generate that electricity. Some kinds of electrical power generation cause huge billowing clouds of pollution 24-hours per day, every day of the year.

All of this adds up to astronomically high costs for electrical power producers and users, which can be measured in several different ways.

For instance, new conventional nuclear  power plants can cost up to $20 billion dollars each. Added to that cost, is the cost incurred to store thousands of tons of (so-called) spent nuclear fuel. Some spent fuels must be stored in air-conditioned bunkers for up to 20,000 years, with never more than 36 hours of A/C interruption. The costs of that are so high, they can’t even be calculated.

New coal plants cost about $250 million dollars/per hundred megawatts. A hundred megawatts isn’t much, by the way – enough to power 16,000 power-hungry A/C homes in the U.S. or about 29,000 homes in China. Some coal-fired power plants cost upwards of $1 billion dollars. The cost of the coal must be added to the equation from day one – the price of which rises and falls typically between $80.00 and $160.00 per ton, plus the significant transportation costs. It may interest you to know that China burned 3 billion tons of coal last year, emitting 7.2 billion tons of CO2 and other toxic gasses. Approximately 410,000 Chinese people die every year as a result of pollution-related deaths.

Natural gas power plants are clean, they cost a little more than comparable coal plants and the only real drawback is they emit huge volumes of CO2. Unlike coal, they emit little in the way of other toxic gasses or soot. Again, a costly and continuous and supply of natural gas must be available every day of the year.

No matter which choice is made, the construction of electrical generation power plants incurs high costs to nations — and the cheapest options come with the highest fuel and health-care costs.

In the United States, nuclear power receives significant subsidies on the order of $3.50 billion per year on average and oil and gas receive $4.86 billion subsidy dollars per year on average.


We can see from the chart above that in the United States most forms of electrical power generation are heavily subsidized. Who could afford electricity otherwise?

If solar, wind and geothermal energy were subsidized at the same per kilowatt rate as Oil & Gas, Coal, or Nuclear — total U.S. emission levels would drop dramatically and Americans would be breathing much cleaner air.

National health-care costs would drop, acid rain damage would decrease to near zero, crop damage from power plants would become a thing of the past and meeting international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol would become boringly simple.

To have the enjoyment of breathing clean air and the other benefits listed above, all governments should calculate the highest subsidy they pay per kilowatt hour and then begin paying ALL electricity providers that same per kilowatt hour subsidy.

Solar power, wind power and geothermal would then become ultra-competitive with coal, N-power and Oil & Gas. Every large rooftop area, such as big box retail outlets like IKEA stores for one good example, could assist national power production and air-quality goals by lowering demand on the grid and potentially adding power to it, while helping to enhance the health of citizens.

One nation has already begun such a program and is right on schedule. Denmark has decided that all energy, including transportation energy(!) will come from renewable sources by 2050 and they have made substantial progress in only a few short years.

Even with the patchwork and grossly unlevel subsidy regimes in place in the United States, this transition is already occurring. Organizations from the U.S. Navy, to IKEA and WalMart, some cities and towns, the Big Three auto manufacturers and many more businesses and organizations, are converting their unused rooftop spaces and vacant land into clean power stations — thereby tapering the need for behemoth, pollution-spewing power plants.

If governments standardized the subsidies they already pay for Oil & Gas, Coal and Nuclear power (instead of paying billions of dollars to some power providers — whilst paying pennies to others) we would all breathe a lot easier.

We need oil & gas, coal, natural gas and conventional nuclear power to feed our grids, what I’m  advocating for is directly comparable subsidies for all electricity providers, including green energy — and there are no real reasons why such subsidy levelization couldn’t soon happen in every country.


I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

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Twitter: @JBSCanada

Utility-scale Solar Power — Now Cost-effective!

by John Brian Shannon

New, utility-scale photo-voltaic solar power is now competitive with new, utility-scale coal. (When neither is subsidized)

Timing is everything it is said. Which makes now a great time to be alive for green energy advocates.

Quite under the radar of the mainstream media, the costs to build utility-scale solar photovoltaic installations have fallen dramatically over the past 24 months with solar (PV) panel prices expected to bottom out in June or July of 2013.

Not only have PV solar panel prices plunged over the past two years — but due to U.S. EPA emission regulations which went into effect January 1, 2012, the costs to build (new and cleaner-burning) coal power plants, or to retrofit existing ones to burn natural gas, have risen dramatically.

These two developments have ushered in a profound shift to utility-scale power generation in the United States which are just now beginning to be recognized.

solar vs coal price 2011-2020

Quite separate from the cost of building new natural gas-fired power plants, or to retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants, are the actual day-to-day costs of producing power and transmitting it to numerous end-users.

To maximize efficiency, electrical utilities employ the Merit Order ranking system whereby the lowest-priced electrical generation is brought online first, then once that capacity is fully-enabled, even more power is added to the grid by using the second-lowest priced electrical generation – and so on. During times of peak usage several different kinds of electrical power may be brought online to meet demand.

You may be surprised to know that Germany, which also employs Merit Order ranking, has over one-million solar panels installed throughout the countryside with plans for another million to be installed within six years. Utility companies there are able to pass on significant savings to users between the hours of 10:00 am and 6:00 pm when solar panels are producing power most efficiently.

With only 4% of it’s electrical power coming from green energy sources, German utilities are able to pass along 10% to 40% savings on their customer’s electricity bills. Imagine the (daylight-hours only) cost savings there six years from now when fully 8% of Germany’s energy grid will be powered by sustainable energy.

The ‘golden age’ of U.S. low-subsidy sustainable energy infrastructure begins in earnest in 2013, only because it now makes economic sense to do so.

Here is a nice chart which shows (up to year 2009) the average yearly energy subsidy for different kinds of energy used in the United States.

Biofuels compare favorably to the other (primarily dedicated to) transportation fuels Oil and Gas. While Renewable electrical energy compares favorably to conventional Nuclear electrical energy.



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