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.
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.
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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