Solar Energy in the Midwest

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Clean-Powered New Zealand: Not Living In Caves

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Most clean energy sites get reader comments like: “You hippies all just want us to live in caves!” As if the only actual usable energy is fossil energy.

Anyone who writes about renewable energy or climate policy soon discovers your fear that if we replace coal and gas electricity, if we switch to wind and solar, hydro and geothermal, biomass and ocean power, that means there will be no more life as we know it.

nz-80percent-renewable-no-dark-caves

mage via Shutterstock/MattJones

We will descend from the first-world standard of living we are used to — to living in caves.

Well, perhaps I can show you first-hand experience of what it might be like, living in a nation that is 80 percent powered by renewable energy, because I’ve lived in one for almost a year.

I moved from California, with its typical American first world standard of living, to New Zealand — with a pretty much identical standard of living, 80 percent powered by renewable energy.

I can attest that, other than subway train drivers, New Zealander’s don’t spend much time in dark caves.

If you live in one of the states in the U.S. that is over 80 percent coal-powered, you might be unable to imagine such a radically different way of keeping the lights on. But you’d find that your actual standard of living will not change if your life is 80 percent clean powered.

For full article go to: New Zealand

 

Solar Gets Cheaper, but Not Equally

Solar Gets Cheaper, but Not Equally.

In January, I plotted the size of state solar markets against their average installed cost and found surprisingly little correlation.  When Lawrence Berkeley Labs put out their 2011 version of Tracking the Sun (IV), it was possible to update the chart, which I did in two stages.

The first chart simply overlays the 2010 average installed cost on the original chart, with arrows indicating the movement of the prices in most states (I ran out of room in the small market states).   It’s almost like a rainbow rain of falling solar prices.

The Grid Price

Utilities like to compare new electricity production to their existing fleet, which means comparing new solar power projects to long-ago-paid-off (amortized) coal and nuclear power plants that can produce electricity for 3-4 cents per kWh.  But this is apples to oranges, because utilities can’t get any new electricity for that price, from any source.  

A more appropriate measure of the grid price is the marginal cost for a utility of getting wholesale power from a new power plant.  In California, this is called the “market price referent” and it’s around 12 cents per kWh.  The figure varies from state to state.  

But while the market price referent provides a reasonable comparison for the cost of utility-scale solar, it’s not the number that matters for solar installed on rooftops or near buildings.  In those cases, the power is used “behind the meter,” and depending on the type of state policy for net metering, the customer can essentially spin their electric meter backward when their solar panels produce electricity.  That means that solar power is really competing against the energy cost on a utility bill, known as the “retail price.” 

The following map shows the average retail electricity price by state across the U.S.  It ranges from 8-10 cents in the interior to 15 cents per kWh and higher on the coasts.  

For full article go to: http://energyselfreliantstates.org/

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