By the Fairewinds Crew
For several decades, electric energy visionaries like Amory Lovins foresaw a future that was powered by energy from the sun and wind. The electric power industry claimed that electric generation corporations needed what the industry calls ‘baseload’ power from CONG (coal, oil, nuclear, and gas) for the times when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. In spite of the CONG Corps attempt to paint Amory Lovins as a crazy hippie and not a scientist, Lovins persevered in his effort to design and create power sources that would be economical to run and would also protect the environment from the ravages of coal, oil, nuclear, and gas.
It turned out that the visionaries like Amory were correct! Quartz Media, the business media group developed by The Atlantic in 2012 for mobile devices, just released a story entitled Solar plus batteries aim to retire natural gas plants in 2019, journalist Michael J. Coren wrote:
Solar developers are bidding prices for new electricity capacity lower than natural gas plants even after adding batteries. In December, Credit Suisse confirmed that utility-scale solar-plus-storage was already cheaper than gas peaker plants in many cases.
After years in the doldrums, US energy-storage installations, mostly lithium-ion batteries, are taking off…
What exactly does this mean? The cost of electricity from solar and wind power began to drop more than 10-years ago. The price for solar has dropped a staggering 70% since 2010! During the last five years, electricity produced by solar and wind became less expensive to generate than the old CONG ‘baseload’ power, allegedly the only ‘reliable’ form of electric generation according to the energy corps and CONG investors. But now, battery storage has become so inexpensive that storage costs plus renewable generation costs are now cheaper than the old-fashioned and expensive baseload power any time of the day! As a result, U.S. battery-storage installations are up 57% compared to just a year ago and prices are projected to fall another 52% during the coming decade. Energy analysts even project battery storage capacity to rise to more than 1 terawatt during the next twenty years. Such dramatic decreases in price are not only good for the bottom line, they’re good for the planet as well.
Frequent readers of all things Fairewinds Energy Education may remember that Arnie Gundersen gave a presentation at Northwestern University back in March 2016, that identified this trend was already occurring. Jeff McMahon of Forbes Magazine covered Arnie’s speech and wrote a story about it entitled Did Tesla Just Kill Nuclear Power.
In his Northwestern presentation and another at McGill University in Canada, Arnie proved that building new nuclear power plants would actually make climate change worse. He noted that not only are nukes more expensive to construct than solar or wind, but they also take a decade to build compared to less than a year for a solar field or a wind farm. Nuclear proponents ignore these costs, and downplay meltdowns and waste storage. They claim that the climate crisis will take a vacation while they build their expensive solution.
The Forbes article identified two takeaways from Arnie’s Northwestern seminar. First, global climate change is a NOW problem that demands a NOW solution. Waiting decades and wasting billions of dollars for new atomic reactors to come online will only make matters worse. Second, the atomic power industry is hiding behind climate change as a marketing ploy. As Arnie said at Northwestern:
“We all know that the wind doesn’t blow consistently and the sun doesn’t shine every day, but the nuclear industry would have you believe that humankind is smart enough to develop techniques to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time human kind is so dumb we can’t figure out a way to store solar electricity overnight. To me that doesn’t make sense.”
The data Arnie presented is from Lazard, an independent investment bank that creates a yearly energy survey. You may see that energy data presented here and also hear a discussion with the researches who reviewed the data and created the findings that Arnie and Fairewinds cite.
Unlike the next generation of proposed nuclear-powered reactors, nothing about battery storage systems are theoretical. One only has to look to the recently built Hornsdale storage facility in South Australia to see the huge potential energy storage systems possess. Built by Tesla in less than 100-days to address frequent blackouts experienced in that region, the facility has helped stabilize the grid and avoid outages, all at lower costs for those using that electricity (the ratepayers)! The system was even able to respond within record time, 100 milliseconds to be exact, to inject electricity back into the electric grid after it was disrupted by a lightning strike. Furthermore, since the facility’s inception, plans for 2,500 megawatt-hour worth of battery storage facilities have been announced in Australia. The battery boom has only just begun.
Energy storage is not just limited to batteries either. There are a multitude of methods under development, such as the ‘sun in a box’ system built by researchers at MIT. The ‘sun in a box’ design would store excess energy from solar or wind power in tanks filled with white-hot molten silicon. When the electricity is needed, the light created by the molten metal is converted back into electricity. Another new idea is to use excess electricity created by off-shore wind farms to pump compressed air in large rocks on the sea floor for release at a later time. And, yet another idea is to use the tried and true method of hydro power, without dams and injury to farmland and aquatic species. In times of excess electricity production, water is pumped uphill into retaining ponds. The water is then released back downhill, creating electricity as it passes through turbines. Utilizing all these storage techniques will help ensure the most cost effective and efficient method can be deployed in a wide variety of climates and locations.
Currently there are approximately 450 atomic power plants operating worldwide, but many more are being shut down and decommissioned than are being built. Amazing new energy storage facilities are proving that we are moving to a world where we no longer need coal, oil, nuclear, or gas to act as alleged ‘baseload’ power. If Wall Street’s financial analysis prevails over the political clout of nuclear lobbyists, no new nuclear power plants will ever be built. And that would create a cleaner, safer future for generations to come.