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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Confusing Data from the DOE

on the Future Cost of Renewable Energy

By George Harvey

Over the past couple years, there have been increasing amounts of information coming from the advocates of nuclear power and fossil fuels that seem out of touch with reality. Their estimates of both the amount of renewable power being installed and the cost of electricity it would produce appeared to be based on bad data.

At first glance, it seemed that they were using old sources in a world where the rate of change is clearly increasing. One might think that the whole thing would be settled as the Department of Energy (DOE) and Energy Information Administration (EIA) updated their figures, as they do annually. Last year, however, the projections for the cost solar power in 2017 was significantly higher than the actual costs of projects going up in New England, all around us.

The costs of electricity from renewable sources have been dropping below the costs of “grid” power from utilities. One after another, we have seen small companies offer power from solar and wind farms for prices lower than prices charged by utilities. Green Energy Times has repeatedly run articles advising people that there is no economic reason why they should not invest in renewable power now – it will only lower their power costs. Yet the DOE-projected grid parity for wind and solar – the point when they were able to compete on an even basis with coal, gas, and nuclear –would be achieved in 2025.

The amounts of power from various sources estimated by the DOE and EIA also appeared to be wrong. Projections from the DOE have shown that coal and gas would dominate power generation for quite a long time to come.

Two interesting news items came up in September. One, appeared in various news sources on the 10th of the month, saying that nearly 100 businesses and other organizations had sent a letter to the head of the EIA asking that the agency change the methods used for their calculations. An example they cite is an EIA projection that we might get to have 14% to 16% of our power from renewable power, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biofuels, by 2040. The problem is that at the time the figures were released, their own statistics on installed renewable power said we were getting 14.2% already.

The following day, Lazard, a financial advising company, released its analysis of the current energy market costs, “Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy, Version 7.0.” Aside from energy efficiency, the least expensive power they list is from wind. Solar and biomass are listed as more expensive than gas, but less expensive than nuclear, and the price is still declining on both solar and biomass. These figures are for unsubsidized power – the price of subsidized power is lower. They represent the average wholesale prices for electrical power. The table shows the figures, ordered by average of high and low costs.


Cost in dollars per MWh


0 – 50

Energy Efficiency

45 – 95


61 – 87

Gas, Combined Cycle

89 – 99


87 – 116


86 – 122


65 – 145


89 – 142


102 – 135


179 – 230

Gas, peaking


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