Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Future is Now

By George Harvey

Every once in a while, we all get to be spectators at a grand show, as the world changes for better or for worse. The societal changes that brought about modern democracy or that put an end to slavery are examples. These are exciting times we live in, and we can hope for better times to come. Unlike some of those earlier times, perhaps we can save our society and the environment without a need for war.

We are learning as we go. The purported problems of intermittent and variable power being put on the grid, projected to put a barrier on solar and wind at 20% of the total supply, have failed to materialize in the states where the power generation is beginning to surpass 25%. In fact the 20% barrier has been raised to 80% and beyond, according to the most recent studies.

A number of people have believed that the cost of renewable power was too high to be affordable. This idea, however, is based on incomplete calculations because it fails to take normal costs into account. Our fossil fuel plants all need to be replaced as they age, even without considering problems of global warming or peak oil. The question should not be how much renewable power will cost, but how much it costs compared with fossil fuels.

The latest reports from financial analysts on the Levelized Costs of Energy say those for important renewable types have actually fallen below those of nuclear and fossil fuels. The cost of power generated by unsubsidized wind has dropped below that of natural gas. The costs of power generated by unsubsidized solar PVs and biomass have dropped below that of nuclear, even when the cost of dealing with nuclear waste is left out of the equation. And the price of solar power does not have to go much lower for it to be less expensive than natural gas.

And so we have a Grand Show. Renewable power generating capacity is being installed in ever increasing amounts because it makes clear sense to do so for every scientific or financial reason we can imagine (NIMBYism aside).

To be sure, there are a few organizations that persist in their old ways. They say the old business models they have used in the past always worked and always will. So they will not abandon gas, coal, and nuclear power. In the United States, these include some, but not all, power generating companies and those on whom they depend for fossil fuels. In other countries, there are also organizations that want massive, centralized power systems for political reasons.

But the tide has turned, and it is hard to imagine anything stopping it now. I think the next few years will produce increasing surprises.

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