Three noteworthy developments came into the news in the last few days of October, which taken together may show a picture of things to come. It is a future in which natural gas may become increasingly irrelevant.
To start with, the cost of offshore wind power has gone through a startling reduction. According to an article in Forbes titled “Clean Energy Will Continue to Hit Dirty Power as Costs Continue to Fall,” while the cost of renewable energy has continued to drop, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) from offshore wind power has seen declines that have been almost astonishing. BloombergNEF has put that decline at 32% in the last year, to an average of $78 per megawatt-hour (MWh), and the lowest price for electricity produced in the North Sea at about $53/MWh. This is well below the cost of electricity from coal or natural gas in Europe, and less than half that from new nuclear power plants (http://bit.ly/forbes-offshore).
Another article, also in Forbes, was “Huge Battery Investments Drop Energy-Storage Costs Faster Than Expected, Threatening Natural Gas.” According to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute, “Breakthrough Batteries,” the costs of batteries for storing electricity are expected to drop from the current $187 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to $87 per kWh in 2023. (Please keep in mind that we are not talking about the cost of electricity here; we are talking about that of the battery, per kWh it can store.) Such a reduction in cost is seen to be disruptive to fossil fuels used to produce grid power (http://bit.ly/forbes-batteries).
The effects of reductions in costs of renewable electricity and electric storage can be seen clearly in the third of the articles. This article, which appeared at the website of pv magazine, was titled “World’s Largest Storage Battery – 2.5 GWh – To Replace Gas Peaker Plants in Queens.” It is about a new battery facility that just was approved by the New York Public Service Commission. The battery, which has a power capacity of 316 megawatts (MW), will be capable of delivering 2,528 MWh of electricity. Ravenswood Development, the owner of a pair of natural gas peaking plants with a combined capacity of 316 MW, plans to demolish them and replace them with the battery at the same site (http://bit.ly/pvm-queens-battery).
While the battery in Queens may be the biggest in the world when it is built, it will by no means hold that title very long. New batteries are being proposed regularly, and many are huge. But the cost of electricity from this new plant is likely to be a small fraction of the cost from the peaking plants it is replacing. And it is not very far from really big offshore wind farms scheduled to be built south of Long Island, whose energy it will back up and level out. It is almost certain to reduce not only carbon emissions and other pollution, but also costs.