Updated 2/1/12 because I underestimated how the tiered pricing worked. Thanks to bkarney at Renewable Energy World for the comment. Last week I wrote about the time-of-use pricing scheme that PG&E offers in San Francisco, and how solar power is worth 14% more compared to a standard flat-rate electricity plan. In reality, it’s 36% or… Continue reading
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Term for Energy
I just came across an interesting interview that radio host Diane Rehm did with Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Third Industrial Revolution. The excerpts below lay out his vision for an energy future that is decentralized and democratized. (He also notes that this vision has just emerged in the past two to four years, but we’ve been around since 1974…).
The book is organized around five pillars of the third industrial revolution:
Pillar one, renewable energy. Pillar two, your buildings become your own power plants. Pillar three, you have to store it with hydrogen. And then Pillar four…the internet communication revolution completely merges with new distributing energies to create a nervous system…Pillar five is electric plug-in transport…
when distributed Internet communication starts to organize distributed energies, we have a very powerful third industrial revolution that could change everything…
You can find some renewable energy in every square inch of the world. So how do we collect them? … If renewable energies are found in every square inch of the world in some frequency or proportion, why would we only collect them in a few central points? …
[it] jump starts the European economy, that’s the idea. Millions and millions and millions of jobs. Thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises have to convert 190 million buildings to power plants over the next 40 years…
That’s the vision: a decentralized energy system can be democratized with local ownership, spreading the production of energy and the economic benefits as widely as the renewable energy resource itself.
In recent weeks, I wrote a Solar Grid Parity 101 and published an animated map of the year when major U.S. metro areas will reach solar grid parity. The most frequent criticism was “you didn’t include tax incentives!”
Yes, there is a 30% federal tax credit on the table until 2016 (barring Republican control of Congress and the White House) and it makes a substantial difference. Mouse over the following map to see the impact of the federal Investment Tax Credit on solar grid parity in 2016.
My one thought: if the ITC expires as scheduled, the 2017 map will have a lot more red than the 2016 one if we measure grid parity with incentives.
But you’ve seen the difference (from 3 states to 21 states with grid parity!), now vote in the comments:
Should the tax credit be included in a calculation of grid parity? Why or why not?
Note: This is a revision of the same post from last week, with an updated time-of-use pricing plan from Los Angeles. What if electricity cost more when the sun was shining? Many utilities are using new electronic “smart meters” to adjust the price of electricity as often as every 15 minutes, to reflect supply and… Continue reading
Solar grid parity is considered the tipping point for solar power, when installing solar power will cost less than buying electricity from the grid. It’s also a tipping point in the electricity system, when millions of Americans can choose energy production and self-reliance over dependence on their electric utility. But this simple concept conceals a… Continue reading
Update 1/12/12: I created a new post to reflect the current time-of-use pricing plan for Los Angeles Update 1/10/12: Fixed a missing pie chart and corrected a miscalculation caught by a reader What if electricity cost more when the sun was shining? Many utilities are using new electronic “smart meters” to adjust the price of… Continue reading
Yesterday New York Times reporter Matt Wald had a piece on the role of energy storage in supporting the expansion of renewable energy. However, his specific focus on solar thermal power generation overlooks the potentially high costs of relying on solar thermal power as well as the potential for distributed “storehousing” of renewable energy. Solar… Continue reading
Where does solar grid parity strike first? How fast does it spread? Click “animate” on the map below to see which major metropolitan areas can beat grid prices with local solar first, and how quickly unsubsidized solar could take over America’s major metropolitan areas.
Germany is the unquestioned world leader in renewable energy. By mid-2011, the European nation generated over 20 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power alone, and had created over 400,000 jobs in the industry. The sweet German success is no accident, however, and the following pie chart illustrates the results of a carefully… Continue reading
In the 20th century electric grid, adding a variable source of power generation like wind or solar upset the paradigm: big coal and nuclear plants run constantly, efficient natural gas plants meet intermediate demand, and fast gas, hydro or diesel peakers fill the peaks.
But the 21st century grid is different and the best strategy for utilties may be to flip their outmoded paradigm on its head.
The Nippon Paper Industries mill in Port Angeles, Wash., which makes paper for telephone books, has an average load of 53 megawatts, which is roughly 1,000 times the peak load of a typical house. But the mill’s load can run up to 73 megawatts.
One of the big electricity consumers at the plant is the pulping operation, which turns wood chips into an intermediate product on its way to becoming paper.
While the mill pulps the paper at the rate at which its machines are the most efficient, it could pulp faster, turning pulp into a kind of battery. “What we’ve looked at is the possibility of more storage capacity,’’ said Harold S. Norlund, the mill manager. “A phone call could come and say, ‘We have a problem for 24 hours — can you use more energy?’“ he said…[the mill] would switch to electricity from wind at certain hours and save the wood pulp for burning as needed later.
The adjacent graphic illustrates the reversed paradigm. By planning on variable sources first (wind, solar, etc) – as in the bottom frame – utilities can think creatively about how to match supply and demand. In some cases, it means finding flexible generation sources to fill the gap. In this case from Wald, it means moving the black demand line.
None of these options is limitless (or always cost-effective), but each is key to making a renewable-first grid work. These example are also instructive in questioning the old grid paradigm’s role in a renewable energy world: should the electricity system limit new wind and solar power just because we’re used to running a lot of big power plants 24-7?
No. And with simple solutions like demand-shifting, we shouldn’t have to.