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Thursday, February 8, 2018

THE STATE OF ENERGY: Electricity

I regularly review the state of energy, as for example two years ago:

     RENEWABLE ENERGY IS AT A CRUCIAL CROSSROAD:  Where are We Today?

Or, 4-5 years ago:

     WHY IS WIND ENERGY SO UNPOPULAR?

INT. OTEC SYMPOSIUM

     GEOTHERMAL ENERGY TODAY

Eight years ago I used the following:
  • ...table showing how states differ on electricity from renewables:
    • Washington  74% (but 93% of the clean contribution came from hydroelectricity)
    • Oregon         61%  (88% hydro)
    • New York     21%  (85% hydro)
    • California     21%  (65% hydro, 12% geothermal, 15% wind)
    • Alaska          16%  (99% hydro)
    • Hawaii           8 %  (11% hydro, 14% geo, 28% wind, 
    •                                  MSW/biomass 48%)
    • New Jersey   1 %  
  • The latest data from 2016:
    • Washington    77% (+  3%)
    • Oregon           71% (+10%)
    • New York        25% (+  4%)
    • California        40% (+19%)
    • Alaska            33% (+17%)
    • Hawaii            15% (  +7%)
    • New Jersey      3% (  +2%)
If you noticed, all the above had to do with electricity.   Much of the funding for renewable energy the past four decades has focused on this energy delivery system.  But, here is a breakdown on what are the current sources of power generation in the USA, and, if you set aside hydroelectricity, for this option has long been prevalent, green progress has been awfully slow:
  • 33.8%  natural gas
  • 30.4%  coal
  • 19.7%  nuclear
  • 14.9%  renewables (hydro 6.5, wind 5.6, biomass 1.5, solar 0.9, geo 0.4)
  •   0.6%  petroleum (Hawaii uses most of this)
Today, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the average price of electricity in Hawaii is 23.87 cents/kWh, compared to:
  • 17.24  Alaska
  • 15.23  California
  • 10.27  USA average
  •   8.08  Idaho
  •   7.68  Washington
How does this compare to the world (cents/kWh)?
  • 33  Germany
  • 29  Italy
  • 21  USA??? (how can this be so different from above???)
  • 16  Canada
  • 14  Brazil
  •   9  China
  •   8  India
So trying a third source:
When it comes to world-wide energy statistics, varied sources give varied data.  For example, those graphs above and below come from 2011 numbers, so you need to careful about the date.  Let me confuse you one more time.  Here is the international electricity price comparison relative to purchasing power:
What is purchasing power?  Click on THIS.

From Wikipedia about Europe (2017 prices):


After a while, if you look at a sufficient number of sources, you can get a pretty good assessment of the reality.  German electricity indeed costs an average just above 30 cents/kWh, while in the USA, the average today is 10.38 cents/kWh.  It all depends on who is using this energy (cents/kWh in the U.S.):
  • 13.01  residential
  • 10.55  commercial
  • 06.79  industrial
  • 09.49  transportation
Here is a potential comparison of what it costs to produce electricity by source:


What does the above say (for some, you can better read the details by clicking on that graphic)?
  • The vertical column is in dollars per megawatt-hour, so divide by 10 to get cents/kWh.
  • Those numbers represent something called the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) by 2020 according to 2015 numbers.
  • This table anticipates a carbon tax at $15/metric ton of carbon dioxide.
  • Thus, the average costs in cents/kWh are:
    •   4.8  geothermal
    •   7.3  natural gas using advanced combined cycle
    •   7.4  windfarms on land
    •   8.4  hydro
    •   9.5  conventional coal
    •   9.5  advanced nuclear
    • 10.1  biomass
    • 11.6  cleaner coal
    • 12.5  solar PV
    • 14.2  natural gas using conventional combutsion turbine
    • 19.7  offshore windfarm
    • 24.0  solar thermal
The bottom line is clear.  If global warming is a passing fad, then fossil fuels will be used for a very long time to come.  If there is something to global climate change, then a carbon tax will begin to be phased in and both geothermal and wind energy will begin to dominate.  Geothermal is baseload, while the winds come and go, so storage will need to be added, which costs money.  Coal, natural gas and nuclear are also baseload.  However, nuclear fission seems to have priced itself out of the market.  Clean coal?  Means different things to everyone.

At the Energy Week gathering I just attended in Japan, the focus was on electricity and fuel cell cars.  Even with global warming, the development of future electricity pathways seems well in hand.  However, thinking really long-term, as our Sun and all the stars fuse hydrogen for energy, what is happening with this electricity option?

Ground transport will be the next battleground.  Internal combustion engines appear to be on the way out.  The question now:  batteries or fuel cells.  And what happened to biofuels?

What about the cheapest means of shipping goods, the ocean, where electricity seems irrelevant?  Windpower?  Maybe.

Finally, more and more aviation is gaining in importance, including the contribution to air pollution.  No hope for electricity here, although Solar Impulse made a blip.  Certainly no one appears to be paying much attention to this future need.  For the enterprising there are huge opportunities in next generation air travel.  But would you be willing to sacrifice a career for something that might not be commercialized in your lifetime?

Tomorrow I will delve into these topics, and more.  I've had numerous postings on The Future of Energy, and eight years ago had a five part series, ending with #5.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,033 points, the second-most ever (last week was the worst), and is now down to 23,860.  The VIX ended the day at 33.46.


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