Cost savings of renewable energy might outweigh costs of adapting to renewable energy

Producing power from the wind and sun isn't as simple as just swapping a wind turbine for a coal-fired power plant. Every source of power we use has to work with our electrical grid, an old, imperfect, complex system that wasn't put together with the needs of renewables in mind. For instance, because renewable generation is intermittent generation, using it goes hand-in-hand with ramping production from traditional generation up and down. When you don't have enough wind, you turn up the gas-fire generators. That kind of treatment can put stress on machinery and rack up costs in maintenance and repairs. But new research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that, at least in monetary terms, those costs are dwarfed by the cost savings you get from using more wind and solar power and, thus, not having to pay for fuel sources.

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  1. Just based on a quick word search of the study document in question would suggest that this conclusion doesn't even take into account the huge environmental and social costs around conventional energy production that are typically externalized.

    On another note, I've heard a very similar argument made for constructing buildings to meet environmental standards (e.g. LEED and etc.).

  2. Wow you beat me to it!

    Critics of renewable energy never seem to include the hidden costs (negative externalities) of fossil fuels. As fossil fuels become scarce, there are greater costs associated with massive strip mining of low grade fuels, more pollution from burning low grade fuel, and more productive land lost in an increasingly crowded world.

    Wind and solar don't destroy aquifers and poison water sheds. They don't create mountains of ash, toxic shale rubble, acid mine drainage, or radioactive waste. Wind power doesn't reduce farmland to sterile rubble, in fact wind turbines can be sited in the middle of farmers fields. They take up less land than a coal powered plant would need for parking and storage, while the coal plant is being fed by strip mines and shits out mountains of toxic waste.

  3. They don't create mountains of ash, toxic shale rubble, acid mine drainage, or radioactive waste.

    Ummm, yes they do. Solar panels involve a witch's brew of nasty chemicals

    Ummm, no they don't. Mountains?

    The manufacture of solar cells produces far fewer air pollutants than conventional fossil fuel technologies. Producing electricity from solar cells reduces air pollutants by about 90 percent in comparison to using conventional fossil fuel technologies.

    How about keeping it in perspective and looking at externalities while you're at it? There is no energy source that's perfect, but solar vastly outmatches fossil fuels, etc. Please try not to distort that fact with mountains of FUD.

  4. Here's a recent article that has the hard numbers from California solar manufacturers reports to the State:

    The state records show the 17 companies, which had 44 manufacturing facilities in California, produced 46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water from 2007 through the first half of 2011. Roughly 97 percent of it was taken to hazardous waste facilities throughout the state, but more than 1.4 million pounds were transported to nine other states: Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Several solar energy experts said they have not calculated the industry's total waste and were surprised at what the records showed.

    The roughly 20-year life of a solar panel still makes it some of the cleanest energy technology currently available. Producing solar is still significantly cleaner than fossil fuels. Energy derived from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, for example, creates more than 10 times more hazardous waste than the same energy created by a solar panel, according to Mulvaney.

    The article points to Dustin Mulvaney a professor of environmental studies at San Jose State -- he seems to be a "good guy" i.e. not a oil/gas/etc shill.
    There is a speech by him here:
    Mulvaney shares the toxic side of solar energy | Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation

    Edit -- was curious about how this would compare to nuclear... (I know, apples/oranges)
    Just looked at the Nuclear Energy Institute's waste info page -- US reactors produce a total of ~5 million lbs of used fuel a year. The article above implies over 10 million lbs per year of toxic waste just from California PV manufacturers. The physicist in me needs to point out that the reactor waste at least becomes less toxic with time -- the PV waste will likely remain toxic until swallowed by our red-giant sun.

  5. Well, unless the raw ingredients for solar panels come out of a unicorns butt, they have the same mountains of waste associated with them -- mining waste and petrochemicals.

    Once again, it's nowhere near the same as fossil fuels. Not even close. I thought we discussed this?

    Wait about ten years

    In ten years, the technology will be even much cleaner than it is today. You cannot say that for fossil fuels which can only be made slightly cleaner over time. With fossil fuels, it's hopeless. With more sustainable energy, it's inevitable.

    Without an economic/envriro-friendly storage ability, one is still dependent on some sort of reliable baseline power (typically, coal/nuke).

    Give it time and there'll be much more sustainable storage as well along with a grid that makes us far less reliant on storage in the first place.

    Gas isn't great, but it's also a more sustainable alternative than coal/nukes if the process of acquiring gas is properly regulated. Electricity from natural gas produces less CO2 per kilowatt-hour than electricity from coal if it's done right.

    Boulder, CO is doing it right and doing it very well despite the oppressive forces of industry that tried to subvert its citizens with propaganda filled with lies and half-truths. Boulder will require gas suppliers to certify their leakage rates, etc. and will switch to bio-gas when it's possible.

    In the meantime, Boulder is going to show the rest of the USA how it's done and much more aggressively switch over to renewable energy as much is feasible (despite the forces that work against them).

    Where there's a will, there's a goddam way.

    When I told some people back in the day that we were going to make marijuana legal in my town, I was scoffed at ...mocked... derided... Who's laughing now, bitches?

    Sure, we got to keep trying harder to get more sustainable energy increasingly sustainable, but please, once again... keep it in proper perspective of the much worse alternatives.

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