Projected Cost of Electricity in Fifteen Years—Eight Energy Technologies

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I just blogged about the Yosemite solar panel boondoggle. I got to thinking that H&R readers might like to see the projected levelized costs of electricity in the new Electric Power Research Institute report. Remember again that levelized costs take into account all capital, fuel, and financing costs. In 2015, solar will be 4 to 7 times and onshore wind as much as twice as expensive as coal and natural gas electricity generation. 

EPRI 2015 levelized cost estimates

But what about by 2025? Surely costs for renewables will go down? 

EPRI 2025 levelized cost estimates

And indeed they do. The coal estimates include the extra costs for carbon capture and sequestration. Photovoltaic looks better but is still twice to three times more expensive than nuclear and carbon-neutral coal. In any case, I offer these tables for your delectation. 

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  1. Got a bigger font?

    1. Forget your glasses, old timer?

      1. I’ve got my glasses on, whippersnapper.

    2. On most web browsers, clicking the CTRL and + sign simultaneously magnify the page (but can do some weird things with text wrapping). CTRL and – sign demag.

  2. Want electricity to cheap to meter with no CO2 emissions?

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors!!!!!!

    http://energyfromthorium.com/

    1. Duh.

      Popular Science ran an article about this a few months ago, as part of their energy transition special.

  3. IceTrey: From my column on the Japanese nuclear disaster:

    One innovative approach to using nuclear energy to produce electricity safely is to develop thorium reactors. Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive element, which, unlike certain isotopes of uranium, cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction. However, thorium can be doped with enough uranium or plutonium to sustain such a reaction. Liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTR) have a lot to recommend them with regard to safety. Fueled by a molten mixture of thorium and uranium dissolved in fluoride salts of lithium and beryllium at atmospheric pressure, LFTRs cannot melt down (strictly speaking the fuel is already melted).

    Because LFTRs operate at atmospheric pressure, they are less likely than conventional pressurized reactors to spew radioactive elements if an accident occurs. In addition, an increase in operating temperature slows down the nuclear chain reaction, inherently stabilizing the reactor. And LFTRs are designed with a salt plug at the bottom that melts if reactor temperatures somehow do rise too high, draining reactor fluid into a containment vessel where it essentially freezes.

    It is estimated that 83 percent of LFTR waste products are safe within 10 years, while the remainder needs to be stored for 300 years. Another advantage is that LFTRs can use plutonium and nuclear waste as fuel, transmuting them into much less radioactive and harmful elements, thus eliminating the need for waste storage lasting up to 10,000 years. No commercial thorium reactors currently exist, although China announced a project earlier this year that aims to develop such reactors.

    The main problem with energy supply systems is that for the last 100 years, governments have insisted on meddling with them, using subsidies, setting rates, and picking technologies. Consequently, entrepreneurs, consumers, and especially policymakers have no idea which power supply technologies actually provide the best balance between cost-effectiveness and safety.

    1. India is working on this too, I read somewhere.

    2. essentially freezes

      Essentially? Is there another name for the liquid->solid state change?

    3. Re: Ron Bailey,

      The main problem with energy supply systems is that for the last 100 years, governments have insisted on meddling with them, using subsidies, setting rates, and picking technologies.

      Ain’t that the boldfaced truth!

  4. But the enviros have repeatedly said solar is already cost competitive!

    1. I’m an EE with considerable design and operations experience with solar, both PV and thermal. My home enjoys the benefits of a small solar plant; my utility company rarely receives any significant income from me.

      Decent energy storage is the main drawback, not solar power acquisition itself. Putting the energy somewhere during non-generating periods that isn’t expensive and/or prone to wearing out is a serious problem unless you have room for (hopefully enclosed) pumped water storage. If I had a little better storage system, I could go completely off grid and be quite secure that we would not go without heat or electricity. I expect that to happen within ten years or so; just in the normal course of technology getting incrementally better.

      For now, ultracaps with decent storage capacities/volume remain tantalizingly out of reach; batteries still remain poor choices (although inevitable right now) because they don’t last; hot salt is very dangerous and technically difficult. Pumped storage is the best choice by far — but has a significant space requirement.

      Still, solar improves in leaps and bounds, then seems to stagnate, then jerks forward again. Yet it already provides an ROI that makes it worth doing at any level you care to try it — from one home to city sized plants, given only that you live in a generally sunny region and you have the capital to invest until payback begins.

      Overall, the chart’s projection for solar is almost ridiculously conservative and wrongheaded; given that, I’m not inclined to put much confidence in the rest of it.

      1. Good for you! I hope you’re right and Ron is wrong.

        That’s a nice anecdote, but can you share some specific information with us? Is your ROI based on the total cost or the subsidized cost? How big is a small solar plant?

        What is the equivalent cost/mwh for your system? What part of the country do you live in?

        If the chart is ridiculously conservative, I would imagine that it was meant to be so. If I was a business planning out my energy costs 10-20 years into the future, I wouldn’t want to bet on hopes & dreams.

      2. Decent energy storage is the main drawback, not solar power acquisition itself.

        Yes, exploration is a minimal cost for solar; we know where the sun is.

      3. That said, I don’t think you’re ever going to really overcome the 1 kW/m^2 limit for insolation. Stuff’s too diffuse to use for a primary energy source for an industrial civilization.

      4. Share some numbers. You can’t just assert good ROI here. I want to know your total capital outlay for materials and construction, financing costs, local power prices, peak and average capacity of your system, storage capacity, daily average insolation and your location, peak and average load on your system, and a few other data like system efficiency. What do you expect your payoff time to be?

        If you’re going to make the argument that you’re getting an actual return on your investment other than simply not paying an electric bill, you need to give us some numbers. Like a previous poster stated, I’d love for you to be right, but I’ve already run the numbers for my house for both PV and wind, and my payoff was about 9 decades. Don’t forget to use real interest rates (a home equity rate would suffice) rather than subsidized green energy rates. And no grants. Or better yet, explicitly state how much I’m paying for your solar plant through your tax supported subsidies.

      5. To your point about whether or not the data in the table are overly conservative, I would note that for at least the types of thermal plants that I am familiar with (PC, NGCC, and Nuclear), these numbers fall closely in line with internal estimates used by major utilities. These are not just guesses, but based on actual costing models for new plant construction with real basis in prices companies are paying now.

        Anecdotally, I know of three recent PC units that were built in the western US with BACT and similar heat rates to that table, and their installed cost lands right in the middle of the range for PC units.

      6. Yet it already provides an ROI that makes it worth doing at any level you care to try it

        That’s not what the data seems to say. Especially not when you factor in maintenance costs. Having to replace a battery array periodically is not cheap.

        1. When I ran my numbers, try as I might, I could not get a project payoff date sooner than the expected life of the system. I would be willing to bet that the Yosemite PV system won’t pay off before it has to be replaced.

  5. I don’t suppose anybody bothered to run the costs without “carbon capture and sequestration” for coal and natural gas?

    1. It’s there in the original. See the link down the page a couple of articles. Good readin’!

    2. Doesn’t the third row indicate Nat. Gas w/o carbon capture? Or am I totally misreading the chart?

      1. You’re right.

        See the link down the page a couple of articles.

        Links? We don’t click no steekin’ links!

    3. TEH EXTERNALITIES. THE PRECIOUSSSESSS EXTERNALITIEISISIEEES…

      MUST HAVE THE PRECIOUSSSESS……

  6. Where’s fusion? [Squints.] I don’t see it.

    1. Well, we have a model rocket as our manned spaceflight plan currently, so Helium-3 is off the table for the moment. In other news, ITER.

      1. Nah, SpaceX will be flying us to the moonbase in 2020.

      2. Go ITER!!!

        I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  7. You forgot to add the most important column, and the only one that really matters: a column indicating the political correctness of each option.

    When this is added and the data resorted by it, the rows amazingly reverse themselves.

  8. I hope those 2025 projections were put up there as a joke. Did EPRI estimate 2010 energy costs in 1995? If so, how accurate were they? The spot price of oil in 1995 was ~$18/barrel.

  9. The display font is rather small on Chrome. Have you thought about using an one-line spreadsheet like editgrid.com or Google docs.

  10. Excellent point!

    1. That was for Colin @ 5:14 about the importance of the PC index

  11. But, Green Jobs!!!!

    The more you spend on solar, the more jobs are produced, right?
    Multiplier effect!

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