If Solar And Wind Are So Cheap, Why Are They Making Electricity So Expensive?


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Over the last year, the media have published story after story after story about the declining price of solar panels and wind turbines.

People who read these stories are understandably left with the impression that the more solar and wind energy we produce, the lower electricity prices will become.

And yet that’s not what’s happening. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Between 2009 and 2017, the price of solar panels per watt declined by 75 percent while the price of wind turbines per watt declined by 50 percent.

And yet — during the same period — the price of electricity in places that deployed significant quantities of renewables increased dramatically.

Electricity prices increased by:

 

 

What gives? If solar panels and wind turbines became so much cheaper, why did the price of electricity rise instead of decline?

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Electricity prices increased by 51 percent in Germany during its expansion of solar and wind energy. EP

One hypothesis might be that while electricity from solar and wind became cheaper, other energy sources like coal, nuclear, and natural gas became more expensive, eliminating any savings, and raising the overall price of electricity.

But, again, that’s not what happened.

The price of natural gas declined by 72 percent in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016 due to the fracking revolution. In Europe, natural gas prices dropped by a little less than half over the same period.

The price of nuclear and coal in those place during the same period was mostly flat.

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Electricity prices increased 24 percent in California during its solar energy build-out from 2011 to 2017. EP

Another hypothesis might be that the closure of nuclear plants resulted in higher energy prices.

Evidence for this hypothesis comes from the fact that nuclear energy leaders Illinois, France, Sweden and South Korea enjoy some of the cheapest electricity in the world.

Since 2010, California closed one nuclear plant (2,140 MW installed capacity) while Germany closed 5 nuclear plants and 4 other reactors at currently-operating plants (10,980 MW in total).

Electricity in Illinois is 42 percent cheaper than electricity in California while electricity in France is 45 percent cheaper than electricity in Germany.

But this hypothesis is undermined by the fact that the price of the main replacement fuels, natural gas and coal, remained low, despite increased demand for those two fuels in California and Germany.

That leaves us with solar and wind as the key suspects behind higher electricity prices. But why would cheaper solar panels and wind turbines make electricity more expensive?

The main reason appears to have been predicted by a young German economist in 2013.

In a paper for Energy Policy, Leon Hirth estimated that the economic value of wind and solar would decline significantly as they become a larger part of electricity supply.

The reason? Their fundamentally unreliable nature. Both solar and wind produce too much energy when societies don’t need it, and not enough when they do.

Solar and wind thus require that natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, batteries or some other form of reliable power be ready at a moment’s notice to start churning out electricity when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining.

And unreliability requires solar- and/or wind-heavy places like Germany, California and Denmark to pay neighboring nations or states to take their solar and wind energy when they are producing too much of it.

Hirth predicted that the economic value of wind on the European grid would decline 40 percent once it becomes 30 percent of electricity while the value of solar would drop by 50 percent when it got to just 15 percent.

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Hirth predicted that the economic value of wind would decline 40% once it reached 30% of electricity, and that the value of solar would drop by 50% when it reached 15% of electricity. EP

In 2017, the share of electricity coming from wind and solar was 53 percent in Denmark, 26 percent in Germany, and 23 percent in California. Denmark and Germany have the first and second most expensive electricity in Europe.

By reporting on the declining costs of solar panels and wind turbines but not on how they increase electricity prices, journalists are — intentionally or unintentionally — misleading policymakers and the public about those two technologies.

The Los Angeles Times last year reported that California’s electricity prices were rising, but failed to connect the price rise to renewables, provoking a sharp rebuttal from UC Berkeley economist James Bushnell.

“The story of how California’s electric system got to its current state is a long and gory one,” Bushnell wrote, but “the dominant policy driver in the electricity sector has unquestionably been a focus on developing renewable sources of electricity generation.”

'He's our power hitter - but only on sunny days.'

 

Part of the problem is that many reporters don’t understand electricity. They think of electricity as a commodity when it is, in fact, a service — like eating at a restaurant.

“The price we pay for the luxury of eating out isn’t just the cost of the ingredients most of which which, like solar panels and wind turbines, have declined for decades.

Rather, the price of services like eating out and electricity reflect the cost not only of a few ingredients but also their preparation and delivery.

This is a problem of bias, not just energy illiteracy. Normally skeptical journalists routinely give renewables a pass.

The reason isn’t because they don’t know how to report critically on energy — they do regularly when it comes to non-renewable energy sources — but rather because they don’t want to.”

That could — and should — change. Reporters have an obligation to report accurately and fairly on all issues they cover, especially ones as important as energy and the environment.

A good start would be for them to investigate why, if solar and wind are so cheap, they are making electricity so expensive.

Article Re-Posted from Forbes Michael Shellenberger, 

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MIT Study: Adding power choices reduces cost and risk of carbon-free electricity


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New MIT research shows that, unless steady, continuous carbon-free sources of electricity are included in the mix, costs of decarbonizing the electrical system could be prohibitive and end up derailing attempts to mitigate the most severe effects of global climate change. Image: Chelsea Turner

To curb greenhouse gas emissions, nations, states, and cities should aim for a mix of fuel-saving, flexible, and highly reliable sources.

In major legislation passed at the end of August, California committed to creating a 100 percent carbon-free electricity grid — once again leading other nations, states, and cities in setting aggressive policies for slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Now, a study by MIT researchers provides guidelines for cost-effective and reliable ways to build such a zero-carbon electricity system.

MIT-Energy-Mix-01_0The best way to tackle emissions from electricity, the study finds, is to use the most inclusive mix of low-carbon electricity sources.

Costs have declined rapidly for wind power, solar power, and energy storage batteries in recent years, leading some researchers, politicians, and advocates to suggest that these sources alone can power a carbon-free grid. But the new study finds that across a wide range of scenarios and locations, pairing these sources with steady carbon-free resources that can be counted on to meet demand in all seasons and over long periods — such as nuclear, geothermal, bioenergy, and natural gas with carbon capture — is a less costly and lower-risk route to a carbon-free grid.

The new findings are described in a paper published today in the journal Joule, by MIT doctoral student Nestor Sepulveda, Jesse Jenkins PhD ’18, Fernando de Sisternes PhD ’14, and professor of nuclear science and engineering and Associate Provost Richard Lester.

The need for cost effectiveness

“In this paper, we’re looking for robust strategies to get us to a zero-carbon electricity supply, which is the linchpin in overall efforts to mitigate climate change risk across the economy,” Jenkins says. To achieve that, “we need not only to get to zero emissions in the electricity sector, but we also have to do so at a low enough cost that electricity is an attractive substitute for oil, natural gas, and coal in the transportation, heat, and industrial sectors, where decarbonization is typically even more challenging than in electricity. ”

Sepulveda also emphasizes the importance of cost-effective paths to carbon-free electricity, adding that in today’s world, “we have so many problems, and climate change is a very complex and important one, but not the only one. So every extra dollar we spend addressing climate change is also another dollar we can’t use to tackle other pressing societal problems, such as eliminating poverty or disease.” Thus, it’s important for research not only to identify technically achievable options to decarbonize electricity, but also to find ways to achieve carbon reductions at the most reasonable possible cost.

To evaluate the costs of different strategies for deep decarbonization of electricity generation, the team looked at nearly 1,000 different scenarios involving different assumptions about the availability and cost of low-carbon technologies, geographical variations in the availability of renewable resources, and different policies on their use.

Regarding the policies, the team compared two different approaches. The “restrictive” approach permitted only the use of solar and wind generation plus battery storage, augmented by measures to reduce and shift the timing of demand for electricity, as well as long-distance transmission lines to help smooth out local and regional variations. The  “inclusive” approach used all of those technologies but also permitted the option of using  continual carbon-free sources, such as nuclear power, bioenergy, and natural gas with a system for capturing and storing carbon emissions. Under every case the team studied, the broader mix of sources was found to be more affordable.

The cost savings of the more inclusive approach relative to the more restricted case were substantial. Including continual, or “firm,” low-carbon resources in a zero-carbon resource mix lowered costs anywhere from 10 percent to as much as 62 percent, across the many scenarios analyzed. That’s important to know, the authors stress, because in many cases existing and proposed regulations and economic incentives favor, or even mandate, a more restricted range of energy resources.

“The results of this research challenge what has become conventional wisdom on both sides of the climate change debate,” Lester says. “Contrary to fears that effective climate mitigation efforts will be cripplingly expensive, our work shows that even deep decarbonization of the electric power sector is achievable at relatively modest additional cost. But contrary to beliefs that carbon-free electricity can be generated easily and cheaply with wind, solar energy, and storage batteries alone, our analysis makes clear that the societal cost of achieving deep decarbonization that way will likely be far more expensive than is necessary.”

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A new taxonomy for electricity sources

In looking at options for new power generation in different scenarios, the team found that the traditional way of describing different types of power sources in the electrical industry — “baseload,” “load following,” and “peaking” resources — is outdated and no longer useful, given the way new resources are being used.

Rather, they suggest, it’s more appropriate to think of power sources in three new categories: “fuel-saving” resources, which include solar, wind and run-of-the-river (that is, without dams) hydropower; “fast-burst” resources, providing rapid but short-duration responses to fluctuations in electricity demand and supply, including battery storage and technologies and pricing strategies to enhance the responsiveness of demand; and “firm” resources, such as nuclear, hydro with large reservoirs, biogas, and geothermal.

“Because we can’t know with certainty the future cost and availability of many of these resources,” Sepulveda notes, “the cases studied covered a wide range of possibilities, in order to make the overall conclusions of the study robust across that range of uncertainties.”

Range of scenarios

The group used a range of projections, made by agencies such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, as to the expected costs of different power sources over the coming decades, including costs similar to today’s and anticipated cost reductions as new or improved systems are developed and brought online. For each technology, the researchers chose a projected mid-range cost, along with a low-end and high-end cost estimate, and then studied many combinations of these possible future costs.

Under every scenario, cases that were restricted to using fuel-saving and fast-burst technologies had a higher overall cost of electricity than cases using firm low-carbon sources as well, “even with the most optimistic set of assumptions about future cost reductions,” Sepulveda says.

That’s true, Jenkins adds, “even when we assume, for example, that nuclear remains as expensive as it is today, and wind and solar and batteries get much cheaper.”

The authors also found that across all of the wind-solar-batteries-only cases, the cost of electricity rises rapidly as systems move toward zero emissions, but when firm power sources are also available, electricity costs increase much more gradually as emissions decline to zero.

“If we decide to pursue decarbonization primarily with wind, solar, and batteries,” Jenkins says, “we are effectively ‘going all in’ and betting the planet on achieving very low costs for all of these resources,” as well as the ability to build out continental-scale  high-voltage transmission lines and to induce much more flexible electricity demand.

In contrast, “an electricity system that uses firm low-carbon resources together with solar, wind, and storage can achieve zero emissions with only modest increases in cost even under pessimistic assumptions about how cheap these carbon-free resources become or our ability to unlock flexible demand or expand the grid,” says Jenkins. This shows how the addition of firm low-carbon resources “is an effective hedging strategy that reduces both the cost and risk” for fully decarbonizing power systems, he says.

Even though a fully carbon-free electricity supply is years away in most regions, it is important to do this analysis today, Sepulveda says, because decisions made now about power plant construction, research investments, or climate policies have impacts that can last for decades.

“If we don’t start now” in developing and deploying the widest range of carbon-free alternatives, he says, “that could substantially reduce the likelihood of getting to zero emissions.”

David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California at San Diego, who was not involved in this study, says, “After decades of ignoring the problem of climate change, finally policymakers are grappling with how they might make deep cuts in emissions. This new paper in Joule shows that deep decarbonization must include a big role for reliable, firm sources of electric power. The study, one of the few rigorous numerical analyses of how the grid might actually operate with low-emission technologies, offers some sobering news for policymakers who think they can decarbonize the economy with wind and solar alone.”

The research received support from the MIT Energy Initiative, the Martin Family Trust, and the Chilean Navy.

Forbes on Energy: We Don’t Need Solar And Wind To Save The Climate — And It’s A Good Thing, Too


France and Sweden show solar and wind are not needed to [+] Special Contributor, M. Shellenberger

For 30 years, experts have claimed that humankind needs to switch to solar and wind energy to address climate change. But do we really?

Consider the fact that, while no nation has created a near-zero carbon electricity supply out of solar and wind, the only successful efforts to create near-zero carbon electricity supplies didn’t require solar or wind whatsoever.

As such solar and wind aren’t just insufficient, they are also unnecessary for solving climate change.

That turns out to be a good thing.

Sunlight and wind are inherently unreliable and energy-dilute. As such, adding solar panels and wind turbines to the grid in large quantities increases the cost of generating electricity, locks in fossil fuels, and increases the environmental footprint of energy production.

There is a better way. But to understand what it is, we first must understand the modern history of renewable energies.

Renewables Revolution: Always Just Around the Corner

Most people think of solar and wind as new energy sources. In fact, they are two of our oldest.

The predecessor to Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson, who advocates “100 percent renewables,” is A man named John Etzler.

In 1833, Etzler proposed to build massive solar power plants that used mirrors to concentrate sunlight on boilers, mile-long wind farms, and new dams to store power.

Even electricity-generating solar panels and wind turbines are old. Both date back to the late 1800s.

Throughout the 20th Century, scientists claimed — and the media credulously reported — that solar, wind, and batteries were close to a breakthrough that would allow them to power all of civilization.

Consider these headlines from The New York Times and other major newspapers:

• 1891: “Solar Energy: What the Sun’s Rays Can Do and May Yet Be Able to Do“ — The author notes that while solar energy was not yet economical “…the day is not unlikely to arrive before long…”

• 1923: “World Awaits Big Invention to Meet Needs of Masses “…solar energy may be developed… or tidal energy… or solar energy through the production of fuel.”

• 1931: “Use of Solar Energy Near a Solution.” “Improved Device Held to Rival Hydroelectric Production”

• 1934: “After Coal, The Sun” “…surfaces of copper oxide already available”

• 1935: “New Solar Engine Gives Cheap Power”

• 1939. “M.I.T. Will ‘Store’ Heat of the Sun”

• 1948: “Changing Solar Energy into Fuel “Blocked Out” in GM Laboratory”  “…the most difficult part of the problem is over…”

• 1949: “U.S. Seeks to Harness Sun, May Ask Big Fund, Krug Says”

Reporters were as enthusiastic about renewables in 1930s as they are today.

“It is just possible the world is standing at a turning point,” a New York Times reporter gushed in 1931, “in the evolution of civilization similar to that which followed the invention by James Watt of the steam engine.”

Decade after decade, scientists and journalists re-discovered how much solar energy fell upon the earth.

“Even on such an area as small as Manhattan Island the noontime heat is enough, could it be utilized, to drive all the steam engines in the world,” The Washington Star reported in 1891.

Progress in chemistry and materials sciences was hyped. “Silver Selenide is Key Substance,” The New York Times assured readers.

In 1948, Interior Secretary Krug called for a clean energy moonshot consisting of “hundreds of millions” for solar energy, pointing to its “tremendous potential.”

R&D subsidies for solar began shortly after and solar and wind production subsidies began in earnest in the 1970s.

Solar and wind subsidies increased substantially, and were increased in 2005 and again in 2009 on the basis of a breakthrough being just around the corner.

By 2016, renewables were receiving 94 times more in U.S. subsidies than nuclear and 46 times more than fossil fuels per unit of energy generated.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), public and private actors spent $1.1 trillion on solar and over $900 billion on wind between 2007 and 2016.

Global investment in solar and wind hovered at around $300 billion per year between 2010 and 2016.

Did the solar and wind energy revolution arrive?

Judge for yourself: in 2016, solar and wind constituted 1.3 and 3.9 percent of the planet’s electricity, respectively.

Real World Renewables

Are there places in the world where wind and solar have become a significant share of electricity supplies?

The best real-world evidence for wind’s role in decarbonization comes from the nation of Denmark. By 2017, wind and solar had grown to become 48 and 3 percent of Denmark’s electricity.

Does that make Denmark a model?

Not exactly. Denmark has fewer people than Wisconsin, a land area smaller than West Virginia, and an economy smaller than the state of Washington.

Moreover, the reason Denmark was able to deploy so much wind was because it could easily export excess wind electricity to neighboring countries — albeit at a high cost: Denmark today has the most expensive electricity in Europe.

And as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of turbines, Denmark could justify expensive electricity as part of its export strategy.

As for solar, those U.S. states that have deployed the most of it have seen sharp rises in their electricity costs and prices compared to the national average.

As recently as two years ago, some renewable energy advocates held up Germany as a model for the world.

No more. While Germany has deployed some of the most solar and wind in the world, its emissions have been flat for a decade while its electricity has become the second most expensive in Europe.

More recently, Germany has permitted the demolition of old forests, churches, and villages in order to mine and burn coal.

Meanwhile, the two nations whose electricity sectors produce some of the least amount of carbon emissions per capita of any developed nation did so with very little solar and wind: France and Sweden.

Sweden last year generated a whopping 95 percent of its total electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 42 and 41 coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power.

France generated 88 percent of its total electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 72 and 10 coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power.

Other nations like Norway, Brazil, and Costa Rica have almost entirely decarbonized their electricity supplies with the use of hydroelectricity alone.

That being said, hydroelectricity is far less reliable and scalable than nuclear.

Brazil is A case in point. Hydro has fallen from over 90 percent of its electricity 20 years ago to about two-thirds in 2016. Because Brazil failed to grow its nuclear program in the 1990s, it made up for new electricity growth with fossil fuels.

And both Brazil and hydro-heavy California stand as warnings against relying on hydro-electricity in a period of climate change. Both had to use fossil fuels to make up for hydro during recent drought years.

That leaves us with nuclear power as the only truly scalable, reliable, low-carbon energy source proven capable of eliminating carbon emissions from the power sector.

Why This is Good News

The fact that we don’t need renewables to solve climate change is good news for humans and the natural environment.

The dilute nature of water, sunlight, and wind means that up to 5,000 times more land and 10 – 15 times more concrete, cement, steel, and glass, are required than for nuclear plants.

All of that material throughput results in renewables creating large quantities of waste, much of it toxic.

For example, solar panels create 200 – 300 times more hazardous waste than nuclear, with none of it required to be recycled or safely contained outside of the European Union.

Meanwhile, the huge amounts of land required for solar and wind production has had a devastating impact on rare and threatened desert tortoises, bats, and eagles — even when solar and wind are at just a small percentage of electricity supplies.

Does this mean renewables are never desirable?

Not necessarily. Hydroelectric dams remain the way many poor countries gain access to reliable electricity, and both solar and wind might be worthwhile in some circumstances.

But there is nothing in either their history or their physical attributes that suggests solar and wind in particular could or should be the centerpiece of efforts to deal with climate change.

In fact, France demonstrates the costs and consequences of adding solar and wind to an electricity system where decarbonization is nearly complete.

France is already seeing its electricity prices rise as a result of deploying more solar and wind.

Because France lacks Sweden’s hydroelectric potential, it would need to burn far more natural gas (and/or petroleum) in order to integrate significantly more solar and wind.

If France were to reduce the share of its electricity from nuclear from 75 percent to 50 percent — as had been planned — carbon emissions and the cost of electricity would rise.

It is partly for this reason that France’s president recently declared he would not reduce the amount of electricity from nuclear.

Some experts recently pointed out that nuclear plants, like hydroelectric dams, can ramp up and down. France currently does so to balance demand.

But ramping nuclear plants to accommodate intermittent electricity from solar and wind simply adds to the cost of making electricity without delivering fewer emissions or much in the way of cost-savings. That’s because only very small amounts of nuclear fuel and no labor is saved when nuclear plants are ramped down.

Do We Need Solar and Wind to Save Nuclear?

While solar and wind are largely unnecessary at best and counterproductive at worst when it comes to combating climate change, might we need to them in support of a political compromise to prevent nuclear plants from closing?

At least in some circumstances, the answer is yes. Recently in New Jersey, for example, nuclear energy advocates had to accept a subsidy rate 18 to 28 times higher for solar than for nuclear.

The extremely disproportionate subsidy for solar was a compromise in exchange for saving the state’s nuclear plants.

While nuclear enjoys the support of just half of the American people, for example, solar and wind are supported by 70 to 80 percent of them. Thus, in some cases, it might make sense to package nuclear and renewables together.

But we should be honest that such subsidies for solar and wind are policy sweeteners needed to win over powerful financial interests and not good climate policy.

What matters most is that we accept that there are real world physical obstacles to scaling solar and wind.

Consider that the problem of the unreliability of solar has been discussed for as long as there have existed solar panels. During all of that time, solar advocates have waved their hands about potential future solutions.

“Serious problems will, of course, be raised by the fact that sun-power will not be continuous,” wrote a New York Times reporter in 1931. “Whether these will be solved by some sort of storage arrangement or by the operating of photogenerators in conjuction with some other generator cannot be said at present.”

We now know that, in the real world, electricity grid managers cope with the unreliability of solar by firing up petroleum and natural gas generators.

As such —  while there might be good reasons to continue to subsidize the production of solar and wind — their role in locking in fossil fuel generators means that climate change should not be one of them.

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Stanford University: Solving the “Storage Problem” for Renewable Energies: A New Cost Effective Re-Chargeable Aluminum Battery


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One of the biggest missing links in renewable energy is affordable and high performance energy storage, but a new type of battery developed at Stanford University could be the solution.

Solar energy generation works great when the sun is shining [duh…like taking a Space Mission to the Sun .. but only at night! :-)] and wind energy is awesome when it’s windy (double duh…), but neither is very helpful for the grid after dark and when the air is still. That’s long been one of the arguments against renewable energy, even if there are plenty of arguments for developing additional solar and wind energy installations without large-scale energy storage solutions in place. However, if low-cost and high performance batteries were readily available, it could go a long way toward a more sustainable and cleaner grid, and a pair of Stanford engineers have developed what could be a viable option for grid-scale energy storage.

With three relatively abundant and low-cost materials, namely aluminum, graphite, and urea, Stanford chemistry Professor Hongjie Dai and doctoral candidate Michael Angell have created a rechargeable battery that is nonflammable, very efficient, and has a long lifecycle.

“So essentially, what you have is a battery made with some of the cheapest and most abundant materials you can find on Earth. And it actually has good performance. Who would have thought you could take graphite, aluminum, urea, and actually make a battery that can cycle for a pretty long time?” – Dai

A previous version of this rechargeable aluminum battery was found to be efficient and to have a long life, but it also employed an expensive electrolyte, whereas the latest iteration of the aluminum battery uses urea as the base for the electrolyte, which is already produced in large quantities for fertilizer and other uses (it’s also a component of urine, but while a pee-based home battery might seem like just the ticket, it’s probably not going to happen any time soon).

According to Stanford, the new development marks the first time urea has been used in a battery, and because urea isn’t flammable (as lithium-ion batteries are), this makes it a great choice for home energy storage, where safety is of utmost importance. And the fact that the new battery is also efficient and affordable makes it a serious contender when it comes to large-scale energy storage applications as well.

“I would feel safe if my backup battery in my house is made of urea with little chance of causing fire.” – Dai

According to Angell, using the new battery as grid storage “is the main goal,” thanks to the high efficiency and long life cycle, coupled with the low cost of its components. By one metric of efficiency, called Coulombic efficiency, which measures the relationship between the unit of charge put into the battery and the output charge, the new battery is rated at 99.7%, which is high.WEF solarpowersavemoney-628x330

In order to meet the needs of a grid-scale energy storage system, a battery would need to last at least a decade, and while the current urea-based aluminum ion batteries have been able to last through about 1500 charge cycles, the team is still looking into improving its lifetime in its goal of developing a commercial version.

The team has published some of its results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, under the title “High Coulombic efficiency aluminum-ion battery using an AlCl3-urea ionic liquid analog electrolyte.”

 

PNL Battery Storage Systems 042016 rd1604_batteriesGrid-scale energy storage to manage our electricity supply would benefit from batteries that can withstand repeated cycling of discharging and charging. Current lithium-ion batteries have lifetimes of only 1,000-3,000 cycles. Now a team of researchers from Stanford University, Taiwan, and China have made a research prototype of an inexpensive, safe aluminum-ion battery that can withstand 7,500 cycles. In the aluminum-ion battery, one electrode is made from affordable aluminum, and the other is composed of carbon in the form of graphite.

Read: A step towards new, faster-charging, and safer batteries

 

Ontario government scraps plan for $3.8 billion in renewable energy projects – Is this a harbinger of things to come?


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The move will keep $2.45 from going on the average homeowner’s monthly hydro bill.

Ontario is blowing off plans for more wind and solar power as it feels the heat over high electricity bills less than two years before a provincial election.

In its latest effort to curb prices, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government is axing plans to sign another $3.8 billion in renewable energy contracts, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said Tuesday.

The move — which the Progressive Conservatives have demanded for years — will prevent $2.45 from being added to the average homeowner’s monthly hydro bill in the coming years.

Thibeault called it a “common sense” decision after the province’s electricity planning agency recently advised there is no “urgent need” for additional supply given Ontario’s surplus of generating capacity.

“I’ve been tasked to find ways to bring bills down,” said Thibeault, who was appointed minister last June. “When our experts said we didn’t need it, that’s when I acted.”

There may be more measures to come, Thibeault hinted in a speech prepared for the Ontario Energy Association on Tuesday night.

He pledged to “take a prudent look at every policy decision that has been made and determine if there is work we can do to reduce costs to Ontarians.”

The projects scrapped Tuesday would have created up to 1,000 megawatts of power, just under one-third of the 3,500 megawatts the four-unit Darlington nuclear power station produces near Oshawa.

 

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown called the suspension “too little, too late” while former Liberal energy minister George Smitherman and environmentalists suggested the government should have taken aim at costly nuclear refurbishments.

“Ontario had a choice to look forward but it chose to look backwards,” Smitherman said in a statement.

“The cancellation of the Large Renewable Procurement (LRP II) program makes it a scapegoat for pricing when the real culprit for oversupply is the aging Pickering nuclear plant.”

Ontario is planning to keep Pickering open until 2024 to provide electricity while it spends $12.8 billion refurbishing Darlington.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said “the Liberals have chosen the wrong target,” echoing comments from the David Suzuki Foundation and Environmental Defence that the renewable cancellation is “short-sighted.”

“If you’re concerned about cost, you do more renewables and less nuclear,” said Gideon Forman from the foundation, noting the suspension will cost jobs in the green energy sector.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association warned cancelling the renewables will make it harder for Ontario to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets in the battle against climate change.

Thibeault insisted the government is not “backtracking” on green energy because previously signed renewable contracts will go ahead in the province, eventually providing 18,000 megawatts of green energy. He said 90 per cent of generation, including nuclear, is emissions-free.Renewable Energy Pix

Sixteen projects — five wind, seven solar and four hydroelectric — approved last winter are proceeding and expected to create 455 megawatts of generating capacity.

That means ratepayers will still be on the hook for “energy we don’t need,” said Brown.

“They’ve made a huge mistake on the energy file . . . bills are still going to go up.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath blamed increasing privatization of the electricity system for steadily rising prices in the last decade, leaving Ontarians “paying the freight.”

The Liberal government, lagging in the polls, announced in its throne speech two weeks ago that the 8 per cent provincial tax on electricity will come off bills starting in January.

Many rural homeowners who face high delivery charges for hydro will also see 20 per cent savings, and 1,000 more companies will be able to take advantage of a program that allows them to shift hydro use away from periods of peak demand in return for lower prices.

That’s in addition to a hydro subsidy plan for low-income residents called the Ontario Electricity Support Program already in place.

Wynne and her MPPs were shadowed by wind farm protesters last week at the International Plowing Match and booed over hydro prices by some in attendance.

Thibeault downplayed the hostile reception.

“I was booed as a politician before. It’s something that comes with the job, right? My previous experience as a hockey referee helped me with the boos,” Thibeault told reporters Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the provincial Financial Accountability Office released a report that found households in Toronto and Niagara typically spend the least on home energy costs and confirmed that northern Ontario residents spend the most, with low-income families facing the highest burden.

We want to know what YOU think. Is a “practical” decision like this, based on “which way the political wind is blowing” (pardon the pun) make sense in the short term? Long term? Leave us your Comments. We always like hearing from you! – Team GNT