Electricity Has Been in a Slump for 14 Years, But All Heck Has Broken Loose in How it’s Generated

Electricity generating capacity additions & retirements in 2021, and the long-term change in the power mix.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

In 2021, developers and power plant owners plan to bring 39.7 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity on line, and retire 9.1 GW in generating capacity, for a net increase in capacity of 30.6 GW, according to the EIA today. 70% of the capacity additions will be from wind and solar, 16% will be from natural gas, and 3% will be from a nuclear reactor. These are utility-scale power generators and exclude rooftop solar. Of the retirements, 86% will be coal and nuclear.

Electricity generation in the US has been a no-growth business since 2006, as efficiencies in electrical equipment (LED lights, appliances, air conditioning, etc.) and further offshoring of manufacturing have kept consumption roughly stable despite growth in the economy and population. But where all heck has broken loose is in how this power is being generated (data via the EIA).

Coal-fired power generation has collapsed by over 60% in 12 years, from around 169 GW hours per month on average in 2008 to 65 GW hours per month on average over the past 12 months, according to data from the EIA. It went from “King Coal” by a wide margin in 2008 (black line in the chart below) to #3, after surging natural gas-fired power generation (green line) blew by it in 2015 as the US has become the largest NG producer in world. And toward the end of 2020, coal fell even below nuclear power (brown line).

In a few years, wind and solar combined (red line) will blow by coal as well. With wind and solar, the big enticement for power generators is that the “fuel” is free and that there won’t be any “fuel” price increases in the future, no matter what inflation will do:

The decline of coal has long been lamented by railroads. In 2020, according to the Association of American Railroads, coal carloads plunged by 24.6% from 2019, to just 3.01 million carloads, the lowest annual total on record.

Power plant retirements in 2021.

Over the past five years since 2016, a total of 48 GW of coal-fired capacity was retired. In 2021, retirements will slow to 2.7 GW of coal-fired capacity, bringing the six-year total to over 50 GW. In 2020, the weighted average age of the retirements is over 51 years.

Four states – Maryland, Florida, Connecticut, and Wisconsin – account for nearly two-thirds of the coal-fired capacity retirements. Coal-fired capacity has already reached zero in some states, including California. Coal retirements in 2021 will account for 30% of total retirements.

Power generators are planning to retire 5.1 GW of nuclear capacity, or 56% of total retirements, and 5% of US nuclear generating capacity. Exelon is planning to retire two nuclear plants with two reactors each in Dresden and Byron, Illinois, for a total of 4.1 GW; and Entergy is planning to retire one reactor (1.0 GW) at the Indian Point plant in New York.

“The decrease of U.S. nuclear power generating capacity is a result of historically low natural gas prices, limited growth in electricity demand, and increasing competition from renewable energy,” the EIA said in its report today.

Nuclear and coal combined account for 86% of the retirements in 2021. The remaining 14% of retirements include 0.8 GW of petroleum-fired capacity (Possum Point in Virginia), 0.25 GW of natural gas-fired capacity, and the 0.14 GW of a 34-year-old biomass waste-to-energy plant in Southport, North Carolina (map via EIA):

New power plants in 2021.

Power plant owners are planning to start commercial operations at new power plants with a total of 39.7 GW of electricity generating capacity this year, the EIA reported. Wind and solar combined account for 70% of the capacity additions.

The EIA also includes utility-scale battery storage in the mix as they can supply power to the grid, but obviously do not “generate” electricity. Battery additions in 2021 are expected to reach 4.3 GW, quadruple the 2020 additions. These battery systems are often paired with renewable power plants, such as the world’s largest solar-powered battery (409 MW) at Manatee Solar Energy Center in Florida, expected to begin operations this year.

Capacity Additions:

  • Solar photovoltaic, utility scale: 15.4 GW
  • Wind: 12.2 GW
  • Natural gas: 6.6 GW
  • Batteries: 4.3 GW
  • Nuclear: 1.1 GW (Southern Company’s new reactor at its Vogtle plant in Georgia)
  • Other: 0.2 GW

The 15.4 GW of utility-scale solar capacity additions are an all-time record, beating the prior record of 12 GW set in 2020. Of that new capacity, 28% will be in Texas, 9% in Nevada, 9% in California, and 7% in North Carolina. This year will also be the first year that PV capacity additions will exceed wind power capacity additions.

Not included here, the EIA estimates that 4.1 GW of small-scale solar PV capacity, such as rooftop solar, will come online in 2021. This would bring the total solar capacity additions this year to nearly 20 GW.

The 12.2 GW of wind power capacity additions this year are well below the 21 GW of additions in 2020. Over half of this year’s addition will be in Texas and Oklahoma, including the nearly 1.0 GW Traverse windfarm in Oklahoma. Lots of free wind in West Texas, western Oklahoma, and the Panhandle in particular, and smart folks have figured out how to turn this wind into cash.

Of the 6.6 GW natural gas-fired capacity additions, 3.9 GW will be combined-cycle natural gas plants. These combined-cycle plants and cheap natural gas are what has been killing investment in coal power plants. The efficiency of new combined cycle plants can exceed 60%, far higher than coal plants. The combined-cycle technology entered utility scale operations in the 1990s.

In a combined cycle plant, a gas turbine, similar to a jet engine, burns the gas and drives a generator. The hot exhaust gas is then used to create high-pressure steam, which drives a steam turbine which drives another generator. By contrast, a coal plant only creates high-pressure steam to drive a steam turbine. Add cheap natural gas to the mix, and coal – even coal so cheap that all major coal miners were pushed into bankruptcy in recent years – has not been able to compete in the US for over a decade. Which is why investments in coal-fired capacity additions have fallen by the wayside.

Long-term structural issues have long dogged the consumption of gasoline, jet fuel, and distillate. Then came the Pandemic. Read… Update on the WTF Collapse of Gasoline & Jet Fuel Consumption: The Holiday Period

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  237 comments for “Electricity Has Been in a Slump for 14 Years, But All Heck Has Broken Loose in How it’s Generated

  1. 2banana says:

    The average American cost of electricity has gone from 6.81 (2000) to 10.6 (2019) in cents/KwH according to statista.

    That is an increase of 56%. Much higher in certain high regulatory and high tax states.

    Inflation during that same time is 48.5%

    Median income was up about 10%.

    “Add cheap natural gas to the mix, and coal – even coal so cheap that all major coal miners were pushed into bankruptcy in recent years – has not been able to compete in the US for over a decade. Which is why investments in coal-fired capacity additions have fallen by the wayside.”

    • Wolf Richter says:

      2banana,

      Yeah, check the earnings of utilities. They’ve got to show earnings growth somehow so that they can increase their dividends. And guess what, to get that earnings growth and that dividend growth, they’ve been raising rates and fees every year. Just like the automakers that sold as many cars in 2020 as they sold in 1979.

      • Cas127 says:

        Wolf,

        And I think if more scrutiny is placed on that flat US electrical consumption since 2007 (beyond efficiency) I think a more accurate story (compared to, say, GDP) of what has really been going on in the US will be revealed.

        For economists who don’t trust the official gvt stats of China, they look to very broad macro stats (like electrical usage…)

        With both autos and electrical below peaks of 40 and 13 years ago, it is probably time to look at things like reported *US* GDP with a more jaded eye.

        Deindustrialization doesn’t explain a long stagnation in car *sales* if GDP has really been advancing and…

        another broad stat that’s hard to fudge…collapsing US population/birth rates.

        • Joe Saba says:

          time to look at things like reported *US* GDP with a more jaded eye.
          you mean like stripping out all govt spending(over 50% in 2020)
          just like socialist EU
          so if REAL(taxable) GDP is 50% of govt GDP then we must double the taxes thought of to support corrupt govt
          but not tax corporations?????

        • Dane says:

          In the spirit of the jaded eye:
          I now only look at manufacturing component of GDP.

          The services component can be manipulated to be whatever is desired. For example, doctors’ and nurses’ real incomes have increased x3 in the last 60 years. Right now, the average US physician’s income is double that of the same physician with the same training and credentials in the UK.

          The services component is just economic masturbation. We can make it whatever is desired by artificially increasing service incomes relative to other countries.

        • Cas127 says:

          Dane,

          Thanks for the info…please keep comments coming about the ways GDP can be gamed.

          The more people who understand more about gvt financial dynamics, the harder it is for the G to bullsh*t everyone.

        • NBay says:

          Great post Dane. Between this article and posts like yours, this website is not just all “so much Doom and Gloom”, as friends I’ve recommended it to often say…..apologies to “Unamused” who was unmatched for wit, humor, and things to look up.

          But, like Indiana Jones said, “Just facts here, if you want truth the philosophy department is down the hall”….and for a long time now, it hurts to read facts. I only hope EIA facts are correct, especially regarding “planned”.

          Green New Industry “Deal” is a socio/political seachange we still need badly, regardless of what “market forces” alone can provide at this very critical point in time.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          NBay,

          It’s funny… a friend of mine in my swim club said that my site was too “depressing,” and then he cited the papers he liked, particularly the SF Chronicle, and so I looked, and on that day what was on the front pages: a war somewhere, a civil war somewhere, a suicide, an update on a local corruption scandal, some kind of entanglement with homeless people, someone killed by a car… now THAT’s depressing to me. WOLF STREET is a violence-free zone. But people find violence so entertaining and uplifting and exciting that my site, without it, seems “depressing” to them.

        • NBay says:

          Well, if it helps the readership any, I’ll meet anyone here (that I piss off badly enough) “behind the barn”, as Biden said about Trump. I think he would have done it, and so will I.

          Learned a LONG time ago you don’t have to win against a bully, just show folks you WILL fight, and the word gets around, and the bullies go looking for easier marks to back down with no effort or physical risk to themselves.

      • Rowen says:

        Dominion Energy wanted an 8% rate increase in SC to offset declining use from the shutdown. Maybe it’s just me, but shareholders should have to eat the divvy first before raising rates.

        • MarMar says:

          That’s the tradeoff of a regulated monopoly. Their profit is a fixed percentage.

        • Joe Saba says:

          oh no – see DOMINION got SC legislature to do PUT – ie be liable for any downside risk
          man those guys sure licked a lot of boots to get that

        • Jon says:

          In King County, WA, there was a five year, five percent yearly increase to pay for the employee pension plan.

        • NBay says:

          Get rid of Citizens United, make lobbying a crime at all levels of gov’t, and post all public servant’s wages and benefits, along with all those in corp/company management, in appropriate locations, for the worker bees to see…even net worth considering this very late stage of corruption…………………..just a quick thought.

          And just the facts please, mam.

        • Mira says:

          I think it is prudent that energy companies meet some kind of best case scenario efficiency practice criteria, to justify their existence in todays world.
          And they want a pay rise ??
          Wow !!
          “Yo man, is you is, or is you not, making all that dirty smoke on us, to stay cheap as .. & what quality energy is you selling us for top dollar ??”
          In Australia our power plants are positively antique, as old as the day they were first built .. yep, energy production has been running off the smell of an oily rag & energy prices went up & up & up.
          And even when consumption grew to where we had power outages, they did not invest in upgrades .. were they waiting for the place to run down to zero capacity production & walk away ??
          Times have changes for BigCorp .. ” Dudes the writing is on the wall .. we cannot afford your slack indifference to reality any more.”

      • Depth Charge says:

        “…to get that earnings growth and that dividend growth, they’ve been raising rates and fees every year. Just like the automakers that sold as many cars in 2020 as they sold in 1979…”

        At what point does this all end? It is unsustainable. The price increases on the average household budget to just survive have vastly outpaced wages. The difference has been made up by easy – NOT cheap – credit. This model is disgusting.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          Depth-this easy credit line can be drawn back to around 1980, essentially obscuring and palliating the flatlining/decline of real wages to the working population. The result has been a long, slow, ‘race to the bottom’, with a huge growth in the nation’s wealth disparity providing the taproot of the nation’s growing unrest.

          may we all find a better day.

      • BatHelix says:

        Hi Wolf, I’m really interested in your thoughts regarding utilities as a long term investment. They pay good dividends and my thinking is that if we have a big push toward electric cars now and all kinds of other toys using new, improved batter tech … there should be a ton more demand that they would benefit from, no? What are the holes in this thesis? Thanks.

        • NBay says:

          Check out the lithium miner ad here. Was a real good read, lotsa investment and other good data.

          Crapp….I’m starting to sound like a schill……I’m not.

          Just an overeducated redneck with a lot of different life experiences and interests, and low tolerance for BS.

    • Anon1970 says:

      In PG&E’s service area in northern California, tier 1 electricity costs 24.4 cents per kwh, tier 2 costs 30.7 cents per kwh. I think there is an even more expensive tier 3 but I am too frugal to have hit it. For people who like their homes toasty warm in winter and cool in the summer, their monthly utility bill could easily exceed an average mortgage payment in Michigan.

      • 2banana says:

        So cheap/clean natural gas didn’t help?

        Germany has some of the highest electric rates in the world at around 35 cent/KwH. You guys aren’t far behind.

        So expensive that there are articles of the elderly freezing in the winter and many people going back to burning things to keep warm.

        Thus the irony….

        • Wolf Richter says:

          2banana,

          You keep failing to see that there are greedy corporate layers in between the act of power generation and the retail price of electricity. These greedy corporate layers have to show earnings growth and dividend growth, and the rate payer is paying for it. Hence, high rates. I already explained that to you above. You refuse to see it because it doesn’t fit into your twisted narrative.

          In terms of Germany: Germany imports ALL of its natural gas — from Russia and Norway via pipelines, and via LNG from producers around the world. It imports coal too. Being a northern country with lots of bad weather, its solar PV solutions are not very efficient. Wind works where it’s windy in Germany, which is in a few spots along the North Sea. But at least, it doesn’t have to import the wind and sun.

          Germany has very few natural resources and has to pay out of its nose for them — similar to Japan. But they’re making up for it by actually manufacturing lots of stuff.

          Both have high energy prices and gasoline prices, also due to high taxes on energy.

        • Tanstaafl says:

          2banana, Mr Richter,

          And Germany has a lot of taxes on top to pay for the so-called “Energie wende” (turn of energy) to transform the system to be carbon neutral by, well, yesterday, if the Greens get what they wish for – realistically by 2035-40.
          That tax and fees amounts to approx. 10 cents – eurocents of course, which is 1.22 US Cents each.
          The industry, but also the people with lower income are not very happy at all ( sorry for the strong wording).

          The greedy corporations in between don’t make much money any more ( at least in Germany) and lost their once-strong influence in the stock market. The greed now is in the guys who wants to build wind turbines up to 400-1000 meters next to settlements. There is a lot of subsidies involved in this game.

        • MCH says:

          Pity the Germans shut down their nukes, it would’ve been very interesting if they had held on to it. Certainly they wouldn’t be as reliant on Russian for LNG. It’s interesting how the Germans understand the consequences of realpolitik, while the US keeps its head buried in the sand. Yes, Putin is Dr. Evil (a very muscular Dr. Evil), but until he kicks the bucket, you have to deal with him and his energy reserves.

          But back in the states, I like the idea of public utilities, certainly there is nothing good about PG&E, as Wolf’s power pole can attest. Heck, they aren’t even smart enough to load that pole up with 5G equipment, talk about waste of asset.

          I wish Santa Clara Valley power authority would extend beyond the city of Santa Clara. They at least had good rates and are better managed.

          Overall, I think a balanced approach would work best here. Ramp up solar/wind, but keep up nuclear, eventually, natural gas needs to go, cause, emissions. But it’ll take a while to get there.

        • c smith says:

          As long as the cheaper alternative doesn’t fit the “twisted narrative” of the global warming crowd, it cannot be used. The utilities can then raise prices at will, with the explicit backing of regulators. Fuel competition is stifled, and the natural geographic monopoly of a utility shines (bad pun) through. Everyone (utility, regulators, wealthy customers) is happy except the poorest rate payers.

        • Depth Charge says:

          “You keep failing to see that there are greedy corporate layers in between the act of power generation and the retail price of electricity. These greedy corporate layers have to show earnings growth and dividend growth, and the rate payer is paying for it. Hence, high rates. I already explained that to you above.”

          I agree that we have a terribly crony capitalism problem. But I see no way of stopping it at this point, short of a full-scale economic and political collapse the likes we’ve never seen. Color me jaded but I think the USA is OVER. Something will replace it – what, I don’t know…

        • NBay says:

          We share about half of our genes (the evolutionarily important ones) with a banana.

          Thus the irony in the stage name…….

      • Seneca’s Cliff says:

        When I bought my first house in Salem Oregon in 1987 we got our power from a public utility , Salem Electric. We paid 2.9 cents per kWh that first year. Salem electric wisely stayed away from being involved in any of the NW nuke plants and bought all their power from the Federal Dams on the Columbia. It was well in to the Bush Jr administration before our power costs exceeded 4cents a kWh. When I left town in 2013 and shut off my service the nice lady behind the desk at the customer service counter handed me a check for $2500 for my ownership shares I had earned by being a customer for 25 years.

        • lenert says:

          Tacoma Public Utilities still charges about a nickel. Only lost power once in 20 years – for about 4 hours during the coldest winter storm over that period. A bargain at twice the price.

        • EchoDelta says:

          Socialism! Socialism!

        • lenert says:

          Welp – is it too late to buy powerball – or Tesla?
          After a day of historic rainfall – 3 inches in Oly – and within minutes after posting this at 23:30 pacific time, 50 mph winds blew in out of nowhere and for the next hour took down trees and powerlines in a midnight lightning show and by 4am this morning half a million people in the Puget lowlands were without power. TPU had us back up at 1 in the afternoon. Just felt like this had to be memorialized.

      • Zantetsu says:

        Weather here is mild. If you don’t use any heating or cooling your house will range from a low of about 55 degF in winter to a high of 95 degF in summer. That temperature range is perfectly liveable. A little bit of heating and cooling can add 5 degrees to the bottom and chop 10 degrees off of the top, which is very, very liveable.

        I know the above because I rarely heat my townhouse and never cool it.

        My utilities bills range from a low of ~$140 per month to a high of ~$175 per month, depending on season and other factors.

        My friend uses an ungodly amount of electricity because he has a full (small) house and lots and lots of electronics equipment. I think his bill is around $300 – $400 per month.

        I don’t think the average mortgage payment in Michigan is anywhere close to $400 per month.

        Conclusion: you are exaggerating.

        • R Bacon says:

          Typical house price is $187K in Michigan, with 20% down, a 30-year mortgage is slightly higher than $600 per month. That’s about the cost of PG&E per month for my modest Bay Area home.

        • Zantetsu says:

          R Bacon I have never heard of utility bills that high. Even my ex-in-laws who keep their Cupertino house at 68 degrees all summer long and have two refrigerators don’t pay that.

          You might want to look into that.

        • Dane says:

          A house in Phoenix, if reasonably well-insulated, will also stay between 55F and 85F, throughout the year.

          A lot of people consider that too hot or too cold, and will pay to moderate the temperature.

      • 8_mile_road says:

        I am currently living in Sacramento, so SMUD is our electricity provider. I guess it’s lucky that my electricity is 30-50% lower than those using PG&E as provider?

        https://www.smud.org/en/Rate-Information/Residential-rates
        This is the current rate for SMUD users

      • NBay says:

        Just paid mine.

        $17.22

        About 200 500 sq ft apts in 3 story bldngs with one exterior wall.

        • NBay says:

          They tried to build a nuke plant on Bodega Head. Timed the shutdown of the whole project perfectly to leave behind a big flat spot for informal dirt track bike racing, and some motocross at the edges. Probably banned now, but sure was fun while it lasted.

    • Max Power says:

      Median income is up 64% during the time period you mention.

      I think you were confusing nominal and real measures.

      • Cas127 says:

        MP,

        You are claiming that median income (nominal or real) is up 64% from 2000 to 2019?

        That is so far in excess of any *income* stat I have seen, that I think you need to provide a link/reference to your source.

      • Depth Charge says:

        “Median income is up 64% during the time period you mention.”

        Uh, NO, no it’s not.

      • Dane says:

        Median household income is up 63.6% from 2000 to 2019.
        https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA646N

        • Cas127 says:

          Dane,

          Thanks for the link.

          Per FRED, the HH (meaning 2 earner in practice) income went from,

          42k in 2000 to

          54k in 2014 to

          69k in 2019.

          So, after taking 14 yrs to increase $12k,
          HH income gained $15k in 5 yrs?

          That is over a *tripling* of the rate of increase.

          I’m going to spend some time researching.

        • Cas127 says:

          And $6k of that $15k increase was in a single yr…2019.

          So, from 2000 to 2019 median HH income income went up $27k…and $6k of that (22%) happened in 2019 *alone*.

          Hmm.

          Well, that explains why earlier stats are so different.

          I think deeper digging in to 2019 is warranted…and going back to 2014.

      • NBay says:

        Think you guys better stick to median INDIVIDUAL income to get a better picture. In the 50’s, 60’s almost nobody’s wife worked. Of course we manufactured around 50% of the world’s goods then. That’s the “MAGA” lie Trump sold half of us, but he really was much more fond of reproducing the Gilded Age….need more high-end customers, ya know?

        Green New Industry! If FDR hadn’t done what he did the whole damned poverty stricken country was gonna go full Commie on him with the help of Moscow, and he knew it. It’s called bending without breaking, simple principle.

        • NBay says:

          Of course non-whites were pretty much excluded from 50s-60s things, but even us privileged types did fine in our 900-1300 sq ft 2-3 bedroom one bath homes with a with a wall heater (or swamp cooler) and had a world class K-12 education, at least in CA.
          Nobody wanted to piss on those guys who had none nothing but killing for 1-5 years…wisely.

    • Gk says:

      Electric cost inflation may seem insignificant as its nominal cost on
      the coasts. But here in flyover country it means something.

      My first regulatory case out of law school was in front of the utility commission. The outcome was predetermined; the governors appoint the board.

      The big utility gets what it wants here. Rates up. Reliably down. Another merger? No problem.

      People get crushed.

    • Jan Freed says:

      Coal pollution has decreased, of course. A few years ago, Harvard Medical School estimated $300-$500 billion/year in climate/health costs of coal. No bargain.

      Add to that hundreds of thousands of premature deaths due to this pollution.

    • dave says:

      That was a 43% increase from 2000-2008, as coal was peaking.
      Then 8.8% from 2008-2019 when coal was in decline.

    • Rainer says:

      To what you pay for electricity you should be lucky.
      In Germany people pay a basic of 10,- € plus €0.29 per kWh.
      The sum of 4500 kWh brings you to pay €1200,- € / year.
      Prices for electricity are the highest worldwide in “Germoney”.

  2. Bradford says:

    Nuclear waste
    South Carolina Spent $9 Billion to Dig a Hole in the Ground and Then Fill It Back In

    “In South Carolina, lawmakers greenlighted a multibillion-dollar energy project and stuck utility customers with the tab….It started in 2008. SCE&G and Santee Cooper announced plans to add two nuclear reactors to the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, South Carolina…Only 48 percent of South Carolinians know about the failed program, according to an October statewide poll surveying electric ratepayers.”
    “The utilities are incredibly powerful political lobbies in the state,” Jaczko said. “It’s now $2.3 billion that they’re gonna be able to get,” he said, and that doesn’t include the rate of return Dominion says it’s entitled to.”

  3. Max Power says:

    Just be careful when trying to compare using nameplate capacity figures gas and nuclear plants which operate 24×7 to renewables which tend supply intermittent power. The former two end up churning out a heck of a lot more electricity in practice. That’s why despite eye-popping large nameplate capacity additions of renewable sources to the grid in recent years, the overall share of renewables of total electricity produced in the US is still relatively small (under 20%).

    Grid energy storage will help renewables in this context but is still quite expensive.

    • Joe Saba says:

      and yet our electric bill keeps going up
      just 6% jan 1 – and then utility starts charging lots of fees for having solar($100 a month)
      it’s ok – just funny money $dollars used to pay for it
      I charge it back to customers/tenants 100%+12% profit for me(what utilities have written in the law)

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Max Power,

      READ THE ARTICLE!

      The first two charts are POWER GENERATION — not capacity. That is the power that has actually been generated in the past. And these trends are the reasons for the capacity additions in the future.

    • MCH says:

      “Grid energy storage will help renewables in this context but is still quite expensive.” That’s the beauty of Elon Musk and Tesla. Cheap batteries.

      He is going to make the cost of battery inexpensive. Ok, sure, there might be an occasional battery fire, but this is the future we’re talking about. Progress cannot be made without a few fires…. nyuk nyuk nyuk

      This is why Tesla should be at $10K per share…. and Wolf will continue to have an audience with his WTF chart.

      • lenert says:

        Wonder who has shipped more battery storage – Tesla or Apple?

      • Heinz says:

        Ironically, despite the enthusiasm of the Green Energy crowd, lithium batteries use large amounts of natural resources (and carbon emissions), and, as an example when used in EVs they are worse than ICE vehicles in environmental impact— up to a certain mileage break even point.

        Sodium-ion rechargeable batteries could be a game changer in this arena in terms of lower costs and environmental impact. Before widespread adoption though sodium ion batteries need more development.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          Heinz-hopefully on a timeline more optimistic than fusion (…the old canard from my now-retired high school friend who went on to a career working on the Shiva project at Lawrence Livermore: ‘…we should have fusion in about 30 years…’, related seriously in ’78, jokingly every ten years subsequently).

          may we all find a better day.

        • NBay says:

          I still haven’t ruled out hydrogen fuel cells or even hydrogen ICE. No reason to. Just read they learned to weld glass to steel!! (we’ll see).
          Materials science and surface physics is really advancing. We already run 5w oil because of alloy expansion control and machining to match. Ceramic alloys are being worked on to allow ICE to run even hotter and still last. The less radiator heat wasted the better. Just like brake heat/wear and regenerative braking save energy.
          I worked in a good sized anodizing plant that generated lots of hydrogen. Just went up and outside with simple fume hood, 3 ft from the action. Weird stuff, if you accidentally inhale it….well, you can’t, your body stops inhaling instantly, no taste, just the impression of “strong gas”. We smoked in the bldng, just didn’t push it, never saw a flash, but was told when unconfined that’s all you get, no explosion.

          This should be a time for trying everything “clean” or “cleaner”. Too bad few want smaller light cars and 55mph speed limit. Might take more than “mkt forces” to get both.

        • NBay says:

          Fusion has been run into the ground, end it. I too had buddy at LL for his whole career. PhD in tritium. He never thought “sun in a box” would work, either, but loved tinkering for good pay, and S. Pacific trips.

      • Depth Charge says:

        “That’s the beauty of Elon Musk and Tesla. Cheap batteries.”

        This is a narrative that has not borne fruit. In fact, the cost seems to be increasing. By the way, have you ever done an internet search for “lithium mine” and hit “images?” It’s pretty disturbing that this is being sold as “environmentally friendly and sustainable.” In fact, my BS detector is pinging loudly.

        • Massbytes says:

          Sorry, Bloomberg says battery prices have dropped 89 percent in 10 years. Do you have a different source? Lithium mining is not worse than finding, fracking, drilling, refining, distributing and burning oil. Anything built for billions of people requires resources and won’t be perfect. EVs are just better than ICE.

    • NBay says:

      Maybe a little more work on span of the grid could remove the need for a lot of storage capacity, and I’m a big fan of proven off the shelf pumping water uphill storage. Plenty hills and water at both sides of the country, and it’s reused over and over, anyway.
      It’s all part of the Green New Industry Deal, along with such mundane increased efficiency like insulated and caulking, and just tolerating some hot and cold. Lotta work to be done, better get with it. Save those nasty nukes in case it doesn’t work out, eh?
      PS-Pick a screen name that doesn’t reek of a short term agenda.

  4. MiTurn says:

    “carloads plunged by 24.6% from 2019, to…the lowest annual total on record.”

    How do they make up for this loss?

    • Boomer says:

      I think the 2020 car loading data might be skewed by COVID19. We are shutting down coal plants yet railroads are still hauling for export to India, Japan and other nations. Coal for Japan comes from Utah to the export terminal in Richmond.

      https://www.hstoday.us/industry/u-s-and-europe-cut-coal-use-but-what-about-china/

    • Wolf Richter says:

      MiTurn,

      Intermodal (containers) has been growing, which has higher profit margins than coal. Other commodities have been growing. Railroads have raised their rates over the years, etc.

      • MJS says:

        Wolf –

        Are you sure about that? Coal trains were unit trains (with all the productivity that implies) that had little competition during the heyday. Intermodal is ALWAYS pitted against trucks, many of whom are very efficient producers of capacity.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          All railroads tout the margins of intermodal in their earnings reports. AND intermodal includes truck trailers piggybacking on rail cars.

          For the railroad, hauling a container across the country on a huge long train is a lot cheaper than for a trucking company to pay a driver and his rig to haul a container across the US. But trucks are faster and give better service and they operate on thin margins. And so they’re able to put a lid on what railroads can charge for containers.

    • nick kelly says:

      Given the dirt cheap US Nat gas price, it’s RELATIVE cleanliness, the ease of selling electricity to the grid. the efficiency of high voltage lines, etc. I’m surprised there are any coal plants left. This smells like politics.

  5. MiTurn says:

    I wonder if states will figure out how to tax the wind as they’ll claim rights to it. Like the same way the state of Oregon claims ownership of all the precipitation that falls on the state (in other words, you can’t capture it for personal use).

    • MCH says:

      But what if you give it back to the State of Oregon… you know, the natural way.

      An equivalent exchange, and heck, you’re even adding in extra elements in there. They should pay you for it….

      • NBay says:

        Side note on “extra elements”.
        Check out the uric acid and Vit C genetic knockouts pretty much ONLY in great apes (us).
        May be a chance mutation with a bio-link to bigger or differently organized brains?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      MiTurn,

      Not sure. But Wall Street will figure out how to financialize wind, as it has done with water, and you can now trade California water futures :-]

      • MCH says:

        I am waiting for the financialization of oxygen.

        Wolf, you’re old enough to have possibly watched the movie Spaceballs. Do you remember the scene where Mel Brooks character popped open a fresh can of air?

        We were all laughing then…

    • taxpayer says:

      The value of the wind is part of the value of the land, which is already taxed. Most states give big tax breaks to owners of farmland, so I don’t know how much will be collected. However, as the lease of land for turbine space generates income for the farmland owner, there would presumably be some tax on this income. A report from National Wind Watch indicates each turbine earns an annual royalty payment of $5,000 and $8,000, and requires about 60 acres per turbine, but about 57 of those acres can still be farmed. But the location of the turbine towers will disrupt some farming, making things more complicated. Seems like a profitable deal for the farmland owner, especially if nobody lives on the farm.

      • William Murphree says:

        Property owners are now selling the property and keeping the “Wind Rights” similar to the way mineral rights have been separated. They will be financially compensated for any future power generation over that property.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        If they build another wind farm upwind of my wind farm can I sue them for depriving me of wind energy?

    • NBay says:

      Guess I have a few criminal friends in the hills around Medford with 1350/2500 gal plastic tanks. But then one (a damn good carpenter) got a permit for a garage his son (maybe aging parent by now) live in. Lock them up!

  6. Implicit says:

    Natural gas- the father of green energy

    • Mike smith says:

      My science says the main componite of methane combustion is co2
      Still the problem

      • Implicit says:

        Methane -CH4 by product combines with O2 to make 2 molecules of water(2H2O) and 1 molecule of CO2. Plants love CO2
        Plant trees and stop rain forest destruction.
        There is also a lot of waste and earth hurting drawbacks to the building of solar panels, windmills etc.. and the life span of these devices is about 20 yrs, before all the plastic, and plenty of earth scraping mining metal and batteries breaks down and goes to the dump. NG turbines have a life of about 40 yrs.. It takes a lot of energy to just produce this stuff, and
        lots of rare earth metals. The batteries running EVs last about 5 yrs.
        In general people are premature with the earth saving goodness and efficiency of green energy compared to nat gas. We can not afford to move to rapidly. It is not practical or affordable

        • NBay says:

          Not much choice long term. What say we get dead serious about improving it? And screw “afford”, 125T in net household and “non profit” wealth in US right now

      • M Curie says:

        You need to go back to science class.

        • Implicit says:

          You would think we are the only life forms that count in this ecosystem, on this earth.
          I guess co2 is always bad even if the majority (by weight and numbers) of its inhabitants breath it. I guess they just exist for humans so we can destroy them. Not much forethought!
          Humble thyself before the mighty oak, and the rain forest, and then relax, breath out and fart, trees love it ;>{)

        • NBay says:

          Demand the stochiastic equation from him, at least, Madam C.
          These comments need more hard science, anyway.

  7. Brady Boyd says:

    Utility companies will be overjoyed when everyone is “forced” to own an EV.

    • Bookdoc says:

      I also wonder where all the power needed for recharging all of those electric vehicles is going to come from. They are charged at night which eliminates solar…

      • MarMar says:

        There’s a lot of wind at night.

        • Anthony A. says:

          Also reduced demand for air conditioning, somewhat less business and industrial use, etc.

      • Sailor says:

        All those EVs that are used for commuting…
        ..except with work-from-home they now won’t be.
        The future is some home solar (panels plus a few batteries) and scheduling domestic electricity usage to match daytime solar – holdover capacity in freezers, scheduled water tank heating, daytime charging of EVs, etc
        Keep the mains connection, but the usage from the mains can be cut drastically. It takes some knowhow and planning at the moment (I’m doing it), but could easily go mainstream. The only problem is planning-mandated professional installation costs; where people can DIY it is already economic, especially rurally where it also replaces a standby generator for power outages.

      • Implicit says:

        I read an article recently on “Seeking Alpha” that said 36% of grid electricity comes from nat. gas, the most by far of any other energy source.
        It is expected to continue to grow as the major source of grid energy for many years. It is relatively clean, and the most powerful and efficient by far.

        • Implicit says:

          NG dominance is also reflected in Wolf’s chart

        • NBay says:

          Some people have been worshipping that Alpha deity for too long. Just make a small graven image of him out of gold, and worship that, and call it quits.

          Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of a cancer cell.

        • Implicit says:

          I see! It’s a good start, but it will be a long time before they overtake NG’s bang for the buck.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Yes, NG is hard to beat at the moment in terms of flexibility, and renewables need to be balanced in the grid by NG power generators. As batteries assume a larger role, the role of NG will decline, but very slowly. NG in the US is just really hard to beat at current prices.

          But wind and solar are set to overtake coal in a few years.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Brady Boyd,

      Yes, mostdef.

  8. Bookdoc says:

    I’d like to know exactly how much “usable” power wind and solar will generate. As far as I have been told (my daughter is an electrical engineer), there has to be a spinning backup for all of it to cover for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. I have also seen the projected power from the alternative energy versus what is actually supplied and there’s a big difference.

    • Sailor says:

      Your daughter is right.
      Grid-level storage is impractical, though domestic storage for one’s own residence (batteries) can be viable.
      The major problem is that the electricity pricing market makes nuclear marginally unviable, yet it is the best option for grid baseload. It’s a function of building costs & interest rate vs running costs for the different sources. Regulatory costs also make a huge difference, which is why all utilities contribute to both party funds ;)
      Essentially, any non-controlled electrical market is going to see customers left high-and-dry occasionally (like California now), yet individual customers obviously see that as unacceptable and will vote accordingly.
      Irrestistable Force, meet Immovable Object ;)

      • NBay says:

        “vote accordingly”
        Yeah, Gray Davis seemed to be taken out easily….Enron days…I was off grid and out of the loop politic then….doing my own thing…..did sometimes listen to that Brinker guy when mixing cement, on c-crane solar/wind up.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Bookdoc,

      “I’d like to know exactly how much “usable” power wind and solar will generate.”

      Good lordy! READ THE ARTICLE. It tells you “exactly how much ‘usable’ power wind and solar” already generated in thousand MW hours per month (red line in the second chart). A year from now, the red line in the second chart will include 2021 generation data, and so on.

    • Tanstaafl says:

      The “dark doldrums” is a problem, yes. But if the grid is big enough, and with batteries, although pricy in this case, it may work. Probabilly combinded with spot prices on electricity: you pay more when production is low and get paid when there is too much of it. Capitalism works, especially when you include the cost of your actions (pollution, war, Dutch Desease).

    • CreditGB says:

      It’s 9pm, its January, its 10 degrees F, typical of a crystal clear and dead calm night in my area. Because it is clear, the temp will likely dive well below zero before the morning sun arrives.

      All the wind and solar generating “capacity” in the world does nothing to serve my electric power needs tonight. And the “produced” solar and wind power is zero for at least a 12 hour stretch.

      As Bookdoc points out, capacity is one thing, actual production is very much another thing. Not exactly sure what the red line on the chart represents. Produced power or generation capacity. The article seems to quote mostly capacity figures.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        CreditGB,

        Bookdoc is confused and refused to read the article, and it seems my prior articles on this topic, which would have lifted his confusion.

        The first half of the article, including the first two charts, is about the amounts of power actually generated in the past through Oct 2020, by fuel type. This is clear when you actually read the article.

        The red line in the second chart is the actual power generated by wind and solar power plants through Oct 2020 and used by people like you. The first two charts are POWER GENERATION charts – meaning, power actually produced and sold and used. The charts cannot be labeled more clearly. But you do have to read the chart titles.

        The quantity of power that is produced, sold, and used is measured in “gigawatt hours,” or “megawatt hours,” or as in your home, in “kilowatt hours.” It’s a unit of energy. 1 GW hour = 1,000,000 KW hours.

        The second half of the article is about capacity, additions and retirements.

        Capacity is measured in kilowatts, megawatts, or gigawatts (without the “hour”) – that’s the maximum amount of power the plant is rated to be able to produce at one given moment. If a plant with a capacity of “500 MW” runs at 100% of capacity, for one entire hour, it produces “500 MW hours” of electricity which is then sold to and used by people like you.

        There is no chart in the article that tracks capacity.

        • ElbowWilham says:

          Maybe its the terms that are causing the confusion, but I think the issue people are asking is will it be usable when I need to use it. If a plant produces 500 MW one hour, and then 0 for the next, how usable is it? You still need a plant running that has the capacity to make up the difference for that hour of zero production.

          As Germany found out, their use of fossil fuels went up when they added “rebuildable” power.

          There is no way we could build enough storage capacity for an industrial civilization like ours. We would have to strip mine every square inch of the planet.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Power is generated on demand. That’s how the grid operates. If there is demand, power generators need to generate it and the grid needs to deliver it. This happens in milliseconds. Generate too much or too little, and the system blows up — some things literally — and you get a blackout. Power demand varies dramatically during the day. And the grid has to be able to deal with it. The grid is designed for maximum power loads, and most of the time, there is huge excess capacity, such as at night.

        • CreditGB says:

          Thank you for this clarification.

      • NBay says:

        Full disclosure of “needs” please.

        Home and window sq footage is a good starting point, then maybe room temp and R-value and KWHr “needed”.

        This article IS about energy, which isn’t measured in units of “needs”.

  9. David Hall says:

    GE designed the world’s largest wind turbine. It has a 220 meter rotor and may generate 12 MW.

    America is rapidly increasing LNG exports.

    Part of a switch to solar energy depends on battery technology. China made a partial shifted to EV cars. China has been increasing their oil imports.

    • Seneca's cliff says:

      LNG exports from the the US dropped in half during the last year, remains to be seen if they will grow again after the pandemic is over.

    • Tom15 says:

      China is still cranking out new coal plants.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Because China doesn’t produce a lot of cheap natural gas. It imports most of its NG, some of it from neighboring countries, including Russia, via pipeline, and some of it via expensive LNG.

      • nick kelly says:

        True and yet can claim to be world’s largest user of solar. All kinds of weird things happen to stats when your population is 1.4 billion. The largest user of wind/solar per capita is Germany.

    • NBay says:

      Doing maintenance on that ought to satisfy anyone wanting a macho job.

      As for the other exports, shouldn’t we start feeling like we are a colony again?

      I knew things were going south when I saw raw logs being loaded on ships in Eureka early 70’s.

      Some people will do anything to get rich.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        NBay-Remember well those timber exports.

        Though a seemingly obvious observation, i think your last sentence should be the core message of a new primary-school-level subject entitled: ‘Caveat Emptor’…

        may we all find a better day.

        • NBay says:

          Good notion. Had a very short academic experience that was similar.

          I took my first Philosophy class when I hit JC in ’65. Prof
          wrote name on board and went in to a 5 min dialogue asking us, Who are these people? What do they want? Why do they do it? Where do they come from?…etc. Said write a paper on them and walked out. Never gave papers back. Then we just went on to the usual reading, discussing, great philosophers old and new and such. I dunno, maybe he wrote a book.
          Also knew right then I was gonna like going to college.

  10. Those new energy producing centers could support Bitcoin mining. Texas is mulling a secession initiative on the ballot. I don’t believe that crypto is going to be monopoly business, there’s room for as many as you like, and whoever has the most cheap electricity wins. To that goal governments will subsidize electric consumption to attract bitcoin operations. Crypto will facilitate the end of the Federal Reserve and entire foreign policy wing of USG which relies on sanctions and financial repression. All done faster and neater than a bunch of low lifes storming Congress.

    • MCH says:

      Bah, Texas is always trying to secede. And no, the government won’t like cryptos unless it is behind it. I think where crypto use to be a joke, now serious people like the Fed are talking about doing their version of crypto, a Fed coin.

      It is the ultimate monitoring tool, MZ, eat your heart out.

      • Once Fed adopts crypto that legitimizes it’s use, and there is never going to be just one crypto. They’re really only interested in bank transactions. When that happens money laundering, like insider trading is no longer a crime. So monitor what?

        • nick kelly says:

          There is massive confusion between virtual, digital and crypto. The digital dollar will have nothing in common with Bitcoin. It won’t be a limited edition or a vehicle for ‘investing’.
          Virtually no one uses BC as currency. How could something that fluctuates so wildly be a medium of exchange? Both parties would need identical expectations for its next move.

          Central banks toying with the idea of storing and transferring dollars electronically stimulates speculation in BC only because both use computers, which is enough to set off the Robin Hood crowd.

    • endeavor says:

      In Michigan, like most other states I presume, there is a corporate and residential rate. Not long ago they began to subsidize the corporate rate by higher residential rates. In the past this was just the opposite.
      We just had a 12% increase for residential and a undisclosed corporate increase or decrease. The media does’t disclose corporate rate charges that I can find.

  11. max says:

    World total coal production, 1971-2019 provisional

    https://www.iea.org/reports/coal-information-overview

    1978 — 3554 mt
    2019 — 7291 mt

    Worldwide, coal consumption for electricity generation is almost growing at the same rate as the electricity consumption (2.8% per year versus 3% per year between 2000 and 2017). As a result, the share of coal in the power mix has almost remained steady for the past 20 years around 40%. Even if it has only decreased by two points since 2010 (see Figure below), coal is still the most widely used energy source for electricity generation in the world.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      max,

      According to the report you linked, coal consumption has:

      – soared in China, Indonesia, India, and Vietnam
      – plunged in the US, the EU, South Africa, Russia, and the rest of the world.

      • Ernst, Lopes Cardozo says:

        As long as we are increasing the production of solare panels, windmills and batteries (which is absolutely necessary), we are investing energy in those products. Currently, a lot of that comes from China, but in fact it doesn’t make any difference where on the planet we use energy to make these products. The fact is, each item will take some time (several years) to produce as much energy as it took to make it. So after say 2 years, a solar panel has paid its energy-debt and starts to produce “new” energy – only, by that time we are producing more panels, so the initial panel can not produce enough energy to cover the production of the new ones. So we have to use dirty sources to feed the growing production. Only when the world approaches a steady-state, where the yearly production is about constant and serves to replace old panels, will solar start to replace other sources on a global scale. In the mean time, consumption reduction seems the only game.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Ernst, Lopes Cardozo,

          ANYTIME you produce ANYTHING, such as manufacturing and shipping the electronic device you wrote your comment on, it consumes energy. Human activity consumes energy. The electrons and infrastructure needed to get your comment across the internet and to my server consumed energy. That’s a given. But NONE of this activity PRODUCED energy. They only CONSUMED energy.

          So ask yourself how much energy a coal-fired powerplant consumes over its life, including the materials, equipment, components, construction, maintenance, the fuel, the transportation by train of that fuel across hundreds or thousands of miles, etc. But powerplants – whether coal or wind or solar or whatever – at least generate energy, unlike your electronic device that just consumes energy endlessly.

          And compared with the energy consumption of a coal plant over its life, solar panels look pretty good because the “fuel” is already there and is free and doesn’t consume any energy to mine, transport, and process.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Coal consumption falls where virtue signaling rules.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Lisa_Hooker,

          You underestimate the power of greed. Burning coal to generate power is now too expensive, compared to other sources. Simple as that. If power generators have a choice between making more money with a natural gas-fired combined cycle plant than with a coal plant, why on earth would they build a coal plant? Now the same calculus is including some renewable plants.

        • reverse_petunia says:

          snarky non-factual pro coal comments increase where Fox news brainwashing rules

        • NBay says:

          Had an ex-buddy that went to Navy nuke school in Idaho. Same as Carter. With no other education, he worked for Bechtel, United Engineers, and finally was a chief scheduling Engr at Fluor, Irvine, maybe 20 guys under him. Lived in Tustin then, early-mid 80s. Took me out to that big black cobra shaped HQ building, with it’s fleet of limos and heli-pads.

          Told me power plant operators don’t give a damn where the power comes from, as long as they control it.

  12. Tankster says:

    Billions will be made in power conditioning devices that can handle the fluctuations in power coming into businesses that depend on constant voltage and transmission. In Florida summer thunderstorms can take out 20+ sq/mi of solar, then either batteries onsite need to kick in or gas powered plants always need to be spinning to power up when supply drops drastically. I think ABB might be a good play, is Schneider public? Ideas? Stranded costs like transmission fock things up who’s going to pay for a new grid?

  13. WP says:

    Wolf – On “Exelon is planning to retire two nuclear plants with two reactors each in Dresden and Byron, Illinois, for a total of 4.1 GW”.

    Note there are alot of politics around these nuke plants. These nukes have been subsidized by the rate payers the past couple of years via a separate $2 monthly charge on rate payers bills i.e. “bailout” to help the profit margins Exelon and its shareholders would like. This bailout was approved in 2016 and is coming up for renewal at a time when it’s subsidiary ComEd pleaded in a Deferred Prosecution Agreement that they were bribing the current Speaker of the House in Illinois. There have been various indictments around this over the past several months and potentially more coming.

    It is not a foregone conclusion that the plants will close as the plants generate over 50% of Illinois electricity in the State. Closing these is likely to result in more coal and “dirty” generating sources. The Gov has publicly stated his desire to have more “clean” energy sources. Exelon has again threatened to close these nuke plants by the fall if the ratepayer subsidies are not extended. The Gov has hired a 3rd party to study the financial issue to see if the nukes are truly not profitable or are profitable but not hitting Exelon’s desired portfolio return. We will see how this plays out. The backdrop of the federal investigation going on with ComEd and the Legislature are also key as to how this all plays out.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      The decommissioning costs for those two nuclear power stations, after they cease generating power, will burden the rate payers for decades to come.

      • NBay says:

        Yeah, and Nevada told them to take that Yucca Mtn idea and shove it.

        Retech in Ukiah had a pretty good biz for years making gear that vitrifyed that crap. Think TRW bought them, just talked to a buddy up there and he said it’s closed. I was at an outfit near them (was where our road met 101) looking for a job when I lived off grid with (I think) a support biz that made massive amperage pwr supplies, maybe for the furnaces.
        No Nukes!

  14. Kenn says:

    Bookdoc, The solution to intermittent solar and wind power generation is utility controlled consumption. I expect that, as electric cars get more popular, that the utilities will offer lower rates in exchange for the ability to shut off your home car charger when electric demand exceeds generation. They already have the ability in some areas to control home central air conditioners in exchange for a (pitifully small) rate rebate.

    • Heinz says:

      Control of energy could be a fundamental factor in controlling people.

      Adoption of EVs across the population and then potential control of recharging their batteries (not to mention other electrical devices) is a concerning thought.

      Perhaps eventually your social credit score will be used to decide how much daily juice is metered to you.

      Sound far-fetched? Who would have believed how much society would degenerate a mere two decades ago?

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        I have raised this issue before. It’s one thing when petrol is provided by a large number of different competing supply stations. It’s another thing when transportation fuel is supplied through a single monopoly. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      “Can’t make it into work today Boss. The utility shut down my charger last night.”

  15. Ron says:

    Have you heard of Taas you won’t own a car pay monthly subscription fee of say 150$ autonomous vechile will be your cab no insurance no gas no maintenance sign me up way more efficient

    • endeavor says:

      Ron, the problem will be when you have to share the same car with 3 other people and carpool.

    • El Katz says:

      @ Ron: Great idea for city dwellers. For the rest of the country, not so much.

    • ElbowWilham says:

      How do I drive 4 hours into the mountains to go camping and hunting?

  16. Implicit says:

    ..that was cite properly, not site :>{)

  17. roddy6667 says:

    So electricity costs will plummet when we use the “free” sun and wind sources? Not hardly. The hidden costs of solar and wind power are immense, and they are only part-time sources.

  18. Yort says:

    Corn went limit up today at a 7 year high, 71% gain in five short months. Container shipping rates hit a new record today. Small caps closed at all time highs today, even though about 33% lose money. 10 year treasury yields getting close to hitting SP500 dividend rate, which is super odd for future “risk on” market euphoria.

    Therefore, I am confident the Fed can manipulate electric rates higher…goooo Fed!

    “Good” Fed Inflation…oh yeah…Loving the stealth tax, said nobody…

  19. Paulo says:

    Good news story/article. Thanks.

    If renewables can generate a huge amount intermittent, and base NG/Nuke/Hydro can keep the reliability functioning for society, this will only help dealing with Climate Change. Problem: methane release in production of NG is the worst GHG offender. And…NG is a fossil fuel and burning any of it and adds to the problem. That it replaces coal is like saying “I only beat my _______ on Sundays”.

    I live where all electricity is Hydro. We also have a tier system to promote conservation. Our home bill, with backup electric in-wall fan heaters, is about $40 per month. This includes an electric range and electric HW and a full range of shop tools. We usually use wood heat which is very efficient these days and considered to be carbon neutral. And yes, we plant/grow more trees than what we burn.

  20. Yancey Ward says:

    We will eventually be back to waterwheels.

  21. Yancey Ward says:

    We have become stupid.

    • Reverse-petunia says:

      Me too, I refuse to use that stupid electricity generated by that socialist waterwheel called Bonneville dam

  22. EJ says:

    Drive through west Texas, and you’ll see cows lumbering past natural gas/oil wells, and looking up at giant wind turbines in the middle of their field.

    Its so… efficient. And it just screams “Texas.”

  23. WES says:

    I started my career working as a service engineer for a Milwaukee mining machine manufacturer in 1976, shortly after the 1970s oil crisis hit.

    At that time everybody and his brother was rushing to open coal mines. This mania lasted for about 8 years before the bottom fell out.

    I helped build the large electric; stripping draglines, mining shovels, and blast hole drills, required to mine coal. I even built a few electric mining trucks on the side.

    All of this equipment was extremely ĺarge. Think of a dragline bucket the size of your 2 car or 4 car garage on the end of a 400 foot long fishing pole! Shovel buckets large enough to park 2 pickups! Mining trucks so big that if they ran over your car, they wouldn’t even feel the bump!

    The worst part about this first career, is that I completely failed to make global warming happen! You keep promising me warmer temperatures but you still haven’t delivered! I am now getting old and tired of waiting for everything to warm up! There is still snow on the ground!

    I want global warming and I want it now!

    • Anthony A. says:

      *I want global warming and I want it now!*

      WES, we had below 32 F here in Houston, Texas Tuesday morning. Where the heck is the *warm* button?

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        Wes/Anthony- suggest you look at photos of Glacier Nat’l. Park, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Aconcagua taken at the start of the 1900’s vs. this year. Add yearly sat imagery of the seasonal polar icepacks (linked to thickness data) since it became available to the present. I believe you’ll find your answer.

        may we all find a better day.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          Also suggest referring to incontrovertible geological evidence of miles thick ice over Canada and Northern North America. It’s been warming for a long, long time.

        • NBay says:

          Now now…no cherry picking the geological record….use a time relevant x axis please.

        • nick kelly says:

          The first ‘ship’ to make the Northwest passage from Pacific to Atlantic to Pacific was the RCMP boat St.Roche in the 1930 s. She was very short, 100 ft, so she could turn around in all the narrow ‘leads’, channels in the ice that usually led nowhere but to ice. It took her 86 days. A breeze compared to her earlier trip in the other direction when she was trapped in the ice for two years.
          Today you can take a cruise boat through there and at least one bulk carrier has been through.
          The famous ‘Ice Man’ who emerged from a melting Swiss glacier a few years ago had been there for thousands of years.

          You would think that literate people using computers, flying on jets etc. and generally enjoying the fruits of science, would realize that questions about changes in the atmosphere and the effect on retention of solar heat are questions for science, not the Farmers’ Almanack, or whether you feel cold today.

          Every cold snap, a few folks die using barbecues etc. inside the house. Humans only began using fossil fuels in bulk about 200 years ago, or yesterday in geologic time. Then the coal orgy began, followed by gas and oil. Wouldn’t common sense alone suggest that all this combustion changes the atmosphere?

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Almost took a project management job with Bucyrus. Great company. Very, very, very big machines.

      • NBay says:

        Should have taken the job if they impressed you that much.
        Maybe they would have even let you operate or drive them.
        More fun than a desk job, I betcha.

    • Implicit says:

      WE are in a solar flare minimum stage where the sun is producing less solar flares. There have been at least 13 solar minimum mini cold cycle ice ages as seen in the ice drilling holes carbon dated readings. The odds of a colder than usual next 10 years is a higher probability than of a warmer one on average. Google or Tor browser solar minimum and maximum due to solar flares.
      However it is like debating about inflation and deflation during a money printing depression

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        Imp-ice-cores are usually ‘heavy O2’, not ‘carbon’ dated (not much carbon in water ice as it isn’t a life-form in and of itself (amount of carbon contained therein, smoke&volcanic exhaust or fossil micoscopic life for example, AT a date is a different metric). Not differing that the sun likely plays a much greater effect on climate fluctuation than we tend to credit it (how often does ’00’ come up on the roulette wheel of the solar system?) but one needs to put ALL the cards on the data table, i.e.: the much-more-recent200+ years of human technological/manufacturing expansion that has added its own chunk of effluent and population-geoeffects to that which occurs ‘naturally’-our ingenious exploitation of resources have allowed those effluvia/effects to punch well above their weight for the time period they’ve been around.

        Not saying, either, that climate change is totally-or even greatly-anthropomorphic- just that the Industrial Revolution has provided a blasting cap that accelerated the burn and created with it a burgeoning world population demanding ever more from that revolution, and, by extension, this planet we all live on. As a species, we can only adapt to the evident negative effects-we didn’t know enough early on to subsequently give us time for anything resembling a ‘do-over’, or even a ‘whoa’. Perhaps we can preserve/maintain those resources still in the planet’s larder. Perhaps not.

        may we all find a better day.

        • NBay says:

          Yep. Damned well written, too.

          I say try, nothing to lose.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          Hubris gives us hope. We are only one of the infections of this planet. May we make a better day.

        • NBay says:

          True, it’s been all just simple elements from long dead stars doing the molecular thing. I suppose being the first of the self replicating molecules to wipe themselves out without any externalities helping us is some kind of achievement worthy of pride. 4 billion years more self replicating is possible before the sun ends it all, and it took the first 3 1/2B to get to eukaryotes and multi cells. Maybe enough time left for a hat trick, eh?

  24. Rich Bonderud says:

    Has no one heard of liquid fluoride salt thorium nuclear reactors. There is enough thorium to power our civilization for a 1000 years. Melt downs automatically solidify reactants and turn off the reactor.

    • Em says:

      Yes – they should become wide spread, modular power plants but… not everything that makes sense turns into reality…

    • OutWest says:

      Build one next to your home Rich and check back here in let’s say, about 20 years. Best of luck!

    • Seneca’s Cliff says:

      liquid fluoride salt thorium nuclear reactors are a lot like the recently hot concept of mining helium 3 on the moon to be used in reactors on earth. They are not so much attainable realities as they are philosophical symbols that represent confidence in a future of limitless technical possibilities unconstrained by resource limitations. I think we will find them much like nuclear fusion. An amazing technical possibility that is 20 years in the future and always will be.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        Seneca-outstanding observation! The technology that allowed the development of lightswitch-ease appliances doesn’t mean the technology is lightswitch-available (which allows a blithe ignorance of resource limitations. Remember, folks, breathable air comes not from the sky, nor drinkable water from a tap, nor food from a supermarket/food bank…).

        may we all find a better day.

        • NBay says:

          I hope some people are at least looking up what Seneca’s Cliff is. Maybe some of his other observations, too.

          Outstanding posts from the both of ya’s.

          Star Wars visions are for nut jobs to have, just have the vision, and then send the little scientists and engineers scurrying about, and presto, your vision is produced.

          Carter was the only president we had who was a scientist, he told us what nobody wanted to hear, and that was the end of him (politically, anyway)

    • roddy6667 says:

      There are lots of reasons why these reactors have not been scaled up into widespread usage. They are still experimental.

    • EJ says:

      The big cost for reactors doesn’t come from fuel, or disposal, but from building and maintaining the darn things.

      Thorium may be more scalable and sustainable, which is good, but I don’t think its a huge economic leap.

    • NBay says:

      Heard of lots of things, including that. Worked with thorium fluoride in thin film vac coating. Alpha emmiter. Thorium decays into radon gas. But it is everywhere, extra in some areas like Grand Junction CO and Binghamton NY.

      Anyway, know where I can visit one of these plants and check it out?

      Wonder what the science is stopping them?

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Has no one read up on the difficulties of creating materials that can withstand the extremely high temperatures required with liquid halogen metals? They have enough troubles with gaseous UF6. Although I favor at least trying something with Thorium as it could burn existing stockpiles of U isotopic waste products that continue to accumulate.

      • NBay says:

        Gaseous UF6 a problem? Hardly. Maybe at Oak Ridge very early on when they were after fission grade U. But that’s really old hat stuff. Leave the thorium in the dirt.

  25. Wes says:

    Interesting article Mr. Richter. Battery storage cost has decreased to the point that it’s becoming more economical to use them instead of starting up electrical “peaker “ plants when electricity demand is high (temporarily exceeds normal demand). Battery storage also can temporarily fill in the demand for solar and intermittent wind power.

  26. SpencerG says:

    I am always fascinated by how much positive ink Solar Power gets for providing so little electricity to the grid. In order to keep their charts correct, the EIA has always lumped Solar in with Wind Power. But Wind has always completely outstripped Solar as a source of electricity in the U.S. at least… 7% to 2% as of 2019 according to the EIA. For all of the Obama Stimulus Money that was spent on renewable energy (over $80 billion) we could have increased our nuclear capacity by a third… but instead we wasted it on Solar Power which only overtook SAWDUST (yes, you read that right… sawdust) as a source of power in 2017.

    And while Wolf said a couple of times that ” wind and solar combined will blow by coal”… a more accurate way of putting that is that Natural Gas will continue to destroy the market for coal plants so that eventually Coal plants will drop below the level of energy production of wind and solar combined.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      SpencerG,

      Your last paragraph is correct, and I explained why NG is killing coal in detail in last my two paragraphs (arrival of the combined cycle power plant and cheap natural gas in the US).

      In terms of the rest, lots of BS or outdated stuff here. So here we go…

      1. “… the EIA has always lumped Solar in with Wind Power.” BS. The EIA as always reported them separately. I added them together because they belong together.

      2. Wind-solar “7% to 2%” – outdated. In 2020, it was 8.1% and 3.2% for a combined 11.2% (rounding).

      3. “we could have increased our nuclear capacity by a third…” BS. Nuclear is THE most expensive form of power generation. In the US, it takes many, many years from planning to operation. Plants have been cancelled after billions of dollars of cost-overruns. The risks are so huge that a utility cannot even borrow the many billions of dollars it takes to fund the project unless it gets taxpayer guarantees or government loans and huge government subsidies. Nukes are money sinkholes in the US. And the industry understands that.

      In China, where the state plans, sites, funds, and builds the nukes, not matter what, no opposition or doubts or safety concerns allowed, it’s a different story. But this is the US.

    • Seneca's cliff says:

      When I was in business school in the early 80’s I rented a house with a sawdust furnace in the basement. At the time you could get sawdust delivered free to the hatch on the side of the basement in that part of Oregon. No motors or electricity needed, just shovel a big cone shaped hopper full of sawdust, and a little bimetal spring on the thermostat pulled on a chain to open and close a damper regulating the size of the fire. Sawdust rules.

      • NBay says:

        I remember when ALL lumber mills had burners. We used to make money as kids picking “mill wood” out of the chain going up to the burner. Chopsaw ends….lots of big blocks of wood…sometimes up to 4×10 2ft long….score!….stacked real easy in the PU, though, only got $15 a cord for that softwood stuff, delivered and stacked in shed. Hardwood was $25/cord 16″ split, delivered and stacked in shed. Had to pay buddy’s older sister $2 to drive, when she was in the mood. Not as many rich folks up there then as there are today.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Check out the automatic home furnaces that burn dry corn. A very quickly renewable green fuel. Helps if you live in Iowa.

        • NBay says:

          Bet you like corn ethanol, too. Trouble is, it ain’t sugar cane. About 1:1 ROE. Big waste. Not all green bio-fuels are good, in fact sugar cane isn’t all that hot 1:8-9 ROE?
          Don’t like burning food, no mam, don’t like it at all. Unlike most of the Iowa folk.

  27. c1ue says:

    It is important to note what total US electricity generation capacity is – to put the above retirement and new build numbers in perspective.
    As far as I recall, total US electricity generation capacity is 1200 Gw.

    Furthermore, the solar and wind plant capacity is far less than it seems because capacity factors for natural gas or coal are 60% to 80% vs. solar average 16% and wind 35%.

    Or in other words, the new capacity alternative energy wind and solar 28 GW is equivalent to between 20% and 58% of a coal or natural gas plant in terms of absolute generation capacity. Actual usable generation capacity is visibly lower than that – solar in particular tends to generate electricity when demand is low.
    And this doesn’t even count storage costs or alternate generation costs – for when uncooperative weather reduces or stops solar/wind generation.

    All this at an enormous up front cost.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      c1ue

      People keep forgetting that the “fuel” is FREE for the life of the wind and solar plant. That’s not the case for NG and coal, where fuel costs continue for the life of the plant, and the more you run the plant the more the fuel costs you. Free fuel for life changes the math of power plants.

      Look at the power generation chart (second chart). That’s reality, it includes the amount of power generated by wind and solar. As you can tell from the capacity additions in 2021, the red line will continue to rise.

      • c1ue says:

        The life isn’t infinite. It is 20 years at most.
        And most importantly – it is still damned expensive.
        I really hope you haven’t bought the nonsense that operating costs for solar and wind are zero…

    • SpencerG says:

      “solar in particular tends to generate electricity when demand is low.”

      Huh?

      Solar delivers when energy usage PEAKS… mid-day. In many ways I am a giant solar energy skeptic and even I cannot buy that argument.

  28. Ballard Dan says:

    I live in Seattle and still work and travel around the western United States. When you get outside the urban bubble and drive by acres and acres of wind farms it just doesn’t seem right taking up all this open space and the same goes for solar farms. The energy density just doesn’t seem worth it.

    Just my 2cents, I’m no expert and it’s hard to find credible resources discussing the fact that wind and solar are not the savior of climate change.

    • NBay says:

      The Mojave, Sonoran, Imperial, West TX, NM, OK….etc,etc……

      “I travel around the western US”, my arse!

      And you don’t really get to use the “energy density” concept till you have played with focused CO2 Lasers…..so don’t use it, OK?

  29. joe2 says:

    On it’s face who could argue against using sun and wind versus digging up a resource that has valuable alternate uses and just burning it. Like burning books for heat.

    But you have got to go into this with your eyes open and your life-cycle cost estimates and maintenance budgets in place. Government has never done this even poorly and industry now just expects government printing – or rate hikes – to bail them out when they get into trouble. Does California have brown-outs already? BTW, they don’t do too good with water either.

    I sure hope this is not just seat-of-the-pants and-then-a-miracle-occurs systems engineering. But history is not encouraging. Which leave you with “who could have foreseen” brownouts and rate hikes. We shall see. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      You’re forgetting that the “FUEL” IS FREE with wind and solar over the life of the plant. Those fuel costs will always be zero no matter what inflation will do. I have no idea why people keep forgetting that. Free “fuel” changes the entire math of a power plant.

      • ElbowWilham says:

        How is that different then saying Fossil Fuels are free, since it is just trapped and converted sunlight?

        So the fuel is free, its just the processing, extracting, etc that costs, similar to “rebuildable” energy.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          ElbowWilham,

          Sheesh! From the power generators’ point of view. This is a business. Do they have to pay for the coal or NG? Yes. Do they have to pay for the wind? No. Duh!

      • joe2 says:

        Wolf, and fuel is one of, but not the biggest expense for my car.

        Just refer me to your facility life-cycle economic cost comparison analysis so I can see where you are coming from.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          I have no idea what the cost of running a car has to do with this discussion. But I’ll play along.

          So if I have a pickup that I bought used for $10,000, and financed at 6% for 5 years, my monthly payment is about $190. Plus, I might have $50 a month in insurance. Total cost if it’s parked all day: $240 a month. Now if I drive it 2,000 miles a month to do my job, and it gets 20 mpg (lucky me), I have to buy 100 gallons of gasoline a month. At an average cost of $3.30 per gallon (California), I have to pay $330 a month for fuel — by far the biggest expense of ownership of the truck.

          Yeah, if I never drive it, if it’s just decoration out front, fuel expense = zero.

          I still have no idea what your car has to do with this discussion here.

        • joe2 says:

          Hell Wolf. You brought up fuel cost as the governing component of running a power plant and ignore taxes, financing, maintenance, construction life-cycle costs without referencing any backup. It is similar to running a car – both have fuel costs as a major component -, but you cherry pick a situation ($10K pickup? try $50K or do you also buy used power plants) to again ignore taxes, purchase cost, depreciation, maintenance.
          I don’t have a lot of confidence in your numbers since you don’t give any, and you can’t give me an independent comparative economic analysis between different types of power plants. Should be a simple thing.
          Assumptions are not analysis and assuming you are right is not a convincing argument.
          I’m open to a real argument with some factual basis.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          joe2,

          “you can’t give me an independent comparative economic analysis between different types of power plants.”

          You didn’t ask for that. You told me some crap about your personal car.

          Power plant math is a well-established discipline. Power plant owners use it all the time before building a plant. All kinds of inputs go into it. You’re free to learn how to do that, and get hired doing it, and do it for a living. You’re also welcome to do it for a hobby to pass your time. That’s your choice. But it’s not a topic here.

          Your comparison of power plants to your personal car is just nuts.

          BTW, your figure of “try $50K” is in the luxury end for a new vehicle purchased in Dec 2020, when the average transaction price for all new vehicles was $38K. So your luxury vehicle is cherry-picked data that few people can even afford to buy. But you can buy a perfectly good used car for $10K which is the number I played with. It’s still BS to compare the financials of a car to those of a power plant.

        • joe2 says:

          OK Wolf. Last try. You claimed “FREE FUEL” is the main cost component discriminator between power generation plants. I asked for a breakout of fuel cost as a component of total lifecycle cost to backup your claim. In many systems what look like the main cost drivers are actually subordinate to not so obvious factors. So you could just have given me a reference to shut me up.

          So I did my own quick search.
          And from:
          https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/electricity_generation.pdf
          Table 1b shows LCOE and variable O&M (which I assume is mostly fuel cost). While solar is cheapest , note that offshore wind is almost 2X coal even with 0 fuel cost.

          We can continue this offline if you want.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Why don’t you let the people that know this stuff make the decisions what kind of power plant to build? They use their expertise and calculations and their profit motive and they don’t rely on the EIA’s intro page written for people who’ve never heard about any of this. And they’re building the power plants that they think will make them most money. And they do not give a hoot about what you think. So when you look at the capacity additions, that’s the result of those decisions. Live with it!

      • Saylor says:

        Wolf,
        In my years of management I learned that to get through to people you have to explain things a few time…,
        Intelligent people @ 3 times
        Average people @5 times.
        Your dog…@10 times

        Don’t give up!

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Don’t fret Wolf. We will eventually burn the coal when it gets cold enough. The earth has always gotten colder after getting warmer. A lot colder. Fortunately the two of us won’t be alive.

    • Heinz says:

      To the green adherents who stubbornly stick to their (unsupported by scientific evidence) climate change narrative of AGW and carbon emissions, solar energy in particular is their chosen ‘knight in shining armor’.

      However, solar and wind have real drawbacks and real environmental costs that are often brushed aside because they would be revealed as inconvenient chinks in that ‘armor’.

      But all debate aside, to me the 900 lb. gorilla in the living room in discussions about our electrical energy system is the high probability over time that our aging and vulnerable grid will be wiped out by a solar flare or CME event, sending us all back to the middle ages.

      With the sun now entering an active period in its 11 year solar cycle, and earth’s protective geomagnetic field strength continuing to drop precipitously an unfortunate grid event is baked in the cake.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Spot on h, and thanks for the reminder for all of us on here.
        IMO, expressed just yesterday to my beloved when she came home from her ”essential” workplace concerned with a tale from a respected co-worker about how the world is coming to an end in the next few days due to riots, armies of the right and left, etc., etc., and we need to stock up on basics, etc.
        My reply was that, in spite of the idiots of all kinds spraying blather and BS on what is referred to as social media, facehook, etc., etc., but really should be referred to as anti social media, the likely end of the world as we know it is much more likely from a CME, AKA, ”Carrington Event.”
        Not back to the middle ages, but definitely back to the early 1950s era, with no electronics, and for a while at least, no electricity because of the current dependence of ”the grid” until folks get it together to generate and share electricity locally, as was done in my home town by virtue of a small power plant fueled by delivery by barge.
        Time and enough for engineering folks to work out the designs for wood fired power plants for places that have enough woods.
        Otherwise, best combinations are likely totally local, with solar and wind and small scale hydro, augmented only when necessary temporarily by wood and other fuels.
        Those will do after the next CME, until the currently ongoing efforts by theoretical physicists to work out the corrections and extensions to Einstein’s last work needed for ”gravity” to take the place of all the fuel type energy sources.
        Won’t be long from what I am reading these days, but, ”long” is certainly a ”relative” term, eh

        • Seneca's cliff says:

          We have certainly set ourselves up for a big fall in the case of a Carrington event. Many people don’t realize what a lucky outlier that last 150 years have been from the perspective of rainfall, climate, solar radiation, volcano activity and geologic activity. It is likely we may be entering and era when the earth and the solar system is not so cooperative with our modern way of life.

        • Heinz says:

          “Not back to the middle ages, but definitely back to the early 1950s era, with no electronics, and for a while at least, no electricity because of the current dependence of ”the grid” until folks …”

          That is a very optimistic view of a catastrophic electric grid-killing solar event. And by the way, by the 1950s most of US was fully electrified to today’s standards, with exception of some rural areas that were still catching up.

          Probably the most concerning part of a Carrington-type solar storm today is the fact that earth’s magnetosphere is has weakened over past century and continues to do so (look it up).

          Our geomagnetic field is our primary protection from excessive solar flares and CMEs. When weak as it is today an otherwise borderline solar storm (in intensity) can wreak much more havoc on electric infrastructure.

          We haven’t prepared for a catastrophic solar event, and so the electric grid could be down for months or even years. Try surviving without electricity for months on end. How would your fuel, food, and water arrive without electric power of machines to do the work?

      • Implicit says:

        “Scientists believe the Sun was at its weakest in 2019 in the last 100 years or so — known as the solar minimum — and 2020 marks the beginning of the 25th cycle. … Scientists say the Sun may be going through a long period of decreased activity known as the Modern Grand Solar Minimum from 2020 to 2053.Sep 23, 2020”
        From: Down TO Earth-Science and Technology
        Solar minimum will be longer than I read on another web site

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        My vote is for a giant meteor from out of the ecliptic coming at us just over the Sun. We haven’t had a decent extinction event for years.

  30. Ervin Gazy says:

    In an article published in S&P Platts on January 11th about the desperate situation in Japan concerning their ability to produce enough electricity during the brutal winter they are experiencing. After talking about nuclear and coal and of course LNG and the hurtles each are causing, a short note explained the due to snow cover, cloudiness and the time of year, solar power was adding very little power to the system. Please explain how solar power will be our salvation.

    • Ballard Dan says:

      Well, here is a recent article High Country News with basically an opposite view to the book I referred. The HCN article also addresses tax revenues provided by wind farms and it’s current benefit. The next ten plus years are going to be really interesting with how power generation is changing in wealthy economies. Good discussion.

      https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.2/north-wind-power-new-wind-projects-power-local-budgets-in-wyoming

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Ervin Gazy,

      That’s BS nuts: “Please explain how solar power will be our salvation.” This knee-jerk garbage is tiring to read. NO ONE said solar power is the only power to be used. That is just horrifying idiotic BS. And you used the situation in the middle of the winter when solar is least effective to show that solar doesn’t work. But in the US, electricity demand is HIGHEST during hot summer afternoons, when A/Cs are maxed out, and that’s when solar is the best. And the “fuel” is free. That’s why the US has a mix of power generators, all with their advantages and disadvantages.

      • DV says:

        Just one comment: people yet to research how any degrees solar panels add to high summer temperatures when they run red hot, and by how much wind turbines slow wind speeds, i.e. hampering the wind cooling effect. But that is, of course, in the future, when even rich economies fail another time with their green agenda and turn against renewables, as they start black-outs, suffer skyrocketing electricity prices like Germany and see 15 year solar/wind farm demolished, because these are no longer “economical”. It is going to be even worse, if the whole “global warming” theory proves to be a fake and the winters become colder in a few years time.

        But what is even more important: the mankind progressed because it consumed more and more energy per capita. You cannot progress by relying on far less efficient energy solutions. Building 30 GW of capacity to replace 9 GW is not progress! Stagnant power demand is not progress! In fact, drop in power consumption has historically been accompanied by some bad event like war, total economic meld-down, pandemic and that drop was not the consequence, but the cause.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          DV,

          Sheesh. I mean, you’re a smart person with a brain. Use that brain before you post such nonsense: “how any degrees solar panels add to high summer temperatures when they run red hot….”

          This is just ludicrous silly BS. The energy from the sun has already arrived at the surface of the earth, and this energy is going to warm up whatever it hits, whether it’s a roof, or a solar panel, or asphalt, or a rock, or whatever. Many things can take some of this energy and do something with it, such as plants, H2O (evaporation, melting of ice), and the like. The world is full of these processes using the energy of the sun. Solar panels convert some of the energy of the sun into electricity.

          But when you take fossil fuels out of the ground and burn them, such as gas or coal-fired power plants do, you ADD heat to the earth’s surface that wouldn’t be there without it.

  31. Engin-ear says:

    The energy mix is shifting to the “green” side…

    Pure chance, a sudden love for the Planet or a response to tax incentives?

    • Ervin Gazy says:

      Tax incentives and mandates are the reasons solar and wind power exists.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Costs. Coal is too expensive. Nuclear is the most expensive of all. And with wind and solar, the “fuel” is free. All forms of energy are subsidized.

      • Engin-ear says:

        – “The ‘fuel’ is free with wind/solar”

        Interesting argument. I liked it.

        The fuel is extracted from local environment, creating for wind some visual and sound pollution.

        I eagerly accept that wind and solar have their interest because they are not imported from abroad and require no logistics – so free of risks associated with international trade and logistics.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Interesting twist on the “cost” figure. OK, so what is the cost of looking at the coal-fired power plant that is belching fumes? These things are huge multistory structures, next to huge piles of coal, and coal trains coming and going. The cost of looking at a windfarm seems a lot lower than the costs of looking at that kind of fumes-belching hulk, piles of coal, coal dust swirling through the air, and coal trains.

        • Saylor says:

          Perspective…I find the various wind farms to be graceful to watch and encouraging.

        • NBay says:

          I’ve worked as tech for a lot of engineers, but I don’t think I’d work with you for very long at all, you don’t seem to be interested in building stuff anymore.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Fortunately I obtain heat by rubbing two dry clichés together. I have an almost infinite supply. Unfortunately I get no subsidies.

  32. Martha Careful says:

    This sort of goes off into the weeds a bit, but lays out the problem of reduced productivity and investment — and the ongoing weak growth we are experiencing — which is supercharging the dynamics of demographic polarization in our land.

    Instead of politics, the current economic decline is based on corporate theft and a lack of investment in the future of our nation. This is about marginal productivity of capital. The lack of growth in electricity is a fine example of how technology can increase output, while it displaces employment, and thus sets a stage for investing in technology that doesn’t stimulate the economy (in terms of employment). When people lose the ability to produce income and have a way forward, they become more and more afraid of failure. Most of us are in that boat.

    This is an interesting old post, that provides a way to look at technological changes that are having structural changes foe us all.

    Outlook and Market Review – First Quarter 2017
    From: . Vantage Consulting Group, Inc (pdf)

    “The “new” economy now must find ways to stimulate growth with an overhang of 20 trillion in debt and no plan to adjust back to a normal relationship. There will be monetary contraction, not stimulation, and fiscal policy does not have much room to stimulate the economy given the accumulated debt. Only structural changes leading to higher productivity, a higher skilled workforce, incentives for productive investment, cost effective healthcare (which is about 20% of the economy), stimulation of exports, and tax reform are available to improve growth prospects. Without structural change, the secular stagnation thesis has merit. The real rate approximates the economy’s marginal productivity of capital, a concept representing the additional output from using one more unit of capital, everything else equal. Figure 7 shows the time series for the 10-year Treasury Inflation-indexed Security return. This real return measure is one proxy for the marginal productivity of capital. A decline in the marginal productivity of 6 capital in and after a recession is expected, but the declining trend in the U.S. does not appear to be reversing. Real rates less than 1% reflects the structural problems with productivity, capital formation, and mounting federal debt with no real asset in place from the spending.”

    See FRED: 10-Year Treasury Inflation-Indexed Security, Constant Maturity (DFII10)

    Also: Personal consumption expenditures: Household utilities and fuels: Electricity, gas, and other fuels, Billions of Dollars, Not Seasonally Adjusted (DEGFRC1A027NBEA)

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Very tall weeds. But, yes, we have more people than we need. That’s going to be a bigger and bigger problem.

  33. Depth Charge says:

    Hi Wolf. Is there a way to update your site so there is a “save login info” button? Having to type a screen name and email for every comment is a pain in the rear. Not complaining, just sayin’.

  34. Rubicon says:

    Have you ever flown over the UK and Western Europe at? What’s astonishing is how those nations use 40%- 50% LESS power than in the US to “keep the lights on” in those countries.

    You also see this “on the ground” when you’re visiting those nations.

    Isn’t it amazing how this will never happen in the US – all because there’s too much money to be earned by the financial world with America’s multi-billionaires and oligarchs.

  35. Lisa_Hooker says:

    I live in the far suburbs of a very large city. It’s almost 5 o’clock in the morning. It’s overcast. The entire sky is illuminated almost enough to read by. What a waste of energy.

  36. Mira says:

    Hands down, you people are absolutely amazing.

  37. Mira says:

    The time has come, ‘ the walrus said,
    To talk of many things:
    Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax
    Of cabbages – and Kings –
    And why the sea is boiling hot –
    And weather pigs have wings.’

    Hey, we have been brought upon the good stuff.

  38. Farmlass says:

    Has anyone discussed Downdraft Gasification and Fluidized Bed Gasification Plants? These generate electricity from garbage.

    Aries Clean Energy, Franklin, TN is close to completion on a unit in Linden , NJ. Ag waste, wood, tires, human waste , and more, turned into power.

    Other cities looking into in also apparently.

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