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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Climate Deniers Now Using Bad Economics To Slow Switchover To Solar

The era when anyone could reasonably take climate change deniers seriously is quickly passing. Only educationally-deprived individuals truly believe the climate isn't being changed by mankind's burning of fossil fuels. Thus, it appears that we can get on with mitigating the problem and moving completely away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

It seems that the deniers are now clutching at bad economics to make their case, though. Today, we read an article in The Economist which contains ludicrous attempts to deny climate change based upon economics. Now, we know economics isn't really a science—which is why the deniers love it. They've never been big fans of science, of course. But, somehow they have been able to sneak an article in the magazine which makes some obvious errors. Take this introduction for example:

Whereas the cost of a solar panel is easy to calculate, the cost of electricity is harder to assess. It depends not only on the fuel used, but also on the cost of capital (power plants take years to build and last for decades), how much of the time a plant operates, and whether it generates power at times of peak demand. To take account of all this, economists use "levelised costs"—the net present value of all costs (capital and operating) of a generating unit over its life cycle, divided by the number of megawatt-hours of electricity it is expected to supply.
The trouble, as Paul Joskow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has pointed out, is that levelised costs do not take account of the costs of intermittency.* Wind power is not generated on a calm day, nor solar power at night, so conventional power plants must be kept on standby—but are not included in the levelised cost of renewables. Electricity demand also varies during the day in ways that the supply from wind and solar generation may not match, so even if renewable forms of energy have the same levelised cost as conventional ones, the value of the power they produce may be lower. In short, levelised costs are poor at comparing different forms of power generation.
That's the setup—did it make your eyes blur? That was its intent. They introduce the concept of accounting for costs of intermittency. Well, of course, that's pretty basic stuff. But, then they go on to ignore the obvious advent of cheap energy storage—something we've been telling you about for years here. They simply dismiss it, but it removes the whole problem of intermittency and thereby destroys their whole argument.
If all the costs and benefits are totted up using Mr Frank's calculation, solar power is by far the most expensive way of reducing carbon emissions. It costs $189,000 to replace 1MW per year of power from coal. Wind is the next most expensive. Hydropower provides a modest net benefit. But the most cost-effective zero-emission technology is nuclear power. The pattern is similar if 1MW of gas-fired capacity is displaced instead of coal. And all this assumes a carbon price of $50 a tonne. Using actual carbon prices (below $10 in Europe) makes solar and wind look even worse. The carbon price would have to rise to $185 a tonne before solar power shows a net benefit.
Yes, if you never learned how to think, that's the case. The environmental impact of carbon is, and never will be, $10 per ton. Their estimate of the cost of carbon is ludicrously insane (exactly what you expect of a denier, of course). Solar power plus storage is not just cheaper than coal, it's cheaper than every other energy source, including nuclear. It uses that nuclear power plant that's safely located almost a hundred million miles away. But, the deniers know that by making blatant lies about the cost of carbon and the omission of storage, they will keep their fossil-fuel burning plants alive. Well, it's not going to happen. The price of electricity from solar is actually declining while the price of fossil-fuel energy is increasing. And, guess what? Energy consumers can tell the difference in their utility bills.