There is virtually no debate that electricity generated by wind and solar is more expensive than that generated by natural gas and coal1.
And this is before other costs are included. Costs, such as, backup power for when the wind doesn’t blow, and the cost of dedicated transmission lines to bring electricity from remote areas to where it can be used, and the cost of storage.
Even regulators in California recognize the inadequacy of wind and solar, and that California’s objective of having 33% of its electricity generated by renewables can’t be achieved without storage.
What’s even more troubling is that storing large quantities of electricity is essentially a pipe dream, unless billions of dollars are spent on storage projects.
Here is a listing of different types of storage, many of which use electricity generated when it’s not needed to store energy in a different form.
- Pumped storage, using dams to store water that’s pumped uphill
- Array of batteries, building-sized installations
- CAES, Compressed Air Energy Storage, for storing compressed air underground
- Producing hydrogen that’s stored and then used in gas turbines
- Producing ice, to augment or replace traditional air conditioning in buildings
The last seems like a step backward, when fans were used to blow air over ice to achieve some sense of cooling before air conditioning was invented.
Recognizing the problem, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) wants 50 MW of storage to be built in the Los Angeles area within the next few years.
This is a pittance and temporary gesture to motivate Southern California Edison to establish 1,400 to 1,800 MW of storage by 2021. This amount of storage is the equivalent of two large natural gas combined cycle power plants.
This would only provide storage for Southern California, not for the entire country.
In other words, the CPUC doesn’t want to build fossil-fueled power plants, but wants to create storage to provide the backup renewables require.
A natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plant costs $1,100 per KW. That would translate into nearly $2 billion for 1.800 MW … for Southern California.
Most storage systems cost more. The CAES plant in McIntosh, Alabama, one of only two in existence, was built at around the same cost as an NGCC power plant2. Other estimates put the capital cost of CAES at $1,500 per KW3.
Estimates for building pumped storage and battery storage are much higher.
This additional cost should be added to the cost of wind and solar when comparing them with natural gas or coal, since neither natural gas or coal require this type of added investment.
In essence the CPUC is tacitly admitting the 33% RPS can’t be met without storage.
It should cause every other state to think twice about their RPS laws … or about adopting RPS.
Additionally, there are only so many salt caverns, or readily available geologic formations for storing compressed air. (Could these be the same as those being cited for use in storing CO2? 4)
Storage is trying to make a purse out of a pig’s ear. Even CAES, the lowest cost storage system, doesn’t bring the LCOE cost of wind or solar below the cost of generating electricity using natural gas or coal, in fact it probably raises it.5
Unreliable renewables are simply a scam. They are initially more costly and then require additional investment, which makes them even more costly, to merely allow them to be used at all with some degree of efficiency.
- The EIA assigns a $15 per ton charge for CO2 to coal when calculating Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) to compare wind with coal. This is a gross distortion.
- The110 MW McIntosh, Alabama CAES plant built in 1991 cost $996 in 2012 dollars
- GreenTechGrid http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/compressed-air-energy-storage-beats-batteries
- “A single 300-megawatt CAES plant would require 22 million cubic feet of storage space” ibid
- Energy Storage System Costs by EPRI 2011 http://www.eosenergystorage.com/documents/EPRI-Energy-Storage-Webcast-to-Suppliers.pdf
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