by Ray Kamada
To Whatcom Watch Readers:
I’m Ray Kamada, a retired atmospheric scientist (specialties were research in air pollution, turbulence, boundary layer and mesoscale meteorology in terms of theory development, computer modeling, field studies, and data analysis, with some history as a climate change onlooker). Thus, I’ve written a few climate change and renewable energy articles in Whatcom Watch and Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
Anyway, I just read Betsy Gross’ article in the April 2019 issue of Whatcom Watch, based on presentations at the February 6 Bellingham Climate Action Plan Task Force meeting. It’s quite edifying. Thank you!
So, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the article’s first summary bullet point, from David Mills’ Puget Sound Energy (PSE) presentation, that 1) “Rapid development of battery technology would assist in rapid fossil fuel phase-outs.” But that 2) “Battery technology hasn’t evolved sufficiently to be cost effective.”
A Dour Statement
No question that statement 1) is true. But statement 2) seems a bit dour. That is, Washington is not a sunbelt state, thus solar + battery storage will not soon be a locally cost-effective option. However, I suspect that wind + battery storage is already or will soon be quite viable in Washington state.
That is, the levelized cost (LCOE) of continuing to run most (74 percent) of America’s coal-fired power plants may already be higher than replacing them NOW with renewable sources. And, the first map on page 3 of the following report suggests that this applies to Centralia, our state’s sole remaining coal-fired power plant, built in southern Washington in 1972. (1,2)
Since PSE does not operate the Centralia plant, perhaps Mr. Mills was referring only to power controlled by PSE, a bare majority of which is generated by hydro and natural gas. Yet, it appears that PSE does draw more than one-third of its transmitted power from the Centralia plant, while operating three wind farms as well. (3)
It also seems that wind farm development in Washington state has leveled off during the past three or four years for reasons I’m unclear about (if other than having picked off the low-hanging fruit). (4)
Moreover, a recent chart from Lazard (gold standard for renewable energy assessments), as well as a set of recent, utility-scale, wholesale U.S. power purchase agreements for wind and solar + typical 2- to 4-hour battery storage, show that wind + storage seems quite competitive now with all but the newest combined cycle, natural gas power plants, especially for peak power costing up to twice what renewables + storage cost. (5,6)
Indeed, we all know that battery storage was originally intended to smooth the power supply available on an hourly basis from intermittent wind and solar in order to resolve the well-known “duck curve” in daily energy demand.
However, Li-ion batteries can also supply full power within milliseconds, compared to the minutes to tens of minutes of lag time enforced by natural gas peaker plants. And peak power can cost an order of magnitude or more than power provided when the demand is low. Thus, beyond addressing the broader daily duck curve, many utilities have also discovered that higher frequency peak shaving via battery power can be immensely profitable.
Meanwhile, the following BNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance) chart also suggests that battery storage costs have dropped about 20 percent per year for the past six years to one-quarter of what they were in 2013. And those for onshore wind farms, solar photovoltaic farms, and offshore wind farms have fallen by 49, 84, and 56 percent, respectively, since 2010.
If these rates or anything close to them continue for even a few more years (and there seems to be little reason why they wouldn’t), then there’s no question that solar + battery storage and/or wind + battery storage will outcompete all fossil fuel sources, not just coal, throughout most of the U.S. within just a few years.
Indeed, one Australian study states that there’s no longer any credible business model for fossil fuels in Australia at all. (7)
Saving $1.7 Billion
Moreover, as with nearly all other U.S. nuclear plants, a 2014 report, commissioned by Energy Northwest (formerly WPPS) and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), concluded that the BPA could save $1.7 billion by purchasing power elsewhere rather than continue to operate the Columbia Generating Station in Richland, the only one of the projected five nuclear power plants that was actually finished, prior to the $2.25 billion, 1980’s WPPS bond default debacle. (8)
So, I’d like to see Mr. Mills or someone else from PSE clarify his statement 2) as well as shed more light on wind farm prospects by PSE and throughout Washington state.
As for my own contributions on climate change and renewables, part one [October/November 2017] of my two-part Whatcom Watch article “Changing Climate: Adaptation or Extinction” explains why continued global warming poses a major threat. Then it surveys the multiple lines of evidence that, taken together, show why 97 percent of climate scientists conclude that man-made global warming is a fact. (9)
Concise Online Summary
I’ve yet to see a fully detailed, 15-minute online summary like this anywhere else. So, it may be useful to the Bellingham Climate Action Plan Task Force as a quick overview, along with links to 400, mostly peer-reviewed, studies for a deeper dive, if interested.
Part two of my series [“What Can We Do? Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency,” December 2017] recounts the Obama administration’s U.S. energy independence ploy, a major economic and geopolitical story that mainstream media has ignored. Then it cost-compares the current state of electrical utility-scale wind and solar energy, battery storage, fossil fuels, and nuclear power, and briefly assesses several other high-tech CO2 mitigation approaches, as of 2017. (10)
As a quick update, with roughly 260,000 U.S. solar jobs, compared to 50,000 left in the U.S. coal industry, the Solar Energy Industries Association suggests that Trump’s solar panel tariff has trimmed about 18,000 U.S. jobs, mostly in utility scale solar (as panels are a larger part of total costs for utilities than rooftop solar installations), and only 2,000 jobs exist in U.S. solar panel manufacturing. They also figure that Trump’s aluminum/steel tariffs have added 1 to 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour to retail solar electricity prices, slowing the acceleration of U.S. solar farm deployments. (11,12)
Yet, bids for non-tariffed, utility-scale solar (and/or wind) + 4-hour battery storage are still starting to beat those for natural gas peaker and other fossil fuel plants. (13,14)
Meanwhile, my third article shows, via three different estimation methods, why the 2018 IPCC Special Report is sugar-coated. I.e., it overestimates the time we have remaining to prevent 1.5 as well as 2.0 and greater degrees Celsius of global warming. (15)
9. http://whatcomwatch.org/index.php/article/changing-climate-adaptation-or-extinction/ (with 400-plus references and some specific sample calculations)
10. http://whatcomwatch.org/index.php/article/what-can-we-do-renewable-energy-and-energy-efficiency/ (with 73 references plus some specific sample calculations)