Alternative Energy technology is something we have to consider carefully in the context of the real cost of energy. Certainly we can use less as part of the solution. But we can use less without changing our living conditions to the point that we freeze in the winter, broil in the summer and read by candlelight.
In part, a strategic energy policy should include incentives for people willing to engage in the risk of financing photovoltaic plants and wind power projects. One of the problems with this is that the technology is not cost effective compared to the established methods of generating electricity. More on that shortly.
But of great concern is how the “incentive” programs are designed to work. And are they working as intended?
The creation of a “Feed in Tariff” (FiT) is one mechanism that the state governments use to incentivize investment in photovoltaics. However, the FiT is limited in how much capacity can be built in the photovoltaic supply of electricity. It has to be funded at the State government level. So this is really a transfer payment from a group of taxpayers to a small group of investors to get the PV plant built.
In another frame of reference, when we consider the cost of producing energy, the history of the last hundred years has resulted in a mature industry that delivers power on demand to 300+ million users for pennies per kilowatt hour. The purchase price of a coal fired power plant to produce energy in the US is in the range of $5.9 million per megawatt of capacity. And that capacity is available day or night.
By the way, this also means that charging electric cars at night, when demand is generally lower for the power plant, is a great way to make the plant more profitable.
So the remaining question is; if you were really worried about the environment and felt that coal and natural gas were bad for the environment, what are the choices and most of all, how expensive is that going to be?
Well, if you are paying 14 cents a kilowatt hour presently, understand that your utility company is probably paying anywhere from 23 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour to buy the power from photovoltaic sources. That’s pretty expensive.
And photovoltaic plants suffer from the fact that they only operate during daylight. In fact, they only operate at peak power 2 to 3 hours a day. Which is only 1/8 of the 24 hour day. So the asset is only producing 12.5% of the time. So they are not very cost effective with out a lot of subsidy money coming in to pay for them.
Nuclear power using wave reactors or pebble bed reactors can be very small, are very safe and they are also very economical. They operate 24 hours a day and don’t emit any pollution to the atmosphere. At an estimated $6.8 mil/mW they are the ideal alternative for those who are Eco-conscious without breaking the bank.
So why aren’t we hearing more about this option?