Cost of renewable energy

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Some forms of renewable energy, like hydroelectricity and biomass, have been cost-competitive for many years in certain applications and provide a substantial energy supply worldwide. Others, like passive solar building design, are cost competitive, but haven't yet overcome all the market factors that currently preclude their widespread use. Technologies like wind and geothermal are currently cost competitive at their best resource sites, but need further improvements and support to reach their full market potential. A few, like photovoltaics, have identified niche off-grid electric markets that the industry is building to the point where it can competitively address retail power markets. Still others, like ethanol from biomass, are evolving both in the laboratory and the marketplace to the point where they will be competitive without price supports. Table 5.1 provides a summary of the general renewable energy technologies and their economics.

In reality, there are a large variety of earth-based renewable energy technologies applicable to a wide range of markets, each with different values, costs, and considerations. Breaking the renewable electric technologies of Table 5.1 down to the next level, Table 5.2 provides some insight as to why it is difficult to speak generically of the future potential for renewables. Table 5.2 shows the different variations that can occur for each of the renewable energy technologies presented in Table 5.1. Even the detail of Table 5.2 does not provide the full technology picture. For example, while there are three major solar concentrating power systems, variants of these exist in terms of the types of engines used to generate power, different forms of storage, and types of concentrators. Obviously the cost of each variant will be different. Nonetheless, the variety exists because there are different applications that take advantage of specific features of a particular variant, and because it is not clear at this point which variant will be the ultimate least-cost option. The cost data presented in Table

Walter Short and Patrick Keegan Table 5.1 Renewable energy technology cost

Current cost Reduction in Anticipated reduction of energy capital cost over in cost of energy over Technology (US cents/kWh) last 10 years (%) next 20 years (%)

Photovoltaics

25-50

40

50

Wind

4-6

30-50

50

Biomass power

7-9

10

15-20

Landfill gas

4-6

10-15

0

Small scale hydro

2-10

Geothermal

3-10

20

25

Concentrating solar

12-27

50

25

power

Active solar heating

3-20

30-60

30-50

($/Mbtu)

Biofuels ($/liter)

0.24-0.37

10

25

Sources: adjusted from EPRI (1997) and IEA (1997).

Sources: adjusted from EPRI (1997) and IEA (1997).

5.1 represent the least-cost options today. Even for a particular variant, there is substantial spread in today's costs and prices with the size of the system, the particular application, and the region in which it is produced and installed.

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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