The second most important graph in the world

Confirmation that solar grid parity has arrived in Germany, and what it means.

From a report (pdf, page 5) on the German solar PV market by a government trade promotion agency:

Sorry for the lousy screengrab of a brilliant original. The rising black line is the retail price of electricity; the falling green line is the installed cost per watt for systems up to 100kw.

What it shows is a discontinuity in history, an event of critical importance, [rant] a beam of hope through the black clouds of selfishness, lies and despair threatening the survival of our civilisation in a very Oilocaust [/rant]: the arrival of residential solar grid parity in one large, rich, and northerly country.

The German feed-in tariff (FIT) for solar electricity is already below the average retail rate of 25€c per kwh: 21.4€c deducting the cross-subsidy of 3.6€c for renewable energy, or 4.7$c. This high price by American standards does include a component for greater reliability and amenity; you rarely see an overhead cable in a German town.

The FIT is still well above the wholesale rate, but so what. The datum is crucial confirmation of the insiders’ prediction I trumpeted here that solar grid parity will now rapidly spread through most of the inhabited world, driven by technology and economies of scale alone, more or less regardless of policy (as long as it isn’t actively obstructive).

It will happen soon in the USA. How soon?
Let’s try to translate the German chart to the USA. We need to make two adjustments.

The retail price of electricity is lower and more variable than in Germany. The range for the lower 49 states is between 7c and 18c per kwh (2011); the national average is 10.2 $c. Curiously, the NE-SW gradient of electricity prices is more or less a mirror image of the insolation map, so grid parity may arrive more or less simultaneously in a good many states. Let’s take Omaha, the metropolis nearest to the geographical centre of the lower 49 states, as a conservative representative, with a retail electricity price around 10$c per kwh.

Germany is much more northerly than the USA. Berlin gets no more sun than Alaska. A world insolation map:

Munich has an insolation of 1088 W/m2/yr. Only a few areas round the Great Lakes and the Pacific NW have as little. Albuquerque has 1814 or 66% more. Taking Omaha again as our representative, it has 1453, or 33% more.

Let’s try to adjust the German graph for Omaha conditions, dropping the FIT information. First, we relabel the units from euros to dollars.This makes no difference to the relationship between the left and right y-axes. Next, we should raise the left axis numbers by one-third because of the greater insolation. Eyeballing, an Omaha LCOE of 10c/kwh – look at 13c on the chart – requires an installed system cost of $1.5 (€1.2) per watt; in Albuquerque, $1.8 (€1.4). The current German residential installation cost (new index!) is €1.82, or $2.35.

The problem is of course that real US installation costs are much higher than German ones – at least twice – through market fragmentation, complex and unpredictable subsidies, and Byzantine permitting. Surprisingly, prices in Britain and India are quite close to German levels. According to solar entrepreneur Jigar Shah, writing in Clean Technica :

Today, the average large commercial solar installation in the UK is installed and sold to investors for less than $2/Wdc – same as Germany. In India, where the basic building block is a 5-MW utility scale project, the systems are installed in less than two months for about $1.70/Wdc.

This British commercial source gives £2.5/watt (€3.0, $4.0) for a 4kw house rooftop system in the UK, higher than Shah’s number for utility-scale projects and the German index, but well below US prices.

You really can’t explain low British and Indian costs by appealing by analogy to Germany’s market size, stable regulatory environment, and superior technical education.
This is old satire not data, but it’s fair to say that American workers are probably more skilled than British and less than German.

Britain does share two things with Germany: no permitting for residential rooftop panels, and a (shambolic) FIT rather than quotas. Lowering BOS costs in the USA to British levels should not prove too difficult, and there are strong market and political forces pushing in that direction. On this basis, I predict residential grid parity for Omaha in 2015 (without subsidies but with feed-in priority), just a year later than the untweaked model; and correspondingly earlier anywhere sunnier.

Jagar Shah suggests that the reason for high US costs is over-generous subsidies. They certainly look badly designed. Take Germany as the benchmark. It has no industrial policy to pick winners in the solar business (I reluctantly side with Romney on this one, though he’s in bad faith); it funds world-class applied research – like the DoE – and has a declining national FIT, embedded in federal law. This is reasonably well designed to keep demand high and stable enough to keep installations on the learning curve. That’s it. In contrast, the USA has a maze of federal, state and municipal grants, quotas, loan guarantees and tax credits. It takes expert middlemen to navigate all this, and they extract substantial rent for the service.

Consider the impact on the cost of capital, a crucial input to the LCOE. The chart uses a German figure of 6%, well below the 10% typical in the USA. But it’s quite realistic for a very low-risk investment, even high. That’s the rate for an unsecured personal loan in Germany; mortgages are around 3.1%. Secured home improvement loans should be in between. If a household has savings, it can get much less for an investment of equivalent security: a 10-year Pfandbrief (a secured debenture) yields only 2% wholesale. The panels are less liquid; the only way to cash them in early is equity withdrawal. Taking all this into account, 4-5% would be a reasonable range for for a household’s cost of capital. I don’t see why this doesn’t also apply to US and British households.

The FIT only applies to the electricity actually supplied to the grid by the panel-owner (EEG Art. 16.1). The opportunity cost of the self-consumed electricity is the full retail rate of 25€c and rising. The investment calculation is thus based partly on the FIT rate, partly on the full retail rate, making solar even more attractive. Abandon both FIT and feed-in priority, and at some price it still pays households to invest.

In contrast, the US reliance on tax credits makes the financing of solar panels and wind farms depend on matching projects to rich individuals with tax liabilities to offset. Their alternative investments will be higher yielding than those of typical households, and the difference is driven up further by the bloated margins of financial intermediaries.

A solar FIT has three enormous benefits which German experience shows outweigh any theoretical advantages of tax expenditures and traded quotas, and its drawbacks as touted by the IEA without evidence.

  • FITs create an even playing field for everybody. It’s not flat but tilted: all players know the FIT will drop in future (by an uncertain amount), largely removing the financial incentive to wait and free-ride on the price drops due to the investments of early adopters.
  • As a subsidy to electricity produced, not to installations, an FIT maintains at full strength the normal market incentives to offer and seek out the best deals and the most cost-effective technology.
  • FITs tap the low real and opportunity cost of capital of households far removed from Frankfurt, the City or Wall Street. By creating a wholly new low-risk and low-overhead form of investment, they make the national capital market work better.

Germany provides a fascinating window into the future of energy politics. Grid parity isn’t Utopia, but it changes the game. I’ll come back to this.

If the German grid parity chart is only the second most important chart in the world, What’s the first one?
This :


The familiar Mauna Loa data are from here. I added the exponential trend line fitted by OpenOffice, and the three reference levels. The Copenhagen 2°C/450ppm limit is a political not a scientific one. There’s no reason to think it would be safe in any normal sense. James Hansen, basing his opinion on actual science, describes the target as “a prescription for long-term disaster.” What we’re currently heading for is a 4°C future, which, says Kevin Anderson, another leading climate scientist:

is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.

To avoid this, we require not incremental technological progress, but a highly disruptive innovation. Solar PV is the only one on the table. Well, there’s always this old standby. That’s the Pentagon talking, not me.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

36 thoughts on “The second most important graph in the world”

  1. I would certainly be delighted if photovoltaics actually became cost-competitive for baseline power. I may be a nuclear booster, but the chance that I’d ever be permitted to install a nuke on my little place in the country, (Assuming I ever manage to get one!) and go off the grid, would be miniscule even were nuclear treated rationally. (And denying that nukess are as capable as PV of ending reliance on fossil fuels, moreso really, isn’t remotely rational.)

    But shall we consider this? There’s more to a source of power than just the price of the power at the moments it feels like being available. Or else we might regard feeding lightning strikes into the grid a feasible option. Like, for example, it being available when YOU want it. The only reason we can feed power that shows as high of diurnal and seasonal variation as solar, not to mention weather based variation, and not not crash the grid, is that it’s backstopped with as much production capability of a more reliable sort, left on standby.

    In short, what your nifty graph doesn’t show is that the utilities must, for every KW of solar PV fed into the grid, have a KW of conventional generating capacity sitting idle. Just in case it gets cloudy, or the sun goes down, or something like that. And where are you accounting for the cost of that?

    That, after all, is why the utilities have to be forced to take this power in the first place. It’s costly for them to use even if you gave it to them for free, because it arrives on it’s own schedule, not theirs.

    Now, so long as PV is a small contribution to power production, it’s fairly easy to sweep this under the rug, force the utilities to swallow this cost, or, in truth, pass it on to consumers in a deliberately opaque fashion. But as the contribution of solar to the electric grid rises, that lump under the rug is going to get awfully hard for people to avoid tripping over, and asking, “If solar is so cheap, why are my electric bills going up, not down?”

    Meanwhile, nuclear power, which also doesn’t emit significant CO2, has an availability pushing 99%, with the downtime being scheduled well in advance for planning. And enough fuel available to run the entire world at American standards for longer than we’ve been walking erect.

    But for some reason people who like solar tend to refuse to even acknowledge this.

    1. I wouldn’t mind knowing how Brett “accounts” for such issues as storage of nuclear waste, Fukushima, the need to monitor the fiendish Iranians lest the ayatollahs equip a rowing boat with a nuclear warhead on the quiet etc etc. How is the campaign to open up Yucca Mountain for business going, eh?

      On the subject of variation: first, nuclear plants have their own “variation” in the form of time when the fuel rods must be replaced – and they are also powered down in the face of certain forms of extreme weather (note, by the way, that these forms of weather are going to become more extreme as climate change accelerates). Second, you don’t have to concentrate all your wind-farms and solar grids in one place. You locate them with a degree of diversity that smooths out a good part of the variation in the system. Third, catastrophic failure (and extreme variation in power supply) is more likely to occur in your individual nuclear power plants than across a range of wind-farms and solar grids etc. Fourth, construction of a smart grid would do a great deal to improve efficiency and reduce waste, while enabling a more effective control of variation from different power sources.

      1. How do I account for Fukushima? What’s to account for? Old, old design, worst case scenario, and (IIRC) the only guy who died had a shelving unit fall over on him. Every day operation of pretty much every other form of power is a holocaust compared to nuclear power during accidents. You got any idea how many people died as a result of the other industrial accidents that tsunami caused? Nearly 16,000 people!. Ever heard of this thing called “proportion”? By this kind of risk accounting, you should just evacuate the island, not refrain from building nukes. (The newer, better sited ones came through with flying colors. THIS is how a newer plant comes through a quake.)

        But, yes, I will concede that it is entirely possible to set up a grid to work just off solar. All you need is a huge amount of storage, or an efficient continent spanning power distribution system. Girdle the world with a network of superconducting cables, and solar will be as reliable and available as nuclear.

        Figure those into your costs, so you’re comparing apples to apples, and I’ll withdraw my objections to the chart.

        1. So you don’t have a reasoned response then? As for the idea that you of all people should appeal to proportion….

          And no, I don’t find your attempt to substitute bluster for argument remotely convincing. Want to try again?

          1. Why should I joust any further with Python’s black knight? There’s no point in winning an argument with somebody who won’t admit you scored a hit.

          2. Me thinks, dear Brett, you are perceiving your rhetorical blows as stronger than they are.

            (as is the case for nearly every debater. Nothing personal. The easy part is convincing one’s self. Convincing others, that’s the art.)

          3. Brett, you can muster economic arguments, engineering arguments, scientific arguments, and history arguments to support your view. But what’s the point, in the face of “NUKES??? OHMIGOD, NO NUKES! THEY MIGHT BLOW UP!”

            Sadly, that’s the mindset that stymied the development of nukes back in the day, when we first had a real chance to avoid the fossil fuel mess we now find ourselves deeply embedded in. Just think if Admiral Rickover had had a twin brother who could have been put in charge of the AEC back then. Now we wouldn’t be hearing politicians outdoing each other to push “clean coal” energy (whatever the heck that is). Instead, we’d have lots less CO2 in the atmosphere, and we’d have a thriving nuke industry exporting like crazy to China, so our Walmart purchases would be helping China get closer to balancing their trade deficit with us.

            Oh well, … what might have been …

          4. Brett, you can muster economic arguments, engineering arguments, scientific arguments, and history arguments to support your view. But what’s the point, in the face of “NUKES??? OHMIGOD, NO NUKES! THEY MIGHT BLOW UP!”

            Sadly, that’s the mindset that stymied the development of nukes back in the day, when we first had a real chance to avoid the fossil fuel mess we now find ourselves deeply embedded in. Just think if Admiral Rickover had had a twin brother who could have been put in charge of the AEC back then. Now we wouldn’t be hearing politicians outdoing each other to push “clean coal” energy (whatever the heck that is). Instead, we’d have lots less CO2 in the atmosphere, and we’d have a thriving nuke industry exporting like crazy to China, so our Walmart purchases would be helping China get closer to balancing their trade deficit with us.

            Oh well, … what might have been …

    2. Seems a bit of a stretch to require a 100% backing, Kilowatt for Kilowatt, for every solar cell power source.

      This ignores any of the well known patterns where the days and times requiring the most power tend to match up with the days with the most sunlight.

      Ignores the balancing effects possible with an improved coast to coast grid.

      By focusing on worst case scenarios for electrical supply, and not at all on the worst case scenarios for CO2 emissions or Nuke power, Brett shows himself as a narrow partisan.

    3. Notably Brett doesn’t say much about four issues that affect nuclear power’s economics. First, the question of safe disposal of nuclear waste is not solved in the United States despite over fifty years of attention and it is not priced into nuclear power, and in the US under Price-Anderson the risk of a nuclear accident is not borne by the utility or the owners of the power station. Second, the danger of nuclear accidents combined with the monoculture of nuclear technology means there is a significant risk (as recently occurred in Japan) of a large portion or all of the nation’s nuclear power stations being shut down, and even individual American reactors have had extended unplanned outages (including recently in Virginia following a minor earthquake), and so Brett is just wrong about the perfect availability of atomic power. Third, while it is true that the operation of a fission power station does not create greenhouse gasses, that is not true of the building of the reactor and its containment and the carbon intensity of the enriched uranium depends on the source of electricity used to power the very electricity-intensive enrichment process. The refinement of silicon and the construction of PV systems also takes energy so it is necessary to do detailed calculations to understand the total life-cycle effect on greenhouse gas emissions. (If energy were priced to include the carbon burden it would not be necessary to do a separate calculation but that is not the world we live in.) Finally, even if nuclear power were 100% available, that would not make it a good economic match to actual demand. The capital cost of fission power is so high that it is only economical to run in a base power mode–at full capacity around the clock, requiring other forms of generation (such as natural gas) for peaking power. This leads to the irony that the economics of nuclear power and photovoltaic power both would benefit tremendously from cheap electric storage (whether batteries or conversion and generation such as pumped hydro, flywheels with motor generators, electrolysis and fuel cells, stc.). I am sure James is much more conversant with the current numbers than I, and can provide a more detailed explanation of the economics, but the case for nuclear power is not as clear cut as Brett suggests. Even despite the Price-Anderson subsidy, there is an economic reason why American utilities have not ordered anywhere enough new plants to maintain the nuclear share of the country’s electricity production, and for a long time ordered zero new plants.

      1. Also in many climes the PV peak corresponds reasonably well with peaks of electricity usage — sunny summer afternoons — and in such instances the correct price to compare with is not baseload power but closer to peaking power and not at the central power station but toward or at the end of the distribution grid (James alludes to this) because in such cases the availability of peak power at the end of the grid saves the capital cost of extra peak distribution capacity. Because nuclear power plants so far must be large to be economical and because they must be sited near abundant cooling water they are nearly as intensive users of distribution capacity as Brett claims central/global PV would be.

        1. Man-made climate change is making surface water for cooling problematic as well. But really the cost of nuke is through the roof, and let’s not hand wave about regulating material that is dangerous for as long as societies are durable.

      2. The question of safe disposal of nuclear waste, (Safer than what? Coal plant ash ponds?) hasn’t yet been solved, because of regulatory capture by people opposed to nuclear power. Refusal to permit resolution of the waste is a tool to attack nuclear power, an attempt to choke the industry in wastes it could quite easily deal with if it wasn’t forbidden to.

        First, almost all of what is normally called nuclear “waste” is actually fuel, and will eventually be consumed in a rational nuclear fuel cycle.

        After you’ve dealt with the fuel, and have the genuine waste to deal with, it’s a pleasant accident that the isotopes neatly divide into two groups: Those so active that they’ll be gone in a few centuries, and those so inactive that they don’t constitute a radiation hazard. This nonsense about waste being dangerous for millions of years is just exactly that, nonsense.

        It’s not a technological problem, it’s a political problem. Which is to say, it’s not a problem that can’t be solved, it’s a problem opponents of nuclear power won’t permit to be solved. The moment they lose enough clout to block solutions, we’ll magically find the problem isn’t so bad.

        On your other points, the lifecycle CO2 production for nuclear is quite favorable, better or comparable to “renewables”. So low, in fact, that you could, if you felt like it, drive it negative by using a bit of the plant’s output to sequester carbon.

        Newer nuclear plants are, in fact, capable of considerable throttling for load following. Though as the cheapest baseline power, they’re not what you’d throttle given a choice.

        But my main point here is that chart omits a rather considerable factor in the real world cost of using photovoltaics. Problems which most assuredly can be solved, but if you factor in their cost, that crossing point you’re talking about is no where near happening.

        1. It sounds as if we are back to conspiracy theories again. The EVIL opponents of nuclear power won’t LET problems be solved. Not that any evidence for this has actually been supplied by Brett! How wonderful it must be to think in magical terms and dismiss facts as conspiracies. Relaxing, I would imagine.

          So, Brett, any chance of you responding to the points made with some evidence? You know, studies of these things, fact sheets, data? Or am I being unfair and partisan just by asking?

        2. The basic points remain: 1) Life-cycle emissions of nuclear including construction and decommissioning is not zero. 2) Because of the huge capital cost and concentrated nature of current nuclear power technologies and difficulties of siting as well as waste disposal and non-proliferation issues (not because of supposedly powerful anti-nuclear interests), the technology has not and will not for the foreseeable future live up to the 1950’s vision of cheap electricity and 3) the comparison of the actual economics of nuclear vs. photovoltaic power is more complex and contingent than the Brett’s original comment suggested.

          I’m wondering what design Brett has in mind for sequestering carbon with electricity, and how he would advocate that this be incentivised and paid for–maybe by cap and trade or a carbon emissions tax and sequestration credit? Or by command and control regulation? By nationalizing electricity production?

          1. Meant also to say that the current nuclear reactor designs were heavily subsidized by government. I’d certainly favor an energy regime that gave renewables as much of a design and commercialization subsidy that nuclear has had and left technology decisions to market forces with an appropriate way of pricing in all of the relevant externalities (including Brett’s concern for the health of coal miners). But this is hardly the policy of most of the current political opponents of promoting wind and solar energy.

          2. “The basic points remain: 1) Life-cycle emissions of nuclear including construction and decommissioning is not zero.”

            Any more than life-cycle emissions, calculated in the same way, are zero for solar, wind, or hydro. They are, however, all on roughly the same scale, so it seems to me it must be irrational to complain about this small carbon share per KWH, on the order of a few grams, in the case of nuclear, but not in the case of solar.

          3. As I said, they need to be compared. I never said the life cycle emissions of solar should be ignored.

  2. I must say, about the ‘Bynzantine permitting’ point, that a recent study from NREL office in DC found that the actual end cost of permit fees on the total cost of installation is only 5-10%. Not sure if it is on-line but I have it here. Labor costs are much more of a factor in costs than permitting. Permitting is still a cost, yes. And I agree that costs are costs and can be an impediment.

    1. I may be a nuclear booster, but the chance that I’d ever be permitted to install a nuke…

      Well actually, there’s never been a nuke built in this country that wasn’t subsidized by taxpayers. So not only do you need to worry the regulations, you also need to convince everyone to help pay for your “uranium pork”. Good luck with that honey.

  3. James…

    That trend line is only based on past data points, correct? A best fit of “what you see”?
    Does it even take into account the filling up of the various carbon sinks?
    Such as warm ocean water holding less CO2 then cold ocean water?

    Also, since the graph is just CO2, it doesn’t take into account any of the positive feedbacks that the IPCC 2007 report also failed to include…

    Such as increased water vapor (a greenhouse gas) from increased evaporation rates…
    Methane from permafrost and northern sea beds…
    Loss of albedo from Arctic ice melt (80% bounceback) versus 90% absorption by the newly exposed sea water.

    All of this is to suggest that the most important graph still hasn’t been drawn.
    Although I can read the conclusion of its curve. It says this:

    The climate that birthed human civilization is FUBAR. Horrific bad times are a-coming. It’s absolutely unavoidable already…
    And as a corollary: People in power know this. And who can blame them for not wanting to talk about it?
    Does anybody really know how people will behave when they realize that the game is up and that the planet is one big Easter Island?
    And if they did know this would they still be building condos on the beach in Miami?
    No, best to keep them in the dark and run temporary costly fixes as the various problems manifest.
    Your species will wing it as it goes down…
    That’s the trend line I see.

  4. As a nuclear engineer with actual experience operating nukes and a close friend who ran the advanced physics group for the FFTF, the prototype plant for the US breeder program, let me just point out that nothing that Bellmore types has any validity on this subject except, perhaps, the punctuation. The bottom line in the US is, as always, the bottom line, and the reason we stopped building nukes is that when every plant costs more than the capitalization of the utility, there’s darn few buyers, thank goodness.

    Given the climactic havoc we’ve already baked in, a big nuclear build out would be a nightmare for uncertain benefit; we have neither the capital or the energy to waste on trying to keep the grid going with gigantic lumps of brittle power.

    Yes, distributed power based on renewables will cost more. So? You have only to look at how much power we waste to see that concerns about cost are simply arguments for the suicidal status quo.

    1. Wow, a perfect specimen of the argument from authority, spotted in the field. Ok, Mr. nuclear engineer, (And I’ll even presume you’re not the Carter type…) how was I wrong about, for instance, the half-lives and chemistry of nuclear isotopes? Do they not, in fact, once the fissile and fertile components have been extracted from the “waste”, divide into two groups, one of which is comparatively “hot”, meaning it runs down it’s radioactivity very rapidly, and the other roughly as radioactive as any of the monuments on the Mall in D.C.?

      “Yes, distributed power based on renewables will cost more.”

      At last. That’s all the admission I wanted: That there were unavoidable costs to the use of PV that weren’t incorporated in that graph above. That’s all I was really getting at.

  5. I’ll defer to the experts on the economics, but I have to agree with Brett about the waste-disposal problem. Reprocess out the plutonium for fuel, store the world’s supply of really hot stuff in a swimming-pool somewhere, vitrify the bulky long-halflife material and build yourself a glow-in-the-dark glass pyramid in some convenient desert.

    That problem is political, not technical.

    Some of the rest of the problems are soluble if you have a single entity that runs all the nuclear plants and gets good at doing so, as Electricite de France is. But that would be socialism.

    1. I don’t believe it’s socialism which makes nuclear power a success in France, so much as a refusal to let people fanatically opposed to nuclear set the rules, instead of rationally doing things according to the physics and engineering. As I say, the NRC is a classic case of regulatory capture, but as sometimes happens, it is not the regulated industry which has captured the regulator, but instead the foes of that industry.

      I don’t believe it requires socialism to acknowledge the physics and chemistry of radioisotopes, to, for instance, refrain from pretending that fuel is waste. It does, however, require not letting people who are irrational on this subject run the show.

      1. The breeder reactor part of the French fuel cycle is technically problematic and has led to plant accidents and shutdowns everywhere it’s been tried the US, Prance, and Japan — liquid metal sodium in close proximity with water –anyone remember their high school chemistry where a sliver of sodium thrown into water catches fire?

        And actually the French form of government that allows centralization of nuclear powerplant construction and operation in one authority and that steamrolls local opposition has been key to the size of the French program. And I’m still waiting to hear what form of regulatory scheme Brett favors to advance his unexplained technical approach to sequestering carbon with nuclear power, and how the needed role for government in that scheme fits with the political mood of the country that makes even a formerly Republican approach to health care reform seem unconstitutional to large parts of the public.

        To Mark’s comment — there are certainly technical approaches to dealing with nuclear waste…and most of these have been available for fifty years. but I don’t think it’s sensible to just wave our magic wand at political and proliferation issues and say that we will do policy as if these constraints don’t exist. Any responsible proposal to rely more on nuclear power has to explain how reasonable concerns about accidents, waste, and high cost will be dealt with in a way that they haven’t been for the last 50+ years.

  6. That graph is comparing price per kilowatt-hour (left hand scale) to price per installed watt (right hand scale). How do you do that? The comparison must depend on the expected life of the system. Without that information it’s impossible to judge where grid parity actually is.

    1. The equivalence results from the standard LCOE formula, putting in assumptions for cost of capital, equipment life, availability (which varies for solar with insolation) and running costs. This allows you to solve for initial unit cost, as in the German chart. The notes to the original chart link to detailed sources.
      In my post I discussed the important cost-of-capital and insolation factors. I doubt if running costs and equipment life are sensitive variables here. All generating equipment lasts at least 30 years, and years beyond that disappear by discounting. Solar running costs are negligible – you have to replace inverters every 10-15 years.

  7. I’m having trouble following the argument because I keep playing “Right Said Fred” over and over again.

  8. Pingback: THE SOLAR WAKEUP
  9. Let me point out two (out of many) flaws in Brett’s argument:

    1) Why is solar PV more promising than nuclear ? Because solar PV (and perhaps
    even more, solar thermal) are on a curve of rapidly decreasing costs, whereas
    nuclear just isn’t.

    2) The claim that nuclear has 99% availability is way optimistic. Nuclear plants
    inevitably get shut down for refuelling. That would be ok, because those shutdowns
    can be uncorrelated, or deliberately scheduled to avoid simultaneous shutdowns.
    But they also get shut down for safety reasons – and worst of all, they get shut
    down for flaws in design or operating procedure which are common to many plants,
    so suddenly you find an issue and a whole bunch of capacity has to be shut down
    all at once. As happened in Japan. That’s much worse than the rather predictable
    behavior of solar/wind/hydro/tidal/wave power alternatives.

  10. This is crucial to understand: we’re going to be living with a lot less energy in years to come, one way or another:

    http://theautomaticearth.com/Energy/renewable-energy-the-vision-and-a-dose-of-reality.html

    The fact is that the transition to renewables is going a lot less smoothly than we should wish. Which is not an argument for fossil fuels or nukes or any other central station model. The smart path is radically less coupling, not more grid and complexity.

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