7 Factors Show Why Wind & Solar Are The 1st Choices

Discussions of electrical generation technologies frequently fall into the trap of considering a single factor. One way this occurs is with advocates of a specific legacy technology pointing out a single downside of wind or solar generation as if it’s a gotcha. This is equally true of wind and solar advocates who point at single-factor issues with nuclear or coal, as examples, making the comparison to the more virtuous renewables.

However, there is no single technology which will prevail on all grids in the future. There will be multiple generation technologies at any given time, the mix will change over time, and the specific mix will vary for specific geographies.

The following is my multi-factorial assessment as of 2016 for different forms of electrical generation. The assessment is a simple scale of 1 to 5, and is based on my judgment of each of these technologies which is informed by my background, knowledge, research, and systemic perspective. It is not a quantitative evaluation.

It is unweighted because my weighting would be roughly equal on these points for North America or Europe, but the explicit weighting would vary substantially based on geography. The strict market cost of generation has far outweighed the other factors historically, and only wind and solar’s plummeting costs have made them expand as rapidly as they have recently.

Electrical generation factorial assessment

Unsurprisingly, coal falls near the bottom of the rankings. Its challenges in terms of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, relatively low flexibility, and liabilities make it non-viable in a multi-factorial assessment, with only its position as a form of legacy generation and lower price point making it as dominant as it is. If someone suggested coal as a new form of generation today without its history, it’s hard to imagine the idea would gain traction.

Nuclear’s poor ranking is perhaps more surprising. It’s gained a good deal of favour among various former opponents over the past few years due to its lack of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. However, its inflexibility, the high impact of any failures, its high economic cost, and the limitation to roughly 30 countries globally make it much less attractive. In countries where it already exists, in general, very few new reactors are being considered compared to the amount of wind and solar being put on grids. Only China is expanding its nuclear fleet in any substantial way.

Each of these factors is explained below with examples of the reasons for many of the rankings. Not all rankings are explicitly explained, but nuances which would assist in weighting for specific circumstances are discussed.

Economically Viable

This is straightforward. Society runs on energy and money. Given a choice between something which costs 3 cents per kWh (LCOE) and something which costs 15 cents, pretty much everything will favour the 3 cents option. (This is why it’s perplexing that the UK conservatives are still pushing for the Hinkley nuclear choice, which costs 15 cents USD per kWh.)

The least expensive forms of new generation today in strict market terms are wind, solar, and methane generation.

Low Negative Externalities

A negative externality is a cost of something which is not included in the dollars paid for it. With fossil fuel electrical generation, negative externalities include CO2 emissions and methane leaks which cause global warming, particulate matter and nitrous oxides emissions which impact lung health, and sulphur oxide emissions which kill trees and lakes. With wind energy, they make a little bit of noise, which some people who live close to them find annoying part of the time. With solar energy, there’s some mining and manufacturing pollution. Hydroelectricity in desert areas or the far north or south can be very low carbon, but may impact fish stocks or require population dislocation.

Negative externalities are dealt with by finding ways to include them in the cost of the product through regulation requiring that they eliminate the negative externality (e.g., sulphur scrubbers and low-sulphur coal for coal plants), or through market mechanisms which burden the cost of the externality and let people figure out how to deal with it (e.g., carbon pricing). In both cases, the cost of the negative externality needs to get added to cost of the form of generation so that market mechanisms can do their job, but in both cases, regulation is required in order to have that happen.

The best forms of generation today in this respect emit no CO2, particulate matter, NOx, hydrocarbons, or SOx during operation (e.g., wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and nuclear). Large-scale carbon capture and sequestration has proven to be an economically non-viable pipe dream, as basic analysis of the underlying physics and economics made clear to dispassionate observers long ago, so fossil fuel generation will never be carbon neutral at any reasonable costs.

The best forms of generation today for negative externalities are wind, solar, tidal, and nuclear.

Broadly Deployable

3t_global_windThe wind doesn’t blow equally everywhere, but can be harvested in every country in the world economically. The sun doesn’t shine as strongly in Alaska as in Florida (or in Germany as in most of the US, despite what some people say), but is a viable resource in most countries of the world.

There aren’t effective sequestration sites under most parts of the world that would make it somewhat cost effective to put coal plants there and capture the carbon emissions. There aren’t good hydroelectric sites in many countries. Natural gas isn’t cheap everywhere. Landlocked states have no option for tidal energy. Islands have lots of waves, but less land and expensive grid connections, so wave energy starts to be viable. Nuclear is restricted to 30 or so stable regimes which are already part of the nuclear club, and expansion of the club is unwise.

What this all means is that there will be different mixes of generation that make sense in different places. This is mitigated massively, however, by the emerging continent-scale grids, high-voltage DC transmission which vastly lowers transmission losses, and energy markets. Basically, it’s getting easier and easier on more developed continents to generate electricity almost anywhere on the continent and get it to the major consumers at a reasonable price.

Given the above, in terms of broad deployment, the best forms of generation today in most countries of the world are wind and solar.


There are forms of generation which must run at 90% capacity factors in order to be economically viable (e.g., nuclear). There are forms of generation whose technology makes them very slow to respond to changes in demand or supply (e.g., nuclear). There are forms of generation which come onto the grid or fall off of the grid only in major increments of a GW or so, requiring substantial hot backups and contingencies (e.g., nuclear).

Then there are forms of generation which ramp up and down easily (e.g., wind, solar, gas, and hydro).

duck-curve-california-electricity-demandAs economies develop, they go through a stage where 24/7 heavy manufacturing provides a very stable baseload demand which is easily met by inflexible generation. After that stage, they enter a consumer and knowledge worker economy where demand is much lower in the troughs and higher in the peaks. Too much inflexible generation, historically known as baseload generation, causes conditions of surplus baseload generation regularly for these economies. That occurs today in places like France and Ontario, with their large nuclear fleets, requiring them to pay neighbouring jurisdictions to take their electricity on a regular basis.

Given the above, on a flexibility basis, the best forms of generation in most places in the world are wind, solar, and methane generation.

Rapid to Build

There is a pressing need globally to decarbonize electrical generation, and in China, India, and many other places, to reduce pollution from electrical generation. A solution which takes 15 years on average to put in place from conception to commissioning (e.g., nuclear), isn’t a viable choice given the significance and urgency of the challenges. A solution which takes 1–3 years to put in place in utility scales (e.g., wind and solar) is much preferable.

Given the above, the best forms of generation in most places in the world are wind and solar.

Reliable & Predictable

A form of power which has a high likelihood of producing a certain number of MWh of generation in a certain period is reliable. A form of power whose availability can be determined with reasonable accuracy at longer time frames and high accuracy in shorter time frames is predictable. Grids require reliability and predictability.

Most classical forms of generation are reliable and predictable (e.g., coal, nuclear, gas, and hydro). Hydro is predictably better in the spring than fall, and reliable over the year.

ElectricityUCTE.svgNew renewable forms of generation have proven themselves to be both reliable and predictable. Wind and solar are the fastest-growing forms of generation on every grid in the world today because they are sufficiently predictable and reliable that they do not destabilize grids in large volumes of generation. Their purported challenges in this regard are massively mitigated by wide area synchronous grids and markets. It’s only in isolationist and small grids that this is a challenge, but to be clear, there are enormous numbers of people living in archipelagos where this is a greater issue. High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission offers a solution for archipelagos such as Indonesia due to its much lower losses underwater.

The most reliable and predictable generation in most places in the world today are wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and methane gas. Coal is predictable and reliable, but at such great cost otherwise that it is impossible to recommend it.

Low Liability

Forms of generation which have operational or failure modes which cause massive economic disruption or health challenges, or which include potential for significant misuse of materials for terrorist ends, are high in liability in the event of a problem. Nuclear is the most obvious example of this, with very rare accidents on a per TWh basis, but very high impacts of those accidents. Fukushima is likely to cost closer to a trillion dollars (USD) for cleanup, economic disruption, replacement by expensive fossil fuels, etc. Coal has so many negative health and climate repercussions compared to alternatives that it must be considered a high liability form of generation.

The best forms of generation in most places in the world from this perspective are wind and solar.

Source: Clean Techinaica

US Solar Industry Could Catch Gold Fever From US Air Force

The US Air Force Office of Scientific Research has been funding a flurry of gold nanoparticle projects at academic research centers around the country, and one of the future beneficiaries of all this activity could be the US solar industry.

Air Force gold solarMore & Better Gold Nanoparticles

In the latest development, an AFOSR-supported research team at the University of Florida has fine-tuned the pathway by which light can be used to synthesize precisely structured gold nanocrystals.

The use of light to grow nanoscale crystals is old hat, relatively speaking. The process, called plasmon-driven synthesis, has been used to form precisely engineered nanoparticles of silver. That’s well and good but silver has a limited range of applications, especially when it comes to medical purposes.

Human systems tolerate gold very well, but until now researchers have not been able to control plasmon-driven synthesis precisely enough to yield consistent results.

The UF team came up with a solution that involves integrating a common water-soluble food additive called polyvinylpyrrolidone into the process. For those of you familiar with the stuff ‘s crystal-blocking traits that strategy might sound counter intuitive. However, the team found that when it sticks to the perimeter of emerging gold nanoprisms, it acts as a “photochemical relay” that precisely engineers the growth pattern.

You can get more details from the journal Nature Communications under the title, “Polyvinylpyrrolidone-induced anisotropic growth of gold nanoprisms in plasmon-driven synthesis.”

The team also discovered an energy efficiency bonus. In addition to delivering precise, high-yield results, the new plasmon-driven process can operate at low power, using light in the visible range.

Solar Power Hearts Gold

Medical applications seem to be generating the most excitement around the new research, and the team also anticipates that the new process could be combined with solar cells to perform chemical synthesis.

The new process could also help speed along the development of next-generation thin-film solar cells, with efficiency enhanced by the reflective properties of gold nanoparticles.

A research team in Australia, for example, has applied gold and silver nanoparticles to off-the-shelf thin-film solar cells, to achieve an increase in the range of wavelength of absorbed sunlight.

The emergence of an efficient, relatively low-cost method for fabricating gold nanocrystals could also impact other research efforts that integrate plasmonics and solar energy.

Deploying gold nanoparticles to enhance solar-powered steam production is another solar-related area of research. Other cleantech applications include enhanced bioluminescence and stretchable electronics.

US Air Force Hearts Gold

The new UF research (which was also partly funded by the National Science Foundation), is just one example of the AFOSR’s interest in gold nanoparticle research.

AFOSR also has a research team at Oregon State University working on the manufacture of uniform gold nanoparticles, and an AFOSR-supported team at Carnegie Mellon University has been synthesizing gold nanoparticles and mapping their structure “atom by atom.”

AFOSR also has a deep interest in foundational solar research and other related fields like graphene, so stay tuned.

Source:  Clean Techinica


The Empire State Building: Brighter & Greener

Yes, as of 2011, The Empire State Building, one of the world’s largest buildings has achieved the distinction of becoming the largest buyer of green renewable wind power. The Empire State Building will be using more than 100 million kWh of wind energy in the coming couple of years approximately. It will be totally – 100% – wind-powered from now on! This is not the only feather in the lofty Empire State Building’s green cap. Already the tall building has executed the refurbishment of fitting of all its – some 6500 or so – windows with a unique type of insulating glass for power savings. Some $13.2 million very well spent in boosting the green credentials.

Reduction in deadly footprint empire-gallery-exterior

By purchasing 100 million kWh of wind energy from Green Mountain Energy Company‘s wind farms, The Empire State Building has beat by far any other commercial customer in purchasing renewable energy. Think of how much less carbon emission there will be because of this. It has been calculated to be equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by whole of New York State houses in one full week – some 100 million pounds of carbon!

Getting a better edge

The Empire State Building’s supervisor, Malkin Holdings, is upbeat about another offshoot of getting the wind-energy to power the building. Clean renewable wind energy from the wind farms and power savings from the insulated window glasses have given them an extra edge in getting tenants with better credit and credentials, he claims.

Setting better standards

Mr. Malkin expects that these innovative changes to using more and more renewable energy sources can set an example to be followed by other landlords to become energy efficient and make the entire city cleaner, more energy smart, and greener. Seeing the benefits doubled – no tripled – at The Empire State Building’s savings and revenue can be a great encouragement for others to follow suit.

Topping the list

With the latest power purchase, The Empire State Building has shot up the list of Environment Protection Agency‘s League Table of 100% Green Power Purchasers. There are people who are not impressed by this achievement or certification, and criticize that it is more effervescence rather than having any concrete effect on investments in green energy. But nobody can deny that it is a great step in the right direction by The Empire State Building.

Source: Alternative Energy News

Google Going Solar

In the largest solar panel system ever constructed in the US, Google Inc. is planning to incorporate 9,212 solar panels to power 30% of their Mountain View, California operations. EI Solutions, part of Energy Innovations Inc., will install these solar panels on four acres worth of roof and these panels will also be used as shading for cars. The panels will create 1.6 megawatts of energy, the same amount of energy needed to power 1,000 Californian homes. Google-User-Should-Know-these-important-URLs-1

Google’s solar project should be completed by next Spring, but they’re not stopping there. They are also looking to other ways they can make their locations more environmentally friendly.

Source: Alternative Energy News, Solar Energy System for Google Headquarters, October 17

What Homebuyers Should Know About Solar Panels

Consider these questions before buying a home with solar panels.

As Americans gain awareness about the financial and environmental cost of non-renewable energy sources, residential solar installations are increasing across the country. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the U.S. now has enough solar installations to power 5.7 million homes, with more than 1 million individual solar installations across the country. While solar installations were once common in high-end homes, the decreasing cost of these systems means they’re showing up on moderately priced homes, too.

As homeowners with solar panels sell those homes, it presents an opportunity for new homeowners to reap the benefits of lower electric bills and a smaller environmental footprint. Still, new owners won’t qualify for the solar rebates and tax credits that the original installer could get. “The single most effective thing that any one individual can do [to combat climate change] is to go solar,” says Raina Russo, founder of Women4Solar, and advisor for CREW: Own the Switch Advisor for Integrity & Mission Council Team Builder. “A homeowner that buys a solar powered house should feel very proud,” she adds.

Of course, the decision to install solar panels goes beyond the potential energy savings and environmental impact. The original owners have the opportunity to thoroughly research their purchase, choose between different manufacturers and installers and make other choices. Meanwhile, homebuyers searching for a residence with existing solar panels can avoid this legwork, but they should still do their homework since the purchase has more complexities than a conventional home purchase. Solar is essentially a “25-year marriage,” Russo says.


In general, buyers are willing to pay more for a home with solar features since they know they’ll be rewarded with low (or no) electric bills. A 2015 Berkeley Laboratory study found that buyers are willing to pay an average of $4 per watt of solar photovoltaic energy system installed, which equates to about $15,000 for the average system.

 However, home appraisers don’t always factor solar panels into their assessment of the home’s value, especially if there aren’t other comparable homes in the area that have solar. “The awareness about the value of solar varies widely across the country,” says John Livermore, executive director of the nonprofit Healthy Home Healthy Planet. When the sellers price a home based on the value of solar features but the appraiser doesn’t, that can create a gap between what the buyer offers to pay and the amount the mortgage lender is willing to loan on the home. “That’s a conversation that the agent should be having with the appraiser,” says Shane Herbert, a real estate agent at Summit Sotheby’s International Realty in Park City, Utah.

With that in mind, here are some questions to consider before buying a home with existing solar panels.

Are the panels leased or owned? Ideally, you’d buy a home from someone who owns the solar panels affixed to the home rather than assuming their solar lease. Because solar leases are an ongoing liability (often with escalating payments), assuming a lease can raise your debt-to-income ratio and hinder your ability to qualify for a mortgage on the home. Leasing solar may also give you fewer certainties than owning them, adds Christina Mathieson, vice president of marketing at the New York-based SUNation Solar Systems and a LEED Green Associate. “What we’re seeing is that many leasing companies retain the right to change their production guarantee,” she says. “They retain the right to every year or two lower the amount that they say their system is going to produce,” she adds. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the leasing company will approve you as the new lessee either.

 Who is the manufacturer? Even if you haven’t chosen the solar manufacturer, you should still research its reputation. In the best-case scenario, the solar system is from a U.S. company, according to Mathieson. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that the panels are exclusively manufactured here, but you want them to be a U.S. corporation so you’re protected by the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act [a law that protects U.S. consumers from shady warranty practices],” she says.

Who installed the panels? Mathieson suggests researching the reputation of the person who originally installed the solar system. “The roof is one of the most important structures of your home,” she explains. “Check out the installer that put the system in and make sure that that installer has a warranty,” she suggests, pointing out that the installer or the company that sold the system may be willing to inspect it for you to provide peace of mind. Herbert also suggests getting an independent professional to inspect the system before you commit to buying a new home with existing panels.

Can I see past electric bills? Ask to see the current owner’s utility bills from the past year, so you’ll know what to expect. Most parts of the U.S. operate under net metering where your electricity bill can be zeroed out by solar, but not reduced further. Still, you could roll over credits from a sunny month into a less sunny month, according to Livermore. In a few areas, you can actually get paid for excess electricity your solar panels generate as allowed by your state and your utility provider. Not all solar systems are created equal. “The age of the solar does make a drastic difference, also how many panels and how much energy usage the house is seeing,” Herbert adds.

 What’s the warranty? Ask about the warranty terms. You likely have two separate warranties: one for the panels and another for the inverter, which converts the energy produced by your panels into alternating current that actually powers your house. “Usually the warranty for the inverter is shorter and the expected life is shorter,” Livermore says. “Sometimes when a solar system is sold, the buyer will purchase an option for the replacement of the inverter. Sometimes they don’t,” he adds. The typical solar panel warranty might run 25 to 30 years, while inverters might be warrantied for 10 years, according to Livermore. “They need that documentation to be passed on to them [in case] there were any issues down the road,” Russo adds.
 Source: USMoneyNew