It's Official: Solar Is the Cheapest Electricity in History

joeydavid

Head Coach
Feb 5, 2003
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Wow. Consider the source much?

Yeah. What are solar panels made from? Silicon. Sand. 2nd most abundant element on earth. Simple right? Sun and Sand!! WEEEEE Solar Energy is like a day at the beach.

Except how does sand become silicon which becomes solar panels? Not so simple. And not so green. It is an incredibly energy intensive process. You are turning sand into quartz, and metallurgical grade Si which is processed in high temperature furnaces over 1200 deg C. In many cases, you have feed gases of SiO2 and SiO4 that have hydrogen introduced in a super heated furnace of around 1500 deg C, to grow Silicon boules. The materials lining these furnaces are usually some form of graphite product, because the graphite has to be fairly pure and is one of the few materials that can take that kind of heat and without chemical attack.

Oh do you know how to make graphite? It takes off byproducts of petroleum processing (cokes) and steel making (pitches bitches) and let's see, you form them, then bake them at 1000 deg C to set the carbon structure and remove hydro carbons (which find their way into the atmosphere) and then.....you bake them at 3000 deg C (that's Celsius which is about 5500 deg F) so imagine the energy needed to make graphite. This is only to make structural components of a Si crystal growing furnace.

Again, you are growing crystals in these graphite furnaces at 1500 deg C, (more energy, more off gassing) then......the Si material is processed to usually a halogen sweeping gas at around 2000 deg C to drive off impurities (metals, alkalides, halides, etc...) to you get 99.999999999 (that's Nine 9's) percent purity to make the solar panels and semiconductor type of material.

Then you need land to build these solar farms.

Now because of the tremendous energy used to produce the materials to just make the panels along with the carbon products which inevitably turn to CO, CO2, CH4, etc...(aka "greenhouse gases" hello ozone, we are comin' for ya) we moved most manufacturing of these materials from the US and Europe so we can participate in Greta Thunberg's press conference and Paris Accord's to China and Malaysia where evidently greenhouse gasses don't matter or at least air pollution doesn't matter.

Now because of all this, they are obviously working on different, less energy and carbon dependent processes to make Silicon and also are working with other materials that possible can be used to make solar panels.

So cheaper? I doubt that? Clean and Green? I know that it isn't. I do believe in Renewables and think it is obviously important and imperative to continue to develop alternative sources as demand continues to increase as population and reliance on technologies increases. But "carbon neutral" by 2035? No way. And oh by the way, the above.....is not taken from some article, it is not opinion, it is what actually happens. I live this, every day.
Now that's a tangent... I'm not sure where anyone wrote that solar was a flawless energy just that it's now more cost effective.
 

HailtoPitt

Chancellor
Jun 18, 2001
22,786
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Again, that is just the energy source. It doesn't consider the emissions used in making the materials to make the solar panels or wind turbines.
I assume life cycle includes making them. But I could be wrong.

It would cost me about 12k for a new standard roof. It would cost around 24k for a Tesla solar roof. Considering that I could either put the energy into the grid or get a battery and store it, it seems to me that solar is now a cost effective solution. And even if the math is slightly in favor of gas in terms of cost, it's vastly in favor of solar for carbon footprint. I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and get the Tesla roof as long as it is made available in time.
 

BPKY

Athletic Director
Dec 7, 2008
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I assume life cycle includes making them. But I could be wrong.

It would cost me about 12k for a new standard roof. It would cost around 24k for a Tesla solar roof. Considering that I could either put the energy into the grid or get a battery and store it, it seems to me that solar is now a cost effective solution. And even if the math is slightly in favor of gas in terms of cost, it's vastly in favor of solar for carbon footprint. I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and get the Tesla roof as long as it is made available in time.
There are a number of factors one must consider before assuming that solar panels are worth the cost. Roof angle, shade, geographic location. Let us know what you find out after you crunch the numbers.

This is a good discussion. Not enough name calling for my taste, but very informative still. :p
 

recruitsreadtheseboards

Lair Hall of Famer
Gold Member
Jun 11, 2006
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I assume life cycle includes making them. But I could be wrong.

It would cost me about 12k for a new standard roof. It would cost around 24k for a Tesla solar roof. Considering that I could either put the energy into the grid or get a battery and store it, it seems to me that solar is now a cost effective solution. And even if the math is slightly in favor of gas in terms of cost, it's vastly in favor of solar for carbon footprint. I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and get the Tesla roof as long as it is made available in time.
Yeah sure. There are other things too being worked on. SiC power switches is huge now, energy storage units (batteries) fuel cells (flow through) that also can take people off the grid. Hell, there is work on designing small nuclear power gen plants for institutions like schools and hospitals.

I am saying all of this is good, but to make this stuff work, it will not be completely carbon neutral. Eventually some alien life form will come along and give us the secrets to new forms of energy. But it is just as likely the earth will "burp" first and kill all of us, regardless of our arrogance in thinking we can alter this.
 

Gunga_Galunga

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Jan 12, 2017
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Now that's a tangent... I'm not sure where anyone wrote that solar was a flawless energy just that it's now more cost effective.
It's not more cost effective, unless you make ridiculous assumptions. If it was more cost effective, utilities would be building solar farms and not more gas plants.
 

BPKY

Athletic Director
Dec 7, 2008
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It's not more cost effective, unless you make ridiculous assumptions. If it was more cost effective, utilities would be building solar farms and not more gas plants.
I think Joey meant solar is more cost effective now than it used to be, not more cost effective than a specific alternative energy source.
 

CJsE

Freshman
Mar 5, 2016
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It's not more cost effective, unless you make ridiculous assumptions. If it was more cost effective, utilities would be building solar farms and not more gas plants.
I think it's more about what you leave out in calculating rather than assumptions. If you ignore having to store the energy for use during the downtime. I believe solar is now cheaper at a straight energy production comparison, but from a storage and grid standpoint it's a different story.

But again, it depends on who is calculating the cost. From a company perspective, there is no additional costs to building and operating a 20-year gas power plant beyond the resources (which are abundant in the US) and the capital. But if you are a government calculating the cost, then you have to also consider the potential costs in 20 years if many of the climate models your own government agencies are releasing are correct.

If you are coming from the government perspective, offering subsidies for gas creates jobs and boosts the economy but at the possible cost of $billions in disaster relief and loss of revenue in the future. What is the break even point for offering renewable energy subsidies.
 

Gunga_Galunga

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Jan 12, 2017
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I think it's more about what you leave out in calculating rather than assumptions. If you ignore having to store the energy for use during the downtime. I believe solar is now cheaper at a straight energy production comparison, but from a storage and grid standpoint it's a different story.

But again, it depends on who is calculating the cost. From a company perspective, there is no additional costs to building and operating a 20-year gas power plant beyond the resources (which are abundant in the US) and the capital. But if you are a government calculating the cost, then you have to also consider the potential costs in 20 years if many of the climate models your own government agencies are releasing are correct.

If you are coming from the government perspective, offering subsidies for gas creates jobs and boosts the economy but at the possible cost of $billions in disaster relief and loss of revenue in the future. What is the break even point for offering renewable energy subsidies.
It's also about how you depreciate assets and what assumptions you use to depreciate that capital over what timeframe. Coal plant not equal to Nuke Plant not equal to Gas Plant not equal to Wind and Solar.

Many of these studies use a standard 25 year lifecycle because that fits solar and wind well. It doesn't fit coal, nuclear, or gas plants well, and forces you to depreciate that capital over a much shorter timeframe than is realistic. This artificially inflates the costs. The could choose 40 years, or 60 years.

Also, these studies tend to ignore transmission costs. You can build a gas plant almost anywhere, and locate it close to existing transmission. Not true for wind and solar.

I was told by a utility exec years ago that if subsidies went away on renewables, they wouldn't build out another megawatt because it was a such a bad investment. I'm fine with the subsidies because I understand it's a chicken and egg scenario. Cost won't come down without volume, and you need the subsidies to drive the volume.
 

CJsE

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It's also about how you depreciate assets and what assumptions you use to depreciate that capital over what timeframe. Coal plant not equal to Nuke Plant not equal to Gas Plant not equal to Wind and Solar.

Many of these studies use a standard 25 year lifecycle because that fits solar and wind well. It doesn't fit coal, nuclear, or gas plants well, and forces you to depreciate that capital over a much shorter timeframe than is realistic. This artificially inflates the costs. The could choose 40 years, or 60 years.

Also, these studies tend to ignore transmission costs. You can build a gas plant almost anywhere, and locate it close to existing transmission. Not true for wind and solar.

I was told by a utility exec years ago that if subsidies went away on renewables, they wouldn't build out another megawatt because it was a such a bad investment. I'm fine with the subsidies because I understand it's a chicken and egg scenario. Cost won't come down without volume, and you need the subsidies to drive the volume.
I can't pretend to know a lot about utility-scaled power generation, the only projects that I have worked on involve residential or medium-sized municipal installations. So a lot of my information comes directly from within the industry and often sounds more like advertising (as you'd expect)than unbiased fact. I try to make sure that I get as much as possible from both sides so that I don't get blindsided when I inevitably field questions from doubtful legislators, but it can be hard when each side claims almost the complete opposite on every question.

There are a ton of issues with switching over; location, storage issues, retraining the workforce, the duck-curve, and less dependable production to name just a few. But I look at it from the simple perspective of every dollar spent on fossil fuel development is a dollar that's not spent on solving the issue holding back a better (for our children) alternative. So there has to be some balance, but it gets drowned out by the loud fringes.
 
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Gunga_Galunga

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Agree with you. I consistently talk about a "comprehensive energy policy." This includes everything at our disposal to produce safe, reliable, and inexpensive energy in the cleanest form possible. We need balance and need to utilize everything.
  • Coal is phasing out, I get it and agree. But, we also have some coal plants that have invested billions of dollars to burn coal a lot cleaner. We should allow utilities to recoup that investment and phase these cleaner plants our over time.
  • Gas is plentiful in the US and cheap. Plants are quick and easy to build, they can be turned on and off quickly, and work great as "peakers". They aren't going anywhere for a long time. In fact, they mesh perfectly with renewables.
  • Nuclear is a baseload workhorse. It's clean carbon wise, and these plants produce about 20% of our power running day in and day out. It will be replaced over time as less economical and older plants are closed.
  • Wind and Solar is growing rapidly but it takes a lot of building to equal consistent megawatts. I don't think we'll see it pass 50% of our electricity production in the next 40 years. It has a lot of benefits, but it's just too unpredictable and costly from a real estate and capital perspective.
  • Hydro - is what it is and unlikely to see much growth.
DOE is spending a lot of money on hydrogen. I also think the new wave of SMRs (small modular reactors) will eventually be something that gets investment.

My guess, in another 40-50 years (if I'm still here) our electricity production will look something like:

Wind 25%
Solar 20%
Gas 15%
Some new tech like hydrogen 15%
Nuclear 15%
Hydro/biomass/geothermal 10%
 

pittbb80

Athletic Director
Oct 9, 2004
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Agree with you. I consistently talk about a "comprehensive energy policy." This includes everything at our disposal to produce safe, reliable, and inexpensive energy in the cleanest form possible. We need balance and need to utilize everything.
  • Coal is phasing out, I get it and agree. But, we also have some coal plants that have invested billions of dollars to burn coal a lot cleaner. We should allow utilities to recoup that investment and phase these cleaner plants our over time.
  • Gas is plentiful in the US and cheap. Plants are quick and easy to build, they can be turned on and off quickly, and work great as "peakers". They aren't going anywhere for a long time. In fact, they mesh perfectly with renewables.
  • Nuclear is a baseload workhorse. It's clean carbon wise, and these plants produce about 20% of our power running day in and day out. It will be replaced over time as less economical and older plants are closed.
  • Wind and Solar is growing rapidly but it takes a lot of building to equal consistent megawatts. I don't think we'll see it pass 50% of our electricity production in the next 40 years. It has a lot of benefits, but it's just too unpredictable and costly from a real estate and capital perspective.
  • Hydro - is what it is and unlikely to see much growth.
DOE is spending a lot of money on hydrogen. I also think the new wave of SMRs (small modular reactors) will eventually be something that gets investment.

My guess, in another 40-50 years (if I'm still here) our electricity production will look something like:

Wind 25%
Solar 20%
Gas 15%
Some new tech like hydrogen 15%
Nuclear 15%
Hydro/biomass/geothermal 10%
Good comments. Agree for the most part........coal is being phased out mostly because of cheap and efficient natural gas. Im sure you have been at gas plants but it often appears as if no one works there because the manpower to run a gas plant is quite small compared to a coal plant.

I would not necessarily count out coal entirely as there are some promising technologies that may further evolve over time such as the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle . Its pretty interesting technology and could be viable if complete CO2 sequestration is ever required.

I have long said that energy policy is a national security issue and we have no high level non political national energy strategy. I do think it has to be comprised of all of the forms of energy that you listed.

Good stuff..........
 

Gunga_Galunga

Junior
Jan 12, 2017
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Good comments. Agree for the most part........coal is being phased out mostly because of cheap and efficient natural gas. Im sure you have been at gas plants but it often appears as if no one works there because the manpower to run a gas plant is quite small compared to a coal plant.

I would not necessarily count out coal entirely as there are some promising technologies that may further evolve over time such as the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle . Its pretty interesting technology and could be viable if complete CO2 sequestration is ever required.

I have long said that energy policy is a national security issue and we have no high level non political national energy strategy. I do think it has to be comprised of all of the forms of energy that you listed.

Good stuff..........
That's cool technology, thanks for sharing. I assume cost is the one detractor?
 

pittbb80

Athletic Director
Oct 9, 2004
18,733
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That's cool technology, thanks for sharing. I assume cost is the one detractor?
yup unless you have to go to zero CO2 and then it likely becomes more competitive I believe ND is going to pursue this to take advantage of the lignite mines they have
 

recruitsreadtheseboards

Lair Hall of Famer
Gold Member
Jun 11, 2006
65,183
44,749
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Agree with you. I consistently talk about a "comprehensive energy policy." This includes everything at our disposal to produce safe, reliable, and inexpensive energy in the cleanest form possible. We need balance and need to utilize everything.
  • Coal is phasing out, I get it and agree. But, we also have some coal plants that have invested billions of dollars to burn coal a lot cleaner. We should allow utilities to recoup that investment and phase these cleaner plants our over time.
  • Gas is plentiful in the US and cheap. Plants are quick and easy to build, they can be turned on and off quickly, and work great as "peakers". They aren't going anywhere for a long time. In fact, they mesh perfectly with renewables.
  • Nuclear is a baseload workhorse. It's clean carbon wise, and these plants produce about 20% of our power running day in and day out. It will be replaced over time as less economical and older plants are closed.
  • Wind and Solar is growing rapidly but it takes a lot of building to equal consistent megawatts. I don't think we'll see it pass 50% of our electricity production in the next 40 years. It has a lot of benefits, but it's just too unpredictable and costly from a real estate and capital perspective.
  • Hydro - is what it is and unlikely to see much growth.
DOE is spending a lot of money on hydrogen. I also think the new wave of SMRs (small modular reactors) will eventually be something that gets investment.

My guess, in another 40-50 years (if I'm still here) our electricity production will look something like:

Wind 25%
Solar 20%
Gas 15%
Some new tech like hydrogen 15%
Nuclear 15%
Hydro/biomass/geothermal 10%
Yeah my former company was really working H2 technology, using fuel cells and the biggest issue was that is the delivery system infrastructure. But, I can see small power gen stations for large buildings/complexes having these in the future.

And I am sure they will continue to make Solar more efficient, like I mentioned in my post, purity levels now are at the Nine 9's, a decade ago it was at six 9's (certain elements like P, B, As, because they use them to dope the mono crystalline Si panels for efficiency, so they must be controllable.
 

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