Talk for Article "Has renewable energy hit a threshold for ‘abrupt and irreversible change?’"

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    Thanks for this piece. It is encouraging. May I make a plea for more clarity? The paragraph which starts “That report further estimates…” says
    “costs of electricity… could further decline an additional 25% to 59%…”
    Point 1: one cannot add two percentages of change and obtain another percentage of change. The word “additional” is misleading. Percentages are a bit more subtle than that.
    Point 2: what is changing? In this case it might be the cost of some energy, e.g. whatever energy it takes to boil an egg, or it might be the cost of the system which can be used to collect the energy and send it down wires to my cooker, e.g. a solar panel.
    Later on is written “costs… could be $200 per kilowatt-hour…”.
    Point 3: this seems rather a lot. I am not sure, but I imagine in this household we use about a kilowatt-hour of electric energy each day on average. At that rate, our annual electricity bill would be more than our annual disposable income.
    Point 4: if this is the cost of the generating equipment, solar panels and cables etc., the figure of $200 sounds rather more reasonable, but it still needs clarifying. First, it will be a cost per unit of power (kilowatt), not of energy (kilowatt-hour). Second, will it be the cost per kilowatt under optimal sunshine at midday or will it be the expected average cost, allowing for clouds and sunsets?
    Hoping this helps. Best wishes.

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      Hello Alan. You raise excellent points. I am sure the originating author will be happy to have your feedback.

      I carefully checked the paragraph you queried against the source, namely IRENA (2016). The key information is given in the executive summary (pages 10-19) and in particular table ES-1 (page 10). First, the figure of 25% is incorrect, it should be 26% and applies to onshore wind. Second, the phrasing in the article is clumsy and should better read “That report further estimated that the generation costs of electricity from onshore wind and solar could decline by 26% to 59% respectively over the next decade to 2025”. I will make that edit shortly. The costs quoted are the average levelized cost of electricity production (LCOE) in 2015 US dollars. This is explained in the report.

      But the quote in the article from McKinsey is neither referenced nor present in IRENA (2016). It should be removed if nobody can cite the source. I’ll do that in a week if no clarification is forthcoming. Regarding the figure of “$200 per kilowatt-hour”, I suspect MWh is the correct unit. Again, we can check this against the actual report once we have the details.

      Regarding your general question of the conditions that should apply when determining LCOE’s, I believe that technology-specific LCOE’s under “average” conditions are of limited value and that detailed integrated system models are vastly more preferable for both private planning and public policy development (disclosure: I work with these kind of models).

      I personally prefer page numbers be given when quoting specific information. Perhaps this, together with academic style referencing, should become the norm on WT. If so, this will need markup support from the platform (WT techs should note this as being a feature request).


      IRENA (June 2016). The power to change: solar and wind cost reduction potential to 2025. Bonn, Germany: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). ISBN 978-92-95111-97-4.

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        Hi Alan and Robbie.

        Thanks both for your inputs.

        I agree with the fix for the awkwardly constructed phrasing.

        For the McKinsey reference, here’s a link to the article: – I understand the $/kWh statements to refer to the costs to build the storage capacity which can be expressed in terms of power (kW) or energy (kWh). For instance a Tesla PowerWall can have a continuous output capacity of 5kW but a storage capacity of 13.2kWh — and using the McKinsey value of $200 per kWh, the cost for 5KW output capacity and 13.2kWh of storage capacity would be estimated at $2,640, as a point of reference.

        And I had (and do) intend to add additional references. The article went from draft to published before I had a chance to review it again, so I fully appreciate the level of detail in your reviews and contributions.

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          Hello Hubert. Electrical storage is indeed expensive and mostly indicated for smoothing diurnal variations in systems with high shares of photovoltaics. So the contested per kWh figure is for storage capacity and not generation.

          You mention Tesla. Their recently installed Li-ion 100 MW (instantaneous) battery bank in South Australia is an interesting development but no longer contemporary news. In that case, the installation unexpectedly provided a sub-second response to a distant coal plant outage. There are now all manner of solid state solutions that ameliorate the effects of renewable energy intermittency (notwithstanding that the example given involved a failure with conventional technology).

          Thanks for drafting the original story. Robbie


          D’Aprile, Paolo, John Newman, and Dickon Pinner (August 2016). The new economics of energy storage. McKinsey & Company.

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            Yes at that price you aren’t going to see people queue up to store photovoltaic electricity from the sunny summer to the less sunny winter. But it does become much more attractive if you are using it hundreds of times a year to store daytime solar electricity for evening use.

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          Thanks Hubert and Robbie both for your good conscientious work. Alan.

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      Good points. I think the distinction between generation costs and storage costs has now been dealt with by others, but I just wanted to comment that if you live a western lifestyle, you’re likely to use a lot more than 1kWh of electricity per day.

      My contention is based on the experience of generating and storing all of my electricity from solar, wind and micro CHP for several years, and subsequently paying a household electricity bill.

      1kWh is roughly what a typical fridge freezer might use in a day. In the UK, household energy usage is more like 10kWh per day.

      I have not checked the accuracy, but there is some interesting international and UK-centric information here that supports these figures:

      There’s also this UK government information for annual household electricity, which seems to tally:

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    Hello Hubert. Very nicely written. And from my understanding, completely correct, both in detail and trend.

    Kemfert et al (2017) offers a model-based perspective which also backs up the theme of the article. But model projections probably belong to another story.

    Kemfert, Claudia, Thorsten Burandt, Karlo Hainsch, Konstantin Löffler, Pao-Yu Oei, and Christian von Hirschhausen (November 2017). “Nuclear power unnecessary for climate protection—there are more cost-efficient alternatives” DIW Economic Bulletin. (48.2017): 498–508. ISSN 2192-7219.

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      Thanks for the comments @robbie.

      I just came across this very detailed article supporting a similar conclusion.

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    Get rid of the clickbait headline! This is not buzzfeed.

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      I like the title. I’ve even seen Ottmar Edenhofer, Germany attempt an analysis along these lines using phase plots, attractors, and chaos theory. Tipping points are a legitimate concept in this context.

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