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Rob Freda

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In a rigorous analysis is this "missing link" a solution or evidence of a much larger and systemic policy, market, and investment problem?

While Prof. Sadowy is correct on energy issues, his “the missing link” conclusion lacks perspective and highlights a larger problem in clean energy.

The Yardstick

“Missing link” technology has to have specific performance (other technologies have these) and cost. The most central feature for a "missing link's" is -

The combined system cost per kWh must net out lower than today’s renewables to have value.

This battery’s cost is 1/3 "the best battery technology" (MIT). AGM batteries are ~$250 per kWh of storage. Renewable output needs to be leveled (store when producing a lot, supply when not) to behave like fossil. Wind requires 3-5 days of leveling storage equal to 50% of rated capacity (the turbine’s max output) (LBNL).

Storage for 1MW wind turbine = 3 x 24 x 500kW x $80 = $2,880,000

1MW turbine cost = $1,800,000

Wind subsidy is ~$.026 per kWh to equal Natural Gas at $.065 per kWh

Combined wind/storage cost = $.15 per kWh, Subsidy raw = ~$.085 per kWh, Subsidy w/externals = ~$.05 per kWh

The effect of subsidizing a large percentage of global consumption at current rates is severe (see Edenhoffer’s ADAM) on the order of a 2% global economic contraction per year. More expensive renewable energy that behaves like fossil is not a solution.

The Larger Problem

As long as governments are subsidizing (driving private investment) energy technologies that are highly unlikely to solve our core energy problems, our problems will not be solved because we frittered away the money to solve them. The last 30 years provide a snapshot of this problem.

The US has funded and subsidized incremental storage, solar, and wind technologies for 30 years at a cost of tens of billions of dollars without producing anything that can or is on track to actually compete with fossil. If we continue to lack rigor in clean energy policy and investment and to invest large sums without vision, the future for climate change and/or our standard of living looks very dark.

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  • Jan 14 2013: Rob, if the technology is not the answer to storage for renewables, what about other factors such as grid support and as a local UPS?
    • Jan 14 2013: sure. he and his investors can build a business out of it I would think although I would like to see the models on which he is basing his estimates.

      On grid storage ostensibly it would depend on where it is deployed and whether there was some overall savings on spinning reserve and peaking power.

      I actually may have not been as precise as I could have been. Was not saying it was not a viable business or would not be useful once the underlying generation issue is solved (or in the cases you mention). In either case though without the underlying issue being solved it does not seem to be of the importance Sadowy highlights.

      I was mainly trying to point out that this seems to me to be symptomatic of a misalignment in policy, discussion, and resources relative to the primary objective. I assumed as the primary objective - a substantial reduction in GHG emissions and preferably a low-cost or cost-neutral method to do so, avoiding any significant economic impacts that a substantial increase in the cost of energy would cause.

      Given those parameters the current investment and policy focus on solar, battery storage, and building management software (together these probably make up 90% of current "innovation" investment) seems a bit like the old "Nero's fiddle" approach. Reducing the cost of battery storage from $250 to $80 per kWh has a significant impact on how low state of the art solar and wind have to go to be viable. With Sadowy's technology instead of being 20% of fossil cost now these technologies would only have to be 50-60% of fossil. Of course the likelihood of any of the current techs getting there is extremely low and even if they did there would still be massive transmission costs (which to your point could be lessened by 25%? with a cheap grid storage).

      Given all that Sadowy's tech should fall into a "support tech" bucket that should make up maybe 20%? of policy driven investment. Cannot see any evidence though of any bucketed policy.

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