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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 15 2013: overstated on Republicans if there are any real ones left. just need to dump the Tea Party.

    given your points earlier about size of economic impact (and the essential destruction of developing world consumer market growth and thereby exports, both here, EU and China) I cannot wrap my head around their backers not wanting to hedge climate change as they do their market investments. strange. the way I would look at it as simply as 50/50 risk of real estate asset loss with 6 ft rise in sea level and assuming avg. 16 ft storm surge on the coasts given that most assets are on the shore. that is something they would gladly hedge if it were anything else.

    i know the lobbying is a tough one but I can give you an example why it would have to be excluded (which may argue for this waiting until something truly disastrous happens so that the action is swift and clean). In California the SF VC's went very heavily into solar early in the last decade. None of the promises panned out and those investments were all at risk. VC's and the companies they backed lobbied heavily for net-metering (so they do not need batteries) and subsidization from the state (and the feds). So where I live in MA same thing and until recently here solar existed in a complete bubble where a solar REC was worth a minimum of $.28 per kWh while wind geothermal etc all were traded at less than $.02. They took the minimum guarantee off and it is already causing problems here.

    The problem with this is if you look at where solar investment, government and private, dollars have gone ever since that bubble got set up by the lobbyists they have gone to very small incremental technologies that would reduce fab cost by 20% or have an efficiency improvement of 2%. The bubble pretty much guarantees that the VC's can make their money back even if the tech does not pan out. So innovation in solar has slowed to a snails pace with nothing addressing solar's issues.

    imagine that over the whole system.
    • Jan 15 2013: As for Republicans, I’m afraid they’re going to gerrymander moderate, rational Republican candidates out of the picture altogether (via primary fights and fixed House seats).

      I agree with you about excluding lobbyists, I was just sort of gasping at the difficulty of it in today’s politics.

      Your discussion of VCs and solar is very interesting to me. If you have a pointer to this background info, please share it. (Again, I find myself with more time recently, and I’d like to come up to speed. I can’t think of a more interesting/important area to get involved in and learn about than global warming and what to do about it technologically and politically.)
      • Jan 15 2013: No primer on VC's and solar. Based on my observations, dealings, and talking to some high-school buddies who do lobbying in CA and watched the solar lobby go into high gear a while back when the time horizon on the investments started to get a little long in the tooth. It is not just solar. They do it on wind, fuel cells, geothermal, broadband, etc..

        What is interesting to do is to go to the open secrets database and look up RE or VC companies. http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000054103&year=2011

        In the normal course of events nothing wrong with it except that it hinders advance. in this area I think it is playing with fire and I think Obama and Chu made a big mistake continuing this "private-government" partnership and relying on the private sector to produce innovation instead of a big government push per Mahattan Project or Apollo. Do not know about your experience but private sector in my experience does not innovate well unless someone else is footing the bill and controlling the direction. DoD and NASA innovate well.

        it is how the system works so c'est la vie. my only point is if you are going to de-privatize or do a "interstate energy act" in the first stages such an action would have to be divorced from private or single issue interests to the greatest degree possible so the solutions, planning, and policy elements that lay out the roadmap are based on fixing things vs. tossing bones to the dogs. I would include banning environmentalist lobbies in that as well not just private industry.

        never going to happen without a big disaster anyway and what is far more likely is death by a thousand cuts. 20 kids get shot and we cannot even bring an assault weapon ban to the floor let alone get it passed. Not sure what happened to us. We used to be good at getting things done when they really needed to get done.

        good that you are focusing your attentions on this area. if I were you I would also read V. Smil's papers.

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