Which energy approach is more cost effective?

Our legislators in North Carolina are debating whether to continue a state solar energy tax credit that has helped fuel our growth in solar power. NC is now the fourth most prolific state in solar energy. The solar boom has also helped with job creation, which is often used to support the arguments for fossil fuel. Yet, with this debate comes the argument we should be agnostic to the energy method and let the market gravitate to the cheaper approach.

I have a couple of thoughts on this. First, the cost of solar production has continued to decline along with its expansion, and will actually rival the cost of fossil fuel energy production. I have read that a cross-over point is 2018. I find that very exciting, as when that occurs, the cost on a production basis, may favor this renewable energy source.

Second, the above speaks to a comparison of production costs. I have long believed that a true cost comparison has yet to be done which will show the comparative costs of energy options. What has happened with major coal ash spills is a good metaphor as any for what I am talking about. When the residual costs over the lifetime of the energy source are factored in, the cost of using the cheaper production source, may be the more costly source.

A few costs to consider in this equation are as follows – the cost to clean up messes caused by the energy source (coal ash spills, oil spills, e.g.), the added healthcare costs due to a more polluted environment, the cost of water utilization, the costs of environmental degradation, the lawsuits due to the economic havoc wreaked on people and their land, etc. The bad part about this equation is the costs are borne by different people. Oftentimes, the developers get in and out with their profits, leaving the added costs for others. So, often we taxpayers or utility customers are left holding the bag.

Yet, the biggest risk is how much water must we use for each source.  The cost of water utilization is one factor, but the threat of running out of a dear water supply is the greater risk. This is not a pie in the sky concern, as water loss from our water supplies are factored into models for utilities like Duke Energy.

So, let’s look at the real cost of energy production, not just the current cost. My hypothesis is we may be pleasantly surprised that the cheaper cost is the one best for us and our health. With climate change and water utilization being major concerns, I would strongly argue the need to incent the migration to more healthful and environmentally sound renewable energy

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19 thoughts on “Which energy approach is more cost effective?

  1. since we have no possibility of freezing water pipes, the line that runs from the road to the house is on top of the ground. on a sunny afternoon, i have very hot water supply coming into the house… it’s a nice and very easy method for having hot water for washing dishes or for taking a hot bath.. if only i could find an easy solution for internet!

    i wish i had access to info about weaning off of the grid, and i am sure there are some bsic options that don’t require a large investment. finding that info is difficult from this gps point!

    • Z, I like the local idea on the water. There are portable solar panels that may be able to help and I need to look into what Leiah sent on instructables.com. To me, it is the confederation of small implementations that will power us more. Are there any wind mills in your area being on the coast? Thanks, BTG

  2. This is why I like Instructables.com. You can learn how to do basically anything. Of course there is Youtube, but I like Instuctables because you get text and pictures as well as video. Here are a couple of ideas for inexpensive, easier to build yourself solar panels

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Foil-Solar-Panels-for-Windows-VERY-Easy/
    http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Build-A-Solar-Panel/
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Panel-Setup-around-100/

    These are just three sets of instructions. There are tons more. I am becoming rather obsessive about make it or do without! 😉

  3. Note to Readers: Here is an article in the Charlotte Business Journal where the former CEO of Duke Energy (who has been a champion for alternative energy, although slow on execution) took the NC General Assembly to task (note the use of a voice vote rather than roll call vote in the article which is poor form and bad governance).
    http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/energy/2015/05/former-duke-ceo-jim-rogers-criticizes-legislature.html?ana=e_clt_bn_newsalert&u=IlwxM+wgoty/35aabEFaDQ092c7352&t=1432290020

  4. Well said. Folks won’t realize how precious water is until they run out! I read that there is a groundswell of concern in California about the amount of water the wealthy out there use to keep their lawns green and their pools filled! Their problem is extreme, but chances are it will soon be a problem for all of us.

    • Agreed. Someone wrote an op-ed piece on the EPA driving up costs which hurts poor people, yet they do not factor these other costs into the equation.

  5. Your point is well taken. It is also my understanding, although you would know better than I, that coal extractors get a “depletion allowance” similar to the ones given to oil. And no one talks about that “government subsidy” given to oil.

    To Hugh’s point, there is also a great groundswell against Calif. agriculture and its use of water, especially to feed super thirsty crops that have no business being planted in the desert. Almonds come to mind.

    Great post

    • Barney, I saw where the salmon and almond/ walnut industries are duking out over water. With more coal ash spills like TVA and Duke, coupled with the knowledge that people living near coal ash sites not being able to drink the water, we are beginning to see a tipping point on coal. There is no such thing as clean coal and its residual effect from retrieval, burning and leftover ash, will start factoring in utility decisions. Coal mining companies need to think wind and solar on their mountains, rather than digging into them. Natural gas has its own problems in retrieval and transportation, but it burns cleaner than coal. Thanks, BTG

      • The almond industry has no business being in the Central Valley of calif, but farmers are ripping out other crops and planting almonds. 70% of the crop is exported, and studies show each, individual nut takes 2 gallons of water to grow! until Gov. Brown seriously addresses agriculture, he is not being taken very seriously, and large water users in LA, and even locally, are saying to go ahead and fine me. they don’t care as long as they keep their green lawns.

      • So, almonds have become a cash crop? The news noted walnuts take even more water. Have the curtailed fracking?

      • Almonds far outweigh Walnuts, as we’re told. And Gov. Brown still loves oil and Fracking. They were/are big contributors to him.

  6. Note to Readers: I saw an Op-ed piece which noted the new EPA requirements, would harm poor people as we move away from cheaper, clean coal. This hits to the heart of what is cheaper as noted above. It should be noted that climate change affects people in poverty more than others.

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