Want to Get up to Speed on Renewable Energy in 2018?
The big news in 2018 is the astonishing growth opportunity for bioenergy.
In 2017 bioenergy produced half of all renewable energy globally — as much as hydropower, wind power and solar power combined — and this energy segment continues to grow rapidly.
But before that, let’s have a quick refresher on renewable energy…
This graphic shows how much energy is available on planet Earth from all known sources — both renewable energy and non-renewable energy
Here’s how many people are employed in the solar industry compared to the fossil fuel, wind and nuclear electricity generation industries in the U.S (2016)
Excerpt from Statista.com |“Renewable energy has made impressive strides in the U.S. in recent years. According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power employs more people than electricity generation through coal, oil and gas combined. Last year, solar power accounted for 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce while fossil fuels combined employed 22 percent.
The statistic will be welcomed with open arms by those trying to refute Donald Trump’s assertion that renewable energy projects are bad news for the U.S. economy. Around 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, according to the report while generation through fossil fuels had a workforce of just over 187,000. The solar boom can be attributed to construction work associated with expanding generation capacity.
The report states that the employment gap is actually growing with net coal generation decreasing 53 percent over the last 10 years. During the same period of time, electricity generation through gas expanded 33 percent while solar went up by an impressive 5,000 percent.” — Niall McCarthy (Statista.com)
Here’s How Many People Are Employed in Renewable Energy Worldwide (2017)
Excerpt from IRENA | “The industry created more than 500 000 new jobs globally in 2017, with the total number of people employed in renewables (including large hydropower) surpassing 10 million for the first time.
Renewable Energy and Jobs, presents the status of employment, both by technology and in selected countries, over the past year. Jobs in the sector (including large hydropower) increased 5.3% in 2017, for a total of 10.3 million people employed worldwide, according to this fifth edition in the series.
China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany and Japan have remained the world’s biggest renewable energy employers, representing more than 70% of such jobs. While growing numbers of countries reap socio-economic benefits from renewables, the bulk of manufacturing still takes place in relatively few countries. Four-fifths of all renewable energy jobs in 2017 were in Asia, the report finds.
Among the various technologies based on renewables, the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry supports the most jobs. PV jobs increased almost 9% to reach 3.4 million around the world in 2017, reflecting the year’s record 94 gigawatts of PV installation.
Jobs in the global wind power industry contracted slightly to 1.15 million. Europe still accounts for five of the world’s top ten countries for installed wind power capacity.” — IRENA
This graphic shows global subsidies for fossil fuel vs. renewable energy (2018)
The Solutions Project: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050
Excerpt from TheSolutionsProject.org | “Right now, everything in our lives could be powered by clean, renewable energy. From our homes and smartphones to the electricity running our local grocery stores, clean energy is not only possible – it’s already happening. Solutions Project accelerates the transition to 100% clean energy by championing a movement that is more inclusive, more collaborative, and more celebratory. Through storytelling, grantmaking, and capacity building, we honor clean energy leaders, invest in promising solutions, and build relationships between unlikely allies.
Late-Breaking News: International Energy Agency Report Finds Bioenergy Poised For Massive Growth 2018-2023
Excerpt from IEA Report 2018 | “Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant within renewable energy. Modern bioenergy (excluding the traditional use of biomass) was responsible for half of all renewable energy consumed in 2017 – it provided four times the contribution of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind combined. Most modern bioenergy is used in final energy consumption to deliver heat in buildings and for industry.
Bioenergy is the largest source of growth in renewable consumption over the period 2018 to 2023. Bioenergy – as solid, liquid or gaseous fuels – will account for 30% of the growth in renewable consumption in this period. This is a result of the considerable use of bioenergy in heat and transport. Other renewables have less penetration in these two sectors, which account for 80% of total final energy consumption.
In 2023, bioenergy will remain the predominant source of renewable energy, although its share of total renewable energy declines from 50%, in 2017, to 46% as the expansion of both solar PV and wind accelerates in the electricity sector.” — IEA
All I’m asking for is that renewable energy gets the same subsidies as fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Is that so unreasonable?
You can determine the subsidy costing by any method you choose using a per unit of energy formula — per Barrel of Oil equivalent (BOe) or per kW/h, or any other unit of energy formula you want.
North America’s energy security (similar could be said for Europe, Asia and Australia) is better served by LETTING THE MARKET CHOOSE what’s best for the continent and that can only happen when all energy producers play on the same subsidy playing field. (The cream will rise to the top)
Renewable Energy adds to national security, while Conventional Energy leaves industrialized nations vulnerable
North America’s (for example) biggest national security vulnerability (aside from bio-warfare) comes from literally hundreds of thousands of miles of electrical transmission corridors (pylons and power lines) and pipelines that crisscross the continent.
Every Pentagon General, along with every military rank down to Corporal knows it would be boringly easy for even the most inept enemy of the United States and Canada (both national grids are interconnected) to destroy the North American grid with as little as three well-placed air-to-ground missiles, or alternatively, three truck bombs. Those interconnect sites are unbelievably unprotected.
If that were to happen in mid-winter, millions of North Americans would die, and that’s indisputable.
That it hasn’t happened, proves to me that North America doesn’t have any ‘real’ enemies or it would have occurred a long time ago. (Yes, the U.S. and Canada are ‘irritated’ at some countries and some countries are ‘irritated’ at us — but by virtue of the fact that *they haven’t hit us where we’re most vulnerable* proves they aren’t real enemies, they’re only ‘irritants’)
Centralized Power vs. Decentralized Power
Conventional grid adherents are living in a previous century — a central grid WAS the best thing for North America in the 20th-century — but those days are long gone!
Fossil fuel supporters should stop helping our enemies, which they do by supporting a conventional national grid that even the U.S. military 3X over couldn’t protect!
Decentralized power is the ONLY choice for an energy-secure America!
Make better investment returns on Renewable Energy by leveling the subsidy playing field
I understand that many people are heavily invested in fossil fuels and nuclear power — and I don’t blame them, they were safe and secure investments for decades, but such industries now run counter to the national interest — good investment returns aside!
And yes, the ONLY reason you have those high returns is that those industries are heavily-subsidized by U.S. and Canadian taxpayers; Oil & Gas get $80 billion per year in the U.S. and about $10 billion annually in Canada, nuclear a bit less — but nobody really knows for sure, not even the governments — because it’s all mashed together with nuclear fuel production, long-term ‘spent fuel’ storage, nuclear warhead production and nuclear warhead disposal. (I suspect a similar situation in Europe)
Normal citizens can’t see this because those white elephants are obscured by mountains of cash!
Efficient investment vs. Inefficient investment
Energy companies have become like the Big 3 during the 1960’s and 1970’s, big, powerful, lazy, and wholly unwilling to adapt to changing market conditions.
Remember when 95% of cars registered in the U.S.A. were domestic built and sold? Well, due to the laziness of the Big 3, nowadays less than 35% of new car registrations are North American makes, and more than half of the parts are supplied by Asia or Mexico!
You call that progress???
It’s killing North America!
Renewable Energy creates more jobs than Conventional Energy (even using fossil fuel industry stats!)
Millions of people unemployed in North America because the 1% wanted higher investment returns on their energy stocks! UN-AMERICAN in the extreme!
Energy companies and their investors MUST become patriotic by becoming ‘fleet of foot’ and able to adapt to the already changed national security paradigm — and become ‘ENERGY COMPANIES’ instead of (only) Oil & Gas or (only) nuclear or (only) coal companies.
Profit is a great thing! Energy companies should make plenty of profit because energy is an ultra-important factor in the 21st-century. However, uneven energy subsidies are not a great thing.
Putting a square peg in a square hole, not a square peg in a round hole
When we train soldiers, we don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole — we choose those people based on their merit.
(The best snipers become our snipers, the best tank captains become our tank captains, and the best fighter pilots don’t peel potatoes aboard our warships!) Rather obvious when you think about it, isn’t it?
By the same token, if electricity companies were to embrace ALL energy (they don’t do that now because some energy is highly subsidized and some isn’t) they could then have the option to put a round peg in a round hole and a square peg in a square hole. As it should be!
I must add that gas-fired power generation is increasingly important towards meeting demand — moreso as renewable energy comes on stream. Natural gas burns one million times cleaner than brown coal (lignite) and up to ten-thousand times cleaner than the best black coal (anthracite) and gas power plants can be just as local to demand centres as required — quite unlike hydro-power dams and coal-fired power plants, and even nuclear power plants which usually aren’t welcome near city centres.
Again, by setting an even subsidy playing field, THE MARKET will choose which kind of power to use in what location — and don’t worry — your precious investment returns will be just as high as they are now. Maybe higher!
As for U.S. jobs, solar produces more jobs than all other producers put together — and rising exponentially!
By setting a level subsidy playing field, the cream will rise to the top, and the market will choose which peg to put in which demand hole — nothing could be more efficient!
And in that case, renewable energy will win hands down!
National security will become greatly enhanced as industrialized nations will no longer be dangling from a thread via the hundreds of thousands of miles of pylons and power lines that will no longer be required, as renewable energy is local energy, while conventional energy must carry electricity many thousands of miles.
Stop choosing profits over national security!
Stop arguing against national security, stop arguing against a free market, and stop arguing that you can’t make the same or better profits via renewable energy. It’s intellectually dishonest.
And for those who want to send me ‘green bullets’ — bring it!
This latest call to remove fossil fuel subsidies came two years after the G20 Brisbane Summit where leaders announced their intention to, “reaffirm our commitment to rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.” — G20 Brisbane Leaders’ Communiqué(November 2014, Item #18)
The 16-member mega-investor group says G20 nations should set a clear timeline “for the full and equitable phase-out by all G20 members of all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020,” and mobilize “to accelerate green investment and reduce climate risk” in a report submitted to G20 foreign ministers preparing for the upcoming G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
G20 fossil fuel subsidies total $452 billion a year according to the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International.
Meanwhile, annual subsidies for renewable energy in the G20 nations amounts to only 1/4 of the annual subsidy awarded to fossil fuels, which have received mega-billions of subsidy dollars every single year since 1918.
For the next few paragraphs, let’s look at the United States exclusively…
The average annual subsidy for Oil and Gas alone in the U.S. from 1918-2009 totals $4.86 billion.
Adding all those (oil and gas only) subsidy years together gets you the astonishing figure of $442,260,000,000. in total from 1918-2009 — that’s half a trillion dollars right there, folks.
Which doesn’t include wars to protect foreign oil exporters to the United States.
Nor does it include so-called ‘externalities’ which are the negative costs associated with the burning of oil and gas — such as the 200,000 annual premature deaths in the U.S. caused by airborne pollution, along with the other healthcare costs associated with air pollution, the environmental costs to farmers and to the aquatic life in our rivers and marine zones, and higher infrastructure (maintenance) costs.
This chart shows only the U.S. capital gains allowance! There are other coal subsidies, direct and indirect, at play in America — in addition to the externality costs of coal.
On the Externality Cost of Coal Harvard Medicine
Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment. These costs are external to the coal industry and are thus often considered “externalities.”
We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public… over half a trillion dollars annually.
Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative.
Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non-fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive. — Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal (Harvard Medicine)
Fossil Fuels = High Subsidy Costs, High Externality Costs and Lower Employment: When Compared to Renewable Energy
In addition to the direct and indirect subsidy costs of fossil fuels, there are the externality costs associated with carbon fuels, but almost more important, is the ‘lost opportunity cost’ of the carbon economy.
Over many decades in the U.S., conventional energy producers have tapered their labour costs to only a few persons per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) while renewable energy hires more workers per BOE, which will result in a significant net gain for the U.S. economy.
Even with the paltry subsidy regimes presently in place for U.S. renewable energy in the year 2017 — once fossil fuel subsidy costs, the externality costs of fossil fuels, and the ‘missed opportunity’ costs (fewer jobs per BOE) are factored-in to the equation, renewable energy really begins to shine.
And best of all — by 2020 and without any subsidies (yes, really!) renewable energy will regularly beat highly subsidized conventional energy generators at their own game — by lowering electricity costs, by lowering healthcare and infrastructure costs, and by creating thousands of new, good-paying jobs.
Who was saying that renewable energy was a pipe-dream?
A hundred years ago in America, the federal government decided to help a new industry take its first baby-steps by legislating oil and gas subsidies which were paid for by increased citizen taxation.
It’s commonly done by governments everywhere and it’s not the worst thing for a nation to do.
Here’s how that works: (1) A new industry appears (2) the government sees economic potential (3) citizens are told they must pay more tax to support the new industry (4) the subsidies continue long after they’re no longer required (5) the subsidies tend to increase over time and expand into other areas of the business (6) until the subsidies reach obscene amounts and the taxpayers revolt.
In short: Subsidies are a ‘good thing’ — until they aren’t
Energy subsidies accumulate over time
Arithmetic tells us that U.S. oil & gas subsidies total $442 billion from 1918-2009.
It’s worse if you add the additional $80 billion/yr in U.S. oil & gas subsidies paid from 2010-2017, which total $560 billion.
Here’s what U.S. oil & gas subsidies look like when totaled over the entire 1918-2017 timeframe: $1,002,260,000,000.
U.S. oil and gas subsidies since 1918 total one trillion dollars
And U.S. taxpayers paid every penny. That’s a trillion dollars of income tax and fuel tax paid by U.S. citizens to subsidize American oil & gas companies since 1918.
Subsidies are a fine thing for new industries taking their first baby-steps. Wherever the federal government sees economic potential for a new industry, subsidies are the way to grow the opportunity and help stabilize the new industry UNTIL it can stand on its own two feet.
But Mature Industries Don’t Need Subsidies
The problem with oil & gas subsidies is that by 1950 they were 100% redundant. No longer needed. At all.
When mature industries continue to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies long after the original need for them disappears, that revenue goes to support pro-industry advertising, pro-industry organizations and pro-industry politicians.
In that way, some $80 billion/yr in oil & gas subsidies became available for pro-industry causes as it was no longer required to support a new industry taking its first steps.
Note: Not all oil and gas subsidies are bad! Additional subsidies paid for research on ‘cleaner-burning’ fuels via high-tech additives, a transformation that began slowly in the 1970’s and continues — to remove lead from gasoline, and for catalytic converter research in the 1980’s, are two such examples. Billions of dollars were well spent and were very cost-effective. But once the research has been done and the clean-burning fuel goals have been achieved, no reason exists to continue to pay such subsidies.
Except for the dollar amounts, much that applies to U.S. oil and gas subsidies also applies to U.S. nuclear power subsidies.
So let’s skip directly to the nuclear power numbers, shall we?
Simple arithmetic tells us that U.S. nuclear power subsidies amounted to $182 billion from 1947-2009.
It’s worse if you add the additional $102 billion (conservative estimate) in U.S. nuclear power subsidies that were paid by taxpayers from 2009-2017.
Here’s what all (federal) U.S. nuclear power subsidies look like when totaled over the entire 1947-2017 timeframe: $284 billion.
U.S. nuclear power subsidies since 1947 total $284 billion
But if one were to include all nuclear power subsidy costs including; safe storage, disposal, or reprocessing of spent fuel, transportation of spent fuel to other countries for safe storage or reprocessing, the decommissioning of nuclear power sites such as Hanford, the cleanup and cost of replacement electricity due to U.S. nuclear power plant malfunctions, and future reactor design spending, nuclear power subsidies could total $500 billion. Perhaps as much as $1 trillion.
NOTE: That’s not including billions of dollars worth of grants awarded by the federal government for new nuclear power reactor designs to replace America’s aging reactors. Nor does it include the tens of billions paid to store and defend so-called ‘spent fuel’ which is highly radioactive and useful to terrorists. Nor does it include reprocessing costs for spent fuel. Nor does it included shipping costs to ship spent fuel to other countries for storage or reprocessing. Nor would it include any costs associated with nuclear power plant malfunctions. Nor would it include any costs associated with nuclear powered US Navy ships. Due to the sensitive nature of nuclear materials some information is difficult to obtain, therefore, the $102 billion nuclear power subsidies figure used for the 2009-2017 timeframe is an estimate.
Biofuels are a new-ish industry. It’s about where the U.S. oil & gas industry were, in their first 20-years. It’s an industry where subsidies can make a difference to get the thing up-and-running and add stability to the new industry.
Biofuel energy subsidy in the early years was subsidized at $1.00 per gallon, which then declined to $.66 per gallon, but since 2011 has fallen to $.45 per gallon.
Total U.S. biofuel subsidies amount to $31 billion from 1980-2009 and an additional $65 billion from 2010-2017.
For a grand total of $96 billion from 1980 to 2017.
U.S. biofuel subsidies have totaled almost $100 billion since 1980
Note: The original U.S. biofuel subsidies enacted by President Carter during the 1970’s fuel crisis were later expanded to allow U.S. biofuel producers to compete with the much larger and more heavily subsidized Brazilian biofuel producers.
Coal subsidies follow the pattern described in the introduction to this post (subsidy steps 1 to 6) and subsidy costs are in the same neighborhood as oil & gas.
But U.S. coal subsidies in all its forms — including so-called ‘Externalities’ might total half a trillion dollars annually
Here is what a landmark Harvard Medicine study said about the externality costs of U.S. coal:
“Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment.
These costs are external to the coal industry and are thus often considered “externalities.”
We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to one-half of a trillion dollars annually.
Many of these so-called externalities are… cumulative.
This study illustrates the most vexing problem with U.S. energy extraction, refining, processing, storage, end use, and decommissioning of energy sites — energy ‘externalities’. And such externalities aren’t limited to the coal industry.
Energy production externalities (also called ‘Indirect Subsidies’) may cost America $1 trillion per year due to higher healthcare and infrastructure maintenance costs.
Damage to infrastructure arrives in the acid rain falling downwind from fossil fuel power stations, causing damage to bridges, buildings, and roads constructed with concrete (so-called concrete spalling) and causes paint damage on cars and trucks, and is responsible for crop losses downwind or downstream from fossil fuel extraction sites or power stations, and harms aquatic life found in rivers and coastal areas near river outlets.
Terms to remember: Energy ‘kind’ and ‘type’
There are only two ‘kinds’ of energy: Non-renewable and Renewable energy.
There are many ‘types’ of energy: Natural gas-fired, oil-fired, coal-fired, nuclear energy, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind turbine, hydro-electric, ocean thermal, ocean wave, ocean tidal, biomass, wood-burning, and pellet-burning.
The trend of large subsidies in a sector like the energy sector, is that subsidies reward less efficient energy producers and punish more efficient producers in relative terms.
“Just pump it Fred, we’re getting our subsidy money per barrel of oil, who cares if it’s #4 sour crude oil? We get paid to pump oil, not look for better quality oil.”
Although there’s a separate ‘oil exploration’ subsidy too.
And let’s not forget the more ‘sour’ the crude oil, the more processing it requires at the refinery, and because #4 sour is very tough on oil refinery maintenance budgets, it further increases costs at the gas pump.
The more oil you pump of whatever quality, the more subsidy money you get — and that isn’t the way to maximize the efficiency of money in the energy market.
The oil industry delivers an easy example, but every energy subsidy scheme changes the behavior of the principals involved towards lower quality energy, whether it’s subsidized non-renewable energy or subsidized renewable energy.
In the primary energy segment (electricity and district heating) the type of energy varies by region.
Hydro-electric, coal-fired, and nuclear power are astonishingly costly to build and couldn’t have been built without massive subsidies. And even with huge subsidies for R&D, construction, millions of acres of land grants, generous tax incentives and more, some of those energy types still require small per kW/h subsidies to compete in the marketplace. In their favor, all of these have been extremely reliable primary energy producers for decades, but are mature industries that no longer require subsidies as financing such projects in the 21st century is considered routine. But it wasn’t always so.
In secondary energy (transportation) oil and gas infrastructure is also costly to build and the necessary infrastructure couldn’t have been built without massive subsidies. Yet, with sufficient refinery capacity already available there is little need for new refinery capacity, and today’s fuel prices support easy financing for future capacity additions.
Especially for vertically integrated oil companies that own their oil concessions (oil fields) their own distribution system (pipelines, or rarely, rail) and their own refineries, these can thrive during times of low crude oil prices.
Removing oil & gas subsidies would cause oil companies to become vertically integrated with no loss in profits. But why bother, when there’s no incentive due to a high subsidy scheme?
That won’t be the only change. Every subsequent change to the business would necessarily be designed to improve the overall efficiency of the company, sans-subsidies. That’s been missing since 1918.
By leveling the playing field for all kinds and types of energy, the most efficient energy kind and type will become king, and energy investors will earn more profit. (Because profits are earned on the ‘spread’ — the difference between what energy costs to produce and what it can be sold for. Subsidies make markets significantly less efficient and muddy the waters)
In summary: Removing energy subsidies will cause every energy producer to concentrate their efforts on the most efficient kind and type of energy in their region of the country, instead of choosing their energy kind and type by how many subsidy dollars they can capture via their energy choice.
President-elect Donald Trump, please tear down these subsidies!
And let the marketplace determine the most efficient energy.
Federal energy subsidies should return to their proper place. That is; When the federal government sees a new industry with economic potential; To invest, subsidize, and promote that new industry using taxpayer dollars for only as long as it remains a new industry. And not one day longer.
Markets are perfectly efficient when left to their own devices. Massive, taxpayer-funded subsidies for mature industries only serve to warp the markets and punish the most cost-efficient U.S. energy producers.
People either believe in free markets or they don’t
We can’t say we believe in free markets AND THEN massively intervene in the market with humongous, taxpayer-funded energy subsidies for some kinds and types of energy, but not other kinds and types energy.
With the greatest respect Mr. President-elect, I urge you to allow all U.S. energy producers to compete in a free market by phasing-out energy subsidies for every kind and type of energy over the next five years.
Adding new jobs to the economy is always a good thing
In good times or bad, adding more jobs to the economy always equates to higher GDP, lower debt-to-GDP levels, lowered unemployment insurance expenditures, and higher revenues for governments from income tax and sales tax.
There are no examples where adding net jobs to an economy has resulted in a net loss to the economy
It’s positive for individuals too. Higher employment levels generally lead to higher incomes, small and large businesses notice increased revenue, and there is always the chance that companies may begin to expand their facilities and hire more staff to handle increased sales.
Which is why the case to add more renewable energy is so compelling
Over decades of time, mature industries have found ways to increase output with fewer employees.
In the Top 10 on the mature industry list, must certainly be hydro-electric power plants, followed by nuclear power plants, and gas-fired power plants. There we have astronomical installation costs and employment numbers — but once construction of the power plant is completed, only very low staffing levels remain to operate the power plant.
Which is very unlike the case with renewable energy. Why? Because once a multi-billion dollar hydro-electric dam is built, it’s built. You don’t need to build thousands of them per day.
It’s the same with multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants — all you need after the construction phase ends are a small number of highly trained people to monitor the various systems. And some security people. That’s it.
With solar panels, a factory must produce 1000 per day (or more, in the case of larger factories) every weekday. Suitable markets must be found, factories must be built/leased, production floors must be built, materials sourced, and the panels themselves must be designed and engineered, assembled, packed, shipped and accounted for. Accountants do what they must do, marketing people manage a steady train of media events, trade shows and advertising programs, and on and on it goes — and all of it is a part of the solar industry. That activity creates work for thousands of people, every workday of the year. (And that short description doesn’t begin to cover it)
Then there are the solar panel installers, the sales teams/estimators, and the companies that build the inverter systems, which is a whole other value chain.
The wind power industry can also make high employment/lower power plant cost claims — although wind turbines average about $1 million dollars each — as opposed to solar panels which mostly range from $10 each to $400 each, depending on their size and composition.
Renewable energy is hugely labour-intensive and many thousands of permanent jobs are created — quite the opposite of conventional power generation
It is worth noting that 2014 renewable energy employment numbers (once they become available) will show a significant improvement over 2013 numbers.
The entire industry is surging forward unequally, but renewable energy growth in some nations is trending upwards like the Millennium Falcon trends upwards.
Below is a breakdown graphic showing the labour intensity of the various types of renewable energy.
We can also look at a breakdown graphic of jobs per MegaWatt (MW) of electricity produced where we see that coal, nuclear, and oil & gas require very few humans per MW of generation.
There’s no doubt that global energy demand is growing, not only in the developed world, but in the developing world as well.
Each kind of energy (renewable and non-renewable energy) has it’s own pros and cons
One of them is that non-renewable energy requires far fewer person-years of employment over the lifetime of the power plant.
Renewable energy on the other hand, is a rapidly-growing manufacturing, installation, and marketing industry that requires evermore blue collar and white collar employees.
And now that solar power, wind power, and biomass power have reached — or are within months of matching (per kWh) price parity with non-renewable power plants — the question becomes;
Do we want to employ 1.3 persons full-time per MW, or do we want to employ up to 24 people full-time per MW?
For comparison purposes, the typical coal, gas, or nuclear power plant can supply 1000 MW (or 1 GigaWatt) of electrical generation capacity, while the average wind turbine can supply 1 MW each.
The average 1 MW wind turbine costs about $1 million apiece, so to get 1 GW of electrical generation capacity, you need to install 1000 of them (1000 x $1 million each = $1 billion total) and the installation and connection to the grid of that many turbines might take up to 24 months.
Each 1 GW installation of coal, gas, or nuclear power, costs well over $1 billion and can take up to 15 years to construction completion.
For example, the 2.4 GW nuclear power plant under construction in Vogtle, Georgia was originally planned to cost $14 billion, but due to construction and regulatory delays it may cost significantly more.
How much more, is difficult to say both in dollar cost and time frame.
At this point, the total cost may exceed $15.4 billion and it may take an extra year to complete — for a total of 2.4 GW of installed capacity over 11 years of construction and delays, at a total cost of $6.41 billion per GigaWatt. It won’t get any better than that, but it may get much worse.
The 10-year construction plan is already behind schedule by 14-months, and now faces an additional (up to) 18-month delay.
Southern Co. said the firms building its new nuclear power plant in Georgia estimate the project will be delayed 18 months, potentially costing the power company $720 million in new charges, company officials said Thursday. — ABC News
One point about Plant Vogtle (the official name of the plant) is that the two 1200 MW (1.2 GW) reactors are of the latest GE/Toshiba AP-1000 design, noted for their passive safety systems and many safety redundancies built into the power plant. If you’re going to build a nuclear power plant it might as well be the safest one!
As new capacity is added to global electrical grids, more of it is renewable energy
More utility companies are adding new renewable energy capacity as opposed to adding new non-renewable energy capacity due to faster installation time frames, fewer regulatory delays, the lack of fuel supply concerns going forward, and total installation cost per GigaWatt (GW).
It’s easy to visualize this in the chart below.
In 2013, of the 207 GW added to the world’s electrical grids — renewable energy accounted for 120 GW of new installations, while 87 GW accounted for non-renewable energy.
Once the 2014 numbers are released to the public, the renewable energy statistic will have improved over 2013’s numbers. And 2016 should easily surpass the 70/30 metric.
As renewable energy displaces non-renewable energy additions to the grid — remember that renewable energy gets only 1/4 of the subsidies that fossil fuel energy gets!
Imagine if renewable energy got the same subsidies per kWh, or per GigaWatt of capacity, as non-renewable energy
In practical terms, it would mean that 100% of all new generation would soon be renewable energy, everywhere that subsidy-parity was the law.
Also, the renewable energy manufacturing sector would need to quickly ramp-up to meet demand — meaning many hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs would be created immediately after the levelized subsidy was announced.
Between 2017-2019 — and even with the higher subsidies enjoyed by coal, nuclear, and oil & gas — it will cost less to install new renewable energy power plants than to install new non-renewable energy power plants.
Germany is one of the countries leading the transition to renewable energy
Due to German public pressure in the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi incident in March 2011, Germany shut down nearly half of their nuclear power plants and were forced to accelerate their transition timeline to renewable energy.
This unexpected development created additional costs for Germany, but regardless, their Energiewende program is still a stunning renewable energy success story.
Although progress has slowed from the frenetic pace of 2011-2013, Germany is very much a world leader in the transition to renewable energy.
Renewable energy was the number one source of power generation for the first time ever.
Renewables gained slightly in 2014 and now comprise 27.3 percent of domestic demand.
Here is a nice chart courtesy of our friends at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.
There is no doubt that the world will transition to renewable energy, and even major oil companies like Shell and BP are in agreement that by the year 2100, almost 95% of all energy demand will be met by renewable energy.
In one scenario, Shell says that by 2060 the largest energy provider will be solar power.
How quickly that energy transition will occur — is what the present conversation is all about
Increasingly, the conversation centres around matching renewable energy subsidies with the (4x higher) subsidies enjoyed by coal, nuclear, and oil & gas power generation.
So get ready to breathe fresh air, because change is coming!