No Excuse Not To Transition: Denmark Wind at 5 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Running the world on renewable energy.

If you listen to the fossil fuel cheerleaders, the possibility is more remote than ever. Earlier this month, a few oil and natural gas fracking boosters in the EU derided the high cost of energy in Europe. They claimed that shifting to a policy of climate and groundwater threatening fracking could free them from both energy price shock and dependence on threatening overseas powers like Russia.

Unfortunately, such, unattached-to-reality, fossil fuel boosting by former industry professionals turned politician isn’t new. For these wayward ministers had missed recent developments in nearby Denmark providing a real long-term solution to both high energy prices and dependence on foreign suppliers, and all without the added hassle of threatening Europe’s water supplies or pushing the world one step closer to climate change game over.

Cheaper Than Other Forms of Energy

GE Wind Turbine with Battery Back-up

(GE wind turbine with battery backup in the turbine housing stores power for times of peak demand or when the wind is not blowing. Image source: Smart Planet.)

For according to a recent report from the government of Denmark, new wind power coming online in 2016 will cost half that of energy now provided from current coal and natural gas based power plants. The net price would be equal to 5.4 cents (US) per kilowatt hour.

Rasmus Petersen, Danish Minister for Energy, Climate and Buildings was far more sanguine than a number of his wayward peers regarding renewable’s prospects:

“Wind power today is cheaper than other forms of energy, not least because of a big commitment and professionalism in the field. This is true both for researchers, companies and politicians.”

“We need a long-term and stable energy policy to ensure that renewable energy, both today and in the future is the obvious choice.”

Not included in Rasmus’ statement is the amount of monetary damage and loss of life that would inevitably be prevented by shifting the energy base to renewables and away from climatologically harmful fossil fuels. Damage to crops, damage from extreme weather, loss of coastal infrastructure, loss of fisheries, loss of whole ecologies, and increasing risks of a runaway global warming feedback in the Arctic are all reduced or prevented under such a shift. Though there is currently no price mechanism to add these monumental costs inherent to fossil fuel use to the current energy marketplace, the effects are ongoing and born by all of broader society.

It’s a kind of tax fossil fuel use foists on us all. A tax that includes potential loss of life as an ultimate levy. And with each passing year, the pain and harm from that wreckage-inducing tax increases.

In addition to broadly preventing such harms, an ever-increasing energy independence comes with a majority reliance on renewables as base energy.

EU Still Pushing for Renewables Expansion

Despite the rather loud voices of a couple of fossil fuel cheerleaders, the EU is pressing hard for increasing renewable energy generation. In total, the EU commission is now recommending that member states, on aggregate, set a 30 percent renewable energy production target and a 40% emissions reduction goal. This would more than double the 14.1 % renewable energy use achieved throughout the EU during 2012 and rising through 2014.

The EU’s action comes on the back of a flurry of new reports showing that 100% reliance on renewable energy for electricity and base fuel is now possible given current technology and existing markets. These studies found complete replacement of fossil fuel infrastructure, including transportation, to be possible given current resources and technology for all new energy by 2020-2030 and for all energy by around 2050. Meanwhile, many of these studies found that costs for replacement were surprisingly low, especially when efficiency and the elimination of unnecessary consumption were added in.

Under the current situation of amplifying damages caused by human-induced climate change, such policies provide a means of escape from escalating harm and of a prevention of the worst effects of warming-related climate and biosphere shocks. Governments around the world should take a good, hard look at such policies going forward as the economic excuses for perpetrating such harm by continuing fossil fuel exploitation, given the availability of 5 cent per kilowatt wind energy, grow quite thin indeed.

Links:

Wind Power Undercuts Fossil Fuels to Become Cheapest in Denmark

Onshore Wind Now Cheapest Form of Electricity in Denmark

Providing All Global Energy With Wind, Water and Solar Power

Smart Planet

Fossil Fuel Cheerleaders Push ‘Shale Option’

 

 

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53 Comments

  1. “a flurry of new reports showing that 100% reliance on renewable energy for electricity and base fuel is now possible given current technology and existing markets. ”

    One of my favorites of these is the Zero Carbon Britain report published by the Center for alternative technology, which is just celebrating it’s 40th anniversary:

    http://zerocarbonbritain.org/index.php/zcb-latest-report-read-online

    Reply
    • Excellent report. Did you see the one put out by the US NREL showing an only 0.05 percent increase in costs? My opinion is that net costs go down over time due to scaling.

      Reply
  2. Mark from New England

     /  July 29, 2014

    Thanks for the good news Robert. Not enough of it!

    Reply
    • Yeah. I should probably do more posts like this. We are at or better tan price parity for wind. Solar price parity in certain markets now. We are likely to see solar at less expensive than coal or nat gas by 2016-2018 in most markets.

      The primary barrier to renewables is now political. And we are starting to see that this was probably the primary barrier all along. IF we have a runaway climate change in the next few years ( which I think is highly unlikely despite the very troubling warning signs in the Arctic) we can certainly blame the never-ending foot dragging by fossil fuel related interests over the past 30-40 years.

      Reply
      • Spike

         /  July 30, 2014

        In the UK sadly we have a planning minister who is overruling his own Planning Inspectorate and rejecting nearly all new proposed new wind farms onshore. Hopefully this will change if the people are sensible enough to vote out our pro-nuclear pro-fracking pro-coal government in May.

        http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/pickles-blocks-eleventh-onshore-windfarm/1013642

        Taking fossil fuel money out of politics is becoming an imperative – indeed taking all business funding out and developing state funding seems to me necessary.

        Reply
        • Both Australia and the UK suffer from what I like to call ‘the rulership of king Murdoch.’ It’s tough to have solutions-oriented leaders when the media sources are dominated by numbskulls. Tough, but not impossible.

          Hope you guys vote the *stards out.

  3. Tom

     /  July 29, 2014

    Unfortunately, we’ll still need fossil fuels to manufacture, transport, construct and maintain any alternative energy “substitute” – so we’re not exactly “home free” on this.

    Reply
    • No way we’re home free. There are huge barriers, the political barrier, in my view, being one of the largest.

      Reply
    • Burgundy

       /  July 30, 2014

      There seems to be a huge misunderstanding about renewable energy. Namely that it is an alternative to fossil fuels. When it is in fact just another source of energy to compliment the existing sources and increase overall energy availability. An exponentially growing technological civilisation requires an equally expanding array of energy sources.

      Although technology will rely increasingly more on electricity for its growth, leaving the declining access to oil for the maintenance and feeding of the global population. So I expect to see huge growth in alternate and reneweable energy systems.

      Breakneck technological growth and how it is funded throws up some interesting observations. One is that traditional capitalism isn’t up to the job, rapid technological progress just doesn’t generate real profits. So energy and resources are being channelled into technological advancement via financial bubbles and debt based spending. The result is exponential technological advancement while real wealth creation is actually declining. The books are balanced by substituting synthetic wealth for real wealth. A non-financial example of this would be the fact you would need 40 supermarket bought apples to get the same nutritional value as 1 apple your grandmother would have eaten (but it allowed the technological advancement of apple farming).

      Reply
    • Spike

       /  July 30, 2014

      On the other hand the average wind farm is expected to generate at least 20–25 times the
      energy required in its manufacture and installation over its lifetime, and the average energy payback time for a wind farm is in the region of 3–6 months.

      http://www.cse.org.uk/downloads/file/common_concerns_about_wind_power.pdf

      Reply
      • Yeah, the reality on the ground just keeps going against what the pessimists are saying. So the arguments against grow more abstract.

        Reply
  4. Greg Smith

     /  July 29, 2014

    A third hole has been found in Siberia with a clear attribution to climate change in this weather underground article:
    http://www.wunderground.com/news/another-siberian-hole-discovered-20140729

    Also, in regard to the great post above I’ve been teaching my sons about alternative energy stocks and bought SolarCity a month or so ago. It’s up 40% based on it solar manufacturing purchase and expectations of residential solar installations here in the U.S. and, of course, the vision and drive of Elon Musk. Point is, it’s not a terrible thing to tell the story to deniers of the financial opportunities afforded to them by renewables both from a reduced cost basis to their energy use but to the investment opportunities afforded to them as well. Those fossil fuel investments based on proven reserves are a gigantic bubble waiting to burst when it becomes clear that they won’t and can’t be extracted profitably or otherwise .

    Reply
    • I think there is a deliberate attempt by smart money to keep the fog in place as long as necessary to lock in all good investment opportunities. For those that just listen and echo the deniosphere they do not realize they are being taken to the cleaners and will be serfs.

      So many people (right wing folks) took the opportunity to make fun of T Boone Pickens when he said “water is the new oil” and bought up huge swaths of water rights under them (red states). Now they are paying him for water. He also put his financial weight behind wind, stating FF is over (they made fun of him on that one too).

      I agree with you, there are great opportunities investment wise for renewable energy. My wife and I research them and place investments in good spots as well. But of course those are investments (long term), not short term speculation.

      Gratz on some great picks! And something tells me Siberia is starting to look pockmarked like a zitty teenager….

      Reply
      • Spike

         /  July 30, 2014

        Crowd funding is developing in the UK with co-operatives, Abundance Generation, and the Trillion Fund. This is tapping into public enthusiasm for renewables and helping to bypass some of the logjam caused by commerce and government, as are home solar installations. But given our vast wind resource and huge tidal and wave resource and decent solar along the south coast we could do a hell of a lot more with a Danish type government.

        Reply
        • You guys have far more in the way of wind resources than the Danes. I’d really like to see you use it😉

    • Absolutely. It’s probably the largest bubble in the history of finance. A fuel that wrecks civilization to extract is a fuel that ultimately cannot be extracted.

      I’m on the third hole now. Excellent work by Dr Masters.

      Reply
  5. Eric Thurston

     /  July 30, 2014

    I’ve long been told that Denmark’s success with wind power has been dependent on Norwegian hydro power to provide a base load when the wind isn’t blowing (or isn’t blowing enough). Is this still the case? Or is the battery technology mentioned here adequate to smooth out the windless times?

    By the way, thanks for a terrific blog and for all the time spent on researching and writing the posts.

    Reply
    • Spike

       /  July 30, 2014

      You can watch the Danish grid here in real time with all the cross border trade

      http://www.energinet.dk/Flash/Forside/UK/index.html

      Reply
    • Take a look at the link provided above and you can see the mix.

      Intermittency is mitigated by a variety of sources, a geographic distribution of sources, by grid management and by storage. The problem of intermittency is not new to grid operators. And though renewables present more of a challenge, it is not insurmountable.

      Thanks for the kind words, Eric, and best wishes.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  August 1, 2014

        As I recall, the term ‘base load’ was originally introduced to identify a major problem with traditional coal- and nuclear-based electrical systems–what do you do with all the un-needed energy that these plants produce at night? The answer was partly to over-light the whole earth, which is one of the reasons that the night side of the earth is so bright that the moon reflects its light.

        Ironic that this historic _problem_ suddenly has turned into some kind of absolute necessity.

        Also keep in mind that _all_ sources of energy are intermittent–plants need to be shut down at various times for maintenance and various other reasons. It’s not a fundamentally new issue for the grid to deal with, just a matter of magnitude.

        Here in the north country of the US, we are used to the fact that much of normal business has to essentially stop on occasion in the winter if there is an exceptionally heavy snow fall. We all know that we have to occasionally adapt to the dictates of mother nature.

        Why shouldn’t the same also be true of electricity–when there is neither adequate wind nor sun for extended periods in a broad region, why not just not say, “Hey, we can’t continue business as usual for a little while”? Take a break from what you’re doing for a couple days. What you were doing probably wasn’t all that important, anyway.

        Critical functions like hospitals already have backup systems in place in case of grid failure.

        Intermittency and lack of base load are largely created ‘problems,’ not so terribly hard to ‘solve’ if you reexamine some basic mis-pre-conceptions. (Hey, if Baby Bush can be mis-under-estimated, I can make up my own multiply prefixed neologism, too!! :-P)

        Ultimately, and better sooner than later, we have to start examining and questioning the main purpose of modern industrial market-based eternally growing society. It’s main function, even leaving out the consequences of GW, seems so far to have been to rip out the guts and skin of baby earth and turn them into persistent toxins for the poor child and her hangers-on, as rapidly as possible.

        Perhaps it’s time for a new plan?

        (As Mary Catherine Bateson has pointed out in a number of lectures, ‘baby’ is a better metaphor for the earth than ‘mother,’ since it expresses the fragility and future orientation of the living planet–besides which, in the US, at least, most of us are culturally programmed to distance ourselves from our mothers, not so much to our babies, yet.)

        Reply
        • Fantastic points wili. I find the base load argument to be one that is generally coming from the point of view of increasing demand and not really thinking about what’s really necessary.

  6. Phil

     /  July 30, 2014

    There might be a need for some type of synchronous generation that is typically met though thermal or hydro generation. Wind turbines and solar PV are asynchronous and cannot at this stage supply governor response to help stabilise the system when faults or other continguencies arise where generation response (especially ramp up response) is required immediately to stablise the system and keep its frequency and voltage within specified limits.

    Whether it is possible that future WTG/solar technologies have governor response I am not sure although this has been flagged as a desired objective by the IEA and others. Potentially, storage could also be used to help stabilise the system. However, typically, fast start/stop and fast ramping hydro and OCGT gas has been seen as necessary to reinforce networks with high levels of intermittant renewable geeneration. Also, concentrated tower solar thermal with salt storage or geo-thermal might be able to provide this type of support in the future although that is still an open question at this stage.

    In Europe, the vast interconnected grid also significantly helps achieve this balancing and stabilising requirements.

    The other issue is market design. With peak demand being shaved by role out of solar PV and with high penetrations of intermittant renewables and with very low variable costs and much higher fixed and captial costs for renewable generation, real time wholesale markets cannot probably be depended upon to produce prices that are sufficient to allow generators to earn enough revenue to cover the fixed costs. This extends to all generation whether renewable or existing thermal plant. There will have to be alternative support through either a capacity market and/or renewable energy target with PPA’s to produce revenue streams that together can allow plant to cover their long run costs. Otherwise, the plant will not be commercially viable or be able to attract project finance.

    Reply
  7. Greg Smith

     /  July 30, 2014

    Stability issues for grid are rapidly being addressed. Here is one new example thanks to Peter Sinclair’s site. This is a Canadian company using sophisticated fly wheels. Another example (no link) is GE’s recent announcement of large-scale fuel cell batteries for grid.:

    Reply
  8. Mark from New England

     /  July 30, 2014

    In other good news, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) – who should probably BE in the White House – rips Senator James Inofe (R-Denial) a new one!

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/29/3465442/whitehouse-blasts-inhofe-on-climate/

    Reply
  9. Colorado Bob

     /  July 30, 2014

    Sixteen-foot swells reported in once frozen region of Arctic Ocean

    The wave measurements, using sensors beneath the surface communicating via satellite, were recorded by Jim Thomson of the University of Washington and W. Erick Rogers of the Naval Research Laboratory in 2012 and reported in an article in Geophysical Research Letters this year.

    “The observations reported here are the only known wave measurements in the central Beaufort Sea,” they wrote, “because until recently the region remained ice covered throughout the summer and there were no waves to measure.”

    Sixteen feet was the average during a peak period, Thomson said in an email. “The largest single wave was probably” 9 meters, or about 29 feet, he said. The average over the entire 2012 season was 3 to 6 feet.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/30/sixteen-foot-swells-reported-in-once-frozen-region-of-arctic-ocean/?tid=hp_mm

    Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  July 30, 2014

      Waves that big will break up some of that sea ice.

      Reply
      • It’s from 2012, the previous record melt year. Although, my bet is that the Laptev is seeing some rather strong swells at the moment.

        Reply
    • Damn. Those waves ripped that ice to shreds in 2012. A likely sign of things to come. Although the heat forcing may have some hard work to do given a growing negative freshwater feedback.

      Reply
  10. eugene

     /  July 30, 2014

    I love studies. They sound so wonderful on paper. Many yrs ago, I took a research class. First comment out of the instructors mouth was “what is it you want me to prove and I’ll develop research that proves it”. Tom’s comment was very realistic. There’s a whole lot to alternatives that the alternatives folks ignore. I believe alternatives will play a role but total replacement, not a chance.

    Reply
  11. Colorado Bob

     /  July 30, 2014

    Is the climate dragon awakening?

    Methane records from this network include occasional spikes. Green symbols on the charts below indicate these extreme positive outliers. A reasonable hypothesis for the outliers marked below by me with dragon breath? [I had these labled WTF? ] would be: extreme outlying positive anomalies represent high methane concentration plumes emanating from tundra and/or oceanic sources. Another reasonable hypothesis would be: extreme outlying positive anomalies represent observational errors. What NOAA states: the outliers “are thought to be not indicative of background conditions, and represent poorly mixed air masses influenced by local or regional anthropogenic sources or strong local biospheric sources or sinks. ” Fair enough. But, the dragon breath hypothesis has me losing sleep.

    Jason Box –

    http://www.meltfactor.org/blog/?p=1329

    Reply
  12. Colorado Bob

     /  July 30, 2014

    Southern Alps melt accelerating – study

    In a study published today, glacier researchers from NIWA and the Universities of Auckland and Otago say the total ice volume on the Southern Alps has reduced by 34 percent since 1976, with the most pronounced decline since 1996.
    In short, scientists say, the big thaw is speeding up.

    Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/Southern-Alps-melt-accelerating—study/tabid/1160/articleID/354773/Default.aspx#ixzz38y8pEEPW

    Reply
  13. Spike

     /  July 30, 2014

    Drought in Henan province northern China worst in 63 years

    http://english.cri.cn/12394/2014/07/30/191s838287.htm

    Reply
  14. Colorado Bob

     /  July 30, 2014

    The list of blogs on the SWERUS-C3 expedition

    http://www.swerus-c3.geo.su.se/index.php/swerus-media

    Reply
  15. Hey, Robert;

    I tried to post some drivel this morning without success. It isn’t important, but i’m curious did you remove it? or did wordpress? If you have time, thanks.

    Reply
    • I thought I got all the comments approved this go-round. I’ll recheck.

      Reply
    • The last one I have from you prior to these two was on July 28 with none in moderation (if I have a concern about a post, I’ll hold it in moderation, sometimes, but this hasn’t been the case with any of yours). So wordpress might have gotten it.

      Reply
      • Yeah, wordpress does some strange stuff on occasion … . The comment was a little over the top, sometimes i try to get clever and end up sounding mean. Anyhow, glad it was them.

        Thanks for your time!

        Reply
  16. A caveat for cheap wind. Those with a viable wind grid should if possible wean themselves off of the need for those turbines that require heavy metals, or at least ensure that these are manufactured from metals not originating from areas where processing and disposal methods for such metals are woefully unregulated, like in China. Trading cleanliness in one area for gobs of coal burning and toxic dumping in another could arguably be worse than the status quo.

    Additionally, wind may not yet be a viable choice for certain areas or applications – For areas still heavily reliant on fossil fuel generation, whether for their cars or for power, it might best be to substitute fossil fuels with biofuels whose lifecycles beyond initialization don’t require the use of fossil fuels for production.

    Do any such biofuels exist? What do you (Monsieur Robert, or any commenters poking around) know/think about biofuels as a concept?

    Reply
    • Biogas is a proposed base load fuel for many mixed renewables applications. A total replacement of fossil fuels would likely include a mix of wind, wave, solar and biogas/biomass.

      As a caveat, if you attach a carbon capture apparatus to a biogas/biomass energy source, you end up with net negative carbon.

      Reply
  1. No Excuse Not To Transition: Denmark Wind at 5 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour | Notes to the underground.
  2. Wind Energy Now Cheaper than Coal | GarryRogers Nature Conservation
  3. Wind Energy Cost Per Kilowatt Hour - Green Energy Efficiency

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