Kauai Shows Solar + Storage is Starting to Become Cost Competitive With Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

It wasn’t too long ago that the cost of an average solar energy power plant was above 10 cents per kilowatt hour and the world was raving at the low prices for Middle East solar generation in the range of 6 cents per kilowatt hour. At that time, to the shock, awe, and dismay of many, solar began to become earnestly competitive with traditional power plants based on price of energy alone.

Base Wind + Solar Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

But it’s amazing what a difference just two years can make. Now solar prices have fallen into a range of around 4-6 cents per kilowatt hour with the least expensive solar plants now hitting as low as 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour. These prices are now far less than diesel and nuclear based generation (in many cases 1/2 to 1/4 the price of these systems) and today even out-compete coal and gas fired generation.


(Research by Lazard now shows that wind and solar are less expensive than all forms of fossil fuel and nuclear based energy. Image source: Lazard and Clean Technica.)

For as you can see in the image above, the cost of new natural gas generation now ranges from 5 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the least expensive plants and the price for new coal generation ranges from 6 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour. Utility wind and solar, by comparison, now ranges from 3 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour in most cases.

These, far more competitive, prices for renewable energy based systems provide a very strong case for the base market competitiveness of renewables. One that supports a clear rational economic argument for rapid integration of renewable energy systems. A strong economic case that can now be made even when one doesn’t include the various harmful externalities coming from nuclear energy and fossil fuel based power or the related and continuously worsening climate crisis. Renewable energy detractors, therefore, can now no longer make an argument against clean energy sources based on price alone. As a result, the argument against more benevolent energy systems during recent months has tended to shift more and more to the issue of intermittency.

Facing Down Fears of Intermittency

As an example, in its most recent report on the cost of global energy, the typically pragmatic Lazard Consulting group recently noted:

Even though alternative energy is increasingly cost-competitive and storage technology holds great promise, alternative energy systems alone will not be capable of meeting the baseload generation needs of a developed economy for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the optimal solution for many regions of the world is to use complementary traditional and alternative energy resources in a diversified generation fleet.

It’s a statement that moves the consultancy group closer to reality. One that opens wide the door for a much needed rapid integration of clean energy supplies. But, as with the analysts who failed to predict the precipitous fall in solar prices and the related rapidly increased availability of renewable energy sources as a result, the Lazard report fails to understand the fundamental price and mass production supply dynamics now setting up. A dynamic that will likely transform the cost and availability of energy storage systems in a similar manner to those that acted to greatly reduce the price of solar energy systems during the period of 2011 through 2016. As a result, Lazard’s ‘not for the foreseeable future’ statement is likely to have a life expectancy of about 3-5 years.

Soft Limits

Wind and solar power generation systems do have the base limitation that they only produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Often, these energy sources have to be widely distributed and interconnected to cover a significant portion of demands coming from power grids (30 to 50 percent or more). And in the present understanding of energy supply economies, standby power or power storage systems have to be made available for the periods when majority renewable energy systems go off-line. All too often, this standby power generation comes from conventional sources like coal, gas, or nuclear.

That said, the underlying flexibility of renewable energy is starting to overcome the soft limit that is intermittency. And a recent report by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that as much as 80-90 percent of grid electricity demand could be met by widely distributed renewable energy sources such as wind and solar as soon as 2050 so long as an advanced grid and related energy storage systems are developed.

In order to meet the challenge of transitioning most or all electricity based energy supply to renewables — not only does the cost of renewable energy need to be competitive with fossil fuels, but the cost of intermittent renewable energy + the systems that store them must be similarly competitive. Fortunately for those of us concerned about the growing risks posed by the global climate crisis, it appears that we are now entering a period in which exactly this kind of cost competitiveness for integrated renewable + storage systems is starting to emerge.

Solar + Battery Storage Becoming Cost Competitive

Last year, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai purchased a ground-breaking solar + battery storage system from Tesla and Solar City. The system paired solar panels with Tesla power packs to provide 17 megawatts of solar energy and 10 megawatts of battery storage in order to replace about 10 percent of the island’s expensive diesel electricity generation.


(Tropical Kauai aims to be powered by the sun. In doing so, it’s starting to shift away from dirty and expensive energy derived from coal and diesel generating plants. Image source:

On Kuaui, diesel generation costs about 22 cents per kilowatt hour. Expensive fuel and equally expensive heavy machinery must be shipped from far-flung locations to the remote island. And this adds to the overall cost of fossil fuel generation. During 2016, Solar City and Tesla significantly out-competed the price of diesel generation by offering its solar + storage generating system for 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour — a cost that was comparable to the more expensive versions of nuclear, coal, and gas fired generation plants the world over.

Fast forward to early 2017 and another solar + storage provider was being contracted to add still more renewable based electrical power to Kauai’s grid. AES Distributed Energy is now contracted to build 28 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels mated to 20 megawatts of battery based storage. The price? About half that of diesel-fired power generation at 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

This is about 20 percent less than the Solar City + Tesla offering just one year later. A system that hits a price comparable to mid-range coal and nuclear generation systems. And, more to the point, AES’s solar panels + battery packs will enable Kuaui to produce 50 percent of its electricity through renewable, non-carbon-emitting sources.

Renewables + Storage to Beat Fossil Fuels in Near Future

Compared to the cost of renewable energy, the price of batteries is still comparitively expensive — effectively doubling the price of base solar. However, widespread adoption of battery-based electrical vehicles is helping to both rapidly drive down the cost of batteries and to provide a large global after-market supply of batteries useful for storing energy. By 2017, it’s likely that about 50 gigawatts worth of energy storage will be sold on the world market in the form of electrical vehicle batteries. By the early 2020s, this number could easily grow to 150 gigawatts of storage produced by the world’s clean energy suppliers every year.


(Global lithium ion battery production is expected to hit more than 120 GW and possibly as high as 140 GW by 2020. This production spike is coming on the back of newly planned battery plants in China, the U.S., and Europe. Presently, the largest plant currently operating is LG Chem’s China facility which was completed in 2016. Tesla’s Gigafactory is already producing batteries and is expected to ramp up to 35-50 GW worth of annual production by 2018-2019. Volkswagen has recently announced its own large battery plant to rival Tesla’s Gigafactory [not included in chart above]. FoxConn, BYD, and Boston Power round out the large projects now planned or underway. Image source: The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming.)

As electrical vehicles are driven, the batteries they use lose some of their charge. However, by the time the life of the electrical vehicle is over, the batteries still retain enough juice to be used after-market as energy storage systems. Meanwhile, the same factories that produce batteries for electrical vehicles can co-produce batteries for grid and residential based energy storage systems. This mass production capacity and second use co-production and multipurpose versatility will help to drive down the cost of batteries while making energy storage systems more widely available.

Though mass produced batteries represent one avenue for rapidly reducing the cost of energy storage systems mated to renewables, other forms of energy storage including pumped hydro, molten salt thermal storage, flywheels, and compressed air storage also provide price-competitive options for extending the effectiveness of low-cost variable power sources like wind and solar. And with the price of solar + storage options falling into the 11 cent per kilowatt hour range, it appears likely that these varied mated systems have the potential to largely out-compete fossil fuels and nuclear based on price alone well within the foreseeable future and possibly as soon as the next 3-5 years.


The World’s Cheapest Solar Energy in January 2015 Was 6 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis

Cost of Solar and Wind Beats Coal, Nuclear and Natural Gas

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Kauai Solar Peaker Shows How Fast Solar + Storage Costs are Falling

The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming

AES Distributed Energy

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  1. climatehawk1

     /  January 20, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

  2. coloradobob

     /  January 20, 2017

    The crack that looks set to spawn a giant iceberg in the Antarctic has continued to spread.
    The rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf has grown a further 10km since 1 January.
    If the rift propagates just 20km more, it will free a tabular berg one-quarter the size of Wales.

    • redskylite

       /  January 20, 2017

      Thanks for sharing that interesting news from the BBC – some heavy armadas soon to be launched. BBC seems to have upped it’s Science coverage lately.

    • Thanks for this, Bob. That section of Antarctica has experienced some pretty severe warming this austral summer. I doubt that section of ice will hang on for much longer.

  3. Henri

     /  January 20, 2017

    No new warming since 2016! #Climate_hoax 😉

    On a more serious note i can’t wait to see the time when solar/wind + storage become cheaper than fossil fuels. Not only for the obvious reasons but i am also thrilled on the prospect of having the oil think tanks trying to desperately spin how fossil fuels are still somehow superior despite costing and polluting more than the alternative.

    Solar isn’t likely going to a big thing here at the arctic circle but hopefully wind and storage will become such a huge hit that we can begin to dismantle our hydro which has been an ecological disaster.

    • Yep. 2016 was 1.21 C hotter than 1880s averages, according to GISS. December was the second hottest on record. I think with atmospheric GHG so high and with PDO still pretty strongly positive, and with La Nina being so weak, that 2017 will tend to back off on a little. Perhaps to 1 to 1.1 C hotter than 1880s. If El Nino does re-develop than it would tend to trend closer to 2016. We should get a challenge to 2016 level before 2022. If PDO remains positive, that would tend to happen sooner than later. Polar amplification is something worth looking at — as it appears to be a stronger signal and could drive faster rates of overall warming than what we have seen so far. Carbon stores are also something to continue to watch. We’ve entered a period where the climate is far less stable and a few bits are starting to fall off the truck. So we can expect at least a decent degree of volatility worsening as we approach 1.5 C. The big thing to watch now, as many have already alluded to, is glaciers and the cryosphere. Things appear to be getting hairy very rapidly in those key physical systems.

      • Henri

         /  January 20, 2017

        I am interested if we are to see a kind of a step potential much akin to 1998. What i mean by that is that 2016 will only be barely beaten in several years but the 00s and early 10s level will not be on the cards any longer. In this scenario denialists would like to pretend time before 2016 didn’t exists and spin another ‘pause’ until the next big el nino event.

    • webej

       /  January 25, 2017

      The petroleum is such a valuable commodity as a basis for all kinds of materials that it is pure madness to be burning it up instead of leaving it for future generations.

  4. Genomik

     /  January 20, 2017

    On a related note, China and others are developing Ultra High Voltage Direct Current links from (hopefully renewable) energy sources and consumers.

    “The technology already exists (see article). Most electricity is transmitted today as alternating current (AC), which works well over short and medium distances. But transmission over long distances requires very high voltages, which can be tricky for AC systems. Ultra-high-voltage direct-current (UHVDC) connectors are better suited to such spans. These high-capacity links not only make the grid greener, but also make it more stable by balancing supply. The same UHVDC links that send power from distant hydroelectric plants, say, can be run in reverse when their output is not needed, pumping water back above the turbines.”

    • nwkilt

       /  January 20, 2017

      Hello Robert, a friend of mine sent me an essay about RTS (Roof Top Solar) and GSM (Generation, Storage, Metering) that is relevant to this discussion and has given me permission to post it here. It is 3,700 words, is it OK to post it?

      • Can you give me a short summary first so I a can gauge the essay’s value to this forum?

        • nwkilt

           /  January 20, 2017

          First part:
          RTS & GSM – The future of clean power
          Perhaps the largest polluter of the Earth’s atmosphere this world faces is the production of electricity for homes and businesses. Although transportation is at least a second major cause, clean production of electricity actually helps create clean transportation options as the technology for electric cars, trains, buses, and bicycles is finally here and now becoming widely used. Of course all these new vehicle types require electricity to charge them and thus producing clean electricity for homes and businesses in turn produces the clean transportation options that invite consumers to embrace them.
          Currently there are several clean options for power generation as well as many “not so clean” options like nuclear and natural gas that can often harm the environment in far worse ways during their production. Also, as we now see, many labeled “clean” energies still produce copious amounts of Carbon Dioxide which while non-poisonous, are still contributing to the global effects we call climate change. Even truly zero emission solutions like hydropower and wind turbines can still cause environmental havoc when not properly implemented.
          Worse, is that under-developed countries can seldom afford clean energy technologies and are forced to resort to hydrocarbon and coal burning to support their growing energy needs in the hope of becoming more developed. This game of “catch up” can never be properly resolved and the issues that face us, as all people of this earth will only continue to worsen as the years go by unless affordable options are made readily available and a comprehensive plan that can be implemented on a global level is reached.
          As luck would have it, there is a solution right over our head that has the ability to solve the worlds entire power needs but has yet to be properly implemented. We are so close but yet so far as the economics of energy production have always stood in the way. RTS & GSM is an attempt to solve the economic hurdles and present a solution that can be employed everywhere in the world benefiting all humans, with the possible exception of those who make their earnings in the dirty energy business. Even then, so called dirty power will still find a market, but hopefully will lead to it’s own eventual phase out as it will become less and less in demand.
          RTS (Roof Top Solar) and GSM (Generation, Storage, Metering) are acronyms that describe symbiotic technologies that currently exist but have yet to be properly implemented to provide a comprehensive solution that can grow and expand. Instead providing a winning business model for all manufacturers, businesses, homes, and utility companies that choose to embrace them. Without these comprehensive technologies working together, it is not feasible to expect a change in the way we generate and use power but with these technologies working together, the future is very bright and the incentive to step forward can finally be realized on a global level.

        • This looks good. But it’s a lot of content. How about posting it in five parts spaced out over approx 1 hour time intervals to allow for comment?

          As for the first part, I’m sure the author is already starting to drive the point home that regions that lack grids can already receive less expensive energy due to distributed wind and solar. And this particular dynamic is already changing assumptions like ‘India will move to coal before moving to renewables.’ In essence, less developed parts of the world are starting to see renewables as the low hanging energy fruit. The cost of centralized grid development is high. But solar+storage modularity allow for planned and phased builds that do not include polluting energy sources.

      • nwkilt

         /  January 20, 2017

        Ok, thanks for being open to this, here is part two of four: RTS – Roof Top Solar. Part three will be GSM – Generation, Storage, Metering, part four will be final discussion of the essay, and then part five will be his comments on Off-Grid reality check that he has experienced living on an island.

        RTS – Roof Top Solar
        “Roof Top Solar” has become somewhat of a trade term for the installation of “Grid Tied” solar panels on homes and businesses. Originally used more for “Greenwashing” businesses like tech companies and adding smug appeal to some homes, they have now finally become a real consideration for businesses and homes that are looking to save money over time. Just to clarify, RTS does not include “Off Grid” homes/businesses in this paper. That will be discussed in a future paper as it currently is not part of the solution to wean the world off coal and hydrocarbon produced electricity. Also note that RTS does not necessarily have to be solar panels on roofs. It is more of a figurative way of easily describing using customer generated solar electricity to supplement the current electrical grids. These electrical grids exist worldwide for the delivery of power needed on 99% of all homes and businesses in most countries today.
        RTS readily exists now in developed countries like the USA. Unfortunately it has yet to be properly implemented to be of much use as a real solution to help move the world away from coal and hydrocarbons. Even if everyone tried to jump on board, the utility companies would not know what to do with all the excess power. This became evident when the Honolulu newspaper announced that they would not be accepting any new solar customer generator permits (RTS applications) as they were already experiencing customer over-generating of the grid on sunny days. The reality isn’t that customers over generated the power needs of the city, it’s that the power company wasn’t prepared to handle any excess power from their customers. The GSM portion of this paper will attempt to address the ways in which customer generated power is profitably utilized in an effort to reduce the purchasing of dirty power by the utility companies themselves.
        In the 1980’s when RTS first appeared, there was little need to worry about customers producing even a significant amount of power regardless of how big their roof was. Solar panels were horribly inefficient, bulky, heavy, and most notably – expensive! So much has changed. Panels have dropped to one tenth of their price, are lighter, smaller, more attractive, and easy for homeowners and contractors to install themselves. They are also much more price efficient than early mono-crystalline designs and can now be mass manufactured with liquid molds as opposed to growing and cutting expensive crystals. Modern poly-crystalline panels also work with a large variation in outside temperatures making them suited for install in almost all areas of the world. Although the primary manufacturers are highly developed countries like China, USA, and Germany, it would stand to reason that smaller countries will be able to manufacture panels for even less cost as most materials involved are common resources like silica, copper, and aluminum.
        Another big hurdle that has been overcome is the complex electronics that convert the solar power into usable grid electricity. Before now there were large bulky units called charge controllers, usually as expensive as the panels themselves, that had to be installed by specialized contractors. Today’s panels and arrays feature integral “Micro-Inverters” that in many cases, are inexpensively built right on to the panels themselves. In the near future, we expect that solar PV panels featuring on board electronics will be integrated directly into roofing products that snap together like LEGOS ™. These options will allow common building contractors and DIYs to utilize roofing choices that are even more cost effective. These products will also be more elegant and natural looking to satisfy HOA’s and the “Not in my neighborhood” opponents who will not even realize what they are looking at.
        Through mass manufacturing and high consumer demand it is not hard to realize that billions of homes and businesses may some day wish to take the step of becoming customer generator users. Even more exciting is the possibility that massive arrays of panels will provide shaded parking at big box stores, malls, airports, fairgrounds, etc. A single business like Walmart, for example, could generate well over 10 times it’s usage with it’s roof and parking lot, while providing a better experience for their shoppers. All that excess power, when using GSM principles, could then offset the purchasing of dirty power from the existing power plants as well as providing cost savings, financial incentive, and better customer satisfaction. Ground based arrays can also provide enough power to practically eliminate the need for dirty power suppliers during the day and may provide a way for utility providers to hold on to their market by switching to clean energy sources. Ground based arrays, whether utility owned or privately owned can provide shaded alternatives for agriculture and there is a limitless amount of open desert with infinite solar potential and electrical grid power lines to feed. This condition exists in almost every country of the world so there is no need to cut down rain forests or damage the environment in order to produce all the energy we will ever be able to use.
        Solar is the only truly clean source of power without environmental risk. It also has the best duty life requiring little to no upkeep maintenance unlike wind, hydropower, and nuclear. The only hurdle we currently face is the proper way to utilize all this abundant energy so that we can find the incentive, both physical and financial, that all countries can benefit from. The utility companies that are currently supplying power from obsolete sources like coal and fossil fuels will also benefit. This second part of this paper, titled GSM -Generation, Storage, Metering, will address the technology required to make RTS into a reality.

        • Thanks. So this looks like a specific strategy position. However, if you look at off grid applications for solar at low cost — they’re growing considerably. And they are definitely a part of the solution to expanding coal and fossil fuel based infrastructure in less developed regions like India.

          It’s worth noting, too, that India sees grid expansion driven by solar as a more secure energy option than coal:

          From the article:

          India is set to emerge as the next solar market superpower. The country already lays claim to the largest solar farm in the world – a 648 MW plant covering 10 square kilometers (over 3.5 square miles) and includes 2.5 million modules. Mercom Capital Group, which tracks India closely (along with the global solar market), reported in December that the country installed 4 GW in 2016, and is on track to add another 9 GW this year. When that 9 GW is connected to the grid, solar will make up slightly less than 6% of India’s total nameplate capacity. (Solar also made up 16.7% of new generation added in the first eight months of FY 2016).

          In an effort to better understand the emergence of India as one of the world’s leading solar markets, I contacted Mercom’s CEO Raj Prabhu. His company, a global cleantech research and communications firm tracks global solar activity. It has been also monitoring India’s solar aspirations since 2010, when it all started. With offices in the U.S. and India, Mercom is a leading resource for energy companies going into India, as well as Indian companies going abroad. So Prabhu has a valuable perspective on how this market first started, and where it is likely to head in the foreseeable future.

          Prabhu notes that the impetus for solar energy in India first emerged in 2010 as a response to the country’s acute coal and power shortages, and that the then-government set an aggressive goal of 22,000 MW by 2022.

          “India had to import a lot of coal, and energy security was a big issue. Everybody was cognizant of climate change and environmental impacts and the government was beginning to understand – after the U.S. and Europe got into renewables – that it was going to be a significant sector going forward.”

    • Good point. It’s worth noting that both China and India have a good opening for developing a smart grid as they are still involved in building out new infrastructure.

      • Nwkilt

         /  January 20, 2017

        Thanks for the context.
        Here is part three:

        GSM – Generation, Storage, Metering
        GSM is the author’s acronym for the technological glue that allows RTS to be implemented on a global level. It addresses not only how the energy is sold and used but how businesses, homes, and utility companies can all benefit from it. GSM outlines a plan that can get communities working together for a solution that all homes and businesses can build toward the future. These are the three physical components that are required for RTS to evolve into a global solution. The rest lies on manufacturing which will create and improve itself when the demand exists.
        Generation: This is the basic component of solar that currently exists. It is the manufacturing and deployment of solar panels that can be easily adapted to fit onto homes, businesses, parking lots, raw land, etc. It is also the manufacturing of solar embedded roofing panels, carport kits, canopies, and deployable ground arrays. Embedded micro electronics make most products interlocking, interchangeable and infinity expandable, all for lower manufacturing cost than older technologies that relied on separate components to convert the power into a usable form. Newer technologies like 3D printing can reduce manufacturing costs even more making these products very attractive to builders and contractors. These technologies also make global manufacturing solutions inviting to other countries looking to expand their industries. RTS optionally includes the integration of privately owned wind generators that can work together with solar panels in what is knows as “Hybrid” RTS systems. As wind is essentially a form of solar power, it is also part of an emission free power solution. These smaller turbines can exist on homes, businesses, and even streetlights as some parking lots have demonstrated. Hybrid systems use all the same technologies as RTS and rely on GSM to properly implement, therefore they are being included here.
        Storage: Storage is a much needed component of an RTS system for utility companies that wish to use the excess power produced by customer generator contracts. Storage addresses the ability to hold excess power until it is demanded. As RTS systems typically generate power from dawn till dusk only, a system to hold the excess power until the next day allows it to all be used and not wasted. Only 12 hrs of storage capability are needed on average so there are several options. There are three main points of storage for consideration here.
        Localized storage: This allows a home or business to store some of it’s excess power for self use in the hours of low or no generation. Typically this is done with a smaller, wall mounted storage system such as the Powerwall or Powerpack by Tesla Motors. A 7 KwH Powerwall can supply the average power of a typical home all night when running lights, TV’s, refrigerator, small appliances, etc. It may not, however support the total need for heating, air conditioning, laundry, and major appliances like an oven. The Powerpack at 100KwH storage is enough for large homes and small businesses and can be stacked in multiples for infinite storage options. Because these storage solutions remain on the customer’s side of the meter, they provide completely un-billed power to the user and may help to reduce power bills to the basic monthly service fee with no additional purchased power. Excess power generated beyond storage limits then returns to the electrical grid where it is usually credited toward purchased power.
        Substation storage: This allows the utility company to capture any excess power that is fed to the grid during the day and resell it at a higher rate at night. The storage system would be in buildings placed next to power substations. They then receive excess power from the transmission line shunt devices. Excess amperage is “shunted” or diverted to the storage building where it is held at full voltage, or converted to such, then released back into the grid when directed by the grid controller. Typically this would be a housed massive battery bank. There are many new technologies that are much improved over lead acid batteries. Some use simple salt water while others use exotic metals that can be re-processed and re-used repeatedly. Every KwH stored is one that doesn’t have to be purchased from power plants and provides revenue for local utility companies.
        Communal storage: This allows for mass storage essentially providing at night what the power plants would have to produce. Although still a theory, there is much discussion as to how this can be achieved. Many designs call for kinetic storage in which a massive fly wheel in a sealed building is brought up to high speed during times of excess, then tapped off to a generator during demand times. It seems that this could be a massive undertaking with current technologies and would require a lot of maintenance and safety protocols. I’ve envisioned a much safer and aesthetic solution that humans and animals can enjoy in the process. It involves creating an artificial lake near the primary power station. A similar size artificial lake is built up higher in the surrounding hills around a compatible city. The two lakes are connected by pipes underground. During daytimes of excess power, water from the lower lake is pumped up to the higher lake. During nightly demand, the upper lake releases some water back down to the lower lake through a power turbine at the bottom that then supplements the grid power. The grid management computer controls the flow direction and times of operation. The lakes can be used for recreational purposes. As it is a closed loop system, there is no interruption to fish and streams and rainfall maintains the water levels.
        Metering: Current RTS users that have a Customer Generator contract with a utility company typically are provided with a special meter called a “Net Meter” to calculate their monthly bill. The net meter will then calculate the excess power produced by the RTS system and subtract those units in KwH from the purchased power KwH units. A customer generator who overproduces for the month may receive a rollover credit for the next month, or may not depending on the contract. Net metering contracts are typically not designed to produce an excess of power that the utility company can actually resell and for this reason, most likely are not of much incentive to give out to everyone. This type of metering is very limited and can not be safely or practically used in a power solution where most every home and business is generating excess power during the day for the grid. Many utility companies are already stating that over generation is what limits the number of contracts they can issue.

        • Nwkilt

           /  January 20, 2017

          Part four, conclusion of essay:

          This limitation of generation becomes properly addressed by improving the technology associated with metering. At the core of the solution is a new type of meter known as a Dynamic Meter. This meter uses real time analysis of both the customers power usage as well as their generation, like a net meter does, but is able to link up with the utility companies computer and work together to monitor and control the entire city’s power distribution needs. By maintaining a connection through internet or cell link, it becomes a crucial component in the cities power management system that can then shunt excess power from utility substations to storage facilities. They can then harvest the power back from storage when customer usage exceeds customer generation. When customer usage exceeds both generation and storage reserves, then power is once again purchased by the utility company from existing power plants.
          The dynamic meter is also responsible for computing the users electrical cost rate as the power is being used. Power would cost less when bulk solar generation is high. Power would cost more at night when it is almost all being purchased by power plants. Businesses and homes that have a dynamic meter would be financially encouraged by the fluctuating rates to use the bulk of their power needs when it is being locally generated. Some factories that use lots of power, like mills and fabrication, may choose to adjust their production hours to take advantage of cheaper rates. An example would be a factory adding Saturday and Sunday operations but reducing operations in later hours. Because the cost for electricity is dynamic, there are no set rules, only guidelines for the price of power. Consumers can then always find new ways to save money depending on the changing needs of the whole city. Homeowners may find it thrifty to do laundry and dishwasher loads during the day instead of at night. It is more about giving homes and businesses the option to pay less or pay more depending on supply and demand. Those that do not have a dynamic meter will simply always pay the higher rate, similar to how it works now. They will not be able to receive a customer generator contract though as their unmetered power excess could upset the load balancing that is required to implement this on a large scale.
          The final purpose of the dynamic meter is to assist the utilities’ power management systems to ensure that no power lines are overloaded and that excess power generated is diverted to storage as opposed to being dissipated into the air and wasted. This works by having the power grid fitted with power shunts that can divert excess power to storage facilities. These shunts must be dynamically controlled as well and simply divert excess amperage being produced while maintaining constant voltage at all the grid points. These shunt stations would exist at every power substation and for expansion, an extra wire can be fitted on the transmission poles to allow for additional shunt station power routing along the final transmission path. These shunt devices are dynamically controlled by the central utility management controller which in turn receives it’s real time data from the dynamic meters on every customer generator account. This whole system of connected power management ensures that no transmission lines under normal conditions ever become overloaded and that the utility company is still able to profit from the distribution of power within its own grid.
          Local utility companies may question at first what incentive RTS provides to their current business model. The obvious reasons such as the imminent need to advance to cleaner energy sources and the solutions we employ that will be seen and duplicated around the world are sadly not enough. A solid plan for profitability is still a requirement. GSM principals serve to restore a business model that can be profitable for the local utilities. All customers still pay a basic service charge for connection to the grid. All customers still pay for all electricity that enters through their meter. Only excess power that customers generate and use themselves is free. All government funding and incentive programs for domestic energy needs still exist and upgrades to the grid technology to allow for local domestic production are always in the best interest of the country that provides them. The big difference is that local utility companies would have excess power by day at their disposal to sell to their customers, that they didn’t have to purchase first, or that they were able to buy for less from a local solar farm.
          The consumers see nothing of all this except cheaper rates during peak production times and the ability to reduce their own bill with RTS systems and dynamic meters. As for the dirty power companies that supply the coal energy to America, they will most certainly notice less of a demand for their product which will in turn likely cause them to raise their rates even more. As more people jump on the RTS bandwagon, the harder it will be for dirty power to compete. Many of these companies will be forced to switch out eventually and or phase out completely. Once the demand for power is being mostly locally supplied, cleaner existing sources like hydropower and wind farms will be able to fully supplement the remaining energy needs that RTS can not completely provide yet. The best part is that as populations in areas grow in numbers, so does the RTS generation as most new homes and businesses will have the ability to generate as well. Nothing else is as infinitely expandable as there are only so many coal and nuclear power plants you can build in a given area and demand will only increase leaving the planet sickened.
          It is hopeful that government funding will eventually step in to provide the necessary boost to upgrade the nation’s utilities and that they will be welcoming in the prospect of RTS and GSM becoming a real solution. Also it is hopeful that the utility companies themselves will see a future that no longer relies on purchasing dirty power to maintain their business model, as they are just as much to benefit in the end. The coal and hydrocarbon industries that wish to stay in the energy market of the future will also be encouraged to adapt newer green technologies. The law of supply and demand should finally push the market to embrace emission free power once it becomes less expensive than dirty power. This push must first come from the consumers themselves but properly implemented, it’s a solution we all can not afford to overlook.
          -Tyler Riopelle, 2016

    • Bill H

       /  January 20, 2017


      These High Voltage DC links are also being installed under the sea. Here is Britain we have over 4 GW worth of these interconnectors linking us to continental Europe. Another 4 kW is scheduled to be online by 2019

  5. Caco

     /  January 20, 2017

    Wow, go solar go!!
    Its just what we need. Solar and wind to just make sense financially. Then those deniers or the majority who I think of as ‘just dont care/too complicated/doesnt affect me’ will start to make the right choice for the planet because it matters to them. Not from ecology, not from pollution, not from climate change, not for health, but because it makes sense to their wallets.

    Now, if only we could make being carbon zero or solar powered ‘the patriotic thing to do’ for the US of A then we might have a chance on decreasing CO2

  6. redskylite

     /  January 20, 2017

    Wow – Thanks Robert for detailing so much in this post. I grew up in the sixties working in the Computer field, saw so many changes (and improvements) very quickly, but the effort and rapid changes in renewable energy dwarfs my era. These are exciting times, maybe man is up to meeting the challenges he has set himself. Reason for hope and even optimism. Let no one stand in it’s way.

    Next Big Thing: Renewable Water Desalination.

    Global warming and climate change are set to lessen our supply of clean water. Population growth will increase demand for it. Desalination will be an important solution to solving this challenge, and also bringing clean water to many people who don’t even have it yet.

    • Renewables do merge with computer and electronics based tech in a synergistic fashion. This is particularly true with solar and EVs. We have the potential to see explosive innovation continue in these fields due to the fact that practices learned in the computer industry can be leveraged and applied to solar and battery tech. Miniaturization, printing, and power management are all synergistic applications. And we are starting to see them make an impact now.

  7. coloradobob

     /  January 20, 2017

    Gigantic valleys and fissures in the sea floor revealed beneath West Antarctic Ice Sheet

    Huge rifts and valleys discovered underneath the floating parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet make the fast-melting glaciers in the area more vulnerable to melting than previously thought.

    Fine-scale gravitational data from Nasa’s Operation IceBridge missions revealed the features of the sea bed beneath the 2-kilometre-thick floating ice sheet, with results published in a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
    The most significant finds were previously unknown valleys beneath the Crosson and Dotson ice shelves, which flow into the Amundsen Sea. The two valleys are about 500m and 750m deep at the front of the ice shelves, respectively, but increase to more than 1,200m deep further in beneath the ice sheets.

    The valleys allow the flow of warm water underneath the glaciers, which may make them more vulnerable to melting. If the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted it would cause sea levels to rise by 1.2m.

    “These oceanic features are several hundred to a 1,000m deeper than what we thought before,” said study author Romain Millan of the University of California, Irvine.

    “It gives new insight into the future fate of these glaciers and the potential influence of warm ocean water that can melt away

  8. miles h

     /  January 20, 2017

    Larsen crack grown by another 10km since Jan 1st…cant be long now, though i guess with winter coming, it may not float free for a while?.

  9. John McCormick

     /  January 20, 2017

    Robert, All encouraging and hopeful indicators of an economy-wide step change in how electricity will be generated, stored and utilized. But, the real challenge is in reducing fuel demand for mobility and heating and processing. CAFE may not survive but States can put a price on carbon fuels regardless of WH and republicans.

    • Thanks, John. So wind+solar+EV ground transport + other renewable generation + biofuels have the potential to knock out about 80 percent of global emissions. Air travel at 3 percent and thermal capacity for industrial uses like steel at 2 percent are tougher nuts, but not undoable with highly advanced batteries, molten salt storage and biofuels as an assist. Carbon for materials can be substituted with biomass and recycling (approx 1 percent total emission). Once we have a full energy transition underway, we need to start looking at carbon negative processes as well.

      RE near term, the loss of CAFE will hurt. But if more states emulate Californis, it will still help to drive industry in the right direction. There are definitely some legal battles coming if the Trump admin does everything it says it will do.

  10. coloradobob

     /  January 20, 2017

    Excellent graphics with this one –
    How much drought can a forest take?
    Dead trees per square mile in California between 2009-2015. Credit: Derek Young/UC Davis

  11. coloradobob

     /  January 20, 2017

    The last time the oceans got this warm, sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher than they are today

  12. Bill H

     /  January 20, 2017

    The fall in cost of PV over the last few years has been extraordinary. On-shore wind continues to see more modest reductions. More remarkable is the fall in the cost of offshore wind. Recently Vatenfall have secured a contract for a huge windfarm off the Danish coast, offering electricity at just 50 Euro per MWh (about $54). That doesn’t include the connection to the Grid, which, on the basis of other developments might be up to 10 Euro per MWh. Nevertheless, this represents a halving of costs compared with costs just 2 or 3 years ago. So offshore, dismissed by many as far too costly, just a decade ago, is now looking highly attractive. One reason for the fall is the increasing availability of ships formerly used for offshore oil and gas production, which have had a lack of work in recent years – a case of swords being beaten into ploughshares/plowshares

  13. Since this article is about solar power, may I ask a few questions that are less theorical and more pratical?

    I´ve been planning on adding solar photovoltaics (already have a solar water heater, that´s a no-brainer in Brasil.) to my house since I´ve had one, but price has detained me thus far. I´ve estimated the cost of a full solar system (photovoltaics + batteries ) when I first rebuilt the house I live in now, 3 years ago, and I´ve been saving for that goal since then. Thus far I have 1/2 of the money I need for the full system, *as sold in Brasil* (note: the very few companies that sell residential solar here form almost a cartel).

    Recently I found out that an on-grid solar system without batteries, but big enough to produce 100% of my house eletricity needs ( 400 kW/h – month ) would cost me less than half of what I´ve already saved. So, an on-grid system is less than 1/4 of the price of the off-grid system, here (there are some companies offering just on-grid systems).

    My ultimate goal is off-grid able system, for many reasons. The first is… well, 20 days of this year´s and I´ve already lost 1computer, 3 no-breaks, 1 microwave and 2 water filters because of failures in the grid in this rainy season. Even with no-breaks this is not so unusual, and the damage was worst than usual because lightning struck a pole in the street next to mine, true, but it´s the second time this happens in 3 years. Second: sometimes we don´t have eletricity for 1-3 days, and once in these 3 years, for a week. And third… well, the pessimist in me fears that the grid may not always be there in the future.

    But the far lower price of the on-grid, no batteries system makes me ask if buying an on-grid system now and saving to turn it off-grid later would be an better idea. Does anyone knowns if it´s possible to turn an on-grid system in a off-grid? The enterprise I´ve asked about it here said that almost the whole system would have to be rebuilt, adding about 75% more in the off-grid system´s price, but I don´t fully trust them.

    I´m curious about the Tesla Powerwall too. It can´t be bought in Brasil, true, but I have hope it will be in the near future (some 5 years or so), since Tesla products are starting to be imported here (they had an stand in São Paulo´s annual car fair last year, and sold 2 cars), but how complicated is to add one to a house´s eletric system? Does it need an adicional inversor to work, or could it just be added to an on-grid solar system without other huge changes?

    Since Tesla Powerwall seems to be a better choice in quality (batteries offered here are lead-acid) and in price (IF I could buy one, considering the price show in Tesla sites simulator, plus freight, and 60% of taxes_ the usual for imports here_ , and plus the price of an on-grid photovoltaic system… my savings now would be already be enough to buy the whole system), it would make sense to invest in an on-grid system now and wait until the Powerwall is available in Brasil to make the system off-grid able, but I wonder if it´s really so simple.

    • nwkilt

       /  January 21, 2017

      Here are some thoughts on “Off-Grid” reality from the author of the RTS & GSM – The future of clean power essay:

      Sadly these “off-grid” solutions are even a bigger threat to the environment and actually bring us back to the dark ages. The worst part is that the consumer never really gets how it really works here and is bamboozled by the idea that they can fire the power company and live happily ever after without a monthly bill. Very few people understand wattage and I am always explaining to them how they can never run a hot water heater or a stove/oven off solar panels. It never makes sense to them. Even something tiny like a toaster uses as much power as your whole roof is generating at times. I live in neighborhoods in Hawaii where people with poor concepts attempt to live off grid even though the power wire goes right to their house. I listen to their generators running all night and I see the piles of rotting, seeping lead batteries littering their yard. When I ask them whats up with the generator, they always say there’s something wrong with their solar system and have me look at it. In every case, it turns out there’s something wrong with their head instead. Believing that you can run your whole house off a solar panel is the same as thinking you can put a solar panel on the roof of your electric car and drive all day for free. I mean, right? It’s a solar panel, it should be able to generate all the energy you could ever need? Why wouldn’t it completely power a car or heat and cool an entire house all day and night?

      Once companies like these guys, hoping for a quick sale, encourage people to get magical thinking about energy usage, then the very grid we rely on will start to vanish before our eyes, leading to a new era of propane everything and gas generators running all night long. I’m watching the same thing happen now with the telephone grid. As more people have only cell phones, the telephone grid is starting to run out of money. I personally think cell phones are a total joke. It’s almost impossible to have an intelligent conversation with anyone any more. Everyone you see is so distracted by their text messages flowing in and every important call I ever get just hangs up or cuts out to where nothing ever seems to get resolved. Maybe after everyone gets their cancer from having a 3 watt radio transmitter piercing their brain every waking moment of their life, we will all pause and wonder where that beautiful copper all went going to all our homes. The power grid is key to the solution. Without it we are just a vast landfill of batteries and 4 times the carbon footprint we are now.

    • I’m no expert, but I don’t really see why it shouldn’t be possible to buy an on-grid system now and add batteries over time. Maybe discuss with a few electricians (as opposed to sellers of solar systems) to see what they think?

      We have an on-grid system installed in 2012, for same reason (cost of batteries), and we’re in line for a Powerwall 2. Our utility is working with homeowners to allow them to lease Powerwalls if that is their preference.

      • Trouble here is that the only eletricians that known about solar systems, right known, are those working for solar seller companies. Residential solar is still very rare here in Brasil, mostly because of disincentives in regulations past… it only became legal to have an on-grid solar system and sell energy back to the system last year. Even though the company I keep is mostly from eco-minded folks, I don’t known anyone “in person” who has solar photovoltaics, nor any eletricians (outside solar system sellers… which, thus far, I’ve only contacted online) that have ever worked in a solar photovoltaics system.

        But what you’re planning to do is basically the same thing I thought about doing, but you’ll be able to get there far sooner than me. Could you tell how things went for you and your system when you get your Powerwall, Climatehawk, please?

        As for the caveats told by nwkilt… well, I have a biogas oven, and am planning to add a woodstove for the future. No toaster… toast is made in the stovetop with an iron sandwich maker. BTW, no hair-dryer (hate those), no clothes dryer (we have space for a clothes line), manual blender, etc. Heating for water? That’s what the solar water-heater is for (and even in the coldest it has ever gotten in winter here _ last year, when polar vortexes started to happen south too_ it was enough). Heating/cooling the house? No eletricity used there, either… just huge thermal mass in the house, crossed ventilation aided by strategically placed water basins when necessary, and, for the few cold days, a fireplace that exists mostly for marshmellows and place for keep fermenting bread warm. The bigger wattages used in my house are for the water treatment system (my water is entirely sourced from rain-catchment and locally treated, both for potability pre-use and for sewage safe-treatment post-use), as the water pumps do use a lot of energy and the fridge. I known for a fact that a battery can hold the water treatment system working, because when we lost energy from the grid for a week, we used a computer no-break to run the system for 3hs each day (we took that no-break to my parents house for charging), so that our water could still be safe. As long as there is a grid, I don’t plan on fully leaving it (even with solar, the grid is a good back-up, and it’s a good ideia to add solar to it, even if it’s just one house generation), but I also don’t believe in “off-grid is impossible”.

        • Will be glad to post about experience with the Powerwall 2 once it arrives, but no firm idea yet on when that will be. My understanding of the arrangement with the utility is that we will pay a small monthly fee and will have first call on the stored energy (for example, in case of a power outage), while the utility will be able to use the stored energy to meet peaks in overall electricity demand.

          Congratulations on everything you’ve done to reduce your carbon footprint. Very impressive.

  14. Phil

     /  January 22, 2017

    Besides batteries, there are other bulk-storage options available for high penetration rates of utility-scale intermittent renewables such as wind and solar PV.

    Diabatic Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) is mature but uses gas-firing (uses about 2/3 less fuel and emissions that OCGT and has much better ramping and heat rate properties at very low part-load rates) which is really desirable for balancing purposes. More able to remain connected to the grid and provide spinning reserves and could play a role as a transitional mechanism until Adiabatic CAES is mature.

    Adiabatic CAES is still experimental – propose to use stored heat from compression stage to replace fossil fuel and GHG emissions in generation phase. One limitation of CAES is need for underground geological storage for bulk storage.

    Liquid Air Energy Storage uses compression/liquefaction to convert from air to liquid air. Can re-use stored heat and cold in the process. Components are mature. Storage mechanism are above ground insulated tanks like LNG tanks. There is a small demonstration plant in UK. One large 200,000 cubic meter LNG tanks thought to store between 17 and 24 GWh’s of electrical energy, depending upon plant design/efficiencies.

    Another option potentially is to use electric furnaces to heat molten salt and then use similar tank storage/generation process to concentrated solar thermal, and with potential future efficiency advantages with use of C02 supercritical cycle. Storage aspect likely to especially cost competitive.

    The above options can provide governor response and also rotational inertia that are important for maintaining reliability and security of electricity supply and network operation – these are the first response (instantaneous and very short term) of the system to deal with faults.

    All three options work by directly using electricity from the grid to compress/liquefy air or heat molten salts. In high renewable scenarios, this would include excess renewable energy produced in good yield/low demand times instead of spilling this power.

    In terms of capital costs (capacity and energy), are lower than battery options currently especially at utility-scale.

  15. Vic

     /  February 13, 2017



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