The analogy between the energy revolution and the information revolution is far from perfect. Energy technology transformation may well be slower, weighted down as it is by Titanics of sunk capital and powerful incumbents with strong incentives to forestall change.
But the revolution is clearly underway. 4 recent items:
1) The Minnesota Public Utility Commission issued a Value of Solar Tariff that includes, among other things, the federal government’s estimate of the “social cost of carbon.” Solar’s worth more because it’s better… because you don’t have to pay for it with disaster relief and mass extinctions and stuff.
2) Amory Lovins has a good rundown of how a growing number of states and countries are running their power systems on a high percentage of renewable power. The idea that renewable energy penetration is inherently limited by intermittency is becoming obsolete. (Energy demand is intermittent, but no one is suggesting we can’t deal with that.) The need for “baseload” coal and nuclear is waning fast. Resource diversity, better forecasting, distributed storage, dispatchable renewables, and demand response are all being used to integrate larger and larger percentages of renewable power — and that’s before you even get to the big storage solutions. Per the savant of Old Snowmass:
“After all, half the world’s new generating capacity added each year starting in 2008 has been renewable; solar cells are scaling faster than cellphones, probably surpassing windpower’s 2013 additions; and Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects solar power to compete with retail grid power in three-fourths of world markets in another year or two. The first part of the renewable power revolution—scaling production—is already well underway. Next comes the interesting part: ensuring that all the moving parts mesh properly.”
3) Austin Energy signed a long-term deal for 150 MW of solar from a big PV station for $.05 per kilowatt-hour. 5 cents. A nickel. Seriously cheap. Greentech Media reports:
Bret Kadison, COO of Austin-based Brazos Resources, an energy investment firm, said this was “a highly competitive solicitation….This is below the all-in cost of natural gas generation, even with low fuel prices and before factoring in commodity volatility and cost overruns.” He also points out that the original RFP was for 50 megawatts, but the utility ended up buying 150 megawatts “in a red state where hydrocarbons dominate the political landscape.” Kadison suggests that “one of the biggest cost reduction drivers that allowed solar to reach this parity came from the massive reduction in financing costs.”
4) It’s happening…. if we’ll just give it a chance, as a group of young American leaders including Oscar-winner Jared Leto urged Secretary of State John Kerry to do in a letter opposing the Keystone XL pipeline. They called on Kerry to summon up the courage and moral clarity he used to help end the Vietnam War, when he asked Congress, “How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Say the whipper-snappers to the Secretary:
“As young American leaders, we are confident in our ability to engineer solutions over time, and we enthusiastically support the Obama Administration’s commitment to advancing these solutions. The urgent climate imperative now – what our generation asks and expects of yours – is to give those solutions time to grow. We must not squander our precious time and capital now on making the problem intractably worse, especially when we are so bullish on the opportunities to make it better!”
Read the letter here.