Low-Carbon Alternatives: Solar and Wind Suck
By David Henderson
One of the blogs that I check literally every day is Timothy Taylor’s “Conversable Economist.” In baseball parlance, his posts are virtually always doubles, triples, or home runs. A recent home run is his “Evaluating Low-Carbon Energy Alternatives.” In it, he summarizes the work of Charles R. Frank, Jr. Frank’s study is “The Net Benefits of Low and No-Carbon Electricity Technologies,” Working Paper 73 for Global Economy & Development at the Brookings Institution (May 2014).
Here’s Frank’s summary that Taylor quotes:
[A]ssuming reductions in carbon emissions are valued at $50 per metric ton and the price of natural gas is $16 per million Btu or less–nuclear, hydro, and natural gas combined cycle have far more net benefits than either wind or solar. This is the case because solar and wind facilities suffer from a very high capacity cost per megawatt, very low capacity factors and low reliability, which result in low avoided emissions and low avoided energy cost per dollar invested.
Check out the table from Frank’s study that Taylor reproduces.
Thus, when you adjust for the ability of the power plant to produce the same amount of electricity, the benefits of fewer carbon emissions, less need for fuel, and benefits from replacing capacity look much lower for solar and wind. Notice that this conclusion holds true even though the carbon emissions and costs of new energy from the solar and wind facilities are estimated as zero.
I wish I had known of Frank’s study when I taught my Energy Economics class that ended two weeks ago.