Basic Economics will make solar bigger

11 hours ago, John Foote said:

https://www.renewableenergymagazine.com/pv_solar/subsidyfree-solar-plant-inaugurated-in-portugal-20180803/

Embrace the future.  As storage advances, solar will one day become the dominate. And yes, oil and gas, and coal, will be around a long time. Fear $100+ barrel oil. It will only accelerate technologies of efficiency, and alternatives.

Are you trying to cause several forum members their Sunday morning embolism with articles like this. 😄

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4 hours ago, NickW said:

Are you trying to cause several forum members their Sunday morning embolism with articles like this. 😄

Probably is!   OK, all joking aside, since the concept of "solar energy" has this transcendent cast over oil and gas, let's take a broader look. 

First up, to narrow the discussion, remember that "solar" embodies a number of different technologies.  They are, in no particular order:

(1)  The conversion of direct sunshine into electricity, by means of "solar panels."  

(2)   The conversion of direct sunshine into steam, via a solar boiler and parabolic mirrors, which steam can be used as area heat via pipes, or as conversion into mechanical energy via a steam turbine or a steam piston engine, then typically to drive an electric generator.

(3)   The conversion of direct sunshine into direct mechanical energy, skipping the steam boiler step. 

The undeniable shortcoming of System #1 is that it is intermittent, will cause instabilities in any grid system, and thus requires, on a large scale, either a complete parallel second generating system, or millions of battery-packs or analogous devices (such as flywheels) inside each home and business, and obviously does not run at night.  So far, Panels run at best at 14% of nameplate output.  On the plus side, they seem to be getting cheaper to build, as long as there is no set-aside for environmental damage and disposal costs. 

The advantage of System #2 is that it is (or can be) passive, can gather quite a bit of power, and by concentrating reflectors it will produce quite high-quality steam.  Here is an example by Electricite de France, in their office building in the Pyrenees Mountains in France:

 

1409786380_solarbuildingwall.PNG.fa1c0d31a81b4135330f3be5e033d6b1.PNG

Now what this illustrates is that you can build a passive boiler system right into a building, have quite a bit of surface area and thus heat potential, and drive a respectable steam engine all without doing much. The other advantage is that if it gets cloudy for a few minutes then there is thermal mass in the system and the generator will continue to run.  And you can even design it to kick in a fuel-powered burner underneath that boiler, as a "helper" device to keep the temps of the steam up there.  All in all, a neat idea. 

System #3 involves directing the sun's rays onto a parabolic concentrator, which in turn is focused on the hot end of a Stirling engine.  That will give you direct mechanical energy without requiring the steam.  The disadvantage is the absence of thermal mass and thus a rapid decay rate when that pesky cloud shows up. 

Are you going to see more buildings similar to the solar reflector of the Pyrenees?  Only if somebody is prepared to pay for it. Although, you must admit, it sure looks neat!

solar building wall.PNG

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(edited)

Thank goodness for innovators, wherever and whoever they are.  It occurs to me that there is a kind of evolution to energy.  How it is discovered, developed and used, and then used to develop alternatives, which are then developed and used, etc.  Wonderful, isn't it?

Edited by Dan Warnick
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I don't believe in a solution, but rather multiple sources which compliment. Solar is great for helping with peak loads driven by air conditioning, but unless there is a HUGE breakthru in storage, it's a bit player for many markets, but 15% is a huge bit. The spot buy price for electricity in Texas in the summer is silly high. Consumers don't pay it, at least not directly, but there are folks who make a good living selling diesel to the grid.

I also am a fan of distributed power, many micro-generators feeding in, and in many cases, their own micro grid, perhaps not tied in. Today we think of buying electricity from the utility company. With what electricity costs consumers (including industrial consumers), in some cases you can make your own for less than borrowing it. 

Especially in areas with expensive electricity and marginal quality grids, a mix of solar, some storage, and diesel is cheaper, and more reliable. It won't compete with what electricity costs in Texas, or Quebec, but it's probably cheaper than Hawaii. And for those of us who have spent times in developing countries where a nice motel has to be able to generate their own, solar is a costs effective tool with the right weather. And in many a developing country, go to an industrial park and company after company has to make their own electricity. Solar complements diesel quite well. Heck, the giant mall near where I used to live was electricity by diesel. Solar has no problem competing today. And electricity demand continues to rise. You aren't replacing in many cases, you are supplementing.

Now tell me we'll have solar powered planes in my lifetime, and yes, I will laugh a long time. But can it make a cost effective kilowatt, yes, without subsidies, in many situations.

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John Foote - why are we being bothered with what is essentially propaganda? Okay, this plant was built without public subsidies. In fact all Australian installations of this kind are being built without public subsidies because the law requires utilities to take a certain amount of green power, so the utilities are more likely to sign Power Purchasing Agreements with solar and wind farms. Without a PPA the developers can't get finance. Portugal has a policy of 60 per cent renewables by 2020. So that's what the article meant by subsidy-free - free of direct government subsidies. The extra expense of green power is loaded onto the consumers.

Leave it with you.   

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15 hours ago, markslawson said:

John Foote - why are we being bothered with what is essentially propaganda? Okay, this plant was built without public subsidies. In fact all Australian installations of this kind are being built without public subsidies because the law requires utilities to take a certain amount of green power, so the utilities are more likely to sign Power Purchasing Agreements with solar and wind farms. Without a PPA the developers can't get finance. Portugal has a policy of 60 per cent renewables by 2020. So that's what the article meant by subsidy-free - free of direct government subsidies. The extra expense of green power is loaded onto the consumers.

Leave it with you.   

A policy decision which is made because it is recognised that fossil fuel plants have much higher externality costs than renewable energy plants.

An alternative approach is a Carbon tax which effectively taxes in proportion to the respective levels of externality cost from Coal, Oil, and Gas.

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NickW - right. The issue is external costs, imagined or otherwise. Renewables have to be heavily subsidised to make them competitive with conventional power - be it through a tax or through legislative compulsion. The original article and post implied that such power had become competitive in its own right, without the subsidies. As we all know, and as you've pointed out,  that's wrong. Further, it is impossible that such projects ever will be competitive without subsidies. 

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If you live in Hawaii, It's cheaper to make your own today. In fact, the electricity is so expensive you can even use batteries in your house.

The spot price of afternoon wholesale power in Texas is seriously expensive. That great combine cycle gas plant, which is the way to go per kilowatt on a large scale. It's cheaper to built the gas/coal/nuclear to handle 80% of the load, be a baseload so it can run all out at max efficiencies, and let renewables handle the peak afternoon.

What electricity costs to produce, and what we pay, are different beasts. If for no other reason, we need solar to keep the big players marginally honest. I used to have system, and it was cool to occasionally get paid for producing. The payback for the install was far better than typical stock markets or anything else I could dump the money into. Buy yes, Federal Tax Credits impacted that.

Yes, government policies screw things in all directions and will continue to do so. But if you look at the cost per megawatt bids in the past two years in utility scale bids, solar does very well. Combined cycle gas is better, but nothing else is. Nuke I like, but in today's world it is a fortune to build not to mention the politics involved, hydro and geo are limited to where they can. The darn Chinese (don't we love them) have flooded the world with probably below cost panels. The money is in other components and installation. Once installed, operational costs are very low. 

 

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10 hours ago, markslawson said:

NickW - right. The issue is external costs, imagined or otherwise. Renewables have to be heavily subsidised to make them competitive with conventional power - be it through a tax or through legislative compulsion. The original article and post implied that such power had become competitive in its own right, without the subsidies. As we all know, and as you've pointed out,  that's wrong. Further, it is impossible that such projects ever will be competitive without subsidies. 

You evidently don't understand the principle of applying externality costs.

On the matter of requiring generators to produce from X % from renewables I don't agree with this either because its a pretty blunt inefficient way of promoting renewables. IMO a Carbon tax is a better approach because it can be geared towards applying a tax on fossil fuels equivalent of the damage they cause (primarily environmental and health). This loading drives efficiency both in terms of the use of fossil fuels and the delivery of renewable technologies.

Carbon taxes are simple to apply

They can be tax neutral where the proceeds are used to lower taxes elsewhere.

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10 hours ago, markslawson said:

NickW - right. The issue is external costs, imagined or otherwise. Renewables have to be heavily subsidised to make them competitive with conventional power - be it through a tax or through legislative compulsion. The original article and post implied that such power had become competitive in its own right, without the subsidies. As we all know, and as you've pointed out,  that's wrong. Further, it is impossible that such projects ever will be competitive without subsidies. 

If you look at the history of coal and gas it is the application of controls (a form of externality tax) that have resulted in the mass expansion of gas as a fuel to generate electricity at the expense of coal.

Remove all those nasty environmental controls like Flue Gas Desulphurisation, cyclone and electrostatic particulate filters and coal will start to outcompete gas as a generation fuel.

You never hear the Gas industry complain about externality controls / taxes when they benefit the gas industry at the expense of others.

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On 8/5/2018 at 7:43 PM, John Foote said:

Now tell me we'll have solar powered planes in my lifetime, and yes, I will laugh a long time. But can it make a cost effective kilowatt, yes, without subsidies, in many situations.

Perhaps not a directly solar powered plane like Solarimpulse... but you could have indirectly solar powered planes : planes powered by hydrogen generated with solar power.

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1 hour ago, Guillaume Albasini said:

Perhaps not a directly solar powered plane like Solarimpulse... but you could have indirectly solar powered planes : planes powered by hydrogen generated with solar power.

Probably better to make a more energy dense fuel than Hydrogen . Ethylene is a good one (C2H4)

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14 hours ago, NickW said:

You evidently don't understand the principle of applying externality costs.

On the matter of requiring generators to produce from X % from renewables I don't agree with this either because its a pretty blunt inefficient way of promoting renewables. IMO a Carbon tax is a better approach because it can be geared towards applying a tax on fossil fuels equivalent of the damage they cause (primarily environmental and health). This loading drives efficiency both in terms of the use of fossil fuels and the delivery of renewable technologies.

Carbon taxes are simple to apply

They can be tax neutral where the proceeds are used to lower taxes elsewhere.

NickW - sorry but its you who don't understand. I'm not arguing about how renewables are subsidised - be it through a carbon tax or regulation or whatever. So your post completely misses the point. Its arguing about another topic entirely. I'm saying that they have to be subsidised to compete with conventional power. No subsidies, no renewables.  Leave it with you but its best to stick to the topic in hand. 

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14 hours ago, NickW said:

If you look at the history of coal and gas it is the application of controls (a form of externality tax) that have resulted in the mass expansion of gas as a fuel to generate electricity at the expense of coal.

Remove all those nasty environmental controls like Flue Gas Desulphurisation, cyclone and electrostatic particulate filters and coal will start to outcompete gas as a generation fuel.

You never hear the Gas industry complain about externality controls / taxes when they benefit the gas industry at the expense of others.

Unlike your other post where you completely missed the point, this one is simply confused. On a straight cost basis in a network renewables cannot compete with either gas or coal, with or without pollution controls on the coal.. leave it with you.. 

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Solar is getting bigger and cheaper all the time. Already here in Australia, in certain circumstances, completely offgrid solar power is already cheaper than grid power - and thats without subsidies included. I run an electrical business here, so ill give you an example;

I was asked to quote a completely offgrid solar and lithium battery installation for a new semi rural property residence. We won the job and completed the installation for a similar cost to what it would have cost to simply connect them to the grid as the nearest transformer was approx 400 meters away through dense bushland. The benefit of going offgrid is that they never have a power bill, ever. So in real terms, they are saving a fortune compared to being grid connected for the same initial cost, and with an ongoing energy bill. Sure they will need maintenance and battery replacements over time - but they are saving approx $4000 per annum on energy bills - which pays for alot of maintenance over the years... There are many more situations where a similar outcome is possible now, especially in commercial properties where they have little night time energy use, and large consumption during the day. This means they dont need the energy storage and so the ROI occurs in about 12 months now. Additionally, the wholesale prices of solar panels and the associated electrical euipment have fallen dramatically over the last few years and continue to do so. If only the price of high quality batteries (or other energy storage) was falling just a fast, it would allow the main stream population to drop off the grid in the near term also.

There will be a huge demand in the coming years for energy storage solutions, better batteries etc - any tech company that nails it - will be a killer investment.

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14 hours ago, markslawson said:

NickW - sorry but its you who don't understand. I'm not arguing about how renewables are subsidised - be it through a carbon tax or regulation or whatever. So your post completely misses the point. Its arguing about another topic entirely. I'm saying that they have to be subsidised to compete with conventional power. No subsidies, no renewables.  Leave it with you but its best to stick to the topic in hand. 

Because by and large the negative externality costs of fossil fuel combustion are without any (or at most very limited)  penalties to the generator.

Price the negative externalities of fossil fuel combustion and that subsidy need for renewables may no longer exist or in the very least be substantially reduced.

 The point I was making is that one way of doing this is through a Carbon tax.

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11 hours ago, catch22 said:

Solar is getting bigger and cheaper all the time. Already here in Australia, in certain circumstances, completely offgrid solar power is already cheaper than grid power - and thats without subsidies included. I run an electrical business here, so ill give you an example;

I was asked to quote a completely offgrid solar and lithium battery installation for a new semi rural property residence. We won the job and completed the installation for a similar cost to what it would have cost to simply connect them to the grid as the nearest transformer was approx 400 meters away through dense bushland. The benefit of going offgrid is that they never have a power bill, ever. So in real terms, they are saving a fortune compared to being grid connected for the same initial cost, and with an ongoing energy bill. Sure they will need maintenance and battery replacements over time - but they are saving approx $4000 per annum on energy bills - which pays for alot of maintenance over the years... There are many more situations where a similar outcome is possible now, especially in commercial properties where they have little night time energy use, and large consumption during the day. This means they dont need the energy storage and so the ROI occurs in about 12 months now. Additionally, the wholesale prices of solar panels and the associated electrical euipment have fallen dramatically over the last few years and continue to do so. If only the price of high quality batteries (or other energy storage) was falling just a fast, it would allow the main stream population to drop off the grid in the near term also.

There will be a huge demand in the coming years for energy storage solutions, better batteries etc - any tech company that nails it - will be a killer investment.

A friend of a friend works in the same field - in fact you maybe that friend!

People I used to work with in the Gas industry in Darwin are doing the same to cope with the regular power cuts (caused by the sole reliance on the  gas industry). Stick 4-5KW of solar panels up and install 8 kwh of storage which is enough to keep onw 1KW AC unit going for several hours if needed.

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i  dont think Darwin power cuts are anything other than poor power infrastructure regardless of the fuel they use to power it... everyone turns on their ACs at the same time as its so damn hot up there and it suddenly trips the overload protection systems :D

youll need alot more than 8kwh battery to reliably run a household tho, to reliably run a std household offgrid youll need a bare minimum of 15kwh of lithium or 26kwh of lead (you cant cycle lead batteries as deeply as lithium - or they wont last)

For home storage solutions the energy density is not as important as  it is for many other industries, most notably is the car, boat, aircraft industry where energy density is extremely important for obvious reasons. There are other companies working on better low energy density solutions for this reason in addition to the companies working on better lithium type batteries with high energy densities. Any business which makes significant headway in terms of utility and cost will make renewables such as solar far more mainstream and also extremely cost competitive with fossil fuel baseload power. What the fossil fuel anti greenies dont seem to understand is that this space is changing incredibly rapidly. Only 2 years ago the cost of solar and batteries was still prohibitive for most to consider - now everyone is doing it... im actually quite worried what will happen to the electricity grid as the lack of customers in the future means no money to pay for the maintenance of it. It will either disappear as we know it or become some kind of white elephant the government has to maintain to keep the high energy users who cant generate enough themselves in business. Baseload prices of power will go through the roof as more and more people drop off the grid... In part i think this is why the government is making such a concerted effort to bring down prices now - to avoid this catastrophe if everyone drops off the grid and it begins to collapse as we are at the price tipping point for this happen NOW...

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8 minutes ago, catch22 said:

i  dont think Darwin power cuts are anything other than poor power infrastructure regardless of the fuel they use to power it... everyone turns on their ACs at the same time as its so damn hot up there and it suddenly trips the overload protection systems :D

youll need alot more than 8kwh battery to reliably run a household tho, to reliably run a std household offgrid youll need a bare minimum of 15kwh of lithium or 26kwh of lead (you cant cycle lead batteries as deeply as lithium - or they wont last)

For home storage solutions the energy density is not as important as  it is for many other industries, most notably is the car, boat, aircraft industry where energy density is extremely important for obvious reasons. There are other companies working on better low energy density solutions for this reason in addition to the companies working on better lithium type batteries with high energy densities. Any business which makes significant headway in terms of utility and cost will make renewables such as solar far more mainstream and also extremely cost competitive with fossil fuel baseload power. What the fossil fuel anti greenies dont seem to understand is that this space is changing incredibly rapidly. Only 2 years ago the cost of solar and batteries was still prohibitive for most to consider - now everyone is doing it... im actually quite worried what will happen to the electricity grid as the lack of customers in the future means no money to pay for the maintenance of it. It will either disappear as we know it or become some kind of white elephant the government has to maintain to keep the high energy users who cant generate enough themselves in business. Baseload prices of power will go through the roof as more and more people drop off the grid... In part i think this is why the government is making such a concerted effort to bring down prices now - to avoid this catastrophe if everyone drops off the grid and it begins to collapse as we are at the price tipping point for this happen NOW...

Its caused by being solely reliant on a single gas pipeline from Yelcherr and failing that whatever Connoco can spare. 

I agree - 8kwh is not enough to completely run a household BAU but its a lot better than having nothing at all. With 8kwh you can run a small - medium size AC unit for several hours. 

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On 8/7/2018 at 10:59 PM, catch22 said:

I was asked to quote a completely offgrid solar and lithium battery installation for a new semi rural property residence. 

There will be a huge demand in the coming years for energy storage solutions, better batteries etc - any tech company that nails it - will be a killer investment.

catch 22, look into flow batteries. Handles heat better, better discharge abilities. And they aren't the potential fire hazards lithium presents. But not something for a homeowner unless they have physical space. 

There is a lot of early to middle stage monies going into batteries these days though I question lithium as the answer. There is a strange market developing to build batteries to take ultra cheap power in the wee hours of the night when the wind farms are cranking, and big traditional plants can only cut back so much. Then in the high use times, sell to the grid. In areas where the prices varies through the day (depends on government regulations, the natural market wants the variable pricing), the flow battery concept is starting to look quite sensible. 

But as you point out, the semi-rural electric off-grid economics is there already. And the peak provider solar panel for afternoon peak production is there, economic now. I view your example a bit like cell phones, which were very expensive once, and a country with a weak land line infrastructure, Finland, decided cell was cheaper and a company there, Nokia, went one to to do great things. The semi-rural grid might evolve into many folks producing in urban environments and sharing on a smart grid. The trick is how to pay for a smart grid that can handle it.

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Solar power will go down to a list of bunch of things that sound nice but don't work, because of physics and economics, economics can't make anything if engineering and physics don't let it.

A fully solar or even fully renewable energy grid has to be incredibly over-engineered and complicated in order to work, electrolysis is a no-go system since it hardly get over 80% efficiency to charge or discharge. And a rooftop descentralized system is more expensive and harder to control and syncrhonize, AND YOU NEED TO SYNCRHONIZE PHASES, otherwise you will get short circuits or over-voltages among other stuff that 3 phase power can get when the 3 phases don't work with the same power, what most people doesn't realize about grid scale powerplants is that not only they have to produce power, but they also have to spin their generators at the same time to make all the phases of a powergrid work together, and then you got harmonics that are generated by wind turbines. 

Also there's things like capacity factors even in india a sunny place you have capacity factors of 7% when it should be more like 15%, and that's the energy generated not the energy consumed, the worldwide average capacity factors for solar power is less than 10%. Taking in mind this making the US work to generate 500GW/a would require around 5TW of instaled solar capacity that would require 159 billion 315W solar panels and cost nearlty 6.75 trillion US dollars only in panels without counting maintenance, storage, connection or land purchasing or other stuff, and thats supposing the US doesn't wanna consume more than 500GW/a 

oh and also taking in mind a 40 year-average-lifespan of the solar panel and that will only occur if all solar panel manufacturers go together to offer 40-year lifespan supposing they don't short-circuit, or get destroyed by tornadoes, or sandstorms, or hail storms you would need to change 10.8 million sollar panels everyday, -Forever- Until civilization stop existing if you start you can't stop changing the solar panels, incluiding new year, christmas, july 4th, and thankgiving day,  that would cost 4.6 billion dollars every day, without counting what you are going to do with the 100's of thousands of tons of toxic waste and toxic chemiclas needed to make and process solar panels, like cyanide based-solvents, if you wan't to make solar panels cheaper then you must have lower production cost and the recycling and treatment of toxic chemicals is a production cost. 

For reasons like this a fully-solar or even a fully-wind power grid is just a pipe-dream promoted by pages like electrek generally sponsored by solar panels manufacturers that seem don't wan't accept the simple physics or mathematics involved in a grid, and rooftop solar power for residential use instead of the old-school powerplants is a way to say "if you don't got 50K U$S then forget about having power in your house" 

there's also another problem, renewable energy is site dependant, is geography dependant, you don't have the same possibility of getting wind power in Nebraska or any part of the high plains and Midwest as you got in Japan and South Korea, you don't have the same possibility of getting geothermal power in Chile or Argentina as you got in Germany or the Netherland, you don't have the same possibilities of getting hydropower in Alaska or Montana as you got in Spain or France, and you won't have the possibilities of get Tidal power in Quebec shores as in Brazil's coasts. Renewble energy Is not scalable is not like you can build a powerplant anywhere and then transport is fuel like you can with Coal, Gas, Oil, Uranium or Thorium.

The energiewende by 2020 will have suck up more than 520 billion euros despite generating slight more than 3% of all germany's power, honestly with that money they could have built 130 nuclear reactors or more, and generating 176GW which is equal to a 40% of their whole energy needs. Supposing you can't make nuclear reactors cheaper thing that seem russians and chineses are doing pretty well considering they can make a 1200-1600MWe  reactor for 2.8 billion dollar if not less.

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On 8/5/2018 at 7:29 PM, markslawson said:

John Foote - why are we being bothered with what is essentially propaganda? Okay, this plant was built without public subsidies. In fact all Australian installations of this kind are being built without public subsidies because the law requires utilities to take a certain amount of green power, so the utilities are more likely to sign Power Purchasing Agreements with solar and wind farms. Without a PPA the developers can't get finance. Portugal has a policy of 60 per cent renewables by 2020. So that's what the article meant by subsidy-free - free of direct government subsidies. The extra expense of green power is loaded onto the consumers.

Leave it with you.   

ML, you say without public subsidies. You mean without government subsidies. The public will certainly pay for the more expensive solar power

that they use. They ARE the public. The government is the autocracy. I assure you that natural gas would  be a superior choice in almost all cases. It is sad that Australians are not using some of their own natural gas!

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1 hour ago, ronwagn said:

It is sad that Australians are not using some of their own natural gas!

One of the beauties of solar, you can tell utilities and the government to piss off. 

Distirbuted power, micro producers, real competition. And we know what that does to prices over time.

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Solar and wind are great for off grid, especially if backup batteries are sufficient. Biomethane can also be used if the right waste products are available in sufficient quantities. I don't think any of these are competitive for large grid applications. Natural gas is abundant, clean, and cheap in most developed countries. 

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