Estimating the real costs of transitioning to cleaner sources of electricity

Estimating the real costs of transitioning to cleaner sources of electricity

A group of Imperial College London scientists have embarked on the daunting job of seeking to quantify the real cost of transforming electricity into clean energy sources. Robert Gross and Philip Heptonstall looked at the expenses involved with the installation, hardware, servicing, delivery and management of off-time for clean energy sources in their study which was published in the journal Nature Energy as well as compared them to conventional sources such as oil and coal. 

Since the expenses of using renewable energy to generate electricity have fallen too far the key element now keeping wholesale talks with renewable plants about gas, coal as well as other power plants is off-time, seasonal winds, and wind and solar sources are influenced by the day/night cycles of the Earth. During dry spells, even some hydro plants will suffer. The dilemma is compounded by the variations in the supply of renewable resources around the geographical regions: the length of the day varies according to latitude; some areas are far windier than others; several areas do not have hydro-energy water supplies nearby. 

Big utilities have also been hesitant to convert entirely to renewable energy. Many have concerns about the costs of coping with down-time or off-time. The researchers have measured the costs associated with these downtimes in this recent endeavor and aligned them with the prices associated with conventional sources of power. They found that renewables are already cheaper in most cases.

The researchers pored over the results of analyses of the costs involved with varying ways that electricity providers will have to cope with blackouts due to poor weather as well as other causes to discover the actual costs of transitioning to renewable energy. These costs were then split down into 3 categories: dealing with intermittent supplies, using biomass to fulfill peak demands, and connecting with the current grid.

The researchers find a broad variety of possibilities when extending these categories to current infrastructures. They also noticed that, while some would fail, many utilities could quickly make the transition to all-renewable programs. More specifically, though, they find little evidence to indicate that the overall industry-wide costs would be much greater than the already incurred costs. They also feel that the right time for most utilities to make the transition has arrived, since the human race’s survival depends on it. It is important to be able to note that the cost of transitioning to renewable energy will differ from one nation to the other as well as a city.

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