A Renewable Energy Boom

Apr 04, 2016 · 79 comments
Steve M (Doylestown, PA)
In the not too distant future, decentralized energy supplies will be the norm. Many businesses and single family homes can accommodate solar photovoltaic panels capable of generating all the energy they need. Storage batteries capable of powering a home for 2 or 3 days are already available at a cost of a few thousand dollars. Excess electrical production can be used to electrolyze water and produce hydrogen and oxygen. H2 and O can be compressed and stored. H2 and O can then be recombined in fuel cells to produce electricity when needed. All with essentially zero on-going pollution (admittedly, initial production of the equipment will require some old time mining and manufacturing processes).

Homeowners and businesses will have to make initial capital expenditures (lower each year as manufacturing increases and economies of scale kick in) but such investments will pay off in a few years of freedom from utility bills. Then, except for maintenance and eventual equipment replacement cost) they get their energy from the sun for free. (Energy from fossils is really solar energy that was stored millions of years ago by plants).

When individuals become independent of the power grid they will have more reliable energy supply, less subject to storm outages and less subject to acts of terrorism or war.

When we have business and family friendly power generation and storage we can get rid of the unsightly power lines that clutter our neighborhoods and roadside scenery.
blackmamba (IL)
In the beginning and in the end there is and will only be the Sun as the source and model of all forms of energy on Earth.
James Jordan (Falls Church, VA)
The Editorial Board has brought good news and the urgency of the challenge to humanity.

The Earth is warming, I repeat, the Earth is warming, and the combustion of fossil fuels has been rapidly increasing the heat trapping effect of the atmosphere!

The difficulty of doing anything significant before the warming Earth triggers the release of frozen hydrocarbons in the permafrost & frozen deposits of methane (hydrates) on the ocean floor creating a runaway release of global warming gasses that will eventually make extinct a lot of living species maybe even our own, IS that hydrocarbon combustion has, in a very short period, dramatically improved our standard of living & extended the human life span.

So it will be hard for humankind to give up fossil fuels, but we must.

So my colleagues, Drs. James Powell, Gordon Danby, George Maise & I propose a pathway to survival of living species, which will reduce human emissions of global warming gasses to acceptable levels.

The pathway means to shift to photovoltaic solar cells, as quickly as possible, to create electricity. At the scale required to provide electricity to 9 Billion people at mid-century, we suggest developing an International Maglev Space Launch facility to place many PV satellites in geosynchronous orbit to beam power to Earth.

Then a portion of this very low cost electricity can be used to make synthetic gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from air and water. Therefore, no net new carbon dioxide emissions.
Prometheus (Mt. Olympus)

"We can try sustainable development and renewable energy, and we can try geoengineering to help the Earth self-regulate. We can do these things with the same certainty that our eighteenth-century ancestors had about the power of mercury, arsenic or blood-letting to cure their diseases. Just as they failed utterly, so I think we also are not yet clever enough to handle the planet-sized problem and stop the Earth from over-heating."

“Humans on the Earth behave in some ways like a pathogenic micro-organism, or like the cells of a tumor or neoplasm. We have grown in numbers and disturbance to Gaia, to the point where our presence is perceptively disturbing…the human species is now so numerous as to constitute a serious planetary malady. Gaia is suffering from Disseminated Primatemaia, a plague of people.”

James Lovelock

As E.O. Wilson points out, “Darwins dice have rolled badly for Earth.”
rxfxworld (Whanganui, New Zealand)
Ahem, actually, the average costs of land based wind power dropped 61% over the last six years (not 14%) according to the widely cited Lazard levelized cost of energy studies updated every year and also cited by multiple research sources. The equivalent solar cost reduction is 80% over the last six years. The reason wind power costs have dropped is that while a turbine may cost somewhat less than it did six years ago, it has better technology, bigger blades, pulls more energy out of the wind, and delivers substantially more electric power.
Brian W. (Seattle, WA)
28 years is the economic break even point i found where the cost/energy consumed to install the wind turbines equals the value of the "free" renewable energy. Unfortunately, the wind turbines have a rated lifetime of twenty years. Therefore, wind power doesn't make sense; it's a farce.

I haven't examined solar yet. I'm afraid to look.
Bel (Westchester NY)
It's laughable that "renewable only" advocates measure prices of very current or future solar costs with subsidies attached, to last years oil and gas prices.

Of course, solar prices have fallen! Chart it vs. oil..

The cost of nuclear power is clearly the most static of all forms of non transport energy.
Bob (Taos, NM)
Some facts about solar. Utility scale solar delivers energy at 1/2 the price of rooftop solar. If we're serious about renewable zero emission energy, this is the way to go. In the desert SW 1 square mile will host a 130 MW solar farm. We could produce more energy than the country consumes in one of our large counties, not that we should. Solar farms do not consume water as one commenter claimed. They do require transmission lines, and that is one of the main obstacles. Land in the SW is cheap, hundreds of dollars per acre. Wind is also a benign source of energy that can coexist easily with agriculture. Wind and solar are complementary sources since wind tends to be strong at night. Mark Josephson and his team from Stanford has shown how we can transition to 100% renewable energy in detailed plans for every state. We should be working hard right now on implementing them. Oh, windows and house cats are much more lethal than wind for birds. We need to protect nature, and right now the best way to do that is emission free energy.
JPGeerlofs (Nordland Washington)
It's important not to underestimate the power of the market. As renewables become cheaper than the alternatives (solar plants are not only cheaper to build, but many times cheaper to run), some of the same clever gents who brought us the recession will come up with investment vehicles to harness the profit motive, like what we saw with cell phone towers--perhaps an atonement for past sins.

I despair that our government will remain far behind in generating the necessary incentives, so we'll just have to rely on good old fashioned greed. And for once, that may be a good thing.
Larry Lundgren (Sweden)
To the Editors

Why should it be the responsibility of commenters to present information about renewable/sustainable energy technologies that are standard in other countries and that have made it possible to move away from fossil fuels - excepting transportation?

Everyone knows that solar and wind technology, the only technologies you even mention, are in use in America because the systems are highly visible and their visibility makes it easy to see that each is not 24/7 - turbine blades do not move when there is no wind, solar cells rest when the sun is down.

It is evident to me from reading rare NYT articles and thousands of comments that neither the NYT nor the American public at large is even marginally familiar with technologies that now replace fossil-fuel technologies in other countries.

A comment in the NYT is not the place to inform the public, at least the Times comment reading public. Since the Times is both National and International its international staff members should be charged with informing the national staff members about technologies in widespread use in Europe and perhaps elsewhere. And reporting from countries like India that feature displays of extraordinary mountains of municipal waste should be reporting on any studies being made to use this waste as fuel.

Editors, when can you start?
Mr. Phil (Houston)
The rare occasion where Texas, a state that is the largest producer of wind energy, can also be bastardized for being the largest producer of oil in the country. http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Industry/2016/03/29/Oil-economy-...
Rob-Chemist (Colorado)
The replacement of fossil fuels with renewables for energy production should be broken into two discussions: transportation and electricity. For transportation, due to the expense, weight and recharge rates of batteries, they will be a niche player for ground transpor and have no chance for air (ever). If batteries improve at all 3 levels, they will become the dominant source for ground transportation. For renewables to replace aviation fuels would require some way to convert electrical energy to either a hydrocarbon or, if new super-strong materials are generated hydrogen (used as liquid hydrogen).

For electricity, the issue is again storage. Batteries maybe, especially if flow batteries work, but even better if we can develop efficient technology for converting electricity into hydrogen gas or a hydrocarbon. We can convert electricity into hydrogen gas via electrolysis of water, however, this results in a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen which is rather unsafe to store.

Short term, natural gas is and will continue to kill coal for 3 reasons, and it has nothing to do with the environment. (1) Natural gas is very cheap due to advances in fracking. (2) Gas generators can turn on and off very fast, while coal is slow. (3) The efficiency of the combined cycle gas turbines is around 51%, while coal (a single cycle process) is around 34%. Thus, to reduce CO2 we need to embrace gas (and nuclear) short term while we develop the technology for renewables long term.
Maureen (Cary)
This discussion concerning renewable energy is vitally important, and we have no time to waste in implementing changes to the way we use fossil fuels. However, there is another piece of the climate change puzzle that is conscpiuously absent from this discussion: animal agriculture and its impact on our global health and well-being. The dairy and meat industries have essentially have been brainwashing the American public into believing that dairy and meat are essential to a well-balanced diet, much like the tobacco companies convinced people that smoking could actually be good for you. But unlike the tobacco companies, the owners of factory farms not only contribute to myriad human health problems, but they also contribute more air, land and water pollutants than do all forms of transportation. I believe that the current millenial generation will do to consuming animal products what my generation did to smoking: expose it as unhealthful and promoted by industries with more interest in money that the health of the human species.
John (Upstate NY)
None of this will matter if all it does is to enable continued acceleration of world population growth. The comparison of "costs" of fossil fuel and renewables will always give a false or misleading answer (and can go either way, depending on who is doing the analysis) because not all of the true costs ever get taken into account (tax subsidies, environmental and health externalities, etc. ). This holds true for both sides. I don't think we can actually afford any source of energy for continued use at current levels, and certainly not for use at the expanded scale of growing world population.
newell mccarty (oklahoma)
Oil and gasoline are very cheap now. I'm not a conspiracist but it does seem a coincidence that makes wind and solar comparatively more expensive? Economists say the price of oil will go back up. Maybe. But a barrel of oil is still worth nothing if not sold. $20 or even $10/ barrel is better than nothing. And the oil companies know that once alternatives dominate, oil will be next to worthless.
Jim Waddell (Columbus, OH)
But renewables still require mandates and massive subsidies to survive. Even Germany is cutting back on subsidies to solar and wind because of the distortions they are causing.

If Americans really believed that global warming was a major problem, a carbon tax would be readily enacted. The fact that it's not politically feasible (as this editorial states) also means the American people have not been convinced of the problem. But then there are also Americans who think vaccines cause autism and that GMOs are unsafe to eat.
karen (benicia)
And there are americans who listen to preachers tell them there is no such thing as evolution and that god built the world in 7 days. please do not equate the ignorance of a few on the fringe left on your two topics (and the jury is still out on GMOs); with the MASS ignorance on the part of the right wing christian fundamentalists who have out-sized influence in our politics (IE Cruz) and policy (IE creationism being taught in public schools)
Robert (Out West)
The claim about the cutbacks isn't, strictly speaking, true.

By the way, I was wondering: taken all together, how do those subsidies compare to the costs for ONE event such as Deepwater Horizon?
Bob (Taos, NM)
Carbon taxes are a non-starter in the U.S. at the moment. But carbon fee and dividend may not be so unpalatable in the very near future. Things are changing fast -- climate, renewable prices, sea level possibly. The best solution is some form of carbon tax as opposed to the cap and trade formulas. Being clear about the problem and the solution can lead to an unexpected solution. The Tesla Model 3 secured nearly 300,000 reservation in the days following its announcement last Thursday. That's more than the peak year for Toyota Prius sales. Electric vehicles are not only cheaper to operate, they are better than their polluting competition. Still far less than the annual sales for the Ford 150 pickup, but who is to say that the 150 can't be an EV.
Kevin (North Texas)
They built a wind farm north of where I live. It is on top of an old oil field on a ridge line. It is making so much money that they are now expanding it. And I actually find them to be a pretty sight on the horizon. We get a lot of wind so they are turning most of the time. Seems to be a real success.
CBRussell (Shelter Island,NY)
Fossil fuels will be used for a long long time....the question is how these
fuels are used....that is converted into energy....the conversion into
energy...is also the problem...i.e. carbon emissions could be just as much
an issue as the general use of coal or oil or natural gas....
Perhaps concentration should be about ...burning fossil fuels in a cleaner way.
John LeBaron (MA)
Carbon taxation is a non-starter in the USA because both of its major political parties are in major hock to the fossil fuel industry. Indeed it can be rightfully claimed that both parties are, themselves, fossils.

Art (Colorado)
The big hole in this editorial is that it completely ignores the role that nuclear energy should play in a clean, low-carbon energy future. The opposition to nuclear power is not based on science, it is based on fear and ignorance. Wind, solar and other renewables have a large role to play in replacing fossil fuels, especially coal, and cutting our carbon emissions. However, they cannot do this on their own. Wind and solar are intermittent power sources. Also, they have their own environmental costs. Building utility-scale solar plants would entail covering thousands of square miles of the desert Southwest with solar PV panels and solar collectors; lithium batteries require mining vast amounts of lithium, mainly in Bolivia; wind farms kill millions of birds. Nuclear energy currently generates 20% of the electricity we use in the US and 75% of the electricity used in France. New, safer reactor technologies, such as small modular light water reactors (www.nuscalepower.com) can begin to replace coal-fired power plants in the next decade. Furthermore, natural gas, which emits 50% less carbon when combusted than coal, has a role to play as a transition fuel to cleaner energy sources. We need to stop burying our heads in the sand and acknowledge that making the vast amount of energy we use in this country cleaner will require a mix of energy sources. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
TheOwl (New England)
Nuclear energy has long been the only correct solution to the nation's energy needs.

The industry has been plagued by NIBY lawsuits of little merit, and strangulation-level regulations that have driven costs far beyond the reasonable in the hopes that the plants are never built.

The basic problem is with the nuclear waste. And it is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

It's time to spend the money eaten by litigation, which only benefits the lawyers, and regulation, which mostly benefits the regulators, and put it towards the engineering development to reprocess nuclear waste and permanent storage for that which cannot be re-purposed.

And with Harry Reid (D-NV) retiring from the Senate, the something may actually have a chance of being accomplished.
Mary (Moreno Valley, CA)
Decentralizing energy by having all homes and businesses powered by solar energy should be viewed as a matter of national security as well as saving the planet from catastrophe from climate change. Currently power plants and relay stations as well as nuclear powers plants are prime targets for terrorist attack. Entire regions on the East Coast have been crippled by the loss of one relay station going down. With continuing innovation in battery storage for homes and businesses and the generation of non-polluting power sources I am becoming more optimistic about the future. If only we can get the Neanderthals on board!
terryg (Ithaca, NY)
World Leaders? I live in cold gray upstate New York where solar power has taken off. Yet after a visit to Florida, the Sunshine State, I find that no roof top solar is used. The free market charlatans that run the GOP (Rick Scott) need to be brought to the table to demand rooftop solar in the states that discourage it.
Spring (nyc)
Excess solar capacity in households can be "stored" via transmutation to our existing electrical utility plants to provide constant power for these households.. This is being done right now in Los Angeles and other places in this country. The solar energy providers are paid by the utilities for their excess capacity. There is great political and economic resistance on the part of the existing power structure. Some states are actually/actively passing laws to prohibit this type of power-sharing. The problem seems to be as much economic and political as it is technical. A new economic and political model would be a great help to advancing the renewable power agenda.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Electric utilities do maintain the grids that allows solar generators to sell excess generation, so they are entitled to be paid for providing it.
jacobi (Nevada)
Stored via transmutation?!? Perhaps you can elaborate?
LMJr (Sparta, NJ)
This editorial neglects to report whether the cost of renewables includes subsidies. As I read the KPMG report, subsidies are included to reduce the cost to make renewables look better than they are.
They have to compete.
Robert (Out West)
Uh, including the subsidies in the cost figures increases the cost figures.
Bel (Westchester NY)
There are two gorillas in the room for wind and solar.

The infrastructure durability for wind farm dynamos is as strong as it has ever been, but it can't withstand typical US Midwest storms without frequent major repairs. (Also, during the wind storms that cause the damage, the farms are non productive because they are diverted from the grid to prevent spikes.)

Aside from the enviro damage (that someone already posted re: solar farms in the desert) is the simple conundrum that solar farms built in the desert require fresh water to clean them after just about every wind storm. Unless we want to measure solar efficiency the same way Volkswagen advertises mileage. Fresh water is not an abundant commodity in the semi arid desert!
Joe Pasquariello (Oakland)
Both of these are false. It's rare for a storm to have high enough winds to require a wind farm to shut down, and even more rare for turbines to be damaged by high winds. Solar panels do need occasional cleaning in dusty environments. Where that's true, large installations have cleaning systems that capture and recycle the water used for cleaning.
Robert (Out West)
I'd mention two things:

1. Yes, Virginia, a tornado or the sort of windstorm called a derecho will damage a wind turbine. They also tend to rip down regular power plants, transformers, and transmission lines oretty darn effctively.

2. Photovoltaic systems get washed maybe four times a year. You may wish to compare their water use to that of your average desert golf course--and I assure you, there are way, way more golf courses in deserts than solar plants.

But of course, you're not remotely interested in mere fact.
jacobi (Nevada)
If solar and wind power are so cheap why do American taxpayers have to $100 Billion/year to subsidize the development? The fact is that solar and wind is not economically competitive when everything is taken into account. When all is taken into account more energy is required to manufacturer solar panels than they will generate in their lifetimes.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The next generation perovskite solar cells promise to deliver maximum efficiency of light conversion from dirt cheap materials like lead iodide.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Perovskite solar cells also promise to eliminate energy-intensive vacuum processing from solar cell manufacture.
karen (benicia)
we also subsidize big oil and big coal and there is no social benefit to those industries. At least with renewable subsidies, WE the People benefit.
mdalrymple4 (iowa)
Somebody needs to tell the republican congress this info. They have ignored the problem of climate change caused by fossil fuels their whole existence.
Larry Lundgren (Sweden)
Times Editors know only these two words: Wind Solar.

Add these to your vocabulary. Readers show your concern for climate change by switching to these.

Ground-source geothermal heat pump - 24/7, heats/cools, invisible (GSG)

Air-air/Air-water heat pump - silent, heats/cools, when you want it (AA/AW)

Swedish hypermodern solid waste incineration - heats my cities Göteborg & Linköping - invisible in home, silent, no fire/gas risk.

Editors, repeat after me, then write.

Dual citizen USA SE
Steve Milloy (Potomac, MD)
Coal plants in India and China do not cause breathing or health problems in India or China. Poor air quailty in those countries is real, but is not caused by emissions from coal plants -- instead traffic, residential burning of coal/biomass and uncontrolled industrial emissions are the major problems.
John C (Massachussets)
One big obstacle I wish the candidates would address is the economic fears of workers in the coal industry by proposing a combination of buy-outs, extended unemployment benefits and re-training programs. The Fed Gov. could rebate all taxes to any solar or wind turbine manufacturer re-locating to coal country.

A Federal tax on energy providers using coal-fired plants and getting Apple to pay the taxes on the cash they hide off-shore would fund these programs.

You won't turn Kentucky and W. Va. "Blue" by continuing the so-called--but very real to coal-workers--"war on coal".
Eli (Boston, MA)
If true external fossil fuel costs are factored in, as they should, wind power has achieved economic parity for a decade as solar has done recently.

The cost of electricity is not just what we pay utilities.

1) It includes what we pay hospitals, doctors, and pharmacies for respiratory disease caused by fossil fuel air pollution.
2) Lost work and premature deaths from disease causing air pollution can be accurately measured from the increased number of people not showing up for work and the increased number of corpses in hospital morgues on ozone alert days.
3) Acid rain causes losses resulting from reduced crops in agriculture and forestry.
4) Acid rain has measurable economic impact on car finishes.
5) Acid rain hurts stone and roofing materials impacting building maintenance costs. It is not just economic losses but also historic preservation losses akin to wrecking balls as fossil fuel pollution destroys significant cultural assets.

While natural gas is less dirty it is still dangerous because its combustion emits nitrogen oxides (NOx) and nitrous oxide (N2O) that cause acid rain, carbon monoxide (CO) a poison, and disease causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM).

If we factor in all real and measurable economic losses from fossil fuels we cannot afford to waste a day in converting to a clean renewable economy. This before we even include the immeasurable economic and ecological distraction resulting from global climate change.
John Smith (Cherry Hill NJ)
SAVE THE PLANET Invest in Renewables! Fortunately it looks as if global sustainable energy has arrived at a tipping point before the polar ice caps are completely gone. I was delighted at the facebook announcement of our daughter and son-in-law that they were going solar. There is an outfit working in conjunction with PECO that contracts with individual homeowners to put solar cells on the roof and maintain them without any initial cost outlay. The prices increase every year at a rate that compares favorably with the rates for carbon based fossil fuels. We live in PA, a state not known for wind, solar or large-scale hydroelectric. The drive to retrofit homes and buildings for energy efficiency is predicted to be supported by or current governor (though he has had to overcome a refusal by the GOP majority to raise taxes and to pass his requested budget). Nearby in NJ there was a project announced a number of years ago for solar homes near the shore with lead acid battery storage systems. I wonder how long it will be before Mexico starts building solar farms in the desert near the US to start selling us sustainable energy. A popular song in the 60s, Age of Aquarius, had lyrics: Let the Sun Shine! I'm glad it's happening during my lifetime. The first Earth Day in Philly where I was born, was a small event attended by the curious and hippies. Back then our idea of solar was large glass jars for brewing solar tea. Now in 2016, Let the Sun Shine Sustainably!
John Barich (Atlanta, GA)
Question: would not the development of nuclear energy be a viable option until we develop alternative fuel sources? We fear a Chernobyl like catastrophe because such an event is easy to recall, but we underestimate the tremendous damage done by the burning of fossil fuels to our health and to the environment.
Jana Hesser (Providence, RI)
Nuclear is more expensive than wind or solar if you calculate insurance cost. In fact the insurer of last resort is government because NO PRIVATE company can underwrite insurance to cover nuclear accidents. As we saw in Japan this is not a technicality but a reality as the partial private insurance fell woefully short of costs of the injured damage.

So keeping existing nuclear until we retire ALL fossil fuel power plants make some sense. However from an economic point of view investing in new clean renewable is simply a better bargain.
Bill Benton (SF CA)
Electric cars are cheaper and better than gasoline powered cars. They are cheaper to make, cheaper to buy, and cheaper to operate (fuel costs are about half of gasoline fuel).

If we all drove electric cars, oil would be less valuable and the Middle East would not be important any more. The wars would end, or at least would not involve soldiers from outside the region. Americans would no longer die in the quest to control the oil fields.

To see other great ideas go to YouTube and watch Benton-Comedy2 (2 min 43 sec). Then send a buck to Bernie and invite me to speak. Thanks. [email protected]
Sylvia (Ashby)
I love electric cars but it takes a lot of energy to produce one as well as the batteries to power it. Is that energy going to come from wind and solar? I doubt it. How about heavy manufacturing? Maybe we could ship it all to China. Unless we do that, we're a long way from being carbon-free.
I'm also wondering about the lifespan of batteries to store solar energy. We don't need to be throwing out tons of batteries. Hopefully they'll think ahead on this one.
NYHUGUENOT (Charlotte, NC)
When I was in the Navy we had a UPS and inverter set up to change DC to AC whenever we had a power outage which was frequent. It used 1200 Ni-Cad batteries 18" tall and 8x10 inches wide and deep. When the time came to replace them we buried them out in the transmitter field filled with KOH (potassium hydrochloride) which is where we buried cars abandoned on base, old appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners filled with Freon.
twstroud (kansas)
BRIC has become BIC. Russia will remain wedded to oil and hope for a price recovery. That's the only economic model they know. That decision sentences it to long-term decline. Let's hope Western Europe continues its aggressive renewables strategy so that even Putin's natural gas pipelines wither.
Look Ahead (WA)
America has a high carbon economy. Our per capita carbon emissions are two to three times that of Europe, China or the world, many times that of India.

The Senate Majority Leader is a shameless promoter of coal, even though coal companies have devastated the people and environment of his state of KY before they cut and run, leaving the highest worker disability rate in the US.

The GOP fought the ARRA Stimulus, even though the largest part was a tax break for average workers, and especially criticized the alternative energy subsidies, which have contributed to the 61% reduction in solar panel cost.

The GOP has fought the doubling of CAFE Fuel economy standards, opposed energy efficient lighting and taken the EPA to court over the Clean Power Plan.

And yet, the GOP controls both houses of Congress and up till recently the highly partisan SCOTUS.

I dream of the day that America comes to its senses, goes to the polls, stands in line all day if that's what it takes, and gets rid of the Southern oligarchy that has controlled the Congress since Reconstruction.
Zejee (New York)
Yeah but Queen Hillary goes around the world promoting fracking and fossil fuel energy. It's not just Republicans. It's the oligarchy.
NYHUGUENOT (Charlotte, NC)
The largest number of disabled is not in Kentucky but West Virginia. Appeals court judges have been awarding coal mine workers disability when their unemployment benefits ran out so they won't starve to death. The story was in the Wall Street Journal in May about 3 years ago.
Tom (Midwest)
The issue is simple. Economics show the cost curve of solar and wind power continues to get cheaper every year while the cost of power production from coal remains constant. The editorial also missed the fact that the cost of renewable electricity even without any subsidies will be cheaper than coal or nat gas within a decade. Add to that, many businesses (and individuals) have finally figured out that energy efficiency saves money.
Robert McKee (Nantucket, MA.)
We are always reading about the price of a barrel of oil is. We never read about what barrel of sunshine or wind costs.
curiouser and curiouser (wonderland)
solar and wind have some unpleasant downsides

wind turbine blades arent good for low flying birds
and solar farms in desert locales necessitate sanitizing th desert floor beneath them which destroys th habitats for a number of desert creatures
Mathias Weitz (Frankfurt, Germany)
Pit that up against carbon pollution and global warming.
And the occasional oil spill.
Rick in Iowa (Cedar Rapids)
Kevin (North Texas)
They did study of the wind farm that is not to far from where I live. After 2 years the study was suspended because of lack of dead birds. I always thought it was funny that a species that outlived the dinosaurs cannot avoid wind turbine blades. Seems they do.
Larry Lundgren (Sweden)
You, NYT Editors know only two words that you repeat endlessly. Therefore I must repeat my words - endlessly - until you someday utter your first new renewable noun.

On a Swedish island Styrsö these two new to you:

Ground-source geothermal heat pump, the best of all 24/7 heats and cools.

Air-air and air-water heat pumps heat and cool silently.

In ny 2 cities Göteborg and Linköping.

Each city heated by solid-waste incineration with Linköping a hypermodern system also producing bio0gas fron food waate.

So Editors, just try pronouncing those words. Then ask "the other Democratic candidate who can teach you abiut GSG.

Dual cituzen USA SE
Gene (Florida)
And where do you get the electricity to run the heat pumps? That energy is what this article is about. Let me repeat that: And where do you get the electricity to run the heat pumps? That energy is what this article is about.

Now you know why the NYT keeps fermenting itself. They're still trying to get through to you.
Johnson (Chicago)
Storage of energy generated by wind and solar power is not limited by battery technology. The electricity generated can be used to hydrolyze water yielding hydrogen which can be stored and piped like natural gas. It can also be used for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This technology is already in use in Hempstead, Long Island. It is being experimented with on a larger scale in Prenzlau, Germany. As we say out here : Wake up and smell the coffee!
MK Rotermund (Alexandria, VA)
The NYT should include the mandating of higher miles per gallon standards for all vehicles, including planes and ships, in its editorial. As the mess that VW has created demonstrates, inefficiencies are still widely available for remediation. Natural gas is a temporary alternative.
EEE (1104)
Can we overcome the dark side that drives us to crises before we even attempt a rational response?
The call to use more renewables and clean energy and less fossil fuels, to conserve rather than exploit, has been going on since I was in college in the 70s. Would that we had heeded that reasonable message, then.
Now the wolf is at the door and we appear to still have time (though maybe it's too late!). Can we act ? Will we act ?
A good start would be a democratic sweep of both branches of government, and a focus on the common, as opposed to the individual, good..
Robert Eller (.)
If the Koch Brothers were actually capitalists, as opposed to being merely pretentious oligarchs, they'd be taking their fortune and switching their assets from fossil fuels to renewables.

But the Koch Brothers are phony capitalists.
michjas (Phoenix)
There are a lot of misleading statistics here. Between 2014 and 2015, world electricity generating capacity hardly changed. That half the increased capacity consisted of renewables means that half of not much consisted of renewables. That more than half the amounts invested in renewables occurred in emerging markets is explained by the fact that the U.S. and many European countries decreased their investments. India's plans for added renewables are mostly funded by foreigners, few of whom qualify for conventional financing. China is investing significantly, but it is not constrained by costs. Bottom line, renewables remain a minor power source. They are becoming more competitive against fossil fuels, but at a maddeningly gradual rate.
AB2 (Dallas, TX)
Further misunderstanding - 1/2 the "renewables" are biomass (burning wood & dung) and ethanol (ecological and humanitarian mess). The money should be going into R&D, not windmills. Natural gas is the bridge fuel. The US has reduced its carbon emissions more than any other country in the world in the last decade by switching from coal to natural gas.
CBRussell (Shelter Island,NY)
Solar panels...are the best answer to reducing fossil fuel emissions....

I wonder if solar panels used in a sunshine State could transport energy to
States that have less capacity to generate energy from solar...just wondering
if a solar grid could be used...or is this already happening somewhere..
Art (Colorado)
What is a "solar grid?" Sounds like a daydream to me. Energy generated by utility-scale solar plants in the desert Southwest would have to be transported by wire, which would entail building in the grid to these plants. Big energy losses would occur during transmission of electricity over long distances to where it is used.
Mark Thomason (Clawson, Mich)
True, but we need not be narrow about available technologies.

The exhaust from coal burning can be used to make alcohol fuel from its CO2 content, using appropriate catalysts through appropriate baffles. That is one example, but it can be used to make other things through processes of continuous flow. Those things have value, so they are not dead losses, even if they are not cost competitive as stand-alone projects. They could make the coal burning less of a problem, which ought to be calculated as part of the profit from using coal, not just allowed to be a socialized cost.

It need not be just put out into the atmosphere, as a socialized cost.

It used to be said that a farmer used every part of a pig but the squeak. They were not all equally profitable, but they were none of them wasted.

We need that approach too, not just avoidance of coal.

Sure minimize it. I'm NOT calling for mass burning of coal like some King Coal spokesman. I'm just saying there are better and worse ways, and we ought to make better ways part of the mix.

We ought to work hard on developing and improving those better ways, not just write off coal as a hopeless disaster we can only try to end. Reduce it, yes for sure, but do it better where it is done at all.

There is a lot we could do, if we encouraged it, by making it pay. Taxes do that, profits do that too. A mix is possible too.
Richard Luettgen (New Jersey)
The costs of renewable forms of energy fall because we artificially subsidize them in a very big way. Emerging economies see through claims of lower real cost and just don’t buy them. Energy sources there must be self-sustaining, which means they must be sufficiently cheap in real terms that they organically (pun intended) attract immense demand from people as well as commercial interests that must keep real costs down in order to generate profit. You don’t do that effectively if you pay for cheap renewable energy but then are taxed exorbitantly so that government can keep renewables financially viable. India, for instance, the example given, already taxes its domestic corporations with revenues above a certain amount at about 33.5%, and foreign corporations MUCH higher. Those taxes would need to increase in order to subsidize production and distribution of renewables.

So … make your argument about lower costs that aren’t really lower but higher than coal and oil, not to mention less reliable, but you shouldn’t be surprised that there are so few takers in emerging economies. They’re trying to build middle classes for the first time in their histories, and this will remain their high-priority use of resources.

This is why unilateral green efforts by the West continue to have little real effect: until we find a way to pull in the developing world that pollutes to such an extensive degree in ways that recognize REAL economic cost, they’re going to keep burning coal
Pat (Richmond)
Perhaps if we scrap the obscene subsidies to the oil industry the playing field will be a little more equal.
craig geary (redlands fl)
When you count the true costs of burning coal and oil, the damage to our air and water, turning the oceans into an acid bath, the damage to human health, the hundred years of subsidies, solar and wind, which do not pollute, do not destroy/waste huge amounts of water, are much, much cheaper.
Richard Luettgen (New Jersey)
Pat and Craig:

It still comes down to coal at less than half the real cost of wind, and even less for solar or biomass; and that's in countries like ours with infrastructure to produce and distribute the renewables. The cost of coal is ridiculously cheaper in countries without that infrastructure.

My comment has nothing to do with "rightness" or "wrongness", as yours and defenders-at-any-cost tend to be once challenged -- it has to do with practical barriers. I'd love to see the world on renewables if the cost didn't destroy our lowest earners as a form of regressive tax, and if we could get anyone in the developing world to listen seriously. This editorial is merely an ideological argument relying on convenient assumptions that are highly suspect.
Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma (Jaipur, India.)
With technological-financial cost arguments no longer valid when considered against the falling cost of renewable energy and fresh investments in line, the world leaders couldn't any more take refuge behind the political excuses to delay shift to clean energy regime essential to save the planet and quality of life on it.
BT Hathaway (Massachusetts)
But the technological concerns continue. We have mitigated some of the expense but intermittency is still beyond our control. Large scale storage remains a pipe dream in most places. Nor do we have the plans or political will in place which would allow for broad inter-regional high voltage connections, so that electricity could move freely up and down the coasts or from east to west as needed.

We need to build renewables on a massive scale. We need to encourage wider use (through regulational structures such as renewable portfolio standards, and with well planned local expansions of renewable energy systems at businesses and private homes).

But let us not lose track of the fact that every penny of carbon tax will add multiple pennies of cost to designing, manufacturing, transporting, constructing and maintaining these new structures. Substantial energy inputs are needed at every stage of renewables deployment, and in most cases we do not have renewable alternatives that can get the job done.

If we are not careful, then in our zeal to stifle the past (fossil fuel), we will also make renewables less and less affordable at the same time.

More renewables? Yes. As quickly as possible. Carbon taxes? It is probably much too soon. Renewables are not yet cheap enough nor reliable enough for us to switch en mass and still have a smoothly running economy. Patience, persistence and much more research into the next generation of renewable resources are what's called for the most.
Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma (Jaipur, India.)
Your reservations with technological costs involved on a possible early shift to the renewable energy are not to be dismissed lightly, and appear genuine, but it's a plea for acceptance and serious efforts for moving to the clean energy future. Thanks.
Robert Eller (.)
But the "technological" concerns of fossil fuels are destroying a planet habitable by humans.
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