Electricity Generation in the US
Shown below is how we generate our electricity in the United States now and projected for the next year. This is very good news! If you asked any 'expert' ten
years ago if we would see the building of this volume of renewable power by 2017, not one would have predicted this.
New Electrical Generation Coming Online
Looking at the chart below, the story becomes even more exciting. In the past two years more than two-thirds of the new electical generating capacity in the United States came
from renewables. This is an absolutely remarkable change in the energy landscape.
Towards a New Epoch
As a recent New York Times article
"the tangible progress by the world’s number one producer of greenhouse gases (China) and its number three (India) are astonishing". It goes on to say "The shift from fossil fuels has thus been much faster and more pronounced than most experts expected."
It is important to note that China and India, so-called "developing countries," do not typically subsidize the building of renewable energy.
The One Key Difference - $550,000,000 vs $1000
Because of the massive build-out of renewable energy,
the cost of renewable energy is dropping rapidly, but the most important part of this renewable energy scenario is that the driver of the drop in costs is the solar panel.
The solar panel is typically 6 feet by 3 feet. To get the cost of electricity down in the past, we had to build bigger electrical generating plants to achieve "economies of scale." Bigger dams, bigger nuclear plants, etc.
The cheapest utility scale power plant these days is natural gas. Duke Energy's L.V. Sutton natural gas-fired power plant cost about $550 million in 2015. Because the basic unit of a
solar power plant is the solar panel, it is the key component that determines the cost. You could concievably have a electrical power plant with one solar panel and the
necessary storage for under $1000. Of course, a practical size for a microgrid would suggest that the final cost be higher, but the point is that you would be using the same solar panel as a billion-dollar "utility scale" generating plant.
The chart below shows the dramatic drop in the cost of the solar panels. Incredibly, this graph is contiuing with the cost per watt for solar panels in
2017 at about $0.30/watt.
The Industrial Age Leverage Play
As we mentioned in our section on hydrocarbons, the best-case scenario sees us leverage our use of hydrocarbons to build a new sustainable civilization.
It takes a lot of hydrocarbons to build a solar panel. But once it is built, it can be expected to degrade at only about .4% a year. In other words, in 100 years
it would still be ouputing 60% of its original design capacity. This ability for our industrial civilization to massively scale its products is one of the key facets
of the Fringe In strategy.