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The Future of Electric Energy

The electrical grid is notoriously slow to change. Since the days when Thomas Edison debated the merits of A/C versus D/C power transmission, the biggest debates in electrical generation have been about whether to use natural gas or coal for power. But that's all changing as the cost of traditional energy sources rises, and that of alternative energy falls, and it becomes viable to generate power on-site.

The big question is: What does the future of electric energy look like?

Coal takes a tumble
It's no secret that the coal industry has struggled since President Obama took office: 15,000 MW of coal supply has been taken off the market due to uncompetitive costs and the sheer age of the plants. Some of the industry's struggles have been due to increased regulations put in place under the Obama administration, but another big driver is the low cost of natural gas, which has become the country's most used fuel for generating electricity.  

Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price Chart

Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price data by YCharts

The coal industry has long provided most of the country's power, but that dominance is now in question. Natural gas passed coal as the No. 1 generator for a short time last year, and will likely do so in the future as coal supply leaves the market. Natural gas is now in favor due to lower costs and lower emissions, something that will keep it growing until another energy source with even lower costs and fewer emissions emerges.

Renaissance in nuclear falls flat
This was supposed to be a time for a nuclear renaissance in the U.S. The economic stimulus plan passed during the recession included money to guarantee nuclear plants, and a number of companies made big plans to build new capacity. But the excitement has cooled considerably and, one by one, companies have abandoned nuclear plants altogether.

NRG Energy  (NYSE: NRG  ) was one of the first to give up on its grand nuclear plans in 2011, while Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK  ) recently announced it would retire its Crystal River nuclear plant and stop pursuing the $25 billion Levy County nuclear project as well. Southern Company's (NYSE: SO  ) Plant Vogtle in Georgia is also coming under fire for being uncompetitive compared to natural gas generating, and even renewable energy, sources.

New nuclear plants have been cancelled domestically; internationally, the trends don't look good either. Germany has said it will close all of its nuclear plants, and since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, that country is looking at solar as an alternative source of energy.

There's still hope for nuclear growth in China but the momentum that nuclear backers thought they had gained in developed countries is evaporating. High costs for nuclear power and new low-cost alternatives will keep the industry down for the foreseeable future.

Solar emerges as a viable energy source
A decade ago solar energy was a pipe dream that only made sense in countries like Germany where the energy source was highly subsidized. Today, the solar is cost competitive with the grid in many parts of the world without subsidy, its costs continue to fall, and installations in markets like the U.S. are exploding.

On the cost side, the average cost to install a solar system in the U.S. has fallen 37% from Q1 2011 to Q1 2013 to $3.37 per watt. That has helped drive 670% growth in installations over the past two years, hitting 1.8 GW last year, a figure that will likely more than double this year. What we'll see in the future of electricity is that more and more of these installations will end up on the rooftops of homes and commercial buildings around the country, pushing power generation from power plants closer to the source of demand.

One company leading the charge is SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY  ) , who has made a goal of 1 million rooftop solar installations in the next five years. By offering a zero-dollar-down product that saves consumers money, the value proposition is an easy sell and SolarCity, along with others, is taking advantage.

Electric cars, batteries, and the future of the grid
The next giant leap forward for electric energy regards batteries and electric vehicles, which need similar advancements in technology. So far, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) has been the only company proven worthy of building electric vehicles that people will buy -- and a big reason for that is its battery. The next leap forward for EVs, which will bring more manufacturers into the fold, will come when battery technology allows storage of 300-plus miles of power in a smaller, more economical package. Tesla is working with Panasonic on this next-generation battery; lab results suggest that it may be about four years away.  

The role that EVs would play in the grid can be viewed as a storage system for solar power. Plans for a smart grid include using either a separate battery or the EV itself as a storage system to smooth the ebb and flow of solar power and store it for night use. This is still years away, but that's the vision of the electricity grid that Tesla, SolarCity, and many others are working toward.

The future of electric energy
The power sources of the future likely look nothing like the power sources of the past. Coal and nuclear power are being replaced by natural gas and solar, and as the cost of renewable energy falls it will play an ever larger role in the grid. As solar grows we'll also see power generation move to a more distributed model instead of the current one in which large power plants provide all of the power. Changes are in store for the industry and all companies will have to adapt.

To help prepare your portfolio for these energy changes our analysts have found three companies who will profit from the emergence of natural gas as the new electrical power leader. Find out who they are in our special free report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free. 

Read/Post Comments (36) | Recommend This Article (24)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 9:38 AM, Acorn17 wrote:

    Hi Travis,

    I've really enjoyed reading up on your research in the field of solar energy -- particularly on the manufacturing (First Solar, Sunpower etc.) and also in the Distribution / Leasing areas (Sunpower / Solar City). I'm looking a lot at Sun Power and Solar City as investments and wanted to ask a couple of questions that I haven't been able to answer.

    First, it seems that Sun Power makes the best currently available cells from both an efficiency and durability standpoint. They like Solar City are involved in leasing though Solar City has more than 2x the customer base -- both very small now though. It looks like a viable model with tons of growth ahead for both so here are my questions:

    What kinds of cells are Solar City installing -- those of First Solar and the various thin-filmed Chinese made panels that aren't as efficient and lose efficiency sooner, but happen to be cheaper up front, or are they also using Sun Powers? I ask this because Solar City is at a sky high valuation and SunPower is less so in my opinion, and I'm trying to imagine the playing field in the future. If they are selling Sun Power's cells then their costs should be higher in this. If they are not, I would expect their future warranty issues to be higher by order of magnitude compared to Sun Power's installed base.

    Second, What are the life spans of the less efficient cells? When I look at Sun Power's website, they indicate a pretty steady dropoff in the efficiency of their competitors solar cells 7+ years out and other product shortcomings. Their products look much sturdier. If this isn't as serious as that and the cheaper cells are adequate, then maybe it's not as big a deal.

    3rd question: With the leasing model, what happens when you move? Does the new owner of the house HAVE to pick up the lease or not? If they don't are you stuck with it? Hardly anyone lives in a home for 20 years and given that most of Solar City's installs are on already built homes, how do they handle owners moving around and what does that do to their lease business on which their whole model stands or falls. (Sunpower seems to install a lot on new homes and sell the systems outright as well as do the lease model).

    It seems to me that for this industry to boom and to find a winner amidst all the choices (to make for a good investment), we need to see a company not having their margins destroyed in a price war (manufacturing low end seems like a losing bet), some way to gain recurring revenues over the long haul, a product that can truly hold up over 20+ years, a product that can reliably replace grid power and even sell it back (I'm scared for investments I have in power companies because I see this as a MAJOR threat), and a leasing model that can pretty much guarantee recouping the initial costs to install everything.

    Sorry to go so long on this one, but would love it if you can get back to me on it.



  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 11:11 AM, DDOUGER wrote:




  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 5:59 PM, TMFFlushDraw wrote:


    1 - You're right about the quality and efficiency of SPWR's panels. Third party testing below and many other third party tests prove this.

    SolarCity does not buy SunPower panels and neither do Sunrun or Clean Power Finance. In fact, they have quite the contentious relationship based on my conversation with industry executives. They wonder how the company is in business selling "high cost" modules (<$1 per watt now, BTW).

    SolarCity has in the past had deals with Yingli and Trina Solar. I've also heard that Kyocera and Sharp have very good low-cost products that some of these manufacturers are using.

    I wouldn't be worried about the warranty, but SolarCity will be affected by higher degradation over time. You can even see this by the calculated residual values published by SPWR and SCTY. SPWR is calculating higher value long-term because of their panels will lose less power over time. That's the theory anyway, time will tell if that happens.

    2 - Panels have in place for 30+ years. It isn't as if any of these panels will stop working after 20 years (the typical lease) but the degradation may be high. That's SPWR's selling point but it's debated in the industry.

    3 - I don't believe this has been an issue but I don't think the new owner HAS to take the solar system. I can ask when I talk to an exec next week. This is a risk factor to consider though.

    Final thoughts - Part of my bullishness on SPWR is related to the technology lead that never seems to diminish. They also have their foot in different parts of the market so if leasing, utility, or sales become the preference they can win. That's the investing thesis I'm using, others will argue it, time will tell what's right. I do think that solar will win huge long-term.

    Travis Hoium

  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 8:14 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    Hey Travis,

    I have no doubt about your sincerity in your beliefs. However, to quote solar power in $/w instead of amortized $/kWh makes no sense to me. Imagine the maximum intensity in w with the noonday sun. Then imagine a function of the of w per unit area over the course of the day (and year, of course). Then take into account the efficiency of the panel. Then take into account that the efficiency of the panels degrade over time. Oh, I forgot one, the angle of incidence of the panel to the sun also complicates things.

    When the market is ready for solar, it will go to solar, without artificial govt. incentives that pull resources out of the private economy.

    Why is it a surprise that coal is down? With this administration's attitude toward coal, and the newly formed abundance of nat. gas being cheaper on a MMBtu basis?

    DDouger, I agree with you that wind can work in some areas.

    Anyway, my best wishes to you all.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 11:21 AM, TMFFlushDraw wrote:


    I understand that $/W isn't a perfect metric but it's a good proxy for comparing panel costs and many companies will publish $/W. Like you said, $/kWhr will change depending on location, installation type, or any other number of factors so it's difficult to compare two companies based on that number. I did a look at how $/W and efficiency interact below.

    If you look at the $/kWhr of solar today (without subsidy) and the trajectory of costs solar very competitive with the grid in many locations today and will be in more locations in the future. Sure, subsidies help but if you look at the boom in U.S. installations over the past year it's because costs are down, not increased subsidies.

    Travis Hoium

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:20 PM, fredricksonb wrote:


    You have neglected to include Fuel Cell ( low temperature SOFC) as primary source for energy. Companies like ClearEdge Power, FuelCell Energy, Hydrogenics and Redox Power will provide the clean/green electricity for the future.

    Thanks, Bruce

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:26 PM, damilkman wrote:

    I am not against solar and have always checked every few years how viable it would be for my house. I took a look at the Solar City web site and only 15 states are listed. Earlier when I investigating residential fuel cell I learned that only the west coast was supported with possible support in the north east. When I was reading a debate on Telsa, the recharging stations were only in a few areas.

    For these companies and their technologies to really be useful, it has to be available to all consumers. It is one thing to cherry pick in states that have made power generation artificially high and then make money on a subsidy. However, at some point the industry has to stand on it's own.

    In a standard year my electrical costs including taxes do not exceed 2000 dollars. That probably explains why Solar City is not in my state. Unless the cost of electricity goes way up or the cost of solar goes way down, it is just not going to be profitable to go solar in some states. For Solar City to make money they have to sell me a package where my costs are under 165 dollars a month for the next decade or more.

    My personal take is these fields are changing so fast that investing in or using as a consumer where the time commitment is greater then a decade is risky. What happens to Solar City if they purchase a bunch of expensive solar panels and lease them only to learn 15 minutes later a major breakthrough was discovered? Someone has to eat the cost.

    On the individual front my budget is not being broken by 125-140 dollar electrical bills. Individually I feel I can afford to wait to see as a consumer what tech really will be the winner. As an investor I also want to see clarification before I put my money down. I recall the big internet bubble and all of the new age router companies that attempted to bill the ultimate router. Except the technology changed and they were left on the wayside.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:28 PM, kickbishopbrenna wrote:

    Ceramic Fuel cells run from nat gas and bio gas anyone? one to watch and quite possibly the INFN of energy generation. have a look at the "Bluegen" units being installed in Australia, Uk, germany..very by-products except hot water..and electricity.

    As for Doug's comments on environmental legislation..I for one prefer clean air, clean water, good health..and the caps lock off.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:33 PM, sharpx2 wrote:

    I am ecstatic that coal is being phased out as quickly as possible. The best place for that filthy fuel is in the ground, and not in our lungs and bodies. China, in all its coal-powered glory, is now having to budget hundreds of billions of dollars to begin the task of reducing their air pollution, which is not only ruining their tourism, but is also destroying the health of the populace.

    @DDouger, I am sorry that this is not the 1950's and that someday you might have to replace your internal combustion engined car with something that can coexist with living beings rather than slowly destroying them. Times change, and this is a change for the better.

    There is no simple answer for replacing current (dirty, CO2 belching) generation systems with clean and sustainable ones. The infrastructure is immense, so progress will be gradual because of this. Nonetheless, progress is needed before we flame out the planet, or make the air completely unbreathable.

    Also, it really helps to turn off your caps lock key if you want your comments to be fully appreciated.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 12:58 PM, xetn wrote:

    Solar will never be a viable energy source by itself. Nobody ever mentions the manufacturing process of producing solar cells (it is extremely toxic). I know this for a fact because one of the companies I worked for manufactured the equipment used in producing them.

    How cost effective would solar be without subsidies?

    Shall we keep stealing money from taxpayers to pay for a non-viable energy?

    And as for battery powered cars and carbon:

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:02 PM, TomIncorporated wrote:

    @DDOUGER: I'm sorry but it doesn't matter how plentiful coal is, it's a fossil fuel that has really damaged our planet and the burning of coal and other dirty fuels has to stop. The Obama administration is right to support the use of cleaner energies, and this policy is being adopted around much of the world slowly but surely. They are certainly not "idiots". Regarding electric cars, you clearly haven't done your research, they go a lot further than 50 miles. More like 250. The ideal set up would be to have enough solar panels on your roof to power your home and charge your car. You could avoid drawing off the grid entirely if you also had some battery storage that is being developed. Doesn't that sound positive to you and a real step forward, or would you rather just burn your coal?

    @damilkman: Go to the supercharger page on the Tesla website, scroll down and look at the map. Drag the slider across to see their rollout of charging stations – they have huge plans. But their supercharger stations are aimed at people on long journeys. You would most likely have your own charger at home and would charge your car overnight leading to a full charge and circa 250 miles or more of range the next day.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:08 PM, TomIncorporated wrote:

    @xetn: You want to talk about taxpayers money? The gas you buy at the pump is subsidized too and has been for a long time. You should be pretty angry about that. I know I am.

    The link you provided is a propaganda statement. Please do your research and find different sources.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:48 PM, fredricksonb wrote:


    Here is a paper on SOFC that gives some credence to its use.

    Thanks, Bruce

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 2:24 PM, xetn wrote:


    Just because you disagree with the information in the link does not make it a propaganda statement. I have done my research.

    FWIW: I am against all forms of subsidies. But the issue under discussion was solar. So why put up a straw man; it was not relevant.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 4:16 PM, oberta wrote:

    Very interesting report. The sources of energy are also depending on location and country. So in Portugal (data 2010) for example we have barrages, coal, nat gas,windenergy, and cogeneration.

    Cogeneration or CCGT is a combined cycle gas turbine(a gasturbine generates electricity and the waste heat is used to make steam to generate additional electricity via a steamturbine).

    In recent years solar energy belongs also to said list ofenergy sources in Portugal.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 4:22 PM, brittlerock wrote:

    The issue with delivered, stationary energy is not (or at least should not) be the fuel used in the generation. The problem we have is in our ancient electrical grid.

    I've read that about 2/3 of generated capacity is dissipated in the grid, predominantly the low voltage local grid. There is no viable storage capacity and there is only poor approximation of demand versus supply. Backyard windmills and rooftop panels do nothing to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. You are told that you can watch your meter run in reverse so your excess capacity is going back into the grid. True, but to what end? In that your local utility can not rely on your home generation capacity it does not reduce power-plant emissions in the least.

    You, personally might save a couple of bucks (debatable if you look at the lifetime costs of owning and finally disposing of your windmill, panels, what-have-you). Few people even think about the pollution generated by "green" solutions.

    Even the large wind farms are responsible for generating a lot of pollution. Each turbine is anchored with over 1,000 tons of concrete and rebar. There is approximately 180 kg CO2 generated from the manufacture of each ton of concrete (this does not include the pollution generated from delivery to site of use).

    In addition, there are significant agricultural threats that come from the erection of wind turbines. They are responsible for the death of a large number (I don't know if there are scientific estimates) of bats, which in turn feed on crop destroying insects.

    For the most part, wind farms are primarily a tax dodge because ownership provide double declining balance depreciation. Once fully depreciated, they are re-sold and the new owner gets to take advantage of the same dodge anew. Sort of a not too well hidden subsidy.

    In my opinion, if we really want to focus on the "future of electrical energy" we need to shift the conversation from fuel to storage, smart grid and conservation. We need to figure out how to use less electrical energy far more efficiently.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 5:32 PM, velo15 wrote:

    Um, your cherry picked facts of nuclear skew the truth. Japan's govt is run by verrrry pro nuclear leaders. You fail to mention the plants being built in both China and India. You also fail to state that nuclear plants are zero emissions. nuclear would be the fastest most reliable way to reduce emissions on a global scale and Bill Gates agrees with that.

    I'm all for alt energy, but why do the proponents fail to disclose the environmentally unfriendly reality of solar panel and fuel cell manufacturing....I guess we don't get full disclosure on that.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 5:57 PM, MidasInvestor wrote:

    The idea that nuclear power generation is being phased out is complete nonsense, the plants that are being closed are because they were built in the 50's and 60's and have lasted longer than they were designed to.

    One of the company's cited in the article, Southern Company, is currently building 2 new nuclear power plants and China currently has 28 nuclear power plants under construction. Japan may be backing away from nuclear energy now because of the Fukushima disaster, but eventually they will more than likely add to their capacity because there really are no other viable options.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 6:01 PM, gkirkmf wrote:

    Some simple facts:

    I installed a 14.3KW Fixed Array Feb 27 of this year.

    Total cost 47K.

    Original Calculated payback. 12 years.

    Market for SREC's has tubed in Ohio due to introduction of a Bill in the legislature to get rid of them. (look up SREC in Google).

    Current calculated payback 15.8 years.

    Conclusion: Unless you are really concerned with Global Warming, then this is not a good investment. Kind of like holding a bond to maturity... you won't loose money but you might have been better off investing your money else where.

    My geothermal heat pump / air conditioner is on track to pay off in 8 years.

    Both of these pay outs are exclusive of any government subsidies . Payouts are better if the feds don't welsh on them... not counting on that.

    By the way, both my solar panels and my inverters are German made... SMA is the only company I trust to be here 24 years from now.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 6:01 PM, TomIncorporated wrote:

    @xetn: The wording in the headline alone – "Two More Nails in the Coffin of Environmentalism" – is very unfortunate and points towards a policy of publishing anti climate-change propaganda. Not to mention that the quote in the article comes from a former GM engineer. He's certainly not going to offer an un-biased perspective! Then there's Lew Rockwell's 'The Enviro-Skeptic's Manifesto'. I'm not going to even go near that. Very offensive. You don't have to be a tree-hugger to think in a rational, sustainable way about the environment.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 7:16 PM, brittlerock wrote:

    @DDOUGER, I don't know how old you are, but you seem to be hostile toward environmental regulation. It may surprise you to know that the EPA was formed under the Nixon administration (with Nixon's urging and support). Nixon was hardly a liberal.

    This was after the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 (this was not the first time the river caught fire). This particular fire nearly set the entire city of Cleveland alight so there was a lot of political motivation from both parties to do something to stem the rampant destruction of the environment by industry.

    Even most business people supported the legislation, it was something that required government intervention because no single company could take independent action and operate at a competitive disadvantage. It took government regulation to level the playing field across all business concerns.

    Government has a vital role to play when it comes to protecting the health and welfare of the citizenry.

    There is a brand of political thought these days that promulgates the notion that all regulation is bad, all government is bad, all tax is bad. If you really want to know what it's like to live that way try moving to Somalia.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 7:25 PM, cmalek wrote:

    "This was supposed to be a time for a nuclear renaissance in the U.S."

    Yes, it was supposed to be but with all the anit-nuclear FUD being spread by the anti-nuke crowd and politicians falling over themselves to get the anti-nuke vote by trying to close as many nuclear plants as possible, as fast as possible, it is no wonder that nuclear is in a nosedive. The FUD has gotten so bad that some of the anti-nuke activists are insisting that nuclear plants in the interior of United States must be tsunami-proof.

    Before alternative energy generation can become economically viable and replace fossil fuel, it has to become at least a couple orders of magnitude more efficient.

    I live about 10 miles from a 2500 megawatt nuclear generating plant. (No, I and my family do not glow at night.) The Governor and State AG are resorting to all kinds of legal and political tricks to close this plant down. According to their own reports it will take AT LEAST 500 wind turbines or hundreds of acres of solar panels to replace the generating capacity of the nuke plant. In New York City and Its suburbs there is just no room for 500 80 meter turbines, or for hundreds of acres of solar panels. Also, in the past few years it has been discovered that wind turbines pose a great danger to birds. Birds tend not to see the turbines and fly right through the blades.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 10:04 PM, TomIncorporated wrote:

    @brittlerock: Well said. Wise words all round.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 10:34 PM, portefeuille wrote:

    Germany has said it will close all of its nuclear plants, and since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, that country is looking at solar as an alternative source of energy.


    Nor really, see and

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 11:38 PM, thorw wrote:

    Current nuclear technologies are choices made during the cold war to help a nuclear bomb build-up. There were, and are better nuclear choices, such as using one of the salts Unlike the current nuclear reactors, a disaster in cooling doesn't lead to a meltdown, but a shutdown. It's unfortunate that government and wartime missives have pushed us down the wrong nuclear energy paths.

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 3:54 AM, ostreger wrote:


    I have an unusual interest in solar cells, and need information on the state of thin-film technology, on manufacture, cost in very large volume, durability and mechanisms of deterioration. Of course I do my own searches, but these won't be perfect so I would welcome your suggestions.

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 12:33 PM, skigolfkayak wrote:

    Amazing! Coal and water are our cheapest sources of power. Coal, if scrbubbers are utilized as most plants do in Canada, has almost 0 emissions. Gas has 40% of the unscrubed coal plants; therefore gas is an incredible polutant relative to scrubed coal process and hydro generation. Nuclear is emissions free and costs significantly less than wind and solar. Wind and solar are not dependable and are weather condition dependent to generate power.

    2 potential catastrophic events may occur because of politicians, lack of scientific knowledge, and lack of planning.

    1. we will live in a period of blackouts due to weather depenent systems and systems not able to respond to spot demand. e.g. the Toronto floods caused a blackout but Bruce Power was able to immediately generate extra power into the grid. only Bruce Nuclear station was cabable of doing this. to build a new nuclear plant is a minimum of 10 years, way beyond the political and causal oversimplification press to comprehend let alone plan for an intermitent power outage that will occurr regularly.

    2 Business will leave the areas wherin power costs too much -- evidence of same--Ontario is chasing industry to Manitoba, United States and Mexico due to expensive power. the average power bill in Ontarion for house holders is 175 dollars and will double in 10 years. 2 major b\projects are under hold: the ring of fire mines in Ontario's north which would take the north out of poverty is under hold because power is too expensive; the new 2 billion dollar petro chemical plant is rumoured to be going to Texas rather than Ontario due to energy costs.

    Why is Ontraio dying--higest solar and wind generation in North America, succeded in killing coal plants (interestingly nuclear replaced Ontario coal generation) and the province continues to shoot itself in foot by adding more coal and wind pushing up costs,) welcome to the new econly; liliputhian thinking killing the country!

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 1:34 PM, erblaser wrote:

    I find it disturbing that the article, and so many of the comments, focus solely on the cost and convenience of power generation. Somehow, the risk to our civilization due to carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 ppm for the first time in history is being ignored, and very few people are even talking about the impact of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas, that is being released into the atmosphere in huge quantities due to fracking and rising temperatures.

    The computer models predicting rising temperatures based on the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases may not be exact, but they all point to the same disastrous end result of rising sea levels, more powerful storms, and greater extremes in temperature around the world. Do you want to bet the life of your children and grandchildren on what the world will be like when we hit 1000 ppm carbon dioxide?

    No solution is perfect, and the magnitude of the problem, i.e., ultimately replacing all fossil fuel energy production, is enormous, both from a practical and business perspective.

    One approach would be to factor in the cost of the disasters that result from global warming into the price charged for all fossil fuels, prorating the cost based on how much carbon dioxide they produce. That would at least pressure the industry to focus on producing the fossil fuels which result in the release of the least amount of carbon dioxide per BTU. Unfortunately, even if such legislation could be passed, and adopted worldwide, the timeframe for such an approach to become effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions is likely to be generational, too long to solve the problem.

    Many transitional steps have been proposed in the comments above and in other forums. Solar (both local and in farms), wind, small nuclear plants, improved electrical grids to move electricity more easily over larger distances, nation-wide charging stations, bio-generation, gas-fired back-up generation, etc. All of these options have their own specific environmental concerns, increased cost of power generation, distribution, disruption of current business models, etc. But if we don't increase the pace of our transition away from fossil fuels, we are looking at a bleak Bladerunner-type future.

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 3:31 PM, cmalek wrote:


    "I find it disturbing that the article, and so many of the comments, focus solely on the cost and convenience of power generation."

    It is easy to be green when one has the green to pay for it. One of the posters stated that it cost him $47,000 to install a solar system at his house. I, and many other people, do not have $47k to spend. Or should I say I can find more useful ways of spending that money, like on living expenses for my family.

    "very few people are even talking about the impact of methane"

    I hope you are not one of those that likes beef because the world's bovines release much more methane than the fracking operations.

    "The computer models predicting rising temperatures based on the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases may not be exact"

    Ever hear the expression "Garbage in, Garbage out"? Computers only compute the data that is fed into them. If the data is tendentious, the output (predictions) are tendentious.

    "carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 ppm for the first time in history"

    Is that human history or Earth history? There is a difference of a few billion years between the two. If you mean the former, than that is a very short time period. If you mean the latter, than you are wrong.

    BTW - 10,000-15,000 years ago there was a 1,000 mile wide land bridge between Asia and Alaska; Great Britain was part of mainland Europe; Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea formed one land mass; sea levels were 300-400 feet lower than they are now. By 6,000 years ago those land bridges were gone. Are we to understand that the rise in the sea levels at that time was caused by human activity?! If not, then how do we know that the current rise is being caused by human activity rather than cyclical warming which has been going on for millions of years?

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 5:49 PM, PALH wrote:

    It's remarkable that in an article about energy resources you can avoid entirely the use of the word ``pollution.'' Yet the word ``regulations'' is front and center.

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2013, at 5:50 PM, PALH wrote:

    And, of course, climate-change deniers and Obama haters are out in force.

  • Report this Comment On August 19, 2013, at 2:14 AM, lowmaple wrote:

    cmalek: That's a good joke. Earth's history. We shouldn't give a cat's or rat's posterior What it was 20 million or even five hundred years ago since we're not there. And just because of some possible warming trend doesn't mean we have to help it.

  • Report this Comment On August 19, 2013, at 10:16 AM, mikecart1 wrote:

    Not sure where the nuclear information was taken from but my previous job was in nuclear engineering and the plants you talk about closing or being canceled here and overseas is incorrect.

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 10:02 AM, watson14 wrote:

    I thought Fukishima and the continuing radiation leakage into the ocean was the cause of nuclear energy demise and Cherynobl and 3 Mile Island and Braidwood, etc, etc, etc.

    And all this time it was really President Obama....

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2013, at 12:27 PM, watson14 wrote:

    TMF link today to a new tank leak discovered at Fukushima - highly radioactive water leaking into the ground. Apparently Tepco just found it.

  • Report this Comment On August 23, 2013, at 10:20 PM, enginear wrote:

    With the subsidies that do exist on everything (solar, wind, gasoline, etc.) its hard to really get at true costs.

    One thing is certain. The energy use of modern man is not a 'green' activity. I'm sorry, Ddouger and all in your camp (by the way, I am not a tree hugger, I am a retired engineer that was involved in the burning of fossil fuels since the '70's), but energy use IS going to pollute... even solar, as someone pointed out with the manufacturing process). The question to ask is what is the best method, and what is the most cost effective way to a sustainable way forward, whether it be coal solar or nuclear (I lean toward nuclear - a no CO2 option that could be done safer, realizing nothing is perfect).

    Many of the above 'arguments' are based on preconceived notions and/or emotional bias, not facts and numerical analysis. That won't do.

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