Carbon-tax zealots concede: renewable energy may never compete

Depend upon it: news stories, industry studies, and especially lobbyists’ materials all frame the success and future importance of solar in terms of government programs. Not consumer demand and certainly not lower rates. The same can be said for the other big nondispatchable energy source, wind. — Rights & Regulation Update, 2/19/16

MIT research is realizing that technological change — long (as in, for decades) thought to be the force that would some day very soon make renewable energy sources competitive with traditional energy sources — is also making traditional sources even more competitive.

The solution? No, not giving up on the pipe dream and stop trying to cram inefficient, nondispatchable, more expensive energy down people’s throats. Never that.

The solution is to tax, tax, tax traditional energy sources. If renewable energy can’t become price-competitive on its own with traditional sources, then let’s have government carbon-tax traditional sources till they’re so expensive they become equal to renewable energy costs.

Kid. You. Not. The phrase is a “policy lever of a carbon tax to make up for the disparity in energy costs.”

As the headline itself helpfully explains: “Will we ever stop using fossil fuels? Not without a carbon tax, suggests a study by an MIT economist.”

The report linked above is worth the read, despite the asinine advocacy of a carbon tax as a last-ditch effort to force price equality (hey, who cares about poor ratepayers, anyway?), in understanding the impossibility of renewable energy sources trying to outcompete traditional sources.

Battery storage — Nope, still completely unworkable

I’d like to highlight this particular result, given that I recently discussed the insurmountable obstacles to battery storage. Rep. John Szoka may tell the itching ears of the Fayetteville Observer “that battery technology is quickly advancing to store solar-generated electricity for use on demand,” but it just isn’t so:

Oil and other dispatchable technologies are their own “batteries,” if you will. Storing them in reserve stores their potential energy. It is and will for the foreseeable future be much, much, much, much cheaper to store an energy source than it is or will be to store generated electricity.

Remember about the coming, $5 billion gigafactory that would outproduce the world’s existing supply of batteries. Now imagine 99 more of them. Now take this hundredfold expanse of the world’s known battery production and calculate it out for 40 years. Presto! You have finally reached the amount of energy in the oil stored right now just in Cushing, Oklahoma.

MIT wrings its hands:

The development of better battery technology, for storing electricity, is vital for increased use of renewables in both electricity and transportation, where electric vehicles can be plugged into the grid for charging. But the example of electric vehicles also shows how far battery technology must progress to make a large environmental impact. Currently only 12 percent of fossil fuel-based power plants are sufficiently green that electric vehicles powered by them are responsible for fewer emissions than a Toyota Prius.

Alternately, look at it this way: Currently battery costs for an electric vehicle are about $325 per kilowatt-hour (KwH). At that cost, Knittel, Greenstone, and Covert calculate, the price of oil would need to exceed $350 per barrel to make an electric vehicle cheaper to operate. But in 2015, the average price of oil was about $49 per barrel.

“It’s certainly the case that solar and wind prices have fallen dramatically and battery costs have fallen,” Knittel says. “But the price of gas is a third almost of what it used to be. It’s tough to compete against $1.50 gasoline. On the electricity side … the cheap natural gas still swamps, in a negative way, the cost of solar and even wind.”

That phrase, though: “in a negative way.” It’s as if he’s too lazy to just go out and kick poor ratepayers. So let’s have government harm them instead.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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