Investment in Renewables Generates Illuminating Dividends: John McIlveen

The Energy Report: John, how has the renewable space changed in the last five years?

John McIlveen: Cost. The cost of standardized technologies for wind and solar have fallen by at least a half in five years, to just below $2 million per rated megawatt ($2M/rated MW), versus the same cost for a coal plant. That coal plant may deliver two to three times the power at that all-in cost, but the costs are about the same because wind and solar do not have fuel and heavy maintenance costs. Fossil fuel plants deliver much more power, but because they pay for their fuel, the overall cost is about the same as for renewables.

TER: Bloomberg Business recently wrote that fossil fuels have lost the race with renewables, and Vox responded with some cogent counterarguments. Which is correct?

JM: I think Vox. Bloomberg measured the growth of the power grid only. If you include all sources, especially transportation, fossil fuel is still the leader. Vox is also right in that fossil fuels deliver two to three times the power per rated megawatt as renewables such as wind and solar. However, I believe renewable growth will surpass fossil fuel growth within 20 years.

TER: Besides wind and solar, do any other renewable technologies approach competitiveness?

JM: Geothermal and also small hydro. Small hydro is totally dependent upon its distance from the road. It can cost $2M/MW if it’s right beside a road, but if you have to go deep into the woods and create a base camp, roads and a lot of infrastructure, then the cost could rise as high as $4M/MW.

“I believe renewable growth will surpass fossil fuel growth within 20 years.”

Geothermal can be competitive too—if all goes right, and that’s difficult for geothermal. After all, there’s drilling …read more

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