It is good economics to become as green as possible as quickly as possible
Australians can afford to reduce net greenhouse emissions to zero within ten years and in the decades following start to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. For $3,250 investment per year per person for ten years we can generate all our energy needs with renewables and have a power system whose generating costs will be half the cost of the cheapest coal fired power stations.
The total energy consumption of Australians is 90,000 kwhs per person for all purposes. This includes transport, farming, mining, household and industrial energy uses.
The cost of building a new coal fired power station without any pollution controls is about $1,200 per kw of installed capacity. There are about 8,300 hours in a year and so the capital cost of coal power stations to generate the total power used by each Australian is about $13,000. The running costs of a coal fired power station are about 2 cents per kwh so the running costs are about $1,800 per person per year.
The cost of building thermal solar power plants is about $3,000 per kw for continuous power (including storage when the sun does not shine). The cost of geothermal is about $3,000 per kw for continuous power so the capital cost of renewables at present is about $32,500 for enough generating capacity for each Australian and the running costs are about $900 per year.
It will take 21 years to get back the investment in renewables at current prices. Power stations are built to last 50 years or more so ignoring the time value of money it makes economic sense to build renewable power stations today.
We can expect the cost of solar thermal and geothermal to come down with mass deployment and we can expect the running cost of coal fired stations to increase so it makes economic sense to build renewable power sources as quickly as possible. If you have power, water and CO2 you can create liquid and/or gas fuels for transport and we can use oil and coal for more valuable purposes like creating plastics, fertilizers, food, building materials and medicines so we can turn our coal mines into value added factories.
It is very difficult to understand why our society has not been building renewable energy sources to replace our existing power sources for the past ten years. If we each spent $3,250 a year for the next ten years we will have a zero greenhouse footprint. Surely we can afford this amount of money to not only stop global warming but give our children power at half the price and increase the value of natural resources like coal and oil by using them for high value products.
There are two urban myths that are sometimes used against solar thermal that are both incorrect.
- Solar thermal is high technology.
- Solar thermal stops when the sun goes down
The truth is that solar thermal is a simple technology and is made from mirrors heating water in pipes which then drives turbines. The turbines for generating electricity are much the same as in a regular coal fired plant.
The truth is that solar thermal power generators are designed to be 24 hours a day base load power stations. Heat is stored underground in well insulated storage during the day and used at night to power the turbines.
There is NO economic reason or technical reason not to start to move in a massive way to renewables. It appears that we don’t mainly because the owners of existing power and fuel resources think they will lose the value of their investments. However, we can arrange for them to be adequately compensated when they close their power plants providing they use their compensation to buy or build renewable power plants.