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Technology

2015's Electricity Retirements: 80 Percent Coal Plants (arstechnica.com) 244

AmiMoJo writes: In the US, electricity demand is growing very slowly, which means that capacity additions don't have to exceed retirements by much in order to keep the grid functioning. Tracking the comings and goings from the electric grid can help provide a picture of the country's changing energy mix. The Energy Information Administration, which provides data on the US' electric grid, says 18GW of capacity were retired this past year, more than 80 percent of it coal-fired. More than 27GW of utility-scale projects will replace that this year. Note that much of the new generating hardware is wind and solar, but the plants being replaced often had low capacity factors due to their age and high pollutant output.
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2015's Electricity Retirements: 80 Percent Coal Plants

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  • by colin_faber ( 1083673 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @11:24AM (#51665811)
    Has never been higher. Additionally because my state (Colorado) has decided to replace the coal plants with natural gas, increasing the price to heat my home as well.
    • Natgas is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't technologies, though what you're actually damned by is capitalism. It's better to burn natgas than to simply let it escape from the ground, because CO2 is a less strong GHG than methane, etc. But once you start using it, you fall victim to thinking along the lines of economies of scale, and you start looking for more of it because the more you have, the better the numbers get. And then you get fracking.

      • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @11:29AM (#51665831)

        Natural gas does make a good backup for wind and solar, though, because gas plants can come online quickly when the wind drops.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You elected the environmental wackos and dope smokers that run your state. Now live with it.

      • by CaptainLard ( 1902452 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @12:04PM (#51666075)

        Thats it! The dope smokers are running the state now! Everyone should stop moving here. The sun is too bright with the clear air and they make us walk through all the forests. It sucks. Stay in KS, TX and MO, your midwest havens of freedom.

      • If only that was true. The natives here (including myself) are quite tired of the influx of Californians and New Yorkers fleeing their over taxed shit hole states, moving here, and voting for the same stupid policies which destroyed their states in the first place.
      • I live in North Carolina. If "environmental wackos and dope smokers" caused electric bills to increase, my electric bill would be about five bucks per month. Instead, it continues to rise.

    • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @11:42AM (#51665929) Homepage
      Welcome to the concept of INFLATION. Compare your bill today to that from 1988 to one from today. It should have doubled. If it costs more than twice as much today (2016) than it did in 1988, then prices have gone up, relative to inflation. If it costs less than twice as much today as it did in 1988, then the cost has gone down. See this page infatlation calculator [usinflatio...ulator.com] as my source.
      • Thanks for the economics lesson. My inflation has gone up by 1.87x since the 90s, my electricity cost per kwh has gone up 3.4x

    • Inflation means your bills keep getting higher as a general rule. Typically, your income increases faster; the GDP-per-capita and the median incomes both increase faster than CPI or any other price inflation measure. That's why people spend a smaller percentage of their income on things like food, clothing, and housing today (caveat: they spend 18% more on housing in 2003 than in 1950, but bought a 2,300sqft house instead of a 983sqft house), and more on cell phones, streaming media, and other new consu

      • Inflation doesn't account for the nearly 40% jump in electricity and natgas prices here.
        • Geeze man, I'm buying pure solar power and I don't have that kind of problem; and my bill is still trending toward a smaller percentage of the per-capita GDP and the median income, much less my own income.
        • I'm in Colorado too. I'm heating an apartment and a house in the mountains with natural gas. My bills are not bad at all. Do you have electric heat or something?
    • Natural gas is currently the cheapest way to produce electricity. Your cost of electricity will soon be dropping.

      • I think hydro is still cheaper than gas. http://www.eia.gov/electricity... [eia.gov]
        • by amorsen ( 7485 ) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @12:58PM (#51666491)

          Hydro isn't really interesting from a price comparison point of view. Most of the easy places to make hydro power are already tapped, so marginal cost for making a new hydro plant is very high -- if not directly in construction costs, then in damage to the local environment. The cost of power produced in an existing hydro plant is practically zero, but that is true for wind as well, and almost true for nuclear.

          For new builds, wind and natural gas tend to fight it out for cheapest power, depending on where you build. Solar and coal win certain areas, as long as we ignore pollution for coal. Unless you happen to be in Northern Norway, where they can still expand hydro -- but no one wants the power there and conservation is hindering power line construction.

          Note that dirt cheap natural gas is mostly a North American thing. The rest of the world does not have that.

      • This isn't true, especially in a state which produces coal at next to no cost.
    • by CaptainLard ( 1902452 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @11:55AM (#51666037)

      Get solar! If you own your roof it will lower your bill no matter how you do it (pay cash, lease, solar installer becomes your power company). We get a ton of sun in CO so you're almost certainly a prime candidate for solar. My total energy bill (gas + elec) hasn't gone above $70 in the 2 years I've had solar. Summer months I have negative bills. If you own your house you will absolutely save money on energy and your rates will never increase!

      • Get solar! If you own your roof it will lower your bill no matter how you do it (pay cash, lease, solar installer becomes your power company). We get a ton of sun in CO so you're almost certainly a prime candidate for solar. My total energy bill (gas + elec) hasn't gone above $70 in the 2 years I've had solar. Summer months I have negative bills. If you own your house you will absolutely save money on energy and your rates will never increase!

        That is not enough information. You could be losing money and all those statement still true. I am not claiming you are losing money, but please provide the critical facts..

        What was your bill & total household energy usage before? What are they now? What was the total cost to you, and taxpayers? What size system was installed? What is the guaranteed feed-in rate and term?

        • by CaptainLard ( 1902452 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @01:10PM (#51666581)

          Fair enough. Total install cost for a 7800W array in 2014 was $19k and I got back around $6k total in tax credits. Xcel lets you bank electricity with no expiration so what extra I produce in the summer carries over to Jan and Feb. The first year I lived in the house my total electricity bill was around $1100 so my break even point is around 11 years assuming rates don't go up (which they have already). I'm planning on an electric car in the next few years which cuts down the payback period even more. The panels are guaranteed to retain 80% capacity at 20 years and will likely output substantial power for at least 40. Throw in a few replacement panels and an inverter or two over that time and I'm still looking at 30-40 years of electricity for the cost of about 10 from the grid.

          That said, I just saw that Xcel has proposed a grid use charge for new solar installs that will change the math somewhat. But when it goes into effect in 2 years, prices for solar will likely have fallen enough to still make sense in most cases. Cheap, effective whole house batteries that will get you through a week of rain aren't far behind.

          I should stop there but....the nice thing about the tax benefits I received is that many more people can now benefit from them since they helped drive down the cost of solar by a huge amount in just a few years. One of the reasons so many solar companies went out of business is because if they held any inventory, it was pretty much unsaleable because next month's panels were better and cheaper. I know talking about such things is a can of worms but in my opinion, this is exactly what the gov is supposed to do: solve the chicken and egg problem by incentivize promising new tech resulting in new markets for average consumers. And now I'll hand it over to ./ for all the free market backlash.

          • Look into the PV trackers as well; going off-grid is starting to become viable. By my math it takes batteries around $300/kWh and a "minimum bill structure" that results in over $600 annual charges, although high heating loads can kill it.

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            It sounds like there is no subsidy, just a reduction in the tax payable. In other words it costs the taxpayer nothing, they just collect less tax on something you might not have bought otherwise.

        • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @01:23PM (#51666665)

          My experience with solar in the mountains of California is this:
          - 4kw system
          - generated $1256 worth of electricity last year (76% of my use)
          - ROI of 7.3 % (I borrowed money at 2.2% to pay for the system so this is a good return)
          - I'll be installing another 2kw this year
          - this year it should give me a better ROI since the power company is raising rates by 7%

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Get solar! If you own your roof it will lower your bill no matter how you do it

        > If you own your roof it will lower your bill no matter how you do it

        I'm in favor of solar -- I might be getting some for my property this year -- but despise this kind of willfully ignorant rah-rah-ing. There are plenty of reasons why solar might not lower your bill:

        • Inadequate south-facing roof area
        • Too much surrounding foliage/buildings/topography shading the roof
        • Roof condition requires expensive upgrades before installing
        • Roof condition adequate, but will require replacing too soon into the solar panel
      • I wonder how long rooftop solar will last.
        People like Warren Buffett are trying like hell to kill it.
        The power companies absolutely hate homeowners with rooftop solar and are fighting it tooth and nail.

        That just tells me people with rooftop solar are doing the right thing.
        • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

          I'd love to see solar roofing that actually replaces shingles. Kind of like the new vinyl roofing but with built in solar cells.

        • Depends on how they are trying to kill it. If they forbid solar inverters from touching the grid, well, the inverters get replaced by battery chargers, and one uses a battery bank that is fed by the panels, or if there isn't enough solar to keep them topped off, then mains power.

          Rooftop solar is a "why not", rather than a "why". Yes, it has a high initial cost, but once in place, the cost for upkeep is relatively low, and it benefits everyone involved.

      • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @01:04PM (#51666541) Homepage

        What if:

        You don't own your own roof.
        The roof is inadequate.
        Your location on the globe is inadequate.
        The tax-breaks and subsidies are taken away from you because there is no cheap alternative and everyone jumps onto solar?

        "Rates will never increase" is a dubious assertion too, maybe if you have a direct system but not if you're counting anything like pushing back to the grid (negative bill would suggest that).

        And not everyone has the ability to do one massive outlay now to save energy for the next 10 years (if the gear lasts that long and you get totally free servicing and replacements in the cost of your system throughout that time - what if the company goes bankrupt, maybe because they relied on subsidies or didn't account for product returns, or they just get priced out of the market?).

        It's honestly not as simple as "get solar".

        Hell, in my country, solar is just laughed at. An installation capable of running an ordinary house costs more than a house extension or a brand new car, and only "saves" while it's being subsidised.

        And just the extra legal cost of who technically owns it if you move house has caused people an awful lot of people to have a lot of unexpected bills (you're leasing? Then you sell the house? And the next guy doesn't agree with the transfer of that lease? Now you have an unsaleable house, or have to buy out the lease, or legal costs to argue the toss, and you can't really remove the system in the meantime, and mortgage companies don't want to touch it as you've effectively rented out your roof to the solar company).

        Nothing is that clear-cut when it comes to that amount of money in a system.

        • Agree 100% that it's not for everyone. My post was in response to someone who lives in CO, USA where there are ~300 days of sunshine per year with a sun that's more intense than sea level and most houses are on plains where there is minimal shade. But prices have come down so much that even if solar didn't make sense 2 years ago your area it might be worth another look.

          Yes there are some issues with leasing panels and selling houses. However, the real estate industry has caught up quickly and has developed

      • If you own your roof it will lower your bill no matter how you do it (pay cash, lease, solar installer becomes your power company).

        It may lower your monthly bill but that doesn't mean it's cheaper to you. I've done the math and for what it would cost me to cover my roof in solar panels I would break even in somewhere between 8-12 years. That's presuming that the panels still work at the same efficiency and require zero maintenance and that I'm still living there a decade from now, none of which is certain.

        Don't get me wrong I'm a big fan of solar but the ROI for solar is anything but simple and certainly isn't quick. Its a big up f

      • Out here in Maryland, I'm not convinced that going solar makes a whole lot of financial sense. We're one of the states where it's pushed heavily, but we have quite a few days that are cloudy, rainy, snowy or just partially overcast, where panels just don't generate much power.

        I purchased a 7.84 KWh PV system with a combination of South and East facing panels (all SunPower branded equipment which does cost a premium, but also means I've got panels with a little greater efficiency per square foot and hopeful

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@worl d 3 . net> on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @12:23PM (#51666203) Homepage

      It looks like the price has gone down in real terms, accounting for inflation: http://www.statista.com/statis... [statista.com]

      Colorado is cheaper than average, especially for gas and considering how little renewable energy it has: http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=... [eia.gov]

    • by Yunzil ( 181064 )

      Sorry. Meanwhile my electricity company is going to be giving its customers a small refund because fuel costs weren't as high as they forecast.

    • Of course coal is cheaper. But it pollutes so much that you should be ashamed of using it in the first place.
    • Has never been higher.

      Mine has never been lower. I replaced all my lights with LEDs, added insulation to my attic, and installed timers and motion detectors. I cut my electricity use by a third, and in less than a year saved enough to pay for all the improvements. Last time I was at Lowe's, they had LED light bulbs for under $1. At that price, the pay back is just a couple months.

    • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Wednesday March 09, 2016 @01:17PM (#51666629)

      States with higher percentage of renewables (wind and solar) have lower electric costs. Nevada electric prices have been dropping so much that Warren Buffet's owned Nevada Energy had been sabotaging solar by bribing the governor and the state's PUC. Seven of the largest casinos in Las Vegas are threatening to leave NV Energy and rely on much cheaper solar and wind energy. The PUC wants to charge them $127 million to leave.
      Texas now offers free electricity at nights because they have excess wind power.
      Colorado is good to get rid of coal but stupid to not install wind and solar.

    • by fhage ( 596871 )

      Has never been higher. Additionally because my state (Colorado) has decided to replace the coal plants with natural gas, increasing the price to heat my home as well.

      I don't believe studying a perceived problem and producing voluntary goals for the future has significant effect on the current market.

      Colorado used to enjoy cheap natural gas (and lower power bills) because we produce more NG than we use by a large margin and there was limited ability to transport it out of state.

      Recently, several new interstate pipelines were built to export the gas. Instead of a constant glut, we now get to enjoy a more regional market where a 10% supply "shortage" nets a 300% change

    • by unimacs ( 597299 )
      Electricity costs in Colorado are still quite a bit lower than the national average. To put things in perspective, the average household in Colorado probably pays less for electricity per month than they do for cable/Internet and probably less than 1/2 of what they pay to use their cell phones.

      If electricity prices were at all a burden to most Americans, they'd be doing far more to cut back on its use than they do. That's not to say that there aren't people for whom paying for electricity isn't a real pr
  • The Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign has really helped in getting this going. http://content.sierraclub.org/... [sierraclub.org]
  • Brought to you by the coal industry.
  • With 7+ Billion people and a large chunk of them in China and India in poor areas with little to no electricity, what happens when they start demanding access to the conveniences of the modern word?
    • Interestingly, electrification is now proceeding as an appliances service. Phone, light and radio come with solar and battery. Don't pay your bill? The devices won't work. http://www.economist.com/news/... [economist.com]
    • Hopefully they'll be smart and go for sustainable energy alternatives rather than turning their countryside upside-down in search of fossil fuels.

      The latecomers to the modern energy economy have the advantage of other nation's experiences... Hopefully they also have the wisdom to exploit it.
      =Smidge=

    • With 7+ Billion people and a large chunk of them in China and India in poor areas with little to no electricity, what happens when they start demanding access to the conveniences of the modern word?

      I think a dictionary would be in order.

  • large and powerful companies can buy off some of the people in congress, enough to block any real reform. so the new tactic is to fight them everywhere which companies are not prepared to fight because it means you have to buy off all the little people which would be quite expensive and the little people can't always be bought. i think you will find that after much of the coal industry has fallen, only then will congressional reform be possible.

  • Even if electricity demand were growing very quickly, capacity additions don't have to exceed retirements by much in order to keep the grid functioning.

  • New TED talk
    http://www.ted.com/talks/al_go... [ted.com]

    Starting at 13:40 he shows graphs of the exponential growth of wind, solar, and batteries that are driving the move to renewables.

  • Are you trying to tell me my zero emmissions vehicle... actually produces emmissions?!?

"It says he made us all to be just like him. So if we're dumb, then god is dumb, and maybe even a little ugly on the side." -- Frank Zappa

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