Renewable energy is big and going to get bigger, but the important questions are why, how fast and in what shape. Energy is a $1 trillion business, so there is some serious opportunity there.
The fuel vs. free debate in terms of cost means that inflation and the upfront cost of renewables vs fossil fuel is one of the largest variables in their deployment. Play around with the scroll bars in this model to understand the sensitivities. Solar is dropping in price fast and CSP is already at a coal competitive level in many areas. The inflection point for unsubsidized solar on commercial roof tops is only a few years out.
Many people think coal is here forever or that it is the ultimate evil etc. People attack wind by mentioning the fact that it doesn't always blow. 8 out of 10 journalists get the whole wind and solar thing wrong, by not adjusting prices for the effective yield of these variable resources. Hint a 1.5mw rated turbine will yield roughly 30% of its nameplate capacity in any given year.
This free spreadsheet model lets people compare the cost of generating a 1MW of power for 20 years continuously from these sources. Apples to Apples. After utilities by energy for long durations not technology per se, so lets compare the cost 1mw/20yrs then discount it back into Kw/hr.
Please kick the tires on this and get back to me on how to improve it.
Here is a high level model that lets you model these things in a like for like way. It isn't perfect. All models are wrong in their own special ways, details, assumptions or structure.
This tool has handy scroll bars to adjust the variables. I haven't included a carbon value in the model yet. In theory it would just be simply added to the coal cost at a $/ton rate with an inflation adjuster. Let me know how we can make this better. I need to add hydro and natural gas.
Another serious variable to include in this model in addition to Carbon or REC's is a cost of transmission. The US like many grids is seriously out of date or geographically challenged relative to renewables. Many renewable resources need expensive HDVC lines to ship power to metropolitan areas. A more detailed comparison tool would address the distributed nature of renewable assets.
Here is the spreadsheet.Download 20MWyearsV1.1.xls