Cost of Electricity

Article 7d of the Earth Charter says, “Internalize the full environmental and social costs of goods and services in the selling price, and enable consumers to identify products that meet the highest social and environmental standards.”

How does one calculate the full cost of a good or service?

With respect to electricity that is generated by burning coal, we know that the price we pay for each kilowatt hour (kWh) does not include the full costs of burning the coal. The externalized costs include the climate changing amounts of CO2, and the disease causing particulates that are emitted into the atmosphere.

Wind turbines and solar panels are ways to generate electricity with greatly reduced greenhouse gas and particulate emissions compared with electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. In locations that are particularly well endowed with wind, that is the lowest cost way of generating electricity. In locations that are particularly well endowed with sunlight, solar panels may be the lowest cost method.

The challenge is that the wind and sunlight are variable, and not necessarily abundant at the times when the demand for electricity is highest. So, what is the cost of storing that energy?

Here is a link to a 20 minute video at YouTube about a graphene ultracapacitor.

Ultracapacitors can store 100 kW of electricity in a container the size of a regular car battery, and can be charged and discharged a million times without losing capacity. When combined with lithium-ion batteries in cars or buses, ultracapacitors can charge in a second or few when braking, and discharge in a second or few when accelerating. This allows the lithium-ion batteries to be used mainly to maintain the speed of the vehicles, which may as much as double the lifetime of the batteries. Reportedly, Tesla batteries still have 80% of their capacity after being driven for 500,000 miles. If the complementary use of ultracapacitors doubles that lifetime, the batteries should still have 80% of their capacity after a million miles.

Now, there is news of a method for recycling lithium-ion batteries. If there is a practical way to recycle lithium-ion batteries, then the cost of storing electricity has fallen to near zero.

This means that we can proceed with generating as much of our electricity with wind and solar energy as possible without worrying about the variability of those resources. That means we have a path to a sustainable, clean, abundant, affordable energy future.

John Kintree

July 22, 2018