Two reader comments I'd like to flag in response to my piece highlighting new research by the Brookings Institution's Charles Frank, written up in The Economist, which suggests renewable energy is still way too expensive to take over from coal, oil and gas.
The basic inadequacy of Frank's analysis is that it takes no account of the amount of emission reduction needed from the power sector over time. Sure, it's cheapest in the short term to switch to gas if you want to go from high- to low-carbon power production (and how is that news?), but by 2050 we need to be approaching a zero-carbon power supply (see the IEA's recent Energy Technology Perspectives report) . Either the new gas plant gets CCS (ed. note: carbon capture and storage) or it has to be replaced before the end of its operating life, either of which rather messes with his comparative costs. (Interestingly he dismisses the prospect of widespread storage by saying the technologiy isn't competitive without subsidies yet - well yes, but it seems odd to suppose it will stay that way for the next forty years.)
Chris Williams wrote:
I am surprised The Interpreter is seduced by The Economist's rubbery economics. In comparative economics of energy, TE's analysis sureptitiously excludes a range of coal power externalities that current debates have exposed as being the 'true' costs of coal power, and which ought to be allocated in any cost-benefit analysis. While economists are about it, they could also declare all the subsidies that coal mining, transportation and generation have been allocated over the years to develop the industry's critical mass. Sure, they are sunk costs now. On a level playing field, however, the renewable energies are not being permitted similar startup costs to reach critical mass, whether these be by government subsidy or by a customer levy which reduces over time.