‘Free Solar Energy’ – for only $2+ per kWh
Written by Dr Klaus L E Kaiser
Sunshine is free but solar power is not. In fact, it’s anything else but free or cheap.
The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project
As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project (CDEP), also known as the Tonopah Solar Energy Project, has stopped operating and has been “mothballed.” The solar collectors, shown nearby, cover 300 acres.
The CDEP construction cost had largely been funded by a $735,000,000 U.S. Dept. of Energy loan guarantee in 2011. According to Wikipedia, the full construction cost was close to $1 billion. It began operating in September of 2015.
Over the following years, until May 2019, it had produced a sum total of 420 million kilo-Watt-hour (kWh) of electricity. That was less than half of what the design claimed as anticipated output.
Now, let’s do a quick calculation to determine:
How much did one kWh of CDEP electric energy really cost?
Adjusting for the 2011-2018 loss in purchasing power of the currency by approximately 15%, then, in adjusted dollar terms, the project was funded with roughly $840 million of taxpayer money. Dividing that sum by the total energy output of 420 million kWh results in a cost of $2 per each kWh actually produced. That cost even excludes any operating expenses.
With the full construction cost and operating expenses calculated in, each kWh produced at the CDEP was in the order $2.50. In comparison, average fossil fuel type electric energy (coal, oil, gas) is less than 1/10th of that.
Despite that high cost per kWh produced, the project would probably still be “running full tilt” if the energy was really available when needed, as the design also proclaimed. Of course, that, too, was a fallacy and in the end lead to its demise.
You might wonder why other, similar solar power projects, for example the Ivanpah solar power project, somewhat further south in California’s Mojave Desert, are still running? That’s a good question!
The answer may surprise you.
The Ivanpah system is producing roughly half of its “solar energy” by burning natural gas to “pre-heat” the central collector fluid. That, of course, also reduces their true output costs to a mere $1 or so per kWh.
Clearly then, the sunshine is free but solar power is anything else but cheap and certainly not free. Moreover, any solar power plants that are still operating need a full power 24/7 standby energy source as well as plenty of carbon-based fuel just to maintain regular operations.
Now to the latest “Free Energy” News
As Science Daily reports on Feb. 17, 2020:
New green technology generates electricity ‘out of thin air’
University of Massachusetts at Amherst electrical engineers and microbiologists have created a device they call an ‘Air-gen’ or air-powered generator, with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.
Presumably, that’s another source of “free” energy. Moreover, it doesn’t even need any sunshine at all. Just some water vapor in the air and a few microbial nanothings on the ground.
One of its inventors, Derek Lovley, is reported to have stated “The new technology developed in Yao’s lab is non-polluting, renewable and low-cost. It can generate power even in areas with extremely low humidity such as the Sahara Desert. It has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind.”
You may ask “How much better can it get?”
To me, this sounds like “free-squared.” It also reminds me of the 1960’s musical West Side Story hit “Everything is free in America.”
It looks like that’s still the case – supposedly.
PRINCIPIA SCIENTIFIC INTERNATIONAL, legally registered in the UK as a company incorporated for charitable purposes. Head Office: 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AX.