Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. These days I'm retired, and I can't by law give you advice. While I do make mistakes, I try hard to do my analysis thoroughly, and to make sure my data are correct (old habits die hard!) Also, don't ask me why I called it "Volewica". It's too late, now.

BTW, clicking on most charts will produce the original-sized, i.e., bigger version.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

This is getting boring!

How many headlines saying new record low costs for ________ does it take before it starts getting boring?  For me, not yet.  The news that renewables are continually getting cheaper is great news, because it means we will--we might--actually do something about global warming in time.  It's also one in the eye for the denialists who have shifted a little from denying the reality of global warming (for obvious reasons) to opposing the very idea of renewables (shows who's paying their way, to my way of thinking.)

The latest report is about wind power in India falling to new record lows of 5.2 cents per kWh ($52/MWh)  This is less than half the price of new coal.  And it's part of a global pattern.


Why are costs falling so rapidly, and why is wind still more expensive in developing countries than in the USA?  

Costs are falling because wind turbines are becoming more efficient.  They're taller, and the blades are longer.  They can turn at low wind speeds and higher ones.  Second, everybody in the business of installing wind turbines, connecting them to the grid, using them to provide electricity, getting them and giving them permits, etc, is learning how to do it.  Rooftop solar in Australia is cheaper than in the USA even though our feed-in tariffs are so low because it's become bog standard: every electrician knows how to connect solar panels to the grid, every householder knows the benefits of solar.  The converse is true for large scale solar: in Oz, it's more expensive than in the USA because we haven't done much so far (though that's rapidly changing).  

Wind (and solar) remain more expensive in developing countries than in the USA because interest rates are higher. (except for the gulf oil states, which is one reason why solar is so cheap there)  Interest rates are higher partly because of higher inflation, and partly because of higher risk.  And because wind and solar have negligible operating costs, the rate of interest (the discount rate) is a critical variable in the cost equation, because almost all the cost of wind or solar is upfront cost, which is not the case with fossil fuels or nuclear.  But risk applies to funding coal power stations too.  In fact, the risk is higher, because the finances of coal are highly risky even before you consider developing country risk.  In fact the risk that a carbon tax is introduced and the certainty that the cost of renewables will go on declining is so high that I doubt any new coal power stations will be built, without government subsidy and support.

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