We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Solar Cheaper than Nuclear; Ethanol Needs No Subsidy

A couple of energy notes of interest to South Dakotans:

Solar Cheaper than Nuclear: A study by two researchers at Duke (Duke! They've got basketball; they must be reliable!) finds solar power may now be able to generate electricity per kilowatt-hour more cheaply than new nuclear power. Photovoltaic systems have dropped 50% in price since 1998, while construction costs for new nuclear plants have boomed (though the industry guys would prefer we didn't use nuclear and boom in the same sentence). The Duke data looks at costs in North Carolina, which has about the same solar power potential as central South Dakota. The Black Hills have even better PV potential—time for solarpanel hats on Mount Rushmore! Read the full report in PDF glory here.

No Need for Ethanol Subsidies: Here's South Dakota's big chance to get off the government teat! Iowa State University econ prof Bruce Babcock finds that ending the ethanol blenders credit and the import tariff would "have neither the dramatic, adverse effect U.S. ethanol producers claim, nor create the export bonanza Brazilian producers hope for." Professor Babcock says ending these industry subsidies would result in the loss of maybe 300 jobs, not the 112,000 to 160,000 the ethanol industry claims. Without subsidies, ethanol production would still increase, while we would save a few pennies per gallon at the pump and shave a several billion dollars off the deficit each year (just as all of our Congressional candidates want to do).

Of course, Babcock's study was funded by the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association. Brazil produces 7 billion gallons of ethanol from sugarcane each year, behind only the U.S., which makes 12 billion gallons of corn ethanol annually.

But note that U.S ethanol producer Valero—you know, the nice folks who bought VeraSun's ethanol plants after VeraSun went broke, and the third-largest ethanol producer in America—says it wouldn't reduce ethanol production one bit if we cut subsidies.


  1. PV solar is a no go. There is not enough indium. If we were to scale PV solar by a factor of 10 (to even reach 1% of our energy needs) the cost of indium would skyrocket.

    Every type of commercial PV cell requires indium. This study is strictly academic and does not consider how dramatic increases in production would drive prices up.

    Also, indium is used in all flat screen monitors and tv's. So we would also expect them to become prohibitively expensive also.

  2. That Iowa State study on ethanol assumes that the EPA allows drivers to use E15 (15% ethanol), up from E10 today.

    In effect, it isn't a study of the effects of losing the tax credit. It's a study of whether opening up ethanol's potential market by 50% would offset losing the tax credit.

    I work in the ethanol industry (full disclosure).

    Incidentally, Growth Energy has proposed phasing out the tax credit and investing in the infrastructure that would allow ethanol to compete in an open market with gas. If we had flex fuel vehicles and blender pumps across the country, then drivers could actually choose to use no ethanol, 10% ethanol, 30% ethanol, etc. That would actually be a free market, and we wouldn't need the govt. supports.

    This plan would phase out govt support and actually let fuels compete side-by-side: http://www.growthenergy.org/ethanol-issues-policy/fueling-freedom-plan/

  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/22/first-molten-salt-solar-power

    This month, the Italian utility Enel unveiled "Archimede", the first Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plant in the world to use molten salts for heat transfer and storage, and the first to be fully integrated to an existing combined-cycle gas power plant. Archimede is a 5 MW plant located in Priolo Gargallo (Sicily), within Europe's largest petrochemical district. The breakthrough project was co-developed by Enel, one of World's largest utilities, and ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development.

  4. Indium—curses! foiled again! Couldn't we maybe start with nuclear plants, rev 'em up to do some serious elemental transmutation, make indium, and then switch to PV solar? ;-) And are there no alternatives to indium in PV (or TV)?

    Concentrated power -- kind of like the trick with wind: we need to figure out how to store the energy to use it when we need it.

  5. from the same link:

    This is a competitive advantage, for a variety of reasons. Molten salts can operate at higher temperatures than oils (up to 550°C instead of 390°C), therefore increasing efficiency and power output of a plant. With the higher-temperature heat storage allowed by the direct use of salts, the plant can also extend its operating hours well further than an oil-operated CSP plant with molten salt storage, thus working 24 hours a day for several days in the absence of sun or during rainy days. This feature also enables a simplified plant design, as it avoids the need for oil-to-salts heat exchangers, and eliminates the safety and environmental concerns related to the use of oils (molten salts are cheap, non-toxic common fertilizers and do not catch fire, as opposed to synthetic oils currently used in CSP plants around the World). Last but not least, the higher temperatures reached by the molten salts enable the use of steam turbines at the standard pressure/temperature parameters as used in most common gas-cycle fossil power plants. This means that conventional power plants can be integrated – or, in perspective, replaced – with this technology without expensive retrofits to the existing assets.


    granted, I've heard of some seasons that involve more than a few days in a row of bad insolation...


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.