The Era of Cheap Renewables Grinds To A Halt

Yves here. On the one hand, it’s easy to stereotype OilPrice as not necessarily evenhanded about renewables. On the other, we’ve been warning for some time that “clean energy” is an oxymoron. Low/no carbon sources have other environmental costs, such as use of environmentally nasty inputs like rare earths and lithium. And on top of that, some of them also face supply constraints, as in not the supply chain type, but questions about how much can be mined or recovered at acceptable cost.

By Irina Slav, a writer for with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry. Originally published at OilPrice

  • Raw material shortages, notably in metals and minerals and polysilicon are impacting the renewable energy industry
  • The cost of solar panels, wind turbines, and EV batteries is climbing after years of declines
  • Solar panel prices had surged by more than 50 percent in the past 12 months alone. The price of wind turbines is up 13 percent and battery prices are rising for the first time ever

The continual decline in production cost for wind, solar, and EV batteries was touted as the driver of their growing adoption and ultimate takeover of the global grid. Up until two years ago, there was no other scenario on the table—even though inflation was as much a reality then as it is now. Only now, it has become a lot more pronounced.

At a recent metals and mining conference in Riyadh, several attendees noted that the mining industry had fallen out of favor with lenders because it was deemed as damaging for the environment as oil and gas. Yet now, it is becoming abundantly clear that without the mining industry, there can literally be no energy transition. Solar panels, wind turbines, transmission lines, and EVs all depend on metals and minerals in sufficient quantities.

These quantities, however, are already problematic. During the pandemic, supply chain disruptions—one of the most popular phrases of the pandemic, it would seem—wreaked havoc across industries that resulted in various raw material shortages, notably in metals and minerals and polysilicon.

Shortages typically lead to higher prices, and this is exactly what happened here as well. As a result, the cost of solar panels, wind turbines, and EV batteries started climbing—a development that virtually no renewable energy forecaster had anticipated.

Bloomberg reported this month that solar panel prices had surged by more than 50 percent in the past 12 months alone. The price of wind turbines is up 13 percent and battery prices are rising for the first time ever, the report noted.

Of course, all this could be dismissed as a temporary glitch because of those pesky supply chain disruptions; once those are dealt with, prices should return to normal. Unfortunately, this argument does not hold water because the demand projections for all those metals and minerals called critical precisely because the energy transition hinges on them are invariably bullish. Put another way, the world will need a huge amount of copper, lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt, among others, to continue with the energy transition. And they are not coming fast.

That lending problem for the mining industry as well as oversupply in some segments of the metals market led to lower investments in new mines in recent years. That added to an already existing problem of falling ore grades: now, a miner needs to dig out a lot more ore to find the same amount of copper, for instance, than they had to 20 years ago.

This means that the extraction of a ton of copper has become costlier even without the rising demand. With the rising demand projections, the outlook for copper and other critical metals is definitely bullish. But a bullish outlook for copper means higher prices for windmills and solar farms, and for EVs as well.

This is not all, either, because there is also the issue of new supply. Banks are now definitely more interested in investing in the mining industry, what with those critical metals and minerals, but their shareholders—and governments—are insisting in these metals and minerals being mined responsibly—that is, in compliance with certain ESG requirements. A recent report by Metal Bulletin notes that carmakers are now putting their mineral suppliers through a vetting process to ensure they were mined responsibly. That’s more additional costs piled on, too.

And this is not all, either, because new metal and minerals supply will be vital for the energy transition. And one of the key characteristics of the mining industry is long lead times. There is no way around it. It takes about a decade to turn a prospective deposit into an operating mine, even with the most modern technology. To sum up, then, the current trend for higher prices in the low-carbon energy sphere may very well be just the beginning of an extensive rally that could last for decades.

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  1. Altandmain

    I know this is going to be hyper controversial, but with renewable energy prices leveling off or rising, there may be no choice but geoengineering.

    Nuclear power is likely going to have to play a bigger role too.

    70 percent of the cost of a PV cell is now in raw materials.

    There isn’t the political climate for any radical conservation methods. I suspect any attempts to do so will result in backlash that will make the French Yellow Vests protests look mild by comparison.

    A 2 degree target requires much more drastic cuts.

    That probably isn’t attainable considering how controversial existing cuts are.

    Geoengineering is not the ideal solution and there may be a ton of side effects to geoengineering, but I’m seeing a trend here on NC. There are a growing number of doomers. Unfortunately it may be the only option.

    1. Acacia

      One issue here is that we seem to already be in uncharted waters w.r.t. climate change now, so I wonder how geoengineering would work out in practice.

      The US military is one of the top consumers of oil in the world. I’d like to hear some discussion of its decapitation before undertaking something as radical and unpredictable as geoengineering.

      1. Cocomaan

        Exactly this. There’s untold numbers of vehicles idling right now for military purposes. Spewing emissions and wasting fuel. Military activity is an enormous waste but it’s never questioned.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        In global terms, the direct environmental impact of the US military is pretty low. Its about the same as a small country like Portugal or Peru. Total military carbon outputs around the world are around 5%. There are plenty of reasons to shut down militaries around the world, but in terms of low hanging fruit, there are far more important sectors such as agriculture and transport and space heating, not to mention things like refrigerants or deforestatino.

        1. Bart Hansen

          What about the military’s use of bottled water, here and especially abroad?

          How high is it and whose aquifers are being depleted?

        2. Rod

          I posted this from Climate News the other day

          It is just about the US DoD GHG emissions–
          that the researcher could confirm–because the full data is rather disguised…

          Crawford acknowledges her data is likely incomplete—but even with the available data, she found that the U.S. military emits more than entire countries like Portugal and Denmark, and that the Department of Defense accounts for nearly 80% of the federal government’s fuel consumption.

          just our country’s military

          About the quantity of water bottles?–well that may be proprietary based on manufacturer but:

          The Army’s brigade combat teams depend heavily on bottled water, which in turn relies on a costly logistics train. At one forward operating base in Iraq during the 2000s, more than 864,000 bottles of water were consumed each month, with that number doubling during hotter months, according to the study.

              1. WobblyTelomeres

                The account I received was for Camp Leatherneck (Afghanistan). Barrels of caffeine + whatever-the-hell-they-put-in-there shots restocked often. Difficult to get a word in during the rare phone call home if he’d had a few.

        3. LowellHighlander

          Wait a minute – you’re telling me, simultaneously, that the U.S. military causes as much “environmental impact” as a “small” country, while we should go after “low-hanging” fruit like agriculture? As a veteran, I say that agriculture is, and will continue to be, an especially important sector for our economy – more so than the military. Not to say that it shouldn’t be weaned off fossil fuels of all kinds; it’s only to say the output of the agricultural sector is far more important to the U.S., and to the world, than the output of the U.S. military.

          Howie Hawkins was the only candidate for President (in the general election) in 2020 who was calling attention to the dire need to insist that the U.S. military’s carbon footprint be reduced, and reduced drastically. It’s high time that the rest of us take up this call.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            That is not what I’m saying.

            I’m saying that emissions from agriculture dwarf that of all the militaries of the world put together (about four times as much), but can be very significantly reduced with some relatively technically simple methods such as alterations to cropping patterns, increased use of no-till, reductions in the use of crops feed animals, reductions in fossil fuel inputs and so on. These can have immediate impacts in reductions.

      3. drumlin woodchuckles

        How do you decapitate the U S military when they have the guns and the soldiers, and you don’t?

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Geoengineering will take place whether we like it or not. Someone – probably the Chinese – will do it if they deem it in their interests. And they won’t ask the rest of the world for permission. The Chinese have been keen weather engineers for decades – they are doing lots of cloud seeding right now to ensure the perfect winter Olympics. So we might as well do the science so we know what to expect.

      1. Philip

        Reality check, we’ve got geo-engineering now, if un-intentional. The mass fossil carbon burning is injecting climate warming gasses (CO2, CH4) into the atmosphere changing the climate. How about stopping geo-engineering? I can see the placards now.

        1. Herb

          Even more significant geo engineering is occurring by our pumping untold millions of tons of aerosols from byproducts of the burning of fossil fuels into the air.

          There’s evidence that the acceleration in catastrophic temperature increases as a result of our societal choices to reduce air pollution results from reducing the cooling impact of the sulfur and other particles we spew into the atmosphere.

          In particular sharp decreases in pollution from ships due to international agreements to reduce these pollutants are seen as contributing to the acceleration of global warming.

          Conscious solar radiation management with techniques that are highly likely to have minimal harm such as brightening clouds through sprays of carefully sized salt particles are highly likely to cool the climate with minimal adverse effects. Thus reducing suffering and death.

          1. Kevin Smith MD

            Thanks Herb. This is the first I’ve heard of reduced pollution leading to more global warming, but it makes sense based on what I know about the subject, now that I think about it.

            1. redleg

              This is a good indicator of what makes the news and what doesn’t, as the impact of soot and aerosols as a partial offset to C-combustion warming, and how cleaning that pollution source eliminated that offset, was taught in undergrad geology courses way back in the late-1980s.

        1. megrim

          Increasingly I appreciate Ernst Mayr’s point when he called higher intelligence a “lethal mutation.”

          My favorite Vonnegut novel is Galapagos. It has a similar point to make.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Mayr and Vonnegut both confuse “Western Man” with “Man”.

            The Indian Nations who terraformed the Amazon before the Explorer Germocaust had that same higher-intelligence mutation. As did ( and still do) the inventors of the Maya Food Forest.

            So the higher intelligence mutation is not the problem. The Industrial Civilization mutation is the problem.

      2. Susan the other

        I was thinking it was curious that after a late November/early December series of heavy snowstorms here in the Rockies (and Sierras?) all of a sudden they stopped cold. In those 2 weeks we got almost 6 feet. Hardly a sprinkle since. Blue skies even. The Chinese no doubt were just waiting for colder weather to steal all the snow! Maybe it’s just a coincidence. But if not, then the weather coming across China is at least as important as the weather coming across the Pacific. I’m thinking “atmospheric rivers” here.

    3. Martin

      If/when geo-engineering is pushed forward, it will be pushed by the oil and coal industry. Just as they have promoted the idea of how every person is personally responsible to curb his emissions, they will too back up any and all initiatives that deflects the attention from them.

      That on its own should be a big enough red flag to dismiss geo-engineering, or at least to address it AFTER the dirty energy sector has been transformed or removed.

    4. lyman alpha blob

      Population reduction is always an option. We can either do it voluntarily, or nature will do it for us. We seem to be opting for the latter.

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            Nah. You don’t need anything so harsh. Today’s student loan program is doing a pretty decent job of suppressing fertility rates.

            The mechanics are pretty simple. Take a highly fertile 22 year-old woman, encourage her to spend three years in grad school (now age 25), and in the process load her with debt that takes 14 years to repay. Only after the last loan payment (at age 39) will she be financially comfortable starting a family. Except now she may need fertility treatments to have even one child, much less the two needed for population maintenance.

            1. Hickory

              Even easier than that. Pollute the world with all manner of toxins, including plastics especially, and watch men’s sperm count plummet, and girls get very early first menstruation. Even wild animals’ sperm counts are plummeting going back a few decades.

          1. Thomas P

            Someone using bio engineering to create new diseases to reduce population is definitely a possibility. Could be a state, or it could be one of those survivalist inclined billionaires. I hope security agencies keep an eye on biotech startups, because those would be a great way to buy advanced equipment legally. The “Oryx and Crake” scenario.

            BTW, I just read about how China is stockpiling food. Is this just an overreaction from a planned economy, or are they expecting a crash?

            1. megrim

              China’s geography has meant that it has always struggled to feed its people. They import a lot of food, and I bet that the deep chill in the cold war that is coming is what is pushing this stockpiling. The Soviet Union was never the US’s #1 trading partner, lol.

      1. jsn

        Well, nature did get the cart rolling.

        But our leadership class has jumped in front and is pulling strong.

        “Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!”

      2. Ernie

        As soon as the discussion turns to the limits of availability of necessary resources required to provide the benefits of a given technology upon which the population depends, the discussion must then include the effect of population on the use of those resources. Common sense as well as empirical evidence proves that there is no such thing as a limitless supply of anything, including natural resources. It has to be a form of mass dementia for so many to believe that human population can continue to grow without limit and that there will be enough resources for everyone on the planet to benefit from them.

        As population grows, the likelihood of the benefits of the resources being directed to the richest sections of the population grows, causing more distress to the rest. And as people become more distressed, they get angry and fearful, and lash out in rage, usually taking their it out on those weaker than them.

    5. FrankDrebinIsAlive

      There are other options but for many in the wealthy parts of the world they are inconceivable: ending capitalism; replacing it with widespread socialism; ending most forms of economic growth for the wealthy. Those would reduce demand for energy, although they are no panacea. But they are vastly better and far less risky than nuclear energy and geoengineering which can be dismissed. It is entirely possible to pursue a degrowth agenda that is socially acceptable for most people… but only if the wealthy are to lose all their wealth. That is the kind of society I want to live in.

      1. Susan the other

        It’s the kind of world I want to live in as well. In fact, I think this analysis of renewables is not such bad news. We need to curb and regulate our consumption. I differ a little, from you, that we can be sustainable “only if the wealthy lose all their wealth” because, imo, the wealthy are caught in the same trap of consumerism and their own profit/reinvest imperative insanity. If I were wealthy I’d want to be relieved of that crushing burden. The wealthy could proceed with investments not based on making obscene profits, but for the good of the planet.

    6. Jerem grimm

      If there will be geoengineering, I hope it might be something cool like giant space mirrors. Time to watch “Snowpiercer” again.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Then the “master of the mirror” could move the mirrors to shade/shadow/destroy any particular spot on earth they like. Or they could focus the mirror reflecto-light on any part of earth targeted for burning to death from space.

    7. The Historian

      “Nuclear power is likely going to have to play a bigger role too.”

      Well, that would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire, wouldn’t it?

      We can, if we only wanted to, reduce the CO2 emissions and heal our global warming problem. CO2 doesn’t last forever in the atmosphere. But nuclear waste? That is going to take thousands of years to decay to safe levels. And there is no absolutely safe place to put it. So what will we do when, as humans do, create more waste than we can safely dispose of (Remember when dumping in the oceans was our solution to pollution? How’d that work out?)? Wait 10,000 years for healing?

      All energy is expensive. There are absolutely no solutions that will save humans other than reducing our addiction to consumerism and cheap (aka subsidized) energy.

      Call me a doomer if you will, but I worked in the nuclear industry and it is no panacea for our problems. It is just another form of expensive energy with serious problems, like all energy production.

      1. Susan the other

        We could go underground. Literally, live underground. Produce food locally. Replace cars with bicycles. Recycle locally. There are so many choices we simply ignore.

      2. NukeyDoodleDandy

        It’s a very manageable amount of solid waste thanks to e=mc^2.

        Dumping it in the ocean isn’t the worst solution – water is a great insulator for radiation, but underground in Nevada would be better. Instead of the pollution being all around us in the air, it would all be isolated in a remote cave, not bothering anyone.

    8. Anthony G Stegman

      You are assuming that geoengineering “works”. There is scant evidence that it does. Engineering of all kinds has created at least as many problems as it has solved. Geoengineering will not prove to be any different.

    9. coboarts

      Relocalising production and taxing manufacturers for less than X lifespan on products produced might also be considered as ways to reduce emmissions and fuels use.

    10. Matthew G. Saroff

      The problem with Nuclear power is that you are talking a lag time between when a project starts and when it goes online of 15-30 years. (Another problem is insane people who want to use liquid sodium as a coolant, but that’s another story)

    11. Fran

      What’s the cost of concrete, steel and processed uranium fuel rods?
      How about the liability insurance cost for nuclear? Never heard of a solar plant exploding or poisoning hundreds of thousands of square miles.

    12. drumlin woodchuckles

      If we are going to consider ” eco-engineering” as a subset of geo-engineering, then we already have scope for wetlands restoration, forest restoration plus preservation of what forests we still have, silvopasturization and agro-forestication and food-savannahfication of several million square miles of “good land” currently being thrown away on row crops, etc. etc. That would pull down quite a bit of skycarbon and refix it into plant-carbon and soil-carbon and peat-carbon and etc.

      How do we know that won’t be enough if even that is prevented from being tried everywhere due to bitter opposition?

      But geo-engineering may well be tried. By China, if by no-one else. The ChinaGov will get tired of waiting around for somebody to do something about things and stuff. And the easiest method of geo-engineering I have heard of is creating a sulfuric-acid-droplet shroud around the whole earth, at the exactly correct altitude to bounce back a lot of sunlight before it reaches the surface to heat us up. And also at the exactly correct altitude to eat up the ozone layer and let the sun give the surface of the earth the UV-B sterilization treatment.

      But that is probably what will be tried. ” As we starve and freeze and die, beneath a silver yellow sky.”

    13. hickory

      There is no solution that continues present consumption patterns for long, which is what geoengineering and nuclear advocates promise.

      Every nuclear power plant is a very very dirty radioactive disaster waiting to happen. If there are ever large scale blackouts that last more than a few hours or days, Chernobyls and Fukushimas will happen again. Radioactive fuel remains toxic for thousands of years – far longer than humans have maintained any stable society, ever, much less a high-tech one that can maintain these plants. Not to mention, the nuclear fuel get used once, then remains toxic for tens of thousands of years or longer – not a net benefit long term, but rather a net drag! But of course, the benefit comes now and unending toxicity comes later, so many people would like to ignore the downsides.

      As for geoengineering… again, let’s plant trees, learn to garden and learn to live with less consumption. Spewing more chemicals into the sky to buy a few more years of mindless consumerism may or may not help with climate change (for a few years, until we’re unable to maintain such an expensive activity), but definitely won’t help with any other environmental troubles we’re facing – mass extinction, plastics going everywhere, soil loss, and more.

      Humans are going to bite it really really hard soon – that’s what people on this blog call the jackpot, and it’s been predicted clearly since the at least the 70s to happen in earnest pretty soon. The less toxins humans generate in the world before that, the better things will be after – and of course, the more life will flourish in the meantime.

  2. Sound of the Suburbs

    The West’s policymakers had placed their faith in private sector lobbyists.
    What could possibly go wrong?

    Let’s get the green energy experts in.
    The green energy experts.
    We want to make loads of money.
    We just want to shift our wind turbines and solar panels to make money.

    What about when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing?
    Who cares?
    That’s hardly our problem is it?

  3. PlutoniumKun

    Spot oil prices increased from $50 a barrel to $86 at the end of 2021. Fossil Fuel gas rose by multiples. Coal prices have been surging too thanks to bottlenecks and Chinese demand.

    The report linked in the fifth paragraph of the article paints a far more nuanced picture. Solar panels (when you could get your hands on them) went up in price because of supply chain disruptions. And this rise was from historically very low prices. Even lithium is only rising from very low prices, there was a major surplus in the world markets over the last few years.

    As for wind turbines, I doubt very much the statement that their costs are rising long term, although the Chinese grant system may have had an impact – the current round of grants for China offshore wind runs out in 2023 meaning there has been an enormous focus on construction the past two years (13GW of installed capacity now), and this may have distorted supply markets. As the focus now is on offshore wind the cost per turbine calculated by kwh may have increased, but as production is more consistent it may still be on a lower cost basis (the turbine cost being just one factor). Cost calculations for wind are particularly difficult to calibrate relative to other energy sources as so much depends on the chosen site for the turbines. But huge costs reductions are taking place in offshore wind due to scale impacts. The biggest threat to renewable funding right now is not material input costs but rising interest rates – all renewables require major capital inputs early in the product life, which is one reason why maintaining expensive older coal and gas plants can seem ‘cheap’.

    As for lithium and rare earths, most of the projection I’ve seen predict a crunch sometime in the late 2020’s where demand will likely peak while production and recycling lags. As the markets mature, it is likely that recycling will fulfil more demand, but as EV’s, etc., are so new there is no demand or infrastructure now for a closed supply system, especially for key rare earths. But there will inevitably be a strong imbalance between supply and demand, which is great for speculators, not so great for miners.

    1. Kevin Smith MD

      With regard to lithium, I am seeing an increasing stream of scientific reports about non-lithium chemistries and technologies [eg sodium] which [if they pan out] may displace some of the lithium demand.

      1. Altandmain

        Having worked in the industry, it’s not easy to replace lithium ion batteries.

        It took decades for them to become dominant. It would take billions in capital costs, and other R&D costs.

        The other issue is that it is not just lithium – nickel, cobalt, etc, are also rising in cost. A new battery chemistry has to replace all of those or at least drastically reduce their use per Joule of energy stored.

        1. Thomas P

          BYD are already selling electric cars where cobalt and nickel has been replaced with iron and phosphorous in the batteries.

          1. Altandmain

            There are huge compromises in those LFP batteries. Their winter performance is not very good, even worse than the mainstream NCM battery chemistries.

            1. Thomas P

              Large parts of the world doesn’t have much of a winter. If you sell cars with those batteries closer to the equator there will be a lot less strain on supplies of cobalt and nickel for cars in colder climate.

    2. BlakeFelix

      Ya, I feel like the obvious big low hanging fruit is recycling. Recycling is a hassle but I can’t imagine that it isn’t cheaper and cleaner to get your lithium from a pile of old batteries than a mine, assuming the batteries are designed to fit in a recycling program. Same for solar panels and turbines I would think. In general I think taxing pollution is the way to address it, that whacks mining and waste, while whacking the fossil fuels renewables are competing with even harder.

  4. Polar Socialist

    For as long as I’ve been reading Low-tech magazine ( I’ve been wondering why not use all the “old school” tech and knowledge to seriously cut down the energy consumption?

    Like warming up people and things, not places. Or using “fruit walls” or trenches instead of green houses. Mist showers. Fermenting/salting/curing food to store it. Warm our houses by “beating” water to warm it up. Slow cooking with insulated pots. Mechanical power transmission fro shorter distances. Velomobiles. Mechanical wind power. And more and more and more…

    Our ancestors were a really smart/lazy lot. Then came the hydrocarbons.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The simple answer is the separation between who pays for construction and who pays for running costs. For knowledgeable people, it makes perfect sense to design and build your home on the basis of keeping long term running costs to a minimum. But the vast majority of homes and offices are built for sale or rent, so there is little incentive for developers to spend money on energy reduction or long term maintenance beyond legal minimum requirements. Its better to spend money on a fancy balcony or atrium that notionally raises the sale price or rent. Things are even worse in countries like China where valuations tend to be on a square metre basis, there is very little inbuilt incentive for quality construction.

      There are simple ways around this – the EU directive on energy grading for homes (every property for sale needs an energy grade on all advertising material) makes the long term heating/cooling costs very visible to buyers, its amazing the difference its made. When developers realized that an A++ grade meant they could charge a premium, they suddenly got very enthusiastic about insulation and eliminating unnecessary energy loss features like skylights.

      1. David

        Just a gloss on the second paragraph. In France, laws have been passed to make it illegal to rent accommodation with consumption of 330 kWh/m²/year after 2028. As early as next year, it will be illegal to rent accommodation with a consumption of 450kWh/m2 per year. Sounds good?
        Well, the best estimate is that this applies to about 2 million accommodations, generally in poorer areas and rented to poorer people. Many are run by non-profit housing associations. Those who live in the apartments are not responsible for the works to bring them up to standard, so that falls to the property company. A rough estimate, based on personal observation, is that you’re probably talking about €5-6000 for a typical two-bedroom apartment in a block built in the 1970s, provided economies of scale come into play. So in a building of 100 apartments, you’re talking about a significant amount of money, but more importantly time (perhaps 6-9 months). There’s only a certain amount of capacity in the building industry and there are, of course, problems with raw materials. Everyone expects therefore that there will be hundreds of thousands of empty properties, where the landlord can’t, or won’t be bothered to do the works: this applies especially to someone sub-letting to students, for example. So empty apartments and homeless people, at least in the short term. By contrast, properties for sale don’t have formal restrictions as do rented properties, but people are quickly having the work done, so that they can pass the costs onto a future purchaser.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Ah yes, unintended consequences. Its a common feature of sensible regulations that they often hit the supply of cheap accommodation. Hence the number of empty flats and apartments over shops all over the UK and Ireland. Its usually because its too expensive to upgrade them for fire regulations. Wheelchair access has similarly had a very negative impact in some aspects of residential provision.

          1. jsn

            Unfunded mandates.

            A Republican favorite kvetch here in the States.

            But they have a point. The poor end up with the least efficient systems because they can’t pay for anything that isn’t fully depreciated. It’s appropriate for the State to want to improve that for multiple reasons, but assuming the population has the resources is obviously wrong after 40 odd years of upward redistribution.

        2. Altandmain

          It could be a recipe for political backlash.

          Large numbers of people who can’t afford housing at a time when there are livable empty properties is a recipe for social unrest and will result in calls to reverse the bans, at least on older properties.

        1. Jeff Z

          Yes, thank you. My late father would have tremendously enjoyed both, even if he did work on computers for an oil company.

    2. Tom Pfotzer

      While we’re on the subject of lo-tech, lately I’ve been noodling on the subject of low-cost, long-lifespan solar thermal collectors. The solar-thermal collector I have in mind uses an electric pump to circulate water past a black plate that’s exposed to the sun. Very few moving parts: a pump and maybe some valves.

      If the heated water is stored in a well-insulated tank, that heat can be used via heat-pump to warm the house.

      Note that water can absorb enormous amounts of heat before it rises in temperature, and that the heat transfer equation is (roughly): (insulation Effectivness) * (temperature delta between tank temp and outside-tank temp).

      If you can store a lot of heat in the water before it rises much in temp, you lose less heat via radiation from the tank. A lot less. So when you heat up the tank during the day, almost all the heat stays in the tank until you distribute it via heat pump throughout the house.

      Heat pumps are getting really efficient, and btw, they can be powered by additional solar-electric collectors.

      What about when the sun doesn’t shine? Then you use a conventional heater to warm the water. Boilers and electric heaters are very efficient (around 95%).

      Separately, and yet relatedly….

      I’ve been reading a lot lately about salt water batteries. Their design is very similar to lead-acid, except they use salt water as the electrolyte (medium thru which electrons migrate through the battery), and they use manganese oxide as the plates. So, no lead, no sulfuric acid.

      They seem to be fairly energy-dense, maybe 50% as good as lithium ion batteries. Does anyone have any insight as to why these batteries aren’t more prevalent in applications where space/weight is less of a concern?

      Here’s a link if you’re interested.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      The only thing that millions of individuals can do is to adopt what tiny little fraction of the low tech way they can into their own personal physical-survival lives . . . . in the midst of an Upper Class Matrix Elite who will obstruct every such effort.

      It may not make any larger difference. It may be a matter of living our witness and preserving our personal integrity in the midst of a larger civilization based on vile moral and cultural filth . . . fossil filth, sadism filth, etc. Various mainstream deathculture filth. Those millions of individuals I referrenced just above will simply have to create their own lifeculture of counter-mainstream anti-filth, and at least withhold their own energy as best they can from helping the survival of a Mainstream DeathCulture which does not deserve to survive.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Don’t let up, DW.

        “living the witness”.

        Lovin’ that one.

        And right after you withdraw your support from the end-of-lifecycle Old System…

        please remember to put your shoulder against the back of the New Wagon and give a shove!


        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          You are correct.

          Right now, the actual things I am doing in my small slow life are living cheap and doing a little bit of back yard gardening. Reading and learning and trying to apply some of what I think I have learned to see how well I have learned it, and then to see how well it works.

          One thing many people can do is to bring valuable information here to places like this for others to see and consider and maybe take back into meatspace reality and apply it there in the analog real world. And maybe report back to us about how it works.

  5. Eelok

    NC has posted this particular OilPrice opinion contributor before, and even as a skeptic myself I find their reflexive doomerism a bit wanting and their sourcing quite thin. I find this article a bit tough to engage with because it’s confusing what should really be two or three different dynamics that really ought to be discussed separately.

    1. There is an undeniable trend of both wind and solar moving down a cost curve based on economies of scale in deployment and continually improving technology.
    2. There are volatile cycles of supply and demand inherent in mining due to massive upfront investment costs and long time horizons.
    3. There are the short- and medium-term supply disruptions being caused by the pandemic.

    Slav conflates all three trends, suggesting that present issues with (2) and (3) invalidate the idea that (1) could be happening and concludes that prices could now rise “for decades.” In particular I found the statement “a development that virtually no renewable energy forecaster had anticipated” perplexing, since I’ve read plenty of papers by analysts anticipating that commodity cycles have the potential to disrupt and constrain a renewable transition. If you want to talk about energy forecasters being wrong, you could also look at how they have consistently underestimated both the speed of price reductions and the pace of deployment up until now.

    Techno-optimists of the Saul Griffiths/David Roberts school may indeed be overstating their case, but the falling cost trend is very real and will continue to play out, regardless of whether commodity cycles and supply chain disruptions raise their own costs (costs which also hit the oil and gas sector hard as we’re seeing right now). My point is not that we should be mindlessly cheerleading a renewable transition that we believe is about to deliver us a utopia, but rather that all three dynamics deserve serious analysis and engagement in order to imagine what is likely to happen next. Renewables can be enormously environmentally destructive and subject to the swings of a volatile commodity industry rooted in colonial patterns of extraction, while also continuing to develop a relative economic advantage for more and more energy use cases that means they’re going to get developed anyways, even if it doesn’t happen quickly or easily enough to avert climate change and our myriad social and ecological problems.

  6. gc54

    The 2021 Fraunhofer Institute solar report (pdf) slide 44 shows rooftop PV costs flat end of 2018-20 (don’t know if plot uses currency deflated for 06-20). Note how balance-of-system costs have become dominant since 2013, creeping up slowly. Slide 43 shows how the total installed cost global average end 2019 was 540-1750 Euro/kWp. Worse in US with big markups for residential PV ($2500-3500/kWp) according to industry because of multiple permits and redundant inspections required in most areas.

    1. Gc54

      Duh, clear on the plot that costs are in constant 2019 Euros.

      So, average for the entire system cost of large PV installations in Germany is 750 Euros/kWp = $1/W with panels half that even if the PV material is only $0.28/W as stated below.

  7. Solarjay

    Solar panel price increases are for a few reasons. 1. Demand is up which is putting a strain on the raw and processed materials supply chain which has lead to a price increase. 2. Energy price increases have also contributed. 3 Covid: contributing to all of the above, slow downs in China production due to Covid.

    But let’s put this in perspective, price is up to around $.28 from about $.20 per watt. So yes up 50% but in hard terms $.08 per watt.

    Now can we please put the rare earth and solar to bed? Solar panels come in 2 broad families. Silicon and thin film.
    Silicon has 2 sub categories: poly and single crystal.
    There are no rare earth metals or minerals in these which account for about 95-97+% of the total world market.

    Then we get to thin film of which there are many many types.
    Currently the largest is by a US company called First Solar. It’s a cadmium telluride based design, and while the cadmium is toxic they do have a recycle process in place. It’s bound up and not easily released should a panel break or be damaged. Again no rare earth, about 2-3% of the world market.

    There is a small market share(.1% maybe) that is called CIGS. Copper indium gallium selenium. With gallium being a rare earth.

    As to wind machines with rare earths, it depends on which motors they have in them. Most off shore do use permanent magnets which have rare earths. But land based usually use asynchronous motors which have no rare earth magnets.

    1. Rod

      Thank you for the sanity/facts here–
      before we start the seeding of clouds and the restarting the nuclear–
      just to keep our consumption up and on track

    2. Mike Mc

      Great info. Any good links for US solar companies?

      Retired to sunny (very) southern Colorado, fellow retiree and I dreaming up car-port-with-solar-panel-roof designs for 2022-23 implementation. Garages rare here but car ports over concrete slabs are somewhat common. Pal already has a Fiat EV and charger, our RAM 1500 tow vehicle likely the last ICE powered vehicle we’ll own.

  8. Alex Vaivars

    Zero mention of inflation in the prices other forms of energy exploitation, so this piece is somewhat disingenuous. What matters when choosing energy source for pretty much anything is relative price.

  9. Anthony G Stegman

    In California the governor Gavin Newsom recently described the Salton Sea as “the Saudia Arabia of lithium” due to the large deposits of lithium there. He intends to relax environmental safeguards so as to enable large scale mining. That Newsom feels a need to do this in order to push his “green’ agenda is evidence that “green” is not so green.

    1. Thomas P

      Salton Sea is drying up and releasing toxic dust. If you can collect most of that and put it to good use it may be a net positive for the environment even if you technically don’t follow environmental rules designed for a situation where you start with all toxic substances safely buried in the ground.

      Something has to be done about Salton Sea in any case.

      1. Susan the other

        So is this why it was allowed to dry up? Long term planning by the State of California? We’ll see I guess when it comes to mining the surface lithium as it requires a constant supply of water.

        1. FluffytheObeseCat

          1) The Salton Sea is a man made mistake that formed during an attempt to divert the lower Colorado River a little over 100 years ago. It’s drying up because it’s at the bottom of a closed basin that doesn’t have much or any natural drainage into it.

          2) Economic lithium brines near the Salton Sea are comparatively deep in the basin. There is no ore grade “surface lithium” in the area. Wind blown pollution from concentration operations may – stressing may – be a possible problem if lithium brine is exploited at scale in the Salton Sea area, particularly if open ponds are used in the process of extracting lithium carbonate. But, it’s not likely given the U.S. regulatory environment. There is little problem within wind blown dust at the Clayton Valley, NV deposit (really a series of subsurface brine reservoirs). The big issue is the vast amount of water needed for evaporative concentration of lithium carbonate. One of the little impediments to more lithium extraction in southwestern Nevada is the fact that the operator of the existing lithium brine ‘mine’ owns or controls access to nearly all the water for many tens of square miles around the basin. Permitting more evaporation ponds would also be consuming and fraught with the possibility of failure after years of effort.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      The Salton Sea is an artificial accident feature to begin with. Failed efforts to guide the Colorado River with some kind of canal lead to a rupture and the Colorado River flowing into a depression where the Salton Sea now is. They finally got the rupture fixed, but by then enough Colorado River water had flowed into that depression so as to leave behind a “Salton Sea” which still exists.

      It is an artificial equivalent of Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee. The New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812 dropped a chunk of Mississippi-side land down below the elevation of the river, which flowed down into it for 3 days, leaving behind a “Reelfoot Lake” which lasts to this day.

  10. solarjay

    To give an idea of cost comparison of nuclear vs solar:
    Lets use Diablo Canyon in california, 2.2GW x 24 hrs day = 52.8gWh/day
    Rough cost for the plant about $12 billion, which would go down a lot if they built the same plant numerous times, like France and China.
    How much solar will it take to produce that amount of electricity per day?: in southern california about 12 GW, at utility scale install about $12 billion and this is very important that number 12 GW ( billon watts) is based on a yearly average. In the winter days are shorter so production is less and there are more storms etc. Summer days are longer and so production is quite a bit greater, but we need power 24/7.

    Now lets take into account we need storage from this 12GW solar plant. It takes about 18 hrs of storage because of about 5-6 hrs of solar production. Which is about 40 gWh x $300 per kWh of lithium batteries or $12 billion.

    As an offgrid solar person, we actually need a few days of storage because the sun isn’t always shining. For 3 day of storage that would be 40gWh for the first day, and 52.8 for the following 2, or about 145 gWh. At $300 per kWh thats $44 billion.

    And we need more solar because somehow you’ve got to recharge those batteries at the end of the day/s. Thats another say 12GW or $12 billion.

    Solar for 3 days at 52.8 gWh/day is $68 billion vs the nuclear at $12 billion.
    I’m just talking installation costs, there are operating costs for both, and different life spans, with solar at 20 yrs, batteries at 5-10 and nuclear at 40-60.

    Lastly it will take about 200-350 square miles to install that much solar panels. OK so roof top you say, yes that can work, but add 3-400% as roof top solar is about $3-4 per watt and utility scale at or under $1 per watt.

    I’m not pro nuclear, I”m anti climate change.

    OK off to fix a few solar systems.

  11. Fran

    Solarjay, “Carbon Free Nuclear” is the biggest joke.

    Electricy use at night is very low and can be offset by battery storage and pumped hydro.

    Figure in all the mining,processing and other inputs to manufacture a fuel rod, the decommissioning, storage which you ignore, plus the potential for disaster, and natural gas looks pretty good.

    That’s why natural gas is being banned in California by the nuclear power industry’s handmaiden, Gavin Newsom and a crop of paid-off phony environmentalists.

    How many thousands of square miles are there in the Victor Valley? Plenty of land. Let’s get to it.

  12. Solarjay

    Hi Fran.

    I pointed out many fallacies of that exact idea you mention about battery/solar cost cost vs nuclear.
    The mining costs for lithium batteries, aluminum and silicon for panels, steel and aluminum for racking, copper for the wire.
    It’s a pretty staggering amount.

    As to the land, I agree there is plenty of land however more and more solar, wind, power lines are being stopped all over the country because people don’t want their land being taken up. A big 880 MW project outside of Las Vegas, was stopped for that exact reason.

    Here is rough idea of weights for solar panels and racking.
    For 12 GW it’s about 3 billion pounds, and that’s for 20 years. And I didn’t get into the wiring.
    For the batteries, it’s another 1billion pounds for 50 gWh with a life of 6-10 years. Etc. again no wiring.

    We do need a lot at night and more as more electric vehicles come into use, the conversion to electric heat etc.

    You can hate nuclear but solar isn’t some magic option in the scale we need it. It has a huge footprint both in land to deploy and the mining to make.

    As I keep saying I’m against climate change, it’s my main focus. If that takes nuclear as part for the fix to save the planet, the billions of creatures who can’t move etc. Then count me in.

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