The Trump Administration is beginning to have its imprint on energy policy. Yet, many potential moves may not be very effective given market forces, which certainly drives business. The University of Texas’s Energy Institute has issued an interactive map showing the cheapest energy sources and greatest availability throughout the US. http://calculators.energy.utexas.edu/lcoe_map/#/county/tech and http://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2016/12/12/13914942/interactive-map-cheapest-power-plant
The Future of Coal is Not Favorable
Despite the President’s promise to bring back jobs to coal miners, the map’s information is pretty obvious that natural gas and renewables are likely to provide much of the U.S.’s new electric capacity in the foreseeable future. In addition, the map shows why the cost of building and operating new coal-fired plants is so high and non-competitive. This concurs with recent papers issued by the US Energy Information Administration.
Part of the problem for coal is geography. Prices to build wind farms have plummeted lately, and the Plains states, which have been high historic users of coal for power, are ideal location for wind plants (they have plenty of it). And in the South and Northeast, natural gas prices have dropped greatly, in part because of fracking and shale gas. Besides raw materials being cheaper, natural gas plants are more efficient than coal-fired plants. A modern gas-fired plant can convert 60% of the theoretical energy to electricity; for a modern coal plant, it is about 35%. Even if environmental regulations affecting coal are repealed, wind subsidies are eliminated, and gas prices spike, the cost of a new coal-fired power plant still cannot compete with wind or natural gas, and investors and builders will go with gas-fired and renewable power plants.
The Future of Nuclear Power is Murky
Despite its many detractors, nuclear power is growing in Europe and other parts of the world and, without a doubt, results in much lower greenhouse gas emissions than any fossil fuel-based plant. However, it is still expensive to build a new nuclear plant in the U.S., an estimated $8,000/kW, almost double that of other forms of electricity. There is research on advanced reactors with smaller, modular designs that in the future may be safer and less expensive than current mammoth reactors. The Trump Administration has signaled its approval of nuclear power, but has not suggested what it would be willing to do to help alleviate the cost differential.
All signs indicate that the cost of renewables (solar, wind, geothermal) will continue to drop in the coming years. Renewable power has grown greatly worldwide, spurring a learning curve and a drop in costs due to greater efficiency and experience. Even if utilities and state governments reduce or end incentive programs for renewables, these will still rank in many parts of the country as the most cost effective power plants around. This will be especially true if and when large-scale battery power can be modernized both technically and financially to address the issue of inconsistent generation of power from renewables.
CCES can help you assess your future energy options to give you maximum operating flexibility and maximize your financial benefits. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.