It recently became official news that solar power is cheaper than electricity from gas-fired power plants. I asked myself: if natural gas is below grid parity and solar is cheaper than gas, doesn’t that mean that solar is also below grid parity? Let’s look at the numbers.
The Andalucia region of Spain has developed many solar firsts: the world’s first commercial solar power tower (PS10), the largest (PS20), as well as the world’s first solar power plant that generates solar electricity past midnight. Andalucia will soon add another first to that shiny list: the world’s first commercial baseload solar power plant.
In 1912 Egypt built the first commercial solar power plant in the world. At a time when Egypt was the largest producer of cotton in the world, American inventor and entrepreneur Frank Shuman engineered, raised financing for, and built a solar power plant in Maadi that pumped 6,000 gallons of Nile river water per minute to irrigate the cotton fields. (1)
The future of energy is all about abundant, cheap, and clean power. Over the last few months of 2010 the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved 10 large-scale Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) projects totaling about 4,190 MW.
Imagine that every car in America was an Electric Vehicle (EV) powered by a electric battery like the Tesla’s (Nasdaq: TSLA) Roadster. Imagine also that each and every car was powered with solar energy. Here’s a question: what amount of land would you need to generate the solar energy to power every electric vehicle in America? And how would that solar acreage compare with the land surface that the oil industry uses to drill today?
I did the numbers and the answer will surprise you.
Imagine a world where you can buy electricity from your choice of vendor (not the utility) at prices that can be negotiated with the vendor. Kind of like shopping at eBay or Amazon. Want to buy a week’s worth (1,000 kWh) of power from SebaSolar at 9 ¢/kWh? Just click here. How about switching to WindyWelly for the weekend (300 kWh) at 8.5 ¢/kWh? Click! Wait, NeoGeo just announced it has a ‘fire sale’ at 7 ¢/kWh for next Tuesday through Thursday. Click!
Well, imagine no more. This electricity world exists today. To see this new architecture of energy at work I went to Wellington, New Zealand.
Powershop is a unit of Meridian Energy, the largest electricity generator and retailer in New Zealand. “The vision of Powershop is to be like eBay for electricity,” says CEO Ari Sargent. “Any electricity generator in New Zealand, including Meridian’s competitors, can offer their own brands of electricity at different prices and different times.”
Want to lower your utility bills or even get energy for free? Companies like Dow Chemical are developing solar shingles and other innovative technologies to turn your home into a personal power plant. Energy will be essentially free.
Three decades ago information was expensive and scarce. Data processing was autocratic, monolithic, and centralized. There were big mainframe computers ‘out there’ and ‘dumb’ users here. The personal computer, the internet, and mobile telephones changed all that.
Today information is essentially free.
Scarce data turned into the Internet torrent and now data is so abundant that the first company who helped us intelligently filter this onslaught of information became the most successful company of the last decade: Google. Today information technology is distributed, grid-independent, and scalable. Now billions of people with a mobile phone, personal computer, and internet connection can generate, store, process, and publish data. The basic architecture of information technology changed.
Energy is where data was three decades ago.