4 comments on “Peak Fossil Fuel

  1. Thanks for the charts. I do believe in experience curve effects, and hadn’t noticed the trend lines for solar.

    Anecdata: the local (Mountain View) school district has installed solar recharging stations in many of their parking lots. Apparently batteries are cheap enough that they don’t have access controls on the rechargers, and signs are posted telling the public that the electricity is all renewable, and not saying that the public isn’t allowed access.

  2. I think you overestimate the flexibility and rationality of electric companies, which are highly regulated, to the point of being state-managed. Merkel recently built a bunch of coal plants to pander to the coal miners. But also to pander to the Greens by shutting down nukes. When the Greens first scheduled this, did they plan coal plants? Did they plan anything?

    On the other hand, you make a good point that if cars are centralized, the owner can vertically integrate; in particular build an optimal power plant, pretty much regardless of what the grid does.

  3. Douglas, I’m rather confident that problems with politics and corporate bureaucracy won’t delay these trends by more than a few years.

    Northern Europe is a crappy place to install solar energy – it gets less sunlight than even most Canadian cities (see this global map).

    If Germany can’t reliably get solar electricity from Spain or northern Africa, then it may make some sense for them to build more coal plants.

    Note that England is shutting down coal faster than I would have thought is plausible (“British coal consumption fell by 52.5% in 2016”).

    China is less hobbled by political pandering, and is more important than Germany.

    Would you care to suggest a bet on coal use in 2030?

    Bureaucratic inflexibility will somewhat impede the shift to solar and wind, by not encouraging the time-shifting of electricity use to coincide with sunlight and/or wind.

    The marginal value of electricity will drop to zero in the middle of sunny days at its source in the big solar farms. Ideally, electric companies would charge almost nothing for electricity then, and users would shift a modest amount of demand to that time. I expect the grid operators to be slow to alter pricing rules to do that.

    I did some research, when writing the post, into whether Uber could bypass the grid, and get its batteries charged directly at the solar farms. I concluded that it will happen in some places, but I can’t predict whether it will be sufficiently widespread to be important.

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