Climate change

June 30, 2009

Discussion Thread: Is the EIA forecast of 2016 energy prices realistic?

Filed under: Emissions Reduction, Global Warming, Renewable Energy — Barry Brook @ 4:49 pm

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently (April 2009) made a forward projection of estimated energy generation costs for 2016 in its Annual Energy Outlook 2009. The results are given in the table I’ve reproduced below (click on it for a larger version) — the original comes from the Next Big Future blog, here. Nuclear Green also has a post on it, with an alternative figure, here, NEI Notes here, and there is an excellent summary provided by the Institute for Energy Research, here and here. The IER are the guys who extracted this data from the AEO 2009 report and summarised it in a useful format. Make sure you read these links: they’re packed with useful analysis.

Prices are expressed in 2007 US dollar terms per megawatt hour [MWh]. To convert these figures to kilowatt hours [kWh] — more relevant to you, perhaps, because you probably use between 120 and 250 kWh per day — simply divide these figures by 10, and read as cents instead of dollars. So, for conventional coal, the table tells you the cost is projected to be 9.4 c/kWh, whilst for wind it is 14.2 c/kWh. O&E stands for “operations and maintenance”. The levelised energy cost is an economic assessment of the cost the energy-generating system including all the costs over its lifetime: initial investment, operations and maintenance, cost of fuel, cost of capital. These costs deliberately exclude state and federal subsidies, to give you the real figures. The AEO 2009 report also includes an energy demand projection through to 2030.

eiaenergy2016One might choose to dispute any of the entries given above, for a variety of sound reasons. For instance, the cost of Advanced Nuclear is based on an overnight capital cost of about $8 billion per GW installed capacity for the US, when the recent Asian experience (Japan, Korea, China) is considerably lower (between 1/2 and 1/4 this price). Likewise, the price of gas might rise considerably higher than the EIA anticipates, especially regionally, as geographically important supplies dry up in places like the US and LNG prices rise concomitantly due to export/import bottlenecks. I’ll be interested to see the debate that ensues in the comments below, especially from those who advocate cheap renewable energy.

Topics for discussion might include the following: Do you believe the EIA forecast is reasonable overall? What about for your ‘favourite’ energy source? If not, why not? What’s been left out? Have hidden costs (e.g., investor confidence, energy storage and backup, etc.) been adequately represented? Has peak oil or the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis been properly factored in?

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