There are many benefits from alternative energy sources. Some of these benefits are unlimited availability, zero emission and others. Unfortunately, the efficiency of these systems are not robust and costs remain high, making these sources unaffordable without government subsidies.
According to Bloomberg, photovoltaic solar cells and offshore wind farms can provide power at about $160 a megawatt hour. That’s far costlier than coal-fired plants, which deliver power at about $70 a megawatt hour. Though this price difference is narrowing, it will take years before the alternative energy sources can compete on price.
Besides efficiency and cost, the zigzag supply of alternative energy sources in terms of reliability is troubling. Recently in Germany, sunny days generate so much alternative energy that utilities pay industrial customers to take it away. Nature distorts budgets and that is problem. Indeed, we need a way to store these energies so that we can appropriately manage them, as Businessweek noted.
The most elegant solution would be to improve grid-level storage of solar and wind power, so yesterday’s sunshine can continue to yield power during today’s storms. Achieving next-generation storage will take years. False starts will abound.
Partial breakthroughs will need to be freely shared. Such long-horizon projects are anathema to the private sector, but well-suited to government support. The U.S. Energy Dept. took a step in the right direction last month when it issued a slew of $3 million or smaller grants to labs exploring projects as varied as molten batteries, nanomaterials, high-temperature salts, and compressed vapor.
So for the world to see the effective penetration of alternative energy sources like wind, solar, there is need to invest and develop solid storage mechanism that will help collect excess power and use them when natural phenomenon makes them less available. As we work to get cost, efficiency better, there is need to not forget storage. Anything less, this technology will not have mass penetration as quickly as we would have expected.