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The Economic Case for Wind and Solar Energy in Africa

To meet skyrocketing demand for electricity, African countries may have to triple their energy output by 2030. While hydropower and fossil fuel power plants are favored approaches in some quarters, a new assessment by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that wind and solar can be economically and environmentally competitive options and can contribute significantly to the rising demand.

Chemists ID Catalytic 'Key' for Converting CO2 to Methanol

Results from experiments and computational modeling studies that definitively identify the "active site" of a catalyst commonly used for making methanol from CO2 will guide the design of improved catalysts for transforming this pollutant to useful chemicals.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy Achieves Unprecedented Resolution Using New Computational Methods

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)--which enables the visualization of viruses, proteins, and other biological structures at the molecular level--is a critical tool used to advance biochemical knowledge. Now Berkeley Lab researchers have extended cryo-EM's impact further by developing a new computational algorithm instrumental in constructing a 3-D atomic-scale model of bacteriophage P22 for the first time.

New Study Maps Space Dust in 3-D

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides detailed 3-D views of space dust in the Milky Way, which could help us understand the properties of this dust and how it affects views of distant objects.

Single-Angle Ptychography Allows 3D Imaging of Stressed Materials

Scientists have used a new X-ray diffraction technique called Bragg single-angle ptychography to get a clear picture of how planes of atoms shift and squeeze under stress.

New Feedback System Could Allow Greater Control Over Fusion Plasma

A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.

Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells

Researchers from Ames Laboratory used supercomputers at NERSC to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells by optimizing nanophotonic light trapping.

Study IDs Link Between Sugar Signaling and Regulation of Oil Production in Plants

UPTON, NY--Even plants have to live on an energy budget. While they're known for converting solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, plants have sophisticated biochemical mechanisms for regulating how they spend that energy. Making oils costs a lot. By exploring the details of this delicate energy balance, a group of scientists from the U.

High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.


Jefferson Lab Accomplishes Critical Milestones Toward Completion of 12 GeV Upgrade

The Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has achieved two major commissioning milestones and is now entering the final stretch of work to conclude its first major upgrade. Recently, the CEBAF accelerator delivered electron beams into two of its experimental halls, Halls B and C, at energies not possible before the upgrade for commissioning of the experimental equipment currently in each hall. Data were recorded in each hall, which were then confirmed to be of sufficient quality to allow for particle identification, a primary indicator of good detector operation.

Valerie Taylor Named Argonne National Laboratory's Mathematics and Computer Science Division Director

Computer scientist Valerie Taylor has been appointed as the next director of the Mathematics and Computer Science division at Argonne, effective July 3, 2017.

Three SLAC Employees Awarded Lab's Highest Honor

At a March 7 ceremony, three employees of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were awarded the lab's highest honor ­- the SLAC Director's Award.

Dan Sinars Represents Sandia in First Energy Leadership Class

Dan Sinars, a senior manager in Sandia National Laboratories' pulsed power center, which built and operates the Z facility, is the sole representative from a nuclear weapons lab in a new Department of Energy leadership program that recently visited Sandia.

ORNL, HTS International Corporation to Collaborate on Manufacturing Research

HTS International Corporation and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed an agreement to explore potential collaborations in advanced manufacturing research.

Jefferson Lab Director Honored with Energy Secretary Award

Hugh Montgomery, director of the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), was awarded The Secretary's Distinguished Service Award by the Secretary of Energy earlier this year.

New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive

Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California's total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

Southern Research Project Advances Novel CO2 Utilization Strategy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy has awarded Southern Research nearly $800,000 for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing some of the most important chemicals used in manufacturing.

Harker School Wins 2017 SLAC Regional Science Bowl Competition

After losing its first match of the day to the defending champions, The Harker School's team won 10 consecutive rounds to claim victory in the annual SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative

Alexander brings extensive management and leadership experience in computational science research to the position.


High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Modeling the "Flicker" of Gluons in Subatomic Smashups

A new model identifies a high degree of fluctuations in the glue-like particles that bind quarks within protons as essential to explaining proton structure.

Rare Nickel Atom Has "Doubly Magic" Structure

Supercomputing calculations confirm that rare nickel-78 has unusual structure, offering insights into supernovas.

Microbial Activity in the Subsurface Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Fluxes

Natural carbon dioxide production from deep subsurface soils contributes significantly to emissions, even in a semiarid floodplain.

Stretching a Metal Into an Insulator

Straining a thin film controllably allows tuning of the materials' magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties, essential for new energy and electronic devices.

How Moisture Affects the Way Soil Microbes Breathe

Study models soil-pore features that hold or release carbon dioxide.

ARM Data Is for the Birds

Scientists use LIDAR and radar data to study bird migration patterns, thanks to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

The Future of Coastal Flooding

Better storm surge prediction capabilities could help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Estimating Global Energy Use for Water-Related Processes

Scientists find that water-related energy consumption is increasing across the globe, with pronounced differences across regions and sectors.


Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

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Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

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Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

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Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

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NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

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Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

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University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

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Costs of Solar Photovoltaic Panels Substantially Eclipse Benefits

Article ID: 537915

Released: 2008-02-20 09:00:00

Source Newsroom: University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business

  • Severin Borenstein, professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business and director of the UC Energy Institute

Media Contacts:

Ute S. Frey

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

510-642-0342

frey@haas.berkeley.edu

Ronna Kelly

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

510-643-0259

rkelly@haas.berkeley.edu

Despite increasing popular support for solar photovoltaic panels in the United States, their costs far outweigh the benefits, according to a new analysis by Severin Borenstein, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business and director of the UC Energy Institute.

"Solar photovoltaic (PV) is a very exciting technology, but the current technology is not economic," said Borenstein. "We are throwing money away by installing the current solar PV technology, which is a loser."

In his January working paper, "The Market Value and Cost of Solar Photovoltaic Electricity Product," Borenstein also found that, even after considering that the panels reduce greenhouse gases, their costs still far outweigh their social benefits.

The bottom line, Borenstein argues in his paper, is that solar PV panels are not ready for widespread installation. Rather than subsidizing residential solar PV installations, as many states do, he favors more state and federal funding for research and development.

"We need a major scientific breakthrough, and we won't get it by putting panels up on houses," he said in a recent interview on campus. "It is going to come in the labs."

Solar photovoltaic panels generate more power on summer afternoons when the sun is shining most intensely, which is also when the value of electricity is higher for most U.S. electricity systems, Borenstein noted. Proponents of the devices have pointed out that most previous analyses fail to address that fact. Borenstein uses actual wholesale electricity prices and simulated data to calculate how much that timing enhances the value of solar photovoltaic panels.

He found that the favorable timing of solar PV production increases its value by up to 20 percent. However, the premium value of solar PV could be from 30 percent to 50 percent higher if U.S. systems were run with less capacity and prices were allowed to rise as demand increases at different times of the day, said Borenstein, who has long advocated for such variable time pricing. He noted that U.S. systems typically operate with excess capacity and that consumers pay the same price for electricity at all times of the day.

"Basically, the benefits of solar PV are undermined by the way most grids are run today," Borenstein said.

He noted that utilities are slowly moving toward operating with less excess capacity and time-varying pricing for residential customers, and that these changes are expected to be in place for customers to opt for on a voluntary basis in California by 2012. "When that happens, the value of solar will go up," Borenstein said.

His analysis deconstructs the argument that solar panels produce power at the location of the end-user and therefore can reduce the costs of transmission and distribution infrastructure investments. Examining 26,522 solar PV systems in California, Borenstein found they are not concentrated in locations where they would reduce transmission congestion and reduce the need for investment in transmission infrastructure.

"Solar PV is not clustered in the most valuable locations," his paper concludes.

Borenstein took his analysis a step further by calculating the discounted net present value (a financial tool to calculate the value of a dollar in the future compared to its value now) of power produced by a 10 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system and then compared that to the cost of installing and operating such a system over its lifetime. He found the cost for an installation ranges from nearly $86,000 to $91,000, while the value of the power produced ranges from $19,000 to $51,000.

Under the most extreme assumptions (a 5 percent annual increase in electricity costs and 1 percent interest rate), the cost of solar PV is about 80 percent greater than the value of the electricity it will produce, Borenstein found. Under more likely scenarios about interest rates and electricity cost increases, the cost of a solar PV installation today is three to four times greater than the benefits of the electricity it will produce, he said.

Given that a coal-fired electricity generation plant produces about 1 ton of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, Borenstein estimated that the price of greenhouse gas reductions would have to range from about $150 to $500 per ton of greenhouse gases to make the current solar PV technology a worthwhile investment when greenhouse gas reductions are considered.

But Borenstein noted that policymakers are considering a far lower price " $20 per ton of greenhouse gases " as the maximum that industry could be charged in proposed tradable emissions permit programs.

NOTE: Severin Borenstein is reachable at (510) 642-3689, (510) 642-5145 or borenste@haas.berkeley.edu.