On a positive note, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reported in The Telegraph May 30 that China’s Wuxi Suntech Power projects that by 2016 it will be able to match the price of coal power with its photovoltaic panels. He writes:
“The company’s chief executive, Eric Luo, told RenewEconomy that grid parity is at hand, even in competing with the cheapest and dirtiest form of fossil fuels.
“We are sure that by 2016 – or at the latest 2017 – the levellised cost of solar PV will be the same as coal-fired generation. It is going to completely transform the energy market in China,” he said.”
Evans-Pritchard goes on to note that while the cost of solar is coming down, the cost of mining coal is going up. That points to a potential turning point in energy economics in China, where coal provides about 70 percent of the nation’s primary energy and where coal consumption has been inexorably rising.
But another important piece of the unfolding story involves storing energy from the sun to use at night and during cloudy weather. The Achilles heel of renewable energy so far has been its intermittent nature compared to coal, which burns brightly to provide power 24-7-365.
Now, another Chinese entrepreneur, Winston Chung, believes he may have that covered. In a little known move earlier this month, several public agencies in Riverside, California, switched on a solar system that includes a huge battery storage bank, using lithium-yttrium batteries developed by Chung’s company, Winston Battery Manufacturing Ltd.
The system consists of solar panels that can generate up to 4 MW when producing at peak capacity on a bright sunny afternoon. The California Energy Commission says that’s enough to power about 5,500 homes. However, in this case, the project being managed by the University of California at Riverside will instead send power to 27 electric vehicle charging stations in various locations on campus and in the city of Riverside, plus charge an electric trolley used by the Riverside Transit Agency.
Chung’s battery bank will be used to store energy from the sun and then feed to the bus and electric cars that plug into the charging stations.
Driving down both the price of solar panels and the price of energy storage batteries is the ability to achieve economies of scale, something China’s manufacturers have mastered.
Lower-priced solar panels, coupled with storage, could well be the game changer China needs to turn away from coal. And that would both clean up its foul air and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to stave off catastrophic climate change.
It’s a fascinating and important potential turn of events. Stay tuned here as it all unfolds.