America will soon to be facing a self-imposed energy crisis that has the potential to cripple the economy. Any honest discussion of the future of power in America, must answer a core question: How do we produce large amounts of clean power within a small footprint and at the best possible price to the stakeholders and end user? Coal plants are steadily being decommissioned, and permitting for new gas or nuclear, fraught as they are with NIMBY concerns, remains slow. Even if a new plant could be built for every plant decommissioned, the timeframe required, from planning to startup, is more than 5 years. Proponents argue that the rapid growth of solar and wind will fill the void in grid level production being opened by decommissioned power plants. Is this plausible? Let’s take a look at these options.
The primary challenges facing wind are the limited locations with enough wind speed to produce power economically, and the as-yet unaddressed issue of decommissioning. Indeed, the massive fiberglass blades are quickly becoming one of the largest problems facing landfills. Wind farms can be built quickly, with the construction schedule from ground break to commissioning at approximately 2-6 months for 10-50 MW. However, the average footprint of 50 acres per megawatt does not scale well against traditional generation technologies. A small power plant is typically 100-200 MW, which would require a set-aside of 5,000-10,000 acres of land for an equivalent wind field. Indeed, 1,776,205 acres would be required to replace just the coal plants that have been shut down since 2015. Additionally, wind power costs $1.3-$2.2 Million dollars per MW to install, which is significantly higher than other forms of energy production. Finally, wind power, despite its high cost, is an intermittent source of electrical energy. To sum it all up wind blows even when it blows.
As with wind energy, solar power is an intermittent source. Even the most efficient solar fields only produce power when the sun is shining, and can develop peak power for 6 hours per day under ideal conditions. Efficiency is greatly reduced during winter months, when sunlight strikes the face of the panel at a less favorable angle. Economic efficiency is poor, at $1,000,000 per MW, installed. Quality solar panels have a life span of 20 years, but many cheaply produced units currently flooding the market can only be expected to last 5 years. Solar panels also have declining production curves, with new units operating at peak production and dropping due to damage from solar radiation. A 1 MW solar farm also requires 4-5 acres of land as its operating footprint. Thus, to replace the previously mentioned power plants you would need 177,620 acres. The final and largest problem with solar power is how to decommission the buggers when they have outlived their usefulness! It’s a little known fact that solar panels are constructed from toxic waste that never decomposes including heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium. When a hail storm hits and breaks the panels, the rain washes the toxic substances out and contaminates soil and ground water. Some companies are attempting to recycle decommissioned solar panels, but it is a technically difficult and financially weak business model. The bright spot, however, is that recycling solar panels is an emerging market that holds tremendous promise as a growth industry. The first large scale solar installations were installed in the 1980s so the majority of solar panels are only just now requiring replacement.
Distributed Generation as the Solution
So, if wind and solar aren’t the solution for the future of the power industry, what is? Aperion Energy Group, LLC is the solution. At Aperion we can site up to 100 MW of production within a footprint of only 4 acres. At that density, replacing all decommissioned coal plants would only require 1,420 acres. We can produce that power cleanly, with an auditable 0% NOx emissions from our systems. Our economics are excellent as well. At $400,000 per installed MW we are well below the cost of either wind or solar. We have worked with some of the largest utilities and energy producers, with a focus on economics, reliability and deliverability. We make the site work for you. At Aperion, every day, we are your Partners in Power.