Levelized Cost of Energy Update

A good update from Lazard’s annual look at Levelized Cost of the Energy (LCOE) for alternative and conventional energy sources illustrates two interesting developments: 1) the continued progress of solar photovoltaics (PV) reduction of cost and competitiveness with conventional brown fuel generation and 2) the cost reductions in the battery storage market.

A key metric for project finance entities, PV LCOE has been significantly reduced by ongoing year-over-year cost reductions of PV hardware, balance of systems (including installation methods) and financing. The result has been a robust PV market both in North America and globally at a time when government support has been steadily declining.  (LCOE is defined as all the expense line items of a PV system’s installed cost + the total lifetime cost of the PV system divided by the total amount of energy output in kW hours that the system will put out over its lifetime. A simple LCOE calculator here). A signifcant recent example is  SunEdison’s utility scale PV project for the City of Austin which is supplying energy in year 1 at just under $0.05/kWh  as part of a 20 year supply contract. This contract will likely save the city’s electricity rate payers money compared to conventional brown fuel sources.

The most interesting data in the Lazard report is the all-important progress of energy storage cost and performance. Renewable energy has large value generally when the renewable fuel source is available–when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. For example, in the early evening a solar array is winding down production at a time when the peak energy demand on the utility grid is still elevated. Solar battery storage significantly increases the value of solar during this time, as solar power stored in the batteries can service this demand at a competitive cost depending on the location.

In addition, solar battery and other storage media can also provide voltage, frequency regulation (Hz) and ramp rate control for PV systems, which enable grid operators to have more control and confidence in the interegrity of their grid with a large number of intermittent distributed resources on their systems.

Notably, energy storage is not required for renewables solely because of their inherent intermittent generation function. Some of the Independent System Operators who manage the transmision and distribution grids nationally need storage throughout their grid to manage their ongoing demand response and frequency regulation challenges. This is due mainly to localized issues such as in the PJM ISO where they have a dearth of energy generation and other grid architeture issues.  PJM embraces and rewards energy storage operators whose storage, placed strategically throughout the grid, helps them smooth out demand spikes and control frequency swings.

In a future post I will review the various storage technologies including battery, compressed air, hydro and thermal.

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