Written by Michael Vrtis President of Realgy Energy Services in response to the Green Tech article “Frenemies—Why Solar and Natural Gas Will Be Central to US Energy Policy”
The article provides a good sense of history and assessment of our demand for electricity. This article is clear that natural gas can and is used for the production of peaking electricity (electricity used during 9Am-5PM) which is exactly the time when solar energy is delivering its energy. So on that point they could appear competitive but as was pointed out in the article, it is a false choice on several levels.
The deployment of investment in solar verse natural gas generators is a question of size; how much is needed and for what purpose. Natural gas will dominate when energy demand is critical and very large (urban areas, major manufacturing centers, etc.). Whereas solar can and should take its place where surface area for its installation (solar takes up a lot of space compared to any other electric generating technology) is available.
Realgy Energy Services has invested in building solar projects on the roof of buildings in Illinois. These customers use more than the solar panels can generate (during most days) and the additional electricity is purchased from gas and coal fired power plants. The solar projects were supported with tax incentives that made the investment possible. The solar panels have a 20-25 year operating life with near zero operating costs; no other generating technology can match this (wind does come close but it has higher operating costs). These projects demonstrate how solar energy and all the grid supported generators work together.
Technology will advance and with it the costs of generating electricity will decrease. All energy options should be evaluated and used so as to create diversity of technology, fuels and operations so that the electricity gird is robust and not dependent on a single energy source (remember the 1970’s oil shock) or technology risk. I hear often of the need for a US Energy Policy I think we have it; look at how the US Government supports industry through tax policy and you will see our Energy Policy (heavily favors oil and natural gas).
A real success; consider that is the span of the last 20 years wind energy went from being a tax incentivized technology that was not “financeable” to what is now considered standard technology and capable of investment grade financing. Solar energy will follow the pattern that wind energy and the diversification of the US energy market (along with environmental, jobs, etc.) will benefit.