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On Horror Story or Happy Ending? Embracing Change in the Power Sector

Thanks for the clarification Bob.  We put your screen shot in the text with a caption.  Kind had given it that label in his presentation, which we got as a screen shot too. 

December 12, 2013    View Comment    

On 122% Wind Power?: A Postcard from the Future of Energy

Paul O,

According to the US EIA, the carbon intensity (emissions per GDP) of Denmark is 0.179  MTCO2 / $1000.  The similar measure for the US is 0.413.  (By another measure, emission per "purchasing power parity," Denmark is 0.253 vs. 0.413.)

The per capita carbon emissons from energy consumption are 8.439 MTCO2 / person in Denmark and 17.621 in the US.

So carbon emissions from energy are about half in Denmark compared to the US, by person and by economic output.


- Ben Paulos

November 16, 2013    View Comment    

On 122% Wind Power?: A Postcard from the Future of Energy


The data you cite from the World Bank show kWh consumption and total carbon -- from all sources, not just power generation -- per capita, but they don't show the carbon intensity of the power systems. You are making a leap that is not supported by the data.

This report from Energinet has all the 2012 data on Danish power sector emissions and trends.  One notable fact:  power sector CO2 has fallen 41 percent since 1990, just as wind grew from 0.2% to 30% of supply.  Growth in CHP and biomass also contributed to the decline in CO2.


November 15, 2013    View Comment    

On 122% Wind Power?: A Postcard from the Future of Energy

John Miller,

Thanks for your comment.   European electric rates, just like in the US, are complicated and opaque.  But here is a handy source of data, from the EU.  

It says indeed that residential rates are highest in Denmark and Germany.  But also notes that "the highest proportion of taxes in the final price of electricity for [residential] consumers was recorded in Denmark, where more than half (55.8 %) of the final price was made up of VAT, taxes and levies; Germany (44.9 %) and Portugal (43.2 %) had the next highest shares.   This chart breaks out the components, showing "energy and supply" costs in Denmark are only 6.8 cents of the total 29.8 cent price.  Total prices in the UK are half of that in Denmark, but largely because power is untaxed.  The "energy and supply" cost in the UK is 11.7 cents.

It's also interesting to note that industrial power costs in Denmark and Germany are just average in the EU.  This is partly due to the fact that most German industries don't pay the EEG surcharge; it is charged  to residential consumers.  So pointing only to residential rates, and ignoring the components of the rates, intentionally exaggerates the supposed effect of renewables.

November 14, 2013    View Comment    

On 122% Wind Power?: A Postcard from the Future of Energy


You'd have to do some digging to find the relative value of wind vs. imports on the Nordic pool, I can't answer that question.  This site from Energinet, the Danish grid operator, lists hourly data on consumption, production and power flows for Denmark.  You could probably correlate the import/export flows with prices to find an answer.  

I assume the Danish authorities have done that calculation and think wind is a good idea, since their goal is to go from 30% to 50% wind over the next decade.

As for curtailment, one point of the article is that Denmark is part of a larger regional grid, so curtailment is minimized. Parts of the US, like the West, are discovering that small balancing areas are more expensive to run than larger, more liquid markets.  As a workaround, Colorado grid operators are using curtailment as a way to make wind dispatchable, for up and down ramping services.  It's like direct load control, but with wind turbines.  As long as they pay the wind farms for providing those ancillary services, everybody is whole, and overall operating costs are minimized.  So curtailment is not necessarily a failure; it is becoming an operating tool that serves the overall system.

In the long run, yes many countries in Europe are scaling up their wind and solar.  As a result, there is growing interest in consolidated balancing areas, even Europe-wide, as well as experiments in storage, hydrogen production and "power to gas" production.

Thanks for your interest.

- Ben Paulos


November 14, 2013    View Comment    

On The Official Explanation for the German Energy Transition

Bob Meinetz,

Thanks for your comments.

The point of this article was not to say that everything is fine in Germany’s energy system.  Other articles and reports address that. Instead, this article quotes elected leaders on the policy rationale they use to guide their decisions.  

It is true that carbon emissions are up, but this has nothing to do with the performance of renewables.  Instead, if I can describe the thread clearly –

1)  Cheap natural gas in the US has led to a decline in coal consumption by US utilities.

2)  That surplus coal supply is getting exported to Europe by barge.  

3)  European utilities are subject to a carbon cap, but emissions are low due to the recession, so there is headroom in the cap to burn cheap US coal.

4) Ergo, they are burning more coal, while still achieving the mandated carbon cap.

New coal plants are coming online now whose planning started 10 years ago, but old coal plants are retiring, and no additional coal plants are planned.  The carbon and renewable targets get more stringent over time, as shown in the blue chart.  There will be no room for coal eventually.  The energiewende phases out both nuclear and coal over time.

And it is very true, and very interesting that owners of fossil and nuclear plants are getting creamed by the split market they have in Germany.  Renewables are paid through feed-in tariffs, while fossil and nuclear plants are paid through a power exchange.  Rising renewable supply drives down the apparent demand in the power exchange, reducing the price on the exchange.  

That issue is beyond the scope of this article, but I will point out that the profitability of incumbent utilities is not a goal of the energiewende.  In fact, Germany deregulated their power market in 1998, and they strongly believe in competition.

You said:   This showboating is nonsensical, for the simple reason that a new bill can always be introduced to nullify the old. 

You’ve identified the fundamental point of this essay – it wasn't me that said the debate over “whether” is over -- Minister Altmaier said it.  He is the minister of the CDU, Chancellor Merkel’s dominant center right party.  (Kind of like moderate Republicans, when we still had those in the US.)  The center left party, the SPD (like the Democrats), created the energiewende in coalition with the third party, the Greens.  Even Minister Rosler, from the Free Democrats party, called “business-minded” by the Times, was mostly concerned about introducing market-based pricing to the energiewende, not in repealing it.  

There is essentially no political support for repeal currently.  So I believe the politicians when they say the “whether” debate is over.  Can that change?  Sure, but there is no change visible now.

But the “how” debate is intense.  As renewable technologies mature, they will need different policies that can be scalable, efficient, and affordable.  That is the point of America’s Power Plan, to identify a set of policies that can keep up with the evolution of technologies.

Thanks again.


- Ben Paulos



November 5, 2013    View Comment    

On An Action Plan for Distributed Generation

Nathan - Thanks for your feedback.  

One revolutionary thing about DG from a regulatory perspective is that it is not really up to planners when and where and how much DG is installed -- it is up to consumers.  In a free country like ours, any citizen should be able to put solar panels on their roof, whether a planner thinks it makes sense or not.  Due to the drop in prices, and the fact that retail rates are higher than wholesale, it increasingly does make sense.  

From a technical perspective, DG is not much of a problem. Distributed PV has the same level of impact on the grid, more or less, as installing a new central air conditioner.  We don't need permission from planners to install a pool pump, so why is PV any different?

From a financial perspective it is very different, especially the impact on utility revenues.  That is the "disruptive challenge" EEI raised, and the focus of the new law in California, AB327, on rate design and net metering.  These decisions will determine the financial viability of DG.  America's Power Plan argues that we should encourage DG rather than stifle it.

Large scale solar has it's benefits for sure, but solar is modular and will have many pathways to deployment.  No need to choose just one.

October 17, 2013    View Comment    

On Six Myths About Renewable Energy, and Seven Answers

Bob Meinetz --

I didn't mean to be shy.  Just trying to "promote the brand."  

I'm Ben Paulos, the manager of America's Power Plan.  This post is part of an ongoing series which will be written by me and various members of the project.  You can read more at

I look forward to your thoughts on it.

October 3, 2013    View Comment