A report on an IEEE Spectrum article at Watts Up With That. I’m not going to discuss the article. It speaks for itself.

What I am going to do is to reprise a comment that I think is critical for understanding energy in all its forms.

November 22, 2014 at 8:49 pm

“losing $ on each sale and making it up with volume” is correct.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about energy. We would make better choices if it were more widely understood that no one “consumes” energy. By the 1st law of thermodynamics, energy is neither created nor destroyed. What we’re actually consuming is orderliness, or negative entropy, or neg-entropy. The most central cost analysis relates to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy.

Understanding neg-entropy is important because different energy sources do not have the same negentropy density by any means. In particular, the renewables such as wind, solar, wave etc. are typically are far more dis-ordered at the source. This makes it intrinsically very difficult to cost effectively harvest renewable energy.

In fact, this whole question has deep similarities with the age old attempt to make a perpetual motion machine. In both cases, there is a fundamental underestimation of the centrality of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

West’s last comment is also on target. The energy source that has far and away the highest neg-entropy is nuclear. In the 1950s the prediction was that nuclear energy would be “too cheap to meter”, and on a thermodynamic basis that should still be true. The bulk of the cost of nuclear power lies in satisfying safety and environmental regulations.

Thermodynamics is hard. It washed out about 1/2 my class at Naval Nuclear Power School. That is how the “renewable” snake oil got sold. The general public knows nothing about entropy and the politicians know less. And the engineers who touted the scam? Well you CAN do the impossible with enough free government money.