Flaw and Order: How Brookings Got Its Analysis of Wind and Solar Costs So Wrong
Amory Lovins breaks down the flaws in a recent study from the Brookings Institution.
Amory B. Lovins
August 8, 2014
In May, the Brookings Institution published a working paper by economist and nonresident senior fellow Dr. Charles R. Frank Jr. claiming that solar and wind were far more expensive than previously thought.
Two weeks ago, that paper got a big and unwarranted boost when The Economist featured its conclusions in a full-page article.
There was just one problem: the paper’s conclusions were wrong.
Dr. Frank’s paper examined technology options for reducing carbon emissions by burning less fossil fuel for electricity generation. He evaluated five coal-saving options — wind, solar photovoltaics (PV), hydro, nuclear and gas combined-cycle — ranking them from the most to the least cost-effective carbon-savers.
Substituting for coal-fired plants, his analysis placed PV and wind last and next-to-last, respectively (while omitting efficiency, widely recognized as what would have been the most economical of the bunch), while gas and nuclear headed the pack.
Gas and nuclear advocates read Frank’s paper or the Economist article and probably thought, “We told you so.” And renewable energy advocates were largely aghast. Readers deeply embedded in the electricity sector simply knew better. Some of them, in fact, have responded with their own critiques. Three are cited in a detailed rebuttal recently published by Rocky Mountain