The sunflower
It bows down to the Sun
The image of resilience.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Energy too Cheap to Meter. A Comment by Christian Breyer on the Future of Renewables


A picture I took a few days ago of the sun setting behind the chimney of a house in central Tuscany. The sun is the ultimate source of energy for us, and it comes for free! Too cheap to meter.

Last year, I published a post on "The Sunflower Paradigm" blog where I discussed the sun as a "nuclear plant in space," the embodiment of the old concept of "energy too cheap to meter" that was expressed during the euphoria of the nuclear age, in the 1950s.

The low cost of the current generation of solar and wind energy makes it possible to return to that old concept. We don't need to bother with complex, expensive, and dangerous nuclear reactors on the Earth surface. We can use a nuclear fusion plant located in space; the sun. It works, it is already there, it costs nothing, and we now have good technologies to convert the energy it creates into electricity. It is cheap energy. Not yet "too cheap to meter" but moving in that direction. Look at these impressive data:

Unfortunately, many people (including opinion leaders and decision-makers) seem to have entered a negative psychological loop that pushes them to deny the usefulness of renewable energy and wait instead for impossible miracles, well knowing that they will not arrive. It is discussed, among others, by Glenn Albrecht in his book "Earth Emotions, " where he says

" When life becomes intolerable and there seems to be no way out, prayers and desperate hope for a final end, so that we might start all over, beckon. The nonbelievers in "rapture" religion simply engage in disaster euphoria, take drugs, and drink more."

So, I thought that the readers of this blog may be interested in the comment on the concept that I proposed that I received from Christian Breyer about this Christian is Professor for Solar Economy at LUT University, Finland. one of the foremost researchers in the field. is his comment, published with his kind permission and with a few minor edits to improve clarity. 


Christian Breyer wrote:

Ugo, first of all, many thanks for your initiative.

Personally, I do not like much the wording ‘fusion power’ since it has a legacy of decades-old promises without any relevance for reality due to ongoing failures – why solar energy should be downgraded by such a bad reputation? That may be only my personal thoughts, since ‘fusion power’ (on earth) is nice wishful thinking, and, in the end, great research for high-temperature physics at its edges and respective material science, but has no relevance for energy supply. In case it might be successful, then it would be available at a time when the (solar & wind) powered global energy system has helped to survive the climate emergency. In any case, with all cost estimates as of today for a non-existing technology, it seems to be not competitive at all, since a 100% renewable energy system based largely on solar and wind will cost the same or less, but with a technology that can be handled by all countries globally, in particularly in the Global South, where most the additional energy demand will arise.

As a physicist, I fully agree that you are right 😉 and the fusion power of our sun is the way forward (among some other solutions). There may be another less helpful misunderstanding: solar power plants in space for sending energy on earth (space solar power). This option is nicely discussed from time to time, but chances are high that it will be never introduced at large, finally due to costs (higher than on earth) and the risk (destroyed due to all the garbage in the orbit and attacks due to warfare – we learn right now that nuclear threat in warfare is no theory but brutal reality).

We are now in year 47 of 100% renewable energy systems research. The following is really important:

Base load demand: will exist as long as a civilization is using electricity

Base generation demand: is something of the past of a fossil-nuclear energy system which is NOT required in an energy system based on solar and wind energy and modern technology options utilizing flexibility which is available in large quantities, and, NOT compromising energy services at all (for instance shown here:; in more conceptual detail here:, or here:

Modern energy system analyses are done in hourly resolution with real weather data and real demand data, so that it can be easily checked how a system has to be designed in such a way that it works properly at all hours of the year.

For those who still think that base generation would be impossible (or required) – we have even prepared a scientific paper in which this is shown on the based on solar and wind power ( The PhD student couldn't understand why such a ‘nonsense’ as base generation should be even published, since in state-of-the-art scientific publications, it has been shown in hundreds of papers that it is not required. However, for the debates on the topic, it helps to show that it will not be required, but even that could be done (BTW, for substantially less cost than new nuclear power …).

This is also discussed and embedded in a topical review on 100% renewable energy systems research as recently published (a bit more below):

RethinkX: Be aware that the oversimplified approach of Seba et al. is dangerous and makes only sense for those who have little clue about a real energy system. Why? An energy system based on solar-wind-batteries (and nothing more) is NOT stable and will NOT work for an uninterrupted electricity supply. I strongly suggest getting the RethinkX ideas published in a scientific journal, so that all the limitations of the oversimplification are made transparent.

The literature review on EROI in the linked Earth4All document is very good and worth reading. The fundamental impact of the learning rates is well presented, BUT a real energy system is MUCH more complex than the oversimplification indicates.

A more realistic approach is close, as around 90% of all electricity could be from solar and wind power, and about 95% of all storage could come from batteries, as shown in this paper (, BUT, the lacking discussion on the difference to 100% is the reason why skeptics may believe that a solar and wind-powered system would not work (… “in hours of lack of sun and wind” …). A variety of smaller solutions enable the low-cost and stable 100% renewable solution. The much-discussed sector coupling (also called smart energy system) comes on top and further reduces the energy system cost. Again, more food for thought and references in the above-linked topical review article.


I do not want to be pessimistic, there is much indication to welcome a bright future.

In a recent review article, researchers from 15 universities (several are here on this list) have summarized the state-of-the-art of 100% renewable energy systems research:

(overview on the roots of the discipline, development of publications, relevant global studies, regular criticism and the response [EROI, materials, variability, costs, a.o.] and a research outlook) – 400+ references are provided for further reading, and the knowledge of several key researchers in the field is aggregated, also representing the 5 teams with the most published articles in the field – while the emphasis was high to be as inclusive and balanced as possible when it comes to technologies, approaches, discourses and specific topics of relevance.

We have all in our hands to create a truly sustainable civilization, as for the first time humans have the technology and means to enable a world of energy wealth for all humans by the end of this century. This even implies the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, as it would be energetically affordable, and sustainably doable (although not with BECCS). There seems to be no fundamental show-stopper as long as (sustainable) renewable resources are used and a circular economy is the basis of our activities.

Best regards,



  1. -- We have all in our hands to create a truly sustainable civilization, - -

    That was also true a hundred years ago. We had 90% of the technology then which we have now. Electric cars were built with battery materials which would not be in short supply if deposits forced recycle despite a huge population. Unlike now. So why did it not already happen? Maybe perhaps because our economic system has contradictions which prevent it?

    -- As for the first time humans have the technology and means to enable a world of energy wealth for all humans by the end of this century. --

    Simply not true. Eight billion people can't be all energy rich, and no new tech has shown up to be a holy grail of power. All energy sources have problems which at large scale become big problems.

    Energy wealth for all is a statement of faith. A wish. A wish in which we may as well also ask for a pony for all. We have the technology and means to give everyone on the earth a pony don't we?

    -- This even implies the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, as it would be energetically affordable --

    In a capitalist system NO ACTIVITY THAT DOES NOT PRODUCE PROFIT can ever be sustained.

    -- There seems to be no fundamental show-stopper as long as (sustainable) renewable resources are used and a circular economy is the basis of our activities. --

    The show stopper is our economic system. A system in which an imbalance of power prevents the common interest from being addressed.

    Internal contradictions in the dynamics of the way we live caused our resource depletion problems. (Climate is a resource.) No progress can be made without deep systemic changes. Changes that our culture does not have the courage to make. Poverty has to be eliminated if everyone is energy rich. Lets be real. “The poor you will always have with you.” John 12:8.

    The biggest show stopper is population. Yet we still have people who think breeding more people can supply more brains to solve problems. Yet doing the same thing which has produced poor results before is often called madness.

    The roots of the climate crisis are deep. Systemic cultural issues having nothing to do with technology must be solved before any technology stops being used in the service of destruction. All techno-narcissism solutions do is it put lipstick on a pig. A pig that still sleeps in the mud.

    Solve systemic issues first.

  2. Thanks for posting this Ugo, it's a great intervention from Christian. I agree that there's a danger of oversimplifying and as a former director at RethinkX (I do not speak on their behalf), I welcome his critical feedback. I also agree that in reality we will have multiple storage solutions and electric batteries will probably be dominant but not the only solution in play (i've mentioned many others at However, Christian is wrong in suggesting that there are no peer-reviewed studies showing that solar, wind and batteries can provide 100% stable and cheap energy. While RethinkX's research has not been published in peer-reviewed journals, a number of other research teams have published dozens of peer-reviewed studies which corroborate their core findings. I reviewed these studies here: - the studies have been done as part of the International Energy Agency's Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (PVPS). They show clearly that supersizing the solar and wind generation capacity allows you to reduce the battery storage component dramatically. They call this "implicit storage". Unlike RethinkX, they propose systematic curtailment of the excess electricity within the system to produce stability. As I've also explained in my review, there is no sound reason why we should not use that excess electricity and expand the grid, which will massively help with powering the circular economy. Christian does not really address the issue of supersizing or 'overbuilding' in any of his research. This is a major omission in my view.

  3. Countries with highest pv power per capita: Australia > Netherlands > Germany > Japan > Belgium > Switzerland > Italy
    Countries with highest electricity bills: Denmark > Italy > Germany > Belgium > Lithuania > Netherlands.

    One would think that being a world leader in photovoltaics would lower the electricity bills, but no chance. Maybe it's all our fault, for insisting on consuming electricity when the panels are not producing.