Is Bigger Best in Renewable Energy?

Conventional wisdom suggests the biggest wind and solar power plants will be cheapest, but where they deliver power, and who will own them, matters more.
In a 100% renewable energy future, there’s room for big, utility-scale wind and solar and distributed renewables, too. Understanding the relative cost of our investments matters, because resources are limited. But understanding the relative benefits (and the recipients) matters, because making the transition doesn’t require us to remain married to a century-old and increasingly archaic business model.
The economic arguments between big and small can’t be taken at face value, because the largest players have a vested (dare I say oversized?) interest in the outcome. Can scale economies generate cheaper electricity? Sometimes. But smaller renewable energy systems can also compete at the retail level, where their relative benefit and the costs they offset are also higher.
The choice between big and small is more than a spreadsheet analysis. Instead, it’s an argument about whether the economic windfall of the renewable energy transition will accrue to the incumbent players, or whether tapping the wind and sun in communities across America will result in benefits everyone can share

John Farrell is the Director of Democratic Energy at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (US)

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