UT study determines cheapest electricity for the future

Photo of "Full Cost of Electricity" online calculator. (KXAN Photo/Natalie Ferrari)
Photo of "Full Cost of Electricity" online calculator. (KXAN Photo/Natalie Ferrari)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Have you already paid your electric bill for the month? A group of researchers at the University of Texas are helping to make things easier when exploring options in the future.

A recent study at UT discovered just what type of electricity is the cheapest to generate, depending where you live. The Energy Institute at the University of Texas developed a new online calculator that simplifies determining the cheapest electricity to generate and distribute, while incorporating a variety of factors.

“It’s really a decision analysis tool that allows people to test different assumptions like the cost of a new technology or the cost of fuel,” says Joshua Rhodes, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas.

This calculator is just one piece of a 15-part study pulled from all across various schools at the University of Texas, also known as the “Full Cost of Electricity” study.

“It would really allow someone to kind of test their hypothesis, if they think a certain technology is the best,” Rhodes tell us. “We’re striving to provide a consistent framework for people to compare options.”

With this unique tool, you can zoom-in to your location, even county, to experiment with different values and potential costs of a certain technology, such as natural gas, wind and solar. Once you plug in and adjust those values, the calculator updates in real time.

Rhodes says that if someone at home wanted to experiment or see what was happening in their area, “whether some types of plants were going to be closed down or if certain types of new generation were going to be built, they can kind of test that to see if that’s economical or if that falls within where they’d like to see things go.”

It’s not just the cost of transporting or building a type of power plant that is taken into consideration. This calculator can also include indirect costs, such as impacts on our health and the environment due to air pollution, over time.

“Different technologies produce those pollutants at different rates,” Rhodes explains. “And so if you put a high price on something it may change which technology is the cheapest if you’re going to internalize the cost associated with human health impacts — people having to go to the hospital for asthma attacks, things like that.”

Rhodes tells KXAN that researchers in this study received some feedback from the Department of Energy and EPA, saying that, “they think it’s a great decision support tool, a great stakeholder outreach tool. It would allow them to kind of backup some of their assumptions, some of the policy levers they’re possibly using.”

Researchers with this University are hoping this unique power planning tool will become the “energy infrastructure of the future.”

You can read more on the “Full Cost of Electricity” study and access their online calculators.

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