I was surprised by Chris Nelder's comments about my article. Much of what he writes mischaracterizes my argument and some of it makes no sense at all.
He begins by observing, correctly, that the ultimate use of methane hydrate, like any natural resource, will depend on whether it can be produced at a reasonable price--something my article points out more than once. He then goes on to say:
If Mann's data on methane hydrates is correct, then Japan's experiment so far has taken 10 years and $700 million to produce 4 million cubic feet of gas, which is worth about $16,000 at today's U.S. gas prices, or about $50,000 at today's prices for imported LNG in Japan. At this point, it is an enormously expensive experimental pilot project, and nothing more.
Nelder is correct: the Japanese methane hydrate project is an "enormously expensive experimental pilot project." Indeed, I described it as such in my article. When engineers develop a new technology, they spend lots of money at the beginning and for a while get very little in the way of commercial return. To object that Japan has only produced 4 million cubic feet of gas for $700 million is like arguing halfway through Edison's development of the electric light that he was getting very little illumination for the millions he had spent on research. The statement is true, but not his implication.
Nelder then goes on to cite many projections that renewables will come down in cost. One of them is a recent Citigroup report. Unfortunately, Nelder links only to news coverage of the report, not the report. The report itself compares only the cost of "producing a unit of electricity" with gas and home solar (p. 42, my italics). Unfortunately, the home-solar figure does not include the cost of storing electricity for night and cloudy days, which engineers regard as a necessary part of the transition to renewables. (This is a cost with which I have personal experience. When my family built a new house last year, we installed a large and, for us, expensive photovoltaic array. But we could not go off the grid, as we had hoped, because we could not afford the costly batteries needed to store the power we generated during the day for use at night.)
Similarly, the Stanford researchers Nelder cites also compare "the generating cost of power from solar PV ... to the retail electricity prices that commercial users pay" (my italics). Again, this calculation, useful as it is, does not include storage costs. Equally important, the Stanford researchers note upfront that their conclusions about the economic viability of solar installations assume that each installation is in "an ideal geographic location." Not a single place on the Eastern Seaboard constitutes such an ideal location. As Nelder must know, in our current electrical grid there is no way for power from places like the southwest, with plenty of sun, to flow to places like the northeast, which lack sun, because the grid is, for historical reasons, divided into three independent fiefdoms that are unable to send power to each other. The grid can and should be reconfigured, but this, too, is part of the cost of the transition to renewables. (Those who are curious about this sort of thing can learn a lot from Maggie Koerth-Baker's Before the Lights Go Out, a fine primer about why one should take glib statements about the grid with a grain of salt.)