This exchange became interesting to me since Google somehow blocked my access to the twitchy.com page where the tweet thread was published. This, even though I was using DuckDuckGo in Dissenter browser, supposedly independent of Google. TorBrowser saved the day, and here are Shellenberger’s tweets offered to NYT for them to salvage an embarrassing badly warped article.
EIA explains the news today New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant closes after 59 years of operation. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
The Indian Point Energy Center (Indian Point) permanently stopped generating electricity on April 30, 2021, when it retired its last operating nuclear reactor, Unit 3, earlier than originally planned. The Indian Point nuclear power plant began operations in 1962 and produced over 565 terawatthours (TWh) of electricity in the 59 years it was open. The Unit 3 retirement removes almost 1,040 megawatts (MW) of nuclear generating capacity from New York State, leaving about 3,200 MW of remaining nuclear capacity at three plants in upstate New York.
Background from previous post
“New York Nukes Itself” refers not to the disastrous decisions in managing WuHanFlu, but about New York’s insane decision to close nuclear power plants in favor of wind farms. Robert Bryce writes at Forbes New York Has 1,300 Reasons Not To Close Indian Point. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
At the end of this month, the Unit 2 reactor at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York will be permanently shut down. Next April, the final reactor at the site, Unit 3, will also be shuttered.But the premature closure of the 2,069-megawatt nuclear plant is even worse land-use policy. Here’s why: replacing the 16 terawatt-hours of carbon-free electricity that is now being produced by the twin-reactor plant with wind turbines will require 1,300 times as much territory as what is now covered by Indian Point.
Here are the facts: Indian Point covers 239 acres, or about 1 square kilometer. To put Indian Point’s footprint into context, think of it this way: you could fit three Indian Points inside Central Park in Manhattan.
Based on projected output from offshore wind projects (which have higher capacity factors than onshore wind projects), producing that same amount of electricity as is now generated by Indian Point – about 16 terawatt-hours per year – would require installing about 4,000 megawatts of wind turbines. That estimate is based on the proposed South Fork offshore wind project, a 90-megawatt facility that is expected to produce 370 gigawatt-hours per year. (Note that these output figures are substantially higher than what can be expected from onshore wind capacity.) Using the numbers from South Fork, a bit of simple division shows that each megawatt of wind capacity will produce about 4.1 gigawatt-hours per year. Thus, matching the energy output of Indian Point will require about 4,000 megawatts of wind capacity.
That’s a lot of wind turbines. According to the American Wind Energy Association, existing wind-energy capacity in New York state now totals about 1,987 megawatts. That capacity will require enormous amounts of land. Numerous studies, including ones by the Department of Energy have found that the footprint, or capacity density, of wind energy projects is about 3 watts per square meter. Thus, 4,000 megawatts (four billion watts) divided by 3 watts per square meter = 1.33 billion square meters or 1,333 square kilometers. (Or roughly 515 square miles.)Those numbers are almost too big to imagine. Therefore, let’s look again at Central Park. Recall that three Indian Points could fit inside the confines of the famed park. Thus, replacing the energy production from Indian Point would require paving a land area equal to 400 Central Parks with forests of wind turbines.
Put another way, the 1,300 square kilometers of wind turbines needed to replace the electricity output of Indian Point is nearly equal to the size of Albany County. Would New York legislators who convene in the capitol in Albany consent to having the entire county covered in wind turbines? I can’t be sure, but I am guessing that they might oppose such plan. (See yellow area in Google Earth image at top).
These basic calculations prove some undeniable facts. Among them: Indian Point represents the apogee of densification. The massive amount of energy being produced by the two reactors on such a small footprint provides a perfect illustration of what may be nuclear energy’s single greatest virtue: its unsurpassed power density. (Power density is a measure of energy flow from a given area, volume, or mass.) High power density sources, like nuclear, allow us to spare land for nature. Density is green.
Alas, the environmental groups that are influencing policymakers in New York and in other states are strident in their belief that nuclear energy is bad and that renewables are good. But that theology ignores the greenness of density and the essential role that nuclear energy must play if we are to have any hope of making significant reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions.
In short, the premature closure of Indian Point – and the raging land-use battles over renewable energy siting in New York – should lead environmental groups to rethink their definition of what qualifies as “green.” Just because wind and solar are renewable doesn’t mean they are green. In fact, the land-use problems with renewables show the exact opposite.
And there is much more wrong about this. For a complete discussion see Forbes article The Indian Point Closure Means More Emissions — And More Cynicism About Climate Action
John Constable writes at Civitas The Green Mirage: Why a Low-Carbon Economy May be Further Off Than We Think. Excerpts in italics with my bolds and images. h/t Real Clear Public Affairs
- The prospects for a sustainable, low-carbon economy as the result of current UK national and EU-wide policies are poor.
- Empirical experience in Spain and Germany shows that the costs of supporting renewable energy generation are too high.
- Rising employment in the renewable energy sector compared to the wider UK economy stems from unsustainably high subsidies.
- Renewables are naturally less productive, so as they are relentlessly pursued, a painful rebalancing of the economy will occur, with fewer jobs and less economic growth.
Bottom Line: The current prospects for a sustainable low-carbon economy are poor in both the UK and across the European Union (EU). Germany and Spain have already clearly shown what happens when state coercion forces such a dramatic shift to less reliable and more costly renewable energy systems: unsustainably high subsidies, fewer jobs, and reduced economic growth.
Whatever the longer-term potential for a viable and prosperous global economy with a low-emissions profile, the present study demonstrates that the prospects for a self-sustaining low-carbon economy as the result of current UK national and EU-wide policies are poor.
The problem is that these policies for such a shift to renewable energy systems demand high levels of state coercion. This has the risk of stagnating economic growth and leading to lower levels of invention and innovation, thus appearing to be a weak preparation for reduced usage of fossil fuels.
In addition, empirical experience in Spain and Germany shows that the costs of supporting renewable energy generation is overly high, compared to low-carbon alternatives, and almost certainly has, over time, net economic effects that are negative both in terms of gross domestic product and employment.
An age of subsistence energy generation appears to be dawning. Overly high subsidies to force renewable energy into the system erode jobs in other sectors of the economy.
Finally, analysis for the EU suggests that the net effects of such policies would only be marginally positive if the EU retains a high share of the world export market in renewable energy technologies – something that appears rather unlikely.
Read the full study here.
Footnote: Excerpt from the full study:
In an interview with an environmental journalist for Ecoseed in early 2011, a spokesman for the industry body ASIF (Asociación de la Industria Fotovoltaica) remarked ‘The government cheated the solar investors by changing the law after it has lured them to invest their money in PV power plants… If you know that the government would change the law, you will never have invested in that technology and never have put your money in that market’.22 This implicitly concedes that the sector was from the outset likely to be a long-term client of the state, unable to survive without support, and should serve as a warning to other governments hoping to create independent renewables industries through subsidy.
David Wojick explains how maintaining electricity supply is simple in his CFACT article It takes big energy to back up wind and solar. Excerpts in italics with my bolds. (H/T John Ray)
Power system design can be extremely complex but there is one simple number that is painfully obvious. At least it is painful to the advocates of wind and solar power, which may be why we never hear about it. It is a big, bad number.
To my knowledge this big number has no name, but it should. Let’s call it the “minimum backup requirement” for wind and solar, or MBR. The minimum backup requirement is how much generating capacity a system must have to reliably produce power when wind and solar don’t.
For most places the magnitude of MBR is very simple. It is all of the juice needed on the hottest or coldest low wind night. It is night so there is no solar. Sustained wind is less than eight miles per hour, so there is no wind power. It is very hot or cold so the need for power is very high.
In many places MBR will be close to the maximum power the system ever needs, because heat waves and cold spells are often low wind events. In heat waves it may be a bit hotter during the day but not that much. In cold spells it is often coldest at night.
Thus what is called “peak demand” is a good approximation for the maximum backup requirement. In other words, there has to be enough reliable generating capacity to provide all of the maximum power the system will ever need. For any public power system that is a very big number, as big as it gets in fact.
Actually it gets a bit bigger, because there also has to be margin of safety or what is called “reserve capacity”. This is to allow for something not working as it should. Fifteen percent is a typical reserve in American systems. This makes MBR something like 115% of peak demand.
We often read about wind and solar being cheaper than coal, gas and nuclear power, but that does not include the MBR for wind and solar.
What is relatively cheap for wind and solar is the cost to produce a unit of electricity. This is often called LCOE or the “levelized cost of energy”. But adding the reliable backup required to give people the power they need makes wind and solar very expensive.
In short the true cost of wind and solar is LCOE + MBR. This is the big cost you never hear about. But if every state goes to wind and solar then each one will have to have MBR for roughly its entire peak demand. That is an enormous amount of generating capacity.
Of course the cost of MBR depends on the generating technology. Storage is out because the cost is astronomical. Gas fired generation might be best but it is fossil fueled, as is coal. If one insists on zero fossil fuel then nuclear is probably the only option. Operating nuclear plants as intermittent backup is stupid and expensive, but so is no fossil fuel generation.
What is clearly ruled out is 100% renewables, because there would frequently be no electricity at all. That is unless geothermal could be made to work on an enormous scale, which would take many decades to develop.
It is clear that the Biden Administration’s goal of zero fossil fueled electricity by 2035 (without nuclear) is economically impossible because of the minimum backup requirements for wind and solar. You can’t get there from here.
One wonders why we have never heard of this obvious huge cost with wind and solar. The utilities I have looked at avoid it with a trick.
Dominion Energy, which supplies most of Virginia’s juice, is a good example. The Virginia Legislature passed a law saying that Dominion’s power generation had to be zero fossil fueled by 2045. Dominion developed a Plan saying how they would do this. Tucked away in passing on page 119 they say they will expand their capacity for importing power purchased from other utilities. This increase happens to be to an amount equal to their peak demand.
The plan is to buy all the MBR juice from the neighbors! But if everyone is going wind and solar then no one will have juice to sell. In fact they will all be buying, which does not work. Note that the high pressure systems which cause low wind can be huge, covering a dozen or more states. For that matter, no one has that kind of excess generating capacity today.
To summarize, for every utility there will be times when there is zero wind and solar power combined with near peak demand. Meeting this huge need is the minimum backup requirement. The huge cost of meeting this requirement is part of the cost of wind and solar power. MBR makes wind and solar extremely expensive.
The simple question to ask the Biden Administration, the States and their power utilities is this: How will you provide power on hot or cold low wind nights?
Background information on grid stability is at Beware Deep Electrification Policies
More Technical discussion is On Stable Electric Power: What You Need to Know
A recent post here on the Great Texas Blackout of 2021 reinforces the rule of thumb found in other electrical grids exposed to intermittent feeds from wind and solar. That post Data Show Wind Power Messed Up Texas described how the loss of wind power due to frozen turbines caused over 4 million homes in Texas to lose power and who are still short of drinking water. The Texas sources of electrical power were shown as:
Note that despite wind nameplate capacity of 25 GW, ERCOT is only counting on 33% of wind power to be available. At 8 GW wind is expected to supply about 10% of the operational capacity. At 6 pm. Feb. 14, 2021, wind was at 9 GW before collapsing down to 5GW and then to less than 1GW in a few hours.
This matches the pattern of grids going unstable when exceeding about 10% of power generated by wind and/or solar. Reprinted below is a post explaining the issues.
Background: Climateers Tilting at Windmills
Don Quixote ( “don key-ho-tee” ) in Cervantes’ famous novel charged at some windmills claiming they were enemies, and is celebrated in the English language by two idioms:
Tilting at Windmills–meaning attacking imaginary enemies, and
Quixotic (“quick-sottic”)–meaning striving for visionary ideals.
It is clear that climateers are similary engaged in some kind of heroic quest, like modern-day Don Quixotes. The only differences: They imagine a trace gas in the air is the enemy, and that windmills are our saviors.
A previous post (at the end) addresses the unreality of the campaign to abandon fossil fuels in the face of the world’s demand for that energy. Now we have a startling assessment of the imaginary benefits of using windmills to power electrical grids. This conclusion comes from Gail Tverberg, a seasoned analyst of economic effects from resource limits, especially energy. Her blog is called Our Finite World, indicating her viewpoint. So her dismissal of wind power is a serious indictment. A synopsis follows. (Title is link to article)
In fact, I have come to the rather astounding conclusion that even if wind turbines and solar PV could be built at zero cost, it would not make sense to continue to add them to the electric grid in the absence of very much better and cheaper electricity storage than we have today. There are too many costs outside building the devices themselves. It is these secondary costs that are problematic. Also, the presence of intermittent electricity disrupts competitive prices, leading to electricity prices that are far too low for other electricity providers, including those providing electricity using nuclear or natural gas. The tiny contribution of wind and solar to grid electricity cannot make up for the loss of more traditional electricity sources due to low prices.
Let’s look at some of the issues that we are encountering, as we attempt to add intermittent renewable energy to the electric grid.
Issue 1. Grid issues become a problem at low levels of intermittent electricity penetration.
Hawaii consists of a chain of islands, so it cannot import electricity from elsewhere. This is what I mean by “Generation = Consumption.” There is, of course, some transmission line loss with all electrical generation, so generation and consumption are, in fact, slightly different.
The situation is not too different in California. The main difference is that California can import non-intermittent (also called “dispatchable”) electricity from elsewhere. It is really the ratio of intermittent electricity to total electricity that is important, when it comes to balancing. California is running into grid issues at a similar level of intermittent electricity penetration (wind + solar PV) as Hawaii–about 12.3% of electricity consumed in 2015, compared to 12.2% for Hawaii.
Issue 2. The apparent “lid” on intermittent electricity at 10% to 15% of total electricity consumption is caused by limits on operating reserves.
In theory, changes can be made to the system to allow the system to be more flexible. One such change is adding more long distance transmission, so that the variable electricity can be distributed over a wider area. This way the 10% to 15% operational reserve “cap” applies more broadly. Another approach is adding energy storage, so that excess electricity can be stored until needed later. A third approach is using a “smart grid” to make changes, such as turning off all air conditioners and hot water heaters when electricity supply is inadequate. All of these changes tend to be slow to implement and high in cost, relative to the amount of intermittent electricity that can be added because of their implementation.
Issue 3. When there is no other workaround for excess intermittent electricity, it must be curtailed–that is, dumped rather than added to the grid.
Based on the modeling of the company that oversees the California electric grid, electricity curtailment in California is expected to be significant by 2024, if the 40% California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is followed, and changes are not made to fix the problem.
Issue 4. When all costs are included, including grid costs and indirect costs, such as the need for additional storage, the cost of intermittent renewables tends to be very high.
In Europe, there is at least a reasonable attempt to charge electricity costs back to consumers. In the United States, renewable energy costs are mostly hidden, rather than charged back to consumers. This is easy to do, because their usage is still low.
Euan Mearns finds that in Europe, the greater the proportion of wind and solar electricity included in total generation, the higher electricity prices are for consumers.
Issue 5. The amount that electrical utilities are willing to pay for intermittent electricity is very low.
To sum up, when intermittent electricity is added to the electric grid, the primary savings are fuel savings. At the same time, significant costs of many different types are added, acting to offset these savings. In fact, it is not even clear that when a comparison is made, the benefits of adding intermittent electricity are greater than the costs involved.
Issue 6. When intermittent electricity is sold in competitive electricity markets (as it is in California, Texas, and Europe), it frequently leads to negative wholesale electricity prices. It also shaves the peaks off high prices at times of high demand.
When solar energy is included in the mix of intermittent fuels, it also tends to reduce peak afternoon prices. Of course, these minute-by-minute prices don’t really flow back to the ultimate consumers, so it doesn’t affect their demand. Instead, these low prices simply lead to lower funds available to other electricity producers, most of whom cannot quickly modify electricity generation.
A price of $36 per MWh is way down at the bottom of the chart, between 0 and 50. Pretty much no energy source can be profitable at such a level. Too much investment is required, relative to the amount of energy produced. We reach a situation where nearly every kind of electricity provider needs subsidies. If they cannot receive subsidies, many of them will close, leaving the market with only a small amount of unreliable intermittent electricity, and little back-up capability.
This same problem with falling wholesale prices, and a need for subsidies for other energy producers, has been noted in California and Texas. The Wall Street Journal ran an article earlier this week about low electricity prices in Texas, without realizing that this was a problem caused by wind energy, not a desirable result!
Issue 7. Other parts of the world are also having problems with intermittent electricity.
Needless to say, such high intermittent electricity generation leads to frequent spikes in generation. Germany chose to solve this problem by dumping its excess electricity supply on the European Union electric grid. Poland, Czech Republic, and Netherlands complained to the European Union. As a result, the European Union mandated that from 2017 onward, all European Union countries (not just Germany) can no longer use feed-in tariffs. Doing so provides too much of an advantage to intermittent electricity providers. Instead, EU members must use market-responsive auctioning, known as “feed-in premiums.” Germany legislated changes that went even beyond the minimum changes required by the European Union. Dörte Fouquet, Director of the European Renewable Energy Federation, says that the German adjustments will “decimate the industry.”
Issue 8. The amount of subsidies provided to intermittent electricity is very high.
The US Energy Information Administration prepared an estimate of certain types of subsidies (those provided by the federal government and targeted particularly at energy) for the year 2013. These amounted to a total of $11.3 billion for wind and solar combined. About 183.3 terawatts of wind and solar energy was sold during 2013, at a wholesale price of about 2.8 cents per kWh, leading to a total selling price of $5.1 billion dollars. If we add the wholesale price of $5.1 billion to the subsidy of $11.3 billion, we get a total of $16.4 billion paid to developers or used in special grid expansion programs. This subsidy amounts to 69% of the estimated total cost. Any subsidy from states, or from other government programs, would be in addition to the amount from this calculation.
In a sense, these calculations do not show the full amount of subsidy. If renewables are to replace fossil fuels, they must pay taxes to governments, just as fossil fuel providers do now. Energy providers are supposed to provide “net energy” to the system. The way that they share this net energy with governments is by paying taxes of various kinds–income taxes, property taxes, and special taxes associated with extraction. If intermittent renewables are to replace fossil fuels, they need to provide tax revenue as well. Current subsidy calculations don’t consider the high taxes paid by fossil fuel providers, and the need to replace these taxes, if governments are to have adequate revenue.
Also, the amount and percentage of required subsidy for intermittent renewables can be expected to rise over time, as more areas exceed the limits of their operating reserves, and need to build long distance transmission to spread intermittent electricity over a larger area. This seems to be happening in Europe now.
There is also the problem of the low profit levels for all of the other electricity providers, when intermittent renewables are allowed to sell their electricity whenever it becomes available. One potential solution is huge subsidies for other providers. Another is buying a lot of energy storage, so that energy from peaks can be saved and used when supply is low. A third solution is requiring that renewable energy providers curtail their production when it is not needed. Any of these solutions is likely to require subsidies.
Few people have stopped to realize that intermittent electricity isn’t worth very much. It may even have negative value, when the cost of all of the adjustments needed to make it useful are considered.
Energy products are very different in “quality.” Intermittent electricity is of exceptionally low quality. The costs that intermittent electricity impose on the system need to be paid by someone else. This is a huge problem, especially as penetration levels start exceeding the 10% to 15% level that can be handled by operating reserves, and much more costly adjustments must be made to accommodate this energy. Even if wind turbines and solar panels could be produced for $0, it seems likely that the costs of working around the problems caused by intermittent electricity would be greater than the compensation that can be obtained to fix those problems.
The economy does not perform well when the cost of energy products is very high. The situation with new electricity generation is similar. We need electricity products to be well-behaved (not act like drunk drivers) and low in cost, if they are to be successful in growing the economy. If we continue to add large amounts of intermittent electricity to the electric grid without paying attention to these problems, we run the risk of bringing the whole system down.
Why the Quest to Reduce Fossil Fuel Emissions is Quixotic
Roger Andrews at Energy Matters puts into context the whole mission to reduce carbon emissions. You only have to look at the G20 countries, who have 64% of the global population and use 80% of the world’s energy. The introduction to his essay, Electricity and energy in the G20:
While governments fixate on cutting emissions from the electricity sector, the larger problem of cutting emissions from the non-electricity sector is generally ignored. In this post I present data from the G20 countries, which between them consume 80% of the world’s energy, summarizing the present situation. The results show that the G20 countries obtain only 41.5% of their total energy from electricity and the remaining 58.5% dominantly from oil, coal and gas consumed in the non-electric sector (transportation, industrial processes, heating etc). So even if they eventually succeed in obtaining all their electricity from low-carbon sources they would still be getting more than half their energy from high-carbon sources if no progress is made in decarbonizing their non-electric sectors.
The whole article is enlightening, and shows how much our civilization depends on fossil fuels, even when other sources are employed. The final graph is powerful (thermal refers to burning of fossil fuels):
Figure 12: Figure 9 with Y-scale expanded to 100% and thermal generation included, illustrating the magnitude of the problem the G20 countries still face in decarbonizing their energy sectors.
The requirement is ultimately to replace the red-shaded bars with shades of dark blue, light blue or green – presumably dominantly light blue because nuclear is presently the only practicable solution.
There is another way. Adaptation means accepting the time-honored wisdom that weather and climates change in ways beyond our control. The future will have periods both cooler and warmer than the present and we must prepare for both contingencies. Colder conditions are the greater threat to human health and prosperity. The key priorities are robust infrastructures and reliable, affordable energy.
This video shows Don Quixote might have more success against modern windmills.
Yes, with hindsight you can blame Texas for not winter weather proofing fossil fuel supplies as places do in more northern latitudes. But it was over-reliance on wind power that caused the problem and made it intractable. John Peterson explains in his TalkMarkets article How Wind Power Caused The Great Texas Blackout Of 2021. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
- The State of Texas is suffering from a catastrophic power grid failure that’s left 4.3 million homes without electricity, including 1.3 million homes in Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city.
- While talking heads, politicians, and the press are blaming fossil fuels and claiming that more renewables are the solution, hard data from the Energy Information Administration paints a very different picture.
- The generation failures that led to The Great Texas Blackout of 2021 began at 6 pm on Sunday. Wind power fell from 36% of nameplate capacity to 22% before midnight and plummeted to 3% of nameplate capacity by 8 pm on Monday.
- While power producers quickly ramped production to almost 90% of dedicated natural gas capacity, a combination of factors including shutdowns for scheduled maintenance and a statewide increase in natural gas demand began to overload safety systems and set-off a cascade of shutdowns.
- While similar overload-induced shutdowns followed suit in coal and nuclear plants, the domino effect began with ERCOT’s reckless reliance on unreliable wind power.
The ERCOT grid has 85,281 MW of operational generating capacity if no plants are offline for scheduled maintenance. Under the “Winter Fuel Types” tab of its Capacity, Demand and Reserves Report dated December 16, 2020, ERCOT described its operational generating capacity by fuel source as follows:
Since power producers frequently take gas-fired plants offline for scheduled maintenance in February and March when power demand is typically low, ERCOT’s systemwide generating capacity was less than 85 GW and its total power load was 59.6 GW at 9:00 am on Valentines Day. By 8:00 pm, power demand has surged to 68 GW (14%). Then hell froze over. Over the next 24 hours, statewide power production collapsed to 43.5 GW (36%) and millions of households were plunged into darkness in freezing weather conditions.
I went to the US Energy Information Administration’s website and searched for hourly data on electricity production by fuel source in the State of Texas. The first treasure I found was this line graph that shows electricity generation by fuel source from 12:01 am on February 10th through 11:59 pm on February 16th.
The second and more important treasure was a downloadable spreadsheet file that contained the hourly data used to build the graph. An analysis of the hourly data shows:
- Wind power collapsing from 9 GW to 5.45 GW between 6 pm and 11:59 pm on the 14th with natural gas ramping from 41 GW to 43 GW during the same period.
- Wind power falling from 5.45 GW to 0.65 GW between 12:01 am and 8:00 pm on the 15th with natural gas spiking down from 40.4 GW to 33 GW between 2 am and 3 am as excess demand caused a cascade of safety events that took gas-fired plants offline.
- Coal power falling from 11.1 GW to 7.65 GW between 2:00 am and 3:00 pm on the 15th as storm-related demand overwhelmed generating capacity.
- Nuclear power falling from 5.1 GW to 3.8 GW at 7:00 am on the 15th as storm-related demand overwhelmed generating capacity.
The following table summarizes the capacity losses of each class of generating assets.
The Great Texas Blackout of 2021 was a classic domino-effect chain reaction where unreliable wind power experienced a 40% failure before gas-fired power plants began to buckle under the strain of an unprecedented winter storm. There were plenty of failures by the time the dust settled, but ERCOT’s reckless reliance on unreliable wind power set up the chain of dominoes that brought untold suffering and death to Texas residents.
The graph clearly shows that during their worst-performing hours:
- Natural gas power plants produced at least 60.2% of the power available to Texas consumers, or 97% of their relative contribution to power supplies at 6:00 pm on Valentine’s day;
- Coal-fired power plants produced at least 15.6% of the power available to Texas consumers, or 95% of their relative contribution to power supplies at 6:00 pm on Valentine’s day;
- Nuclear power plants produced at least 7.5% of the power available to Texas consumers, or 97% of their relative contribution to power supplies at 6:00 pm on Valentine’s day; and
- Wind power plants produced 1.5% of the power available to Texas consumers, or 11% of their relative contribution to power supplies at 6:00 pm on Valentine’s day; and
- Solar power plants did what solar power plants do and had no meaningful impact.
Now that temperatures have moderated, things are getting back to normal, and The Great Texas Blackout of 2021 is little more than an unpleasant memory. While some Texas consumers are up in arms over blackout-related injuries, the State has rebounded, and many of us believe a few days of inconvenience is a fair price to pay for decades of cheap electric power. I think the inevitable investigations and public hearings will be immensely entertaining. I hope they lead to modest reforms of the free-wheeling ERCOT market that prevent irresponsible action from low-cost but wildly unreliable electricity producers from wind turbines.
Over the last year, wind stocks like Vestas Wind Systems (VWDRY) TPI Composites (TPIC) Northland Power (NPIFF), American Superconductor (AMSC), and NextEra Energy (NEE) have soared on market expectations of unlimited future growth. As formal investigations into the root cause of The Great Texas Blackout of 2021 proceed to an inescapable conclusion that unreliable wind power is not suitable for use in advanced economies, I think market expectations are likely to turn and turn quickly. I won’t be surprised if the blowback from The Great Texas Blackout of 2021 rapidly bleeds over to other overvalued sectors that rely on renewables as the heart of their raison d’etre, including vehicle electrification.
What’s the Problem with Electricity Rates?
This new Prager video explains (H/T Mark Krebs)
Background from Previous Post:
Norman Rogers writes at American Thinker What It Will Take for the Wind and Solar Industries to Collapse. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
The solar electricity industry is dependent on federal government subsidies for building new capacity. The subsidy consists of a 30% tax credit and the use of a tax scheme called tax equity finance. These subsidies are delivered during the first five years.
For wind, there is subsidy during the first five to ten years resulting from tax equity finance. There is also a production subsidy that lasts for the first ten years.
The other subsidy for wind and solar, not often characterized as a subsidy, is state renewable portfolio laws, or quotas, that require that an increasing portion of a state’s electricity come from renewable sources. Those state mandates result in wind and solar electricity being sold via profitable 25-year power purchase contracts. The buyer is generally a utility with good credit. The utilities are forced to offer these terms in order to cause sufficient supply to emerge to satisfy the renewable energy quotas.
The rate of return from a wind or solar investment can be low and credit terms favorable because the investors see the 25-year contract by a creditworthy utility as a guarantee of a low risk of default. If the risk were to be perceived as higher, then a higher rate of return and a higher interest rate on loans would be demanded. That in turn would increase the price of the electricity generated.
The bankruptcy of PG&E, the largest California utility, has created some cracks in the façade. A bankruptcy judge has ruled that cancellation of up to $40 billion in long-term energy contracts is a possibility. These contracts are not essential or needed to preserve the supply of electricity because they are mostly for wind or solar electricity supply that varies with the weather and can’t be counted on. As a consequence, there has to exist and does exist the necessary infrastructure to supply the electricity needs without the wind or solar energy.
Probably the judge will be overruled for political reasons, or the state will step in with a bailout. Utilities have to keep operating, no matter what. Ditching wind and solar contracts would make California politicians look foolish because they have long touted wind and solar as the future of energy.
PG&E is in bankruptcy because California applies strict liability for damages from forest fires started by electric lines, no matter who is really at fault. Almost certainly the government is at fault for not anticipating the danger of massive fires and for not enforcing strict fire prevention and protection. Massive fire damage should be protected by insurance, not by the utility, even if the fire was started by a power line. The fire in question could just as well have been started by lightning or a homeless person. PG&E previously filed bankruptcy in 2001, also a consequence of abuse of the utility by the state government.
By far the most important subsidy is the renewable portfolio laws. Even if the federal subsidies are reduced, the quota for renewable energy will force price increases to keep the renewable energy industry in business, because it has to stay in business to supply energy to meet the quota. Other plausible methods of meeting the quota have been outlawed by the industry’s friends in the state governments. Nuclear and hydro, neither of which generates CO2 emissions, are not allowed. Hydro is not strictly prohibited — only hydro that involves dams and diversions. That is very close to all hydro. Another reason hydro is banned is that environmental groups don’t like dams.
For technical reasons, an electrical grid cannot run on wind or solar much more than 50% of the time. The fleet of backup plants must be online to provide adjustable output to compensate for erratic variations in wind or solar. Output has to be ramped up to meet early-evening peaks. Wind suffers from a cube power law, meaning that if the wind drops by 10%, the electricity drops by 30%. Solar suffers from too much generation in the middle of the day and not enough generation to meet early evening peaks in consumption.
When a “too much generation” situation happens, the wind or solar has to be curtailed. That means that the operators are told to stop delivering electricity. In many cases, they are not paid for the electricity they could have delivered. Some contracts require that they be paid according to a model that figures out how much they could have generated according to the recorded weather conditions. The more wind and solar, the more curtailments as the amount of erratic electricity approaches the allowable limits. Curtailment is an increasing threat, as quotas increase, to the financial health of wind and solar.
There is a movement to include batteries with solar installations to move excessive middle-of-the-day generation to the early evening. This is a palliative to extend the time before solar runs into the curtailment wall. The batteries are extremely expensive and wear out every five years.
Neither wind nor solar is competitive without subsidies. If the subsidies and quotas were taken away, no wind or solar operation outside very special situations would be built. Further, the existing installations would continue only as long as their contracts are honored and they are cash flow–positive. In order to be competitive, without subsidies, wind or solar would have to supply electricity for less than $20 per megawatt-hour, the marginal cost of generating the electricity with gas or coal. Only the marginal cost counts, because the fossil fuel plants have to be there whether or not there is wind or solar. Without the subsidies, quotas, and 25-year contracts, wind or solar would have to get about $100 per megawatt-hour for its electricity. That gap, between $100 and $20, is a wide chasm only bridged by subsidies and mandates.
The cost of using wind and solar for reducing CO2 emissions is very high. The most authoritative and sincere promoters of global warming loudly advocate using nuclear, a source that is not erratic, does not emit CO2 or pollution, and uses the cheapest fuel. One can buy carbon offsets for 10 or 20 times less than the cost of reducing CO2 emissions with wind or solar. A carbon offset is a scheme where the buyer pays the seller to reduce world emissions of CO2. This is done in a variety of ways by the sellers.
The special situations where wind and solar can be competitive are remote locations using imported oil to generate electricity. In those situations, the marginal cost of the electricity may be $200 per megawatt-hour or more. Newfoundland comes to mind — for wind, not solar.
Maintenance costs for solar are low. For wind, maintenance costs are high, and major components, such as propeller blades and gearboxes, may fail, especially as the turbines age. These heavy and awkward objects are located hundreds of feet above ground. There exists a danger that wind farms will fail once the inflation-protected subsidy of $24 per megawatt-hour runs out after ten years. At that point, turbines that need expensive repairs may be abandoned. Wind turbine graveyards from the first wind fad in the 1970s can be seen near Palm Springs, California. Wind farms can’t receive the production subsidy unless they can sell the electricity. That has resulted paying customers to “buy” the electricity.
A significant financial risk is that the global warming narrative may collapse. If belief in the reality of the global warming threat collapses, then the major intellectual support for renewable energy will collapse. It is ironic that the promoters of global warming are campaigning to require companies to take into account the threat of global warming in their financial projections. If the companies do this in an honest manner, they also have to take into account the possibility that the threat will evaporate. My own best guess, after considerable technical study, is that it is near a sure thing that the threat of global warming is imaginary and largely invented by the people who benefit. Adding CO2 to the atmosphere has well understood positive effects for the growth of crops and the greening of deserts.
The conservative investors who make long-term investments in wind or solar may be underestimating the risks involved. For example, an article in Chief Investment Officer magazine stated that CalPERS, the giant California public employees retirement fund, is planning to expand investments in renewable energy, characterized as “stable cash flowing assets.” That article was written before the bankruptcy of PG&E. The article also stated that competition among institutional investors for top yielding investments in the alternative energy space is fierce.
Wind and solar are not competitive and never will be. They have been pumped up into supposedly solid investments by means of ill advised subsidies and mandates. At some point, the governments will wake up to the waste and foolishness involved. At that point, the value of these investments will collapse. It won’t be the first time that investment experts made bad investments because they don’t really understand what is going on.
Footnote: There is also a report from GWPF on environmental degradation from industrial scale wind and solar:
The first part of this post is a report that the IEA is accused of underestimating the amount of solar and wind power in recent years. The second part presents analyses showing that media hype and misinformation lead the public to routinely overestimate the portion solar and wind contribute to power modern societies.
The IEA is under pressure about their wind and solar energy numbers, as reported at energypost.eu World Energy Outlook 2020: IEA responds to some difficult questions. Excerpts in italics with my bolds
The IEA has issued an FAQ to try to answer some persistent questions and criticisms about their annual World Energy Outlooks (WEO). How come the growth of solar and wind have been consistently underestimated? When is “peak oil” going to happen? Will the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C this century? Is it realistic? Why has a “Net Zero Emissions by 2050” (NZE2050) pathway been added this year? Do the IEA scenarios rely too much on carbon capture? In this article the IEA forcefully emphasizes that a WEO “…is not, and has never been, a forecast of where the energy world will end up.” It’s to explore pathways. Only governments and citizens can make any of it a reality.
Regarding the NZE2050, “unparalleled changes across all parts of the energy sector would need to be realized simultaneously, at a time when the world is trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic”, something that is clearly not happening, says the IEA.
Q. The WEO has been accused of underestimating the growth of renewable energy technologies such as solar PV and wind. Why is this? And are its latest numbers more accurate?
A. This accusation results from a misunderstanding or mischaracterisation of the WEO’s scenarios, as outlined in the answer above. The spectacular growth of wind and especially solar PV over the past two decades has far outstripped many projections made during the period. This is true for the projections included in past editions of the WEO, which were based on the policies that had been put in place or proposed at the time of publication. Significant new policies that were announced subsequently changed the trajectories of wind and solar by generating new demand and investment, thereby helping foster technological advances and cost declines.
A good example of this is China, where policies and targets for solar strengthened dramatically after 2007, putting China on a path to becoming a driving force for solar worldwide.
The projections in this year’s WEO reflect the continuing technology advances and cost declines of wind and solar. In the STEPS, renewables meet 80% of the growth in global electricity demand to 2030. Solar is the main driver of growth, becoming the new king of electricity markets worldwide as it sets new records for deployment each year after 2022, followed by onshore and offshore wind. The advance of renewable sources of generation, and of solar in particular, is much stronger in the SDS, where solar generates 13 times as much electricity in 2040 as it did in 2019. Growth is even more rapid in the NZE2050.
So IEA answers the criticism by claiming a rosy future for renewables compared to past performance. Left out is any reference to how small is the baseline, which makes easy impressive growth numbers. Left out also is any measure of the proportion of total energy supply coming from renewables, specifically wind and solar, despite referring to solar as “the new king of electricity markets worldwide.” That misleading lack of perspective is addressed in a previous post reprinted below.
Exaggerating Green Energy Supply (previous post)
As noted here before, public opinion surveys are often “push polls”, raising issues like climate change as part of an effort to promote public concern. Such surveys also inform activists how successful or not has been the media messaging in generating belief and support for climate policy proposals.
Sometimes the questionnaires are manipulated to show the greatest possible public awareness and support.. For example, see: The Art of Rigging Climate Polls.
Other times, the survey is used to chide the public for failing to buy into claims and propaganda prominently advanced in the media. For example, see: “Hottest Year” Misdirection, where mainstream media claims 17 of the last 18 years were the hottest on record, while the public in 37 countries guessed only 9. After checking the data, the correct answer is more likely 5.
That same survey, Perils of Perceptions, reported that in most countries the public overestimates how much green energy they consume. That finding is the subject of this post. As we will see, energy from renewables is perceived to be much higher than numbers from the World Bank.
And since those numbers are themselves exaggerated, the gap between virtuous green behavior and performance is even greater than stated.
The renewable energy finding from Ipsos (here):
The majority of countries overestimate the amount of energy used that comes from renewable sources in their country. The average guess is 26% when it’s actually only 19%. Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, China and Singapore were the furthest out; some countries, though, actually underestimate how much progress they have made with renewables, such as Sweden and Montenegro.
Now, 19% of energy consumed coming from renewables looks high to me, so let’s explore two of the countries: Canada and the Netherlands.
First, The Canadian Story on Green Energy Supply
Question is Framed to be Misleading
Note that wind and solar power are presented as examples of renewable energy sources, when in reality hydro and nuclear are much larger sources of power (electricity). Note also respondents are led to confuse power with total energy, which is a much larger amount.
What is the Reality of Canadian Energy Supply (Consumption)
World Bank shows 22% of Canada’s total energy consumption was from renewables in 1990 and 2015.
Let’s test that number against the Canadian Energy Fact Book 2016–2017 (which presents 2014 as the latest statistics). The categories are defined nicely in this diagram:
Working from the top down, first is the mix of total primary energy supply by source:
In this fact book, energy supply is equivalent to energy consumed, since it is calculated after adjusting for energy imports and exports. Note that 17.7% is the amount of energy from renewables, and hydro is 11.6%. Let’s see how much of renewable energy comes from wind and solar:
So Canadians actually consume 4.4% of their renewable energy from wind and solar. 92% of Canadian renewable energy comes from the traditional sources: Hydro dams and burning wood.
Combining the two tables, we see that 80% of the Other Renewables is solid biomass (wood), which leaves at most 1% of Canadian total energy supply coming from wind and solar.
Second, the Netherlands Green Energy Story
According to the Ipsos Perils of Perception survey, respondents from the Netherlands said on average 22% of their energy is Green, while the World Bank says only 6% comes from Green sources. Last year there was a provocative and entertaining analysis of Dutch perceptions versus green energy realities broadcast on a popular Sunday morning TV show. The episode was called Green Electrical Shocks, and is provided below for your enjoyment and edification.
Green Electrical Shocks
On Sunday Feb.4, 2018, a weekly news program aired in the Netherlands on the titled subject. H/T Climate Scepticism. The video clip is below with English subtitles. For those who prefer reading, I provide the substantial excerpts from the program with my bolds.
How many of you have Green Electricity? I will estimate 69%
And how much nationally? Oh, 69%!
So we are very average, and in a good way, because the climate is very important.
Let me ask: Green electricity comes from . . .?
Yes, electricity produced from windmills and solar panels.
Nearly 2/3 of the Dutch are using it. That’s the image.
Well I have green news and bad news.
The green news: Well done!
The bad news: It is all one big lie.
Time for the Green Electrical Shocks.
Shock #1: The green electricity from your socket is not green.
When I switched to green electricity I was very proud.
I thought, Yes, well done! The climate is getting warmer, but not any more thanks to me.
Well, that turned out to be untrue.
All producers deliver to one communal grid. Green and grey electricity all mix.
The electricity you use is always a mix of various sources.
OK. It actually makes sense not to have separate green and grey cables for every house.
So it means that of all electricity, 69% is produced in a sustainable way. But then:
Shock #2: Green Electricity is mostly fake.
Most of the green electricity we think we use comes from abroad.
You may think: So what. Green is green.
But that electricity doesn’t come from abroad, it stays abroad.
If you have green electricity at home, it may mean nothing more than that your supplier has bought “green electricity certificates”.
In Europe green electricity gets an official certificate,
Instead of selling on the electricity, they sell on those certificates.
Norway, with its hydro power, has a surplus of certificates.
Dutch suppliers buy them on a massive scale, while the electricity stays in Norway.
The idea was: if countries can sell those certificates, they can make money by producing more green electricity.
But the Norwegians don’t produce more green electricity.
But they do sell certificates.
The Dutch suppliers wave with those certificates, and say Look! Our grey electricity is green.
Only one country has produced green electricity: Norway.
But two countries take the credit.
Norway, because they produce green electricity, and the Netherlands because, on paper, we have green electricity. Get it? That’s a nice deal.
More and more countries sell those certificates. Italy is now the top supplier.
We buy fake green electricity from Italy, like some kind of Karma ham.
Now, let’s look again at the green electricity we all think we use.
So the real picture isn’t 69%. If you cancel the certificates, only 21% of electricity is really green.
Nowadays you can even order it separately if you don’t want to be part of that Norway certificates scam.
You may think: 21% green is still quite a lot. But it is time for:
Shock #3: Not all energy is electricity.
If you talk about the climate, you shouldn’t just consider electricity but all energy.
When you look at all energy, like factories, cars, trains, gas fires, then the share of consumer electricity is virtually nothing.
If you include everything in your calculation, it turns out that only 6% of all the energy we use in the Netherlands is green. It is a comedy, but wait:
Shock #4: Most green energy doesn’t come from sun or wind, like you might think.
Even the 6%, our last green hope, is fake. According to the CBS we are using more sun and wind energy, but most of the green energy is produced by the burning of biomass.
Ah, more than half of the 6% green energy is biomass.
Ridiculous. What is biomass really? It is organic materials that we encounter every day.
Like the content of a compost heap. How about maize leaves or hay?
The idea behind burning organic materials is that it will grow up again.
So CO2 is released when you burn it, but it will be absorbed again by new trees.
However, there is one problem. The forest grows very slowly and our power plants burn very fast.
This is the fatal flaw in the thinking about biomass. Power plants burn trees too fast, so my solution: slow fire. Disadvantage: it doesn’t exist. So this is our next shock.
Shock#5: Biomass isn’t all that sustainable.
It’s getting worse. There aren’t enough trees in the Netherlands for biomass.
We can’t do it on our own. We don’t have enough wood, so we get it from America.
In the USA forests are cut at a high rate, Trees are shredded and compressed into pellets.
These are shipped to the Netherlands and end up in the ovens of the coal plants.
It’s a disaster for the American forests, according to environmental groups.
So we transport American forests on diesel ships to Europe.
Then throw them in the oven because it officially counts as green energy.
Only because the CO2 released this way doesn’t count for our total emissions.
In reality biomass emits more CO2 than natural gas and coal.
These are laws of nature, no matter what European laws say.
At the bottom line, how much sustainable energy do we really have in the Netherlands?
Well, the only real green energy from windmills, solar panels etc. Is only 2.2%. of all the energy we use.
So the fact that 2/3 of the audience and of all Dutch people use green electricity means absolutely nothing. It’s only 2.2%, and crazier still, the government says it should be at 14% by 2020.
They promised: to us, to Europe, to planet Earth: 14 instead of 2.2.
Instead of making a serious attempt to save the climate, they are only working on accounting tricks, like buying pieces of paper in Norway and burning American forests.
They are only saving the climate on paper.
As the stool above shows, the climate change package sits on three premises. The first is the science bit, consisting of an unproven claim that observed warming is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The second part rests on impact studies from billions of research dollars spent uncovering any and all possible negatives from warming. And the third leg is climate policies showing how governments can “fight climate change.”
It is refreshing to see more and more articles by people reasoning about climate change/global warming and expressing rational positions. Increasingly, analysts are unbundling the package and questioning not only the science, but also pointing out positives from CO2 and warming. And as the Dutch telecast shows, ineffective government policies are also fair game.
More on flawed climate policies at Reasoning About Climate
Another Green Energy dream product is looking like a swindle. Despite California’s declaring an end to fossil fuel vehicles, these trucks are little more than smoke and mirrors. Stef Schrader explains at The Drive Now the Justice Department Is Looking Into the Nikola Fraud Allegations. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
The DOJ is joining the Securities and Exchange Commission’s probe into claims that Nikola misled investors with overblown claims about its own tech.
The U.S. Department of Justice has now initiated a probe into the allegations that electric and hydrogen truck startup Nikola made misleading claims about its technology to investors, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Justice Department is working with the Securities and Exchange Commission on the probe, who already started examining these allegations.
Federal prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office are looking into reports that Nikola misrepresented its progress in developing technology that was key to its upcoming models.
Nikola came out swinging with big promises, including a hydrogen fuel cell semi-truck capable of going 750 miles per fill-up and a 600-mile-range electric pickup that would beat even the recently unveiled EV range queen, the 517-mile Lucid Air.
The company’s initial public offering was in June, which went so well that the company rocketed up to a $26.3 billion market valuation, which made its CEO Trevor Milton the 188th richest person in the world.
Nikola has been in a back-and-forth fight this month with self-proclaimed short seller Hindenberg Research, who published a detailed report claiming that Nikola engaged in “intricate fraud” to inflate its company valuation to incredible heights for a truck company that hasn’t actually sold any trucks yet.
Hindenburg alleged that Nikola used rolling models in promoting the company instead of functional prototypes without defining them as such, made exaggerated claims about its battery technology, and that Milton engaged in nepotism to hire his brother to build out the company’s hydrogen network.
In response, Nikola threatened legal action against Hindenburg and hired an attorney, who contacted the SEC about the report on Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal. (I guess they got what they wanted—sort of?) The company admitted to using non-running but rolling trucks in a 2018 Nikola One advertisement and at the 2016 unveiling of the Nikola One, but notes that the company was privately held at the time, and that it had the necessary components to make the trucks run—albeit still in development.
Nikola lost over 20% of its valuation since Hindenburg’s report dropped last Thursday, the WSJ reports. Securities filings from Monday show that Milton increased his investment in the company to over 41,000 shares for $1.2 million, meaning that Milton now owns a quarter of the company. The company has also hired a crisis management firm, Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher.
That wasn’t the first allegation that the once-success story wasn’t what it seemed. A Bloomberg report in June claimed that Nikola led the public to believe that a show model of the Nikola One semi-truck was driveable when it was not. Milton also responded with legal threats against Bloomberg.
Even though none of these allegations directly involve any behavior on the part of Nikola partner General Motors, it’s still rather damning, as it insinuates that GM wasn’t able to see through Nikola’s allegedly overblown claims. GM agreed to take an 11% stake in Nikola in exchange for GM building the Badger pickup in one of its factories and GM supplying Nikola with batteries and fuel-cell tech in the near future.
Thus far, GM CEO Mary Barra has defended the company’s decision to partner with Nikola, telling the Wall Street Journal, “Our company has worked with a lot of different partners. We’re a very capable team that has done the appropriate diligence.”
According to the WSJ, Nikola announced Monday that it delayed the delivery of its first prototype truck from later this year to early 2021. That truck is destined to go to Anheuser-Busch, which Nikola says ordered 800 trucks in 2018. The company also claimed to receive an order for 2,500 trucks from waste company Republic Services in August.
The federal government is raising legal and practical questions about a recent California executive order attempting to end sales of gas-powered cars in the state by 2035. Source Microsoft News: Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday, saying he believes California would need to request a waiver from his agency for the order to be implemented and implying that the state’s electricity infrastructure is insufficient for a shift toward electric vehicles.
“While the [executive order] seems to be mostly aspirational and on its own would accomplish very little, any attempt by the California Air Resources Board to implement sections of it may require California to request a waiver to U.S. EPA,” Wheeler wrote.
The EPA last year revoked a waiver that allowed California to set its own vehicle tailpipe emissions standards, so it appears unlikely that the agency would grant one on car sales under the current administration.
California, alongside 22 other states, has sued the agency over that decision, arguing that its standards were achievable and that the EPA’s decision is bad for climate change.
The executive order also comes as California has recently faced rolling blackouts, Wheeler noted.
“California’s record of rolling blackouts – unprecedented in size and scope – coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” the country’s top environmental official wrote.
“The truth is that if the state were driving 100 percent electric vehicles today, the state would be dealing with even worse power shortages than the ones that have already caused a series of otherwise preventable environmental and public health consequences,” he added.
The Wheeler letter is here.