By Francis Menton via Principia Scientific International
Over the period from November 2018 to March 2019, I wrote a series of posts on the subject of the true costs of trying to get electricity from intermittent wind and solar sources.
On November 29, 2018, it was “How Much Do The Climate Crusaders Plan To Increase Your Costs Of Electricity? — Part III” On February 5, 2019, it was “Eulogy For Roger Andrews.”
(Andrews was a guy who made many detailed calculations of how intermittent renewables function to drive up the cost of electricity as their penetration of the electricity market increases. Unfortunately, Andrews had died just before that post.)
And on March 8, 2019, it was “Why Do Renewable Energy Sources Need Government Subsidies?”
The gist of all this was that you can’t realistically evaluate the cost of getting electricity using intermittent renewable sources just by looking at the cost of making a kilowatt-hour of electricity when the source happens to be working at its best.
Sure, a solar panel may generate some very cheap kilowatt-hours around noon on a sunny June 21.
But now that you’ve invested a few billion in solar panels, what is the plan to provide the electricity people need on an overcast December 21, when the panels may work at only 3% of capacity during the day and nothing at night?
If your plan is a backup system of fossil fuel facilities, now you are paying for both the solar panels and the fossil fuel plants, so you’ve close-to-doubled the cost of electricity no matter how cheap the power from the solar panels may be on the June day; plus your fossil fuel plants will still be running most of the time, and your emissions reductions will be minimal.
If you want serious emissions reductions, you will need to push past 50% and on to 100% of your power from renewables, so you will need to phase out the fossil fuel plants. And replace them with — what?? And at what cost?
Batteries? The cost of those is a principal subject of the three posts linked above.
The bottom line for getting to the 100% is that, due to seasonality of both wind and solar sources, to carry you through the low-wind and low-sun seasons, you will need sufficient batteries to store about a full month’s worth of power usage for your city, state or country.
Even assuming major price declines from where we are now, that will run you around a full year’s GDP. And the batteries only last a few years! Impact on the cost of electricity? Get ready for the cost to multiply by around a factor of 15 or 20 or so.
Now, maybe these calculations are overstated, or maybe somebody can figure out a cheaper way to do it. Go right ahead and show that, and I would applaud you.
However, I assert that it is just not possible to honestly discuss the costs of getting electricity from wind and/or solar sources without discussing these cost issues quantitatively.
Which brings me to the big front-page article from the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, headline: “Can Solar Power Compete With Coal? In India, It’s Gaining Ground.” (Probably behind a paywall.)
It’s the usual breathless and completely naïve reporting that solar power is now cheaper than any fossil fuel alternatives. Excerpt:
[A solar array] built in 2018 by India’s Acme Solar Holdings Ltd., . . . can generate 200 megawatts of electricity, enough to power all the homes in a middle-size U.S. town. Acme sells the electricity to distributors for 2.44 rupees (3.4 cents) a kilowatt-hour, a record low for solar power in India, a country that data trackers say has the world’s cheapest solar energy. More remarkable, the power costs less to generate in India than the cheapest competing fossil fuel—coal—even with subsidies removed and the cost of construction and financing figured in, according to the Indian government and industry trackers.
Really, this is embarrassing. And from the Wall Street Journal! “It can generate 200 megawatts of electricity.” Yes, at noon on June 21.
Can’t we even mention what the plan is for the winter, let alone for those pesky nights that seem to occur 365 times a year? To his (very slight) credit, the writer (Phred Dvorak) at least mentions these issues in passing, deep into the article:
Solar’s big problem: It generates power only when the sun shines. Wind power, similarly, works only with wind. So displacing fossil fuels could require cheaper ways to store energy.
No kidding, Sherlock. So, shall we give the readers a clue how much the costs of backup and/or storage are going to affect the bottom line of electricity price to the consumer?
Even when the costs imposed by the intermittency can be a multiple of as much as 20 of the base cost of the power? I guess not.
Instead, it’s one example after another of cheerleading for the advent of the cheap free power from the sun and wind. Example:
Across Asia, a region expected to account for two-thirds of the world’s new power demand during the next two decades, price declines will make wind and solar combined 17% cheaper than coal by 2030 on a levelized basis, says Wood Mackenzie.
In India, solar generation will be almost 50% cheaper, it projects. “This is a revolution in power generation costs,” says Wood Mackenzie analyst Alex Whitworth.
Wood Mackenzie? They’re big-time energy consultants. Wouldn’t you think they would provide some straight information on this subject? Wrong. In fact, pretty much everyone gets taken in.
How about Mike Milken — the genius of junk bond finance from the 80s (who just got pardoned by Trump)? Now there’s a guy who’s got to have the critical thinking skills to see through this.
But he’s been taken in too. From CNBC, September 19, 2019, “Renewable energy is now a compelling alternative as it costs less than fossil fuels, says Michael Milken”:
Saving the environment is no longer the only compelling argument for switching to renewable energy, said Michael Milken, chairman of think tank Milken Institute, who pointed out that such energy sources are now cheaper than many fossil fuels.
Today, “for two-thirds of the world, renewables are cheaper than a significant amount of carbon-based energy, so it isn’t just an argument of environment, it’s now just pure economics,” Milken told CNBC at the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore.
The per capita GDP of India is around $2000, barely 3% of ours. Most of the people are dirt poor, and hundreds of millions continue to lack access to electricity.
And here we are twisting their arms to build into their electricity system elements that will force these very poor people to pay a multiple for their electricity what it would cost from the cheapest fossil fuel system. I find this immoral.
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