Add The Wall Street Journal To The People Who Can’t Do Basic Arithmetic

…Yet when the issue is replacing generation of electricity by fossil fuels with generation by “renewables,” it seems that the need to believe that the renewables will work and be cost effective is so powerful that all efforts to do the arithmetic get banished. I last considered this issue in a post last week titled “California’s Zero Carbon Plans: Can Anybody Here Do Basic Arithmetic?” The answer for the California government electricity planners was a resounding “NO.” Today, the Wall Street Journal joins the math-challenged club with a front page story headlined “Batteries Challenge Natural Gas As America’s No. 1 Power Source.” (probably behind pay wall)

The theme of the story is that “renewable” energy sources, such as solar, paired with batteries to balance periods of low production, are rapidly becoming so cheap that they are likely to “disrupt” natural gas plants that have only recently been constructed:

[T]he combination of batteries and renewable energy is threatening to upend billions of dollars in natural-gas investments, raising concerns about whether power plants built in the past 10 years—financed with the expectation that they would run for decades—will become “stranded assets,” facilities that retire before they pay for themselves. . . . But renewables have become increasingly cost-competitive without subsidies in recent years, spurring more companies to voluntarily cut carbon emissions by investing in wind and solar power at the expense of that generated from fossil fuels.

OK, then, so if solar-plus-battery systems are about to displace natural gas plants, what’s the plan for winter? They won’t say. The fact is, the only possible plans are either fossil fuel backup or trillions upon trillions of dollars worth of batteries. But the author never mentions any of that. How much fossil fuel backup? That’s an arithmetic calculation that is not difficult to make. But the process of making the calculation forces you to actually propose the characteristics of your solar-plus-battery system, which then makes the costs obvious. How much excess capacity of solar panels and batteries do you plan to build to minimize the down periods? Do you need solar panel capacity of four times peak usage, or ten times? Do you need battery capacity of one week’s average usage (in GWH) or two weeks or a full month?

The simple fact is that wind/solar plus battery systems would not need any government subsidies if they were cost effective. The Biden Administration is proposing to hand out many, many tens of billions of dollars to subsidize building these systems. They are clearly not cost-effective, and not even close. But no one in a position to know will make the relatively simple calculations to let us know how much this is going to cost. Even the Wall Street Journal can’t seem to grasp the math involved. And President Biden? It’s embarrassing even to ask the question.

Why Wind and Solar Energy Are Doomed to Failure

Wind and solar energy are both essentially obsolete technologies. There is a reason why only the very rich or the very adventurous sail across oceans: the wind is unreliable, and at best produces relatively little energy. Nevertheless, liberals have concocted fantasies whereby all of our electricity, or perhaps our entire economy, will be powered by those fickle sources.

There are a number of reasons why this will never happen, but a paper published last week by Center of the American Experiment argues that land use constraints are the most basic reason why wind and solar are inexorably destined to fail. The paper, titled Not In Our Backyard, is authored by internationally recognized energy expert Robert Bryce, producer of the terrific documentary Juice: How Electricity Explains The World and the book A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations

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Because wind and solar produce so little energy per square mile, an enormous amount of land would have to be devoted to panels and turbines if we seriously tried to get all of our present electricity needs from those weak sources:

Miller and Keith determined that “meeting present-day U.S. electricity consumption, for example, would require 12 percent of the continental U.S. land area for wind.” A bit of math reveals what that 12 percent figure means. The land area of the continental U.S. is about 2.9 million square miles, or 7.6 million square kilometers. Twelve percent of that area would be about 350,000 square miles or 912,000 square kilometers. Therefore, merely meeting America’s current electricity needs with wind energy would require a territory more than two times the size of California.

Suffice to say that this just isn’t going to happen.

For one thing, no one places wind farms in Washington, D.C. or midtown Manhattan. Nor are wind projects slated for Long Island, Marin County, or near any valuable suburban developments. It is rural America that bears the burden of many square miles of wind and solar installations.

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“Green” energy holds political sway, which has made a relative handful of people (largely non-Americans and lobbyists) immensely wealthy, while impoverishing utility rate payers and taxpayers–that is to say, the rest of us. This insanity will continue until voters wise up, or–more likely, I am afraid–until the laws of physics, along with land use and raw materials constraints, make it blindingly obvious that the “green dream” is just that. A nightmare.

Source: Why Wind and Solar Energy Are Doomed to Failure

How a Physicist Became a Climate Truth Teller

After a stint at the Obama Energy Department, Steven Koonin reclaims the science of a warming planet from the propaganda peddlers.

Barack Obama is one of many who have declared an “epistemological crisis,” in which our society is losing its handle on something called truth.

Thus an interesting experiment will be his and other Democrats’ response to a book by Steven Koonin, who was chief scientist of the Obama Energy Department. Mr. Koonin argues not against current climate science but that what the media and politicians and activists say about climate science has drifted so far out of touch with the actual science as to be absurdly, demonstrably false.

This is not an altogether innocent drifting, he points out in a videoconference interview from his home in Cold Spring, N.Y. In 2019 a report by the presidents of the National Academies of Sciences claimed the “magnitude and frequency of certain extreme events are increasing.” The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is deemed to compile the best science, says all such claims should be treated with “low confidence.”

In 2017 the U.S. government’s Climate Science Special Report claimed that, in the lower 48 states, the “number of high temperature records set in the past two decades far exceeds the number of low temperature records.” On closer inspection, that’s because there’s been no increase in the rate of new record highs since 1900, only a decline in the number of new lows.

Mr. Koonin, 69, and I are of one mind on 2018’s U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued in Donald Trump’s second year, which relied on such overegged worst-case emissions and temperature projections that even climate activists were abashed (a revoltcontinues to this day). “The report was written more to persuade than to inform,” he says. “It masquerades as objective science but was written as—all right, I’ll use the word—propaganda.”

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For the record, Mr. Koonin agrees that the world has warmed by 1 degree Celsius since 1900 and will warm by another degree this century, placing him near the middle of the consensus. Neither he nor most economic studies have seen anything in the offing that would justify the rapid and wholesale abandoning of fossil fuels, even if China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and others could be dissuaded from pursuing prosperity.

He’s a fan of advanced nuclear power eventually to provide carbon free base-load power. He sees a bright future for electric passenger vehicles. “The main reason isn’t emissions. They’re just shifted to the power grid, and transportation anyway is only about 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. There are other advantages: Local pollution is much less and noise pollution is less. You’re sitting in a traffic jam and all of these six- or four-cylinder engines are throbbing up and down burning fuel and just doing no good at all.”

But these are changes it makes no economic sense to force. Let technology and markets work at their own pace. The climate might continue to change, at a pace that’s hard to perceive, but societies will adapt. “As a species, we’re very good at adapting.”

The public now believes CO2 is something that can be turned up and down, but about 40% of the CO2 emitted a century ago remains in the atmosphere. Any warming it causes emerges slowly, so any benefit of reducing emissions would be small and distant. Everything Mr. Koonin and others see in the science suggests a slow, modest effect, not a runaway warming. If they’re wrong, we don’t have tools to apply yet anyway. Decades from now, we might have carbon capture—removing CO2 directly from the atmosphere at a manageable cost.

Source: How a Physicist Became a Climate Truth Teller

Solar panels in Sahara could boost renewable energy but damage the global climate – here’s why — Watts Up With That?

While the black surfaces of solar panels absorb most of the sunlight that reaches them, only a fraction (around 15%) of that incoming energy gets converted to electricity. The rest is returned to the environment as heat. The panels are usually much darker than the ground they cover, so a vast expanse of solar cells…

Solar panels in Sahara could boost renewable energy but damage the global climate – here’s why — Watts Up With That?

In addition, both solar panels and wind turbines have the potential of bringing rain to the desert. This is a problem because forest has a lower albedo than desert does. It’s darker, so it absorbs more heat.

I guess the answer to global warming might be to turn the Amazon forest into desert.

The Texas Blackout Blame Game

The Texas blackouts are shaping up to be the costliest disaster in state history, and the loss of life remains unknown. People are justifiably very angry. And when people are angry, politicians look around for someone to blame. Many have trotted out their favorite villains for the occasion. Many on the right have picked Don Quixote’s old enemy, the windmill, while many on the left jumped at the chance to blame deregulation. Neither explanation really holds up. While it will be some time before all the specifics are known, what we do know doesn’t support any easy political narrative.

The central fact about the chain of events that led to the blackouts is deceptively simple: It got super cold.

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The sheer size of the supply hole makes it hard to blame either wind or deregulation for the failure. While pictures of frozen wind turbines may be evocative, ERCOT’s forecasts do not rely on a large amount of wind to sustain the system—and wind ended up meeting those expectations. Some have argued that the low cost of wind power over the last decade has forced the retirement of more reliable power plants that could have helped make up the gap had they been there. I’ve addressed those arguments at length elsewhere; here I’ll add that many of the recently retired Texas plants were rendered unprofitable not by wind but by the fracking-induced fall in natural gas prices. And given how many thermal plants failed, it doesn’t seem plausible that having a few more of them would have made the difference.

Similarly, there is little reason to think that Texas’ competitive electric system is to blame. ERCOT’s most recent winter forecast included a worst-case scenario for the grid that roughly predicted the needed demand but underestimated the amount of generation that would be unusable by almost half. A more centralized or state-run electric system almost certainly would have relied on the same forecast and ended up in the same situation. In retrospect, it’s easy to blame generators for not doing more to protect their plants from cold. But if a plant had known that unprecedented cold was coming and had weatherized, it would now be reaping millions in benefits. The problem was not a lack of incentives but a lack of imagination.

Source: The Texas Blackout Blame Game

The Folly of Renewable Energy

If you judge by the images used to illustrate reports about energy, the world now runs mainly on wind and solar power. It comes as a shock to look up the numbers. In 2019 wind and solar between them supplied just 1.5 percent of the world’s energy consumption. Hydro supplied 2.6 percent, nuclear 1.7 percent, and all the rest — 94 percent — came from burning things: coal, oil, gas, wood, and biofuels.

As Mark Twain might say, reports of an energy transition away from combustion as a source of energy are greatly exaggerated. True, carbon-dioxide emissions are rising more slowly than energy consumption, but that is mainly because gas is displacing coal. The rise of renewables has so far not even compensated for the recent decline of nuclear — a decline renewables have contributed to causing because intermittent renewable energy hits the profitability of nuclear power hardest. Nuclear cannot be easily switched on and off.

 

Source: The Folly of Renewable Energy

Repost for the New Administration: Trans-partisan Plan #1: Addressing Man-Made Global Warming With A Plan That Could Be Supported By Both Democrats and Republicans

By the way, drafts of Biden’s plans released so far has him doing almost the polar opposite of every step I suggest. The cancellation of individual pipeline projects is just stupid political micro-managing to absolutely no benefit. (First published September, 2018)

While I am not deeply worried about man-made climate change, I am appalled at all the absolutely stupid, counter-productive things the government has implemented in the name of climate change, all of which have costly distorting effects on the economy while doing extremely little to affect man-made greenhouse gas production.

Source: Repost for the New Administration: Trans-partisan Plan #1: Addressing Man-Made Global Warming With A Plan That Could Be Supported By Both Democrats and Republicans

The Fundamental Weakness of Renewable Energy Sources

“Wind does not belong in any modern energy supply portfolio. Grids do substantial work to integrate wind volatility … Retrofitting modern technology to meet the needs of ancient wind flutter is monumentally backwards, a sure sign that pundits and politicians, not scientists, are now in charge.”

Except for hydro, renewable energy sources are inimical to any rational idea of maintaining access to energy with highly secure power capacity. Restated, wind and solar cannot produce modern power without being wholly entangled with modern power producers.

This article will focus on wind power, but similar problems affect solar.

Any chemist should know enough to understand the implications of the formula governing the way wind energy must be converted into electricity: w=1/2 rAv3, where w is power; r, air density; A, rotor density; and v is wind speed.

The main driver in the equation is the v3, which dictates that any output must be a function of the cube of the wind speed at each wind speed interval throughout the windplant’s rated capacity, from 0 to ~33 mph. (Most windplants don’t begin generating anything until the wind speed reaches ~8 mph and max out when the wind speed hits 33 mph).

Source: The Fundamental Weakness of Renewable Energy Sources

California secretly struggles with renewables

California has hooked up a grid battery system that is almost ten times bigger than the previous world record holder, but when it comes to making renewables reliable it is so small it might as well not exist.

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Mind you the PG&E engineers are not that stupid. They know perfectly well that this billion dollar battery is not there to provide backup power when wind and solar do not produce. In fact the truth is just the opposite. The battery’s job is to prevent wind and solar power from crashing the grid when they do produce.

It is called grid stabilization. Wind and solar are so erratic that it is very hard to maintain the constant 60 cycle AC frequency that all our wonderful electronic devices require. If the frequency gets more than just a tiny bit off the grid blacks out. Preventing these crashes requires active stabilization.

Grid instability due to erratic wind and solar used to not be a problem, because the huge spinning metal rotors in the coal, gas and nuclear power plant generators simply absorbed the fluctuations. But most of those plants have been shut down, so we need billion dollar batteries to do what those plants did for free. Nor is this monster battery the only one being built in California to try to make wind and solar power work. Many more are in the pipeline and not just in California. Many states are struggling with instability as baseline generators are switched off.

Source: California secretly struggles with renewables

Doing the math on battery storage

Here is the reality when it comes to the scale needed to reliably back up intermittent renewables. For simplicity let us suppose New York City is 100% wind powered. Including solar in the generating mix makes it more complicated but does not change the unhappy outcome very much.

NYC presently peaks at around 32,000 MW needed to keep the lights on. If Mr. Biden makes all the cars and trucks electric it might be closer to 50,000 MW but let’s stick to reality.

So for reliability we need, say, seven days of backup, which is 168 hours. Here’s the math:

32,000 MW x 168 hours = 5,376,000 MWh of stored juice needed to just make it. Mind you for normal reliability we usually add 20% or so. Did I mention electric cars?

It is easy to see that a trivial 400 MWh is not “significant scale.” It is infinitesimal scale. Nothing. Nada. Might as well not exist.

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So what would it cost to reliably back up wind power, at this MWh cost and NYC’s scale? Just over $8,000,000,000,000 or EIGHT TRILLION DOLLARS. I have not seen this stupendous sum mentioned in the media. Perhaps Con Ed has not mentioned it.

New York can’t buy its way out of blackouts