MIT Finding: Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy

Evidence points to the need for a broader range of clean power beyond just wind and solar.

by James Temple

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades.

That might sound like a great idea. But a growing body of evidence shows it’s not.

It increasingly appears that insisting on 100 percent renewable sources—and disdaining others that don’t produce greenhouse gases, such as nuclear power and fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture technology—is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult.

In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to meet 100 percent of demand with these resources would require building a huge number of additional wind and solar farms—or expanding electricity storage to an extent that would be prohibitively expensive at current prices. Or some of both.

The basic problem is that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. The study analyzed 36 years’ worth of hourly weather data and found there are gaps in renewable-energy production even on a continental scale.Relying on these intermittent sources alone would requiring building many more solar and wind farms to produce excess energy during particularly sunny and windy periods, plus huge storage systems that can bank hours’ or even weeks’ worth of power (see “Serial Battery Entrepreneur’s New Venture Tackles Clean Energy’s Biggest Problem”). Another possibility is to build long-distance transmission routes that could ship the electricity around the country at just the moment it’s needed.

Storage systems are incredibly expensive in the case of batteries—and geographically limited in the case of pumped hydroelectric, which requires a set of water reservoirs at varying heights (see “Why Bad Things Happen to Clean-Energy Startups”). Long-distance transmission lines are also pricey and can take decades to get approved and built (see “How to Get Wyoming Wind to California, and Cut 80% of US Carbon Emissions”).

Just getting to 80 percent of demand reliably with only wind and solar would require either a US-wide high-speed transmission system or 12 hours of electricity storage. A storage system of that size across the US would cost more than $2.5 trillion for a battery system.

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113 thoughts on “MIT Finding: Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy

    • That’s for 80% reliability, or just over 19 hours per day on average.
      From the paper :

      Achieving 99.97% reliability with a system consisting solely of solar and wind generation in conjunction with energy storage would require a storage capacity equivalent to several weeks of average demand (Fig. 3b), and the low capacity factor would lead to a LCES of ~$0.25 per kWh. Three weeks of storage (227 TWh) at the cost target of $100 per kWh results in a capital expenditure of $23 trillion and either ~6500 years of the annual Tesla Gigafactory production capacity or a ~900x increase in the pumped hydro capacity of the U.S.

      Note that the current cost of storage is around $400-500 per kWh instead of the “target” $100 used above …

      • People in Pakistan get along on that level of reliability. Americans can get used to it.
        Liberals used to want America to be like Sweden, now they want to emulate Pakistan. That is so progressive.

      • WS- I know you are being sarcastic, but it is kind of scary that there are some individuals that would propose this.
        Would be kind of rough living in Minneapolis in January in the center of a large polar high. Maybe 3 hours of usable solar, no wind and with temps probably below -10F. Or Winnipeg with less solar and even colder temps.
        Going to be a lot of people literally and figuratively freezing to death.
        But that’s ok since these would be the older and poorer people.. you know the kind that drags down the proponents of all this nonsense.

      • The world doesn’t stop spinning at night. Factories run 24-7.
        I might think that an unreliable power system would cause huge productivity lapses. While you may not be using much electricity while you sleep, your alarm clock relies upon it, as will you if you plan on waking up on time.
        If you wish the US to be on par with Pakistan, then this would be a strategy. Not one I think many would be willing to embrace.

      • If you want 100% backup, you would need about 14 days storage. Think of the cost of that.
        But these are the margins that the fossil fuel industry have had to abide by for the last century, so why should renewables be any different? Power stations have always had to hold enough stocks to cope with foreseen and unforeseen output delays.
        R

      • Something else that’s pretty obvious, but often overlooked is that pumped storage is only cheap if you use it a lot. Build a pumped storage facility to store the middle of the night output from the generators in the Niagara Gorge or a nuclear power plant can be cost effective if the reservoir is drawn down 365 days a year. And in fact Niagara-Mohawk has a couple of facilities that have been doing that for decades. Building the same facility to provide backup power 15 days a year could easily be 20 or more times as costly per kw/hr stored.

      • “If you wish the US to be on par with Pakistan, then this would be a strategy.”
        Pakistan is receiving loans from China to build at least six big coal-fired power plants, IIRC.

    • There seems to be a major issue with all of these plans and proposals…what one of my engineering profs called “do the math”. No-one does the all of the math when they come up with these ideas. When we say do the math we mean more than the assumptions set out in this article, but the underlying math of the inputs for the infrastructure, that is the magnets, wire, rare metals, cobalt, etc. needed to make this stuff, or the long lead times to get capacity up to speed. There are no replicators.

    • Any city or state that switches to wind or solar only, will eventually get new management because of the self-inflicted economic collapse that will settle in. Only citizens of severely reduced IQ would come up with such a plan.

      • Politicians doing silly energy policy often get into office on other grounds. Grey Davis was recalled as Governor of California for the blackouts (and pay to play generally), but the Democrats were able to run and elect Jerry Brown, who is worse.

  1. This has been obvious for several years during which the announcements of regulations or intentions requiring 100% renewables or some similar nonsense have been proliferating. The fact this is news to anyone is a sign of something fundamental lacking in how we educate ourselves and apply systems of logic to new information.

    • Is it not more indicative of just how derelict in providing accurate and usable information our various Marionette Sycophant Media outlets have been?

  2. When Warmunists “discuss” energy, it always gives me a warm feeling. Like robbers discussing the best way to rob banks. That kind of warm feeling.

  3. “Renewables” are a pointless huge waste of resources. They wreck the environment and are extremely vulnerable to weather and terroris aytacks. Maintenance is high. “Renewables” destabilize the grid. “Renewables” cost much more and deliver less.
    Yet so-called progressive policy thinkers are demanding this be imposed on us for our guture.
    And the proponemts if these costly unreliable and destructive policies refuse to openly discuss the matter.

  4. We really need to start clearly segregating clean renewable energy sources from dirty ones like burning wood and dung etc. in discussions. Even assumed clean sources like solar and wind are not actually really clean or green in the end when considering manufacturing and disposal processing. Just sayin, the term renewable is tossed about frequently, and really doesn’t reflect what people assume it does.

    • Usually when someone uses the term “clean energy” without quotation marks, sarcasm, irony, or almost immediate qualification, it is a safe assumption they are totally ignorant, if not worse.
      I regard it as one of the off-pat things that many people say, such as in the former Soviet Union, people might preface a report on the latest failures with the term “Thanks to the leadership of comrade Stalin and renewable energy, tractor production has nearly exceeded the five year target of the commissariat.”

  5. The study is behind a paywall, so does anyone know whether or not projections of meeting x% of “US annual electricity demand” include an all-electric transportation fleet, or even an all-electric light-truck & car fleet in the “demand” figures?
    Because if not, it seems that 80% means something like 20-25% of total CO2 emissions? When you include industrial (cement, etc) and transportation sectors… So if even if you believe the world will end in a ball of fire in the year 2100, it seems like the best approach would be some kind of mitigation strategy. What am I missing?

    • You aren’t missing anything, Mike, it is the folk who believe in this stuff that are missing common sense.

      • Seconded. The only thing you are missing is more cynicism. Practice telling every deception, slight of hand, and lying-by-omission you could think of to make it appear nearly true. Then you might be close to the truth of how these things are presented.

  6. How can 12 hours of storage overcome the fact that solar is missing in action half the day at best and 7 moths at a time in the north? Wind energy is often dead for 3 weeks at a time.
    How do you guarantee that your storage is fully charged when you need it?

  7. Our present energy grid is vulnerable to terrorism, to severe weather, to poor management and just to the age of the grid as we saw in California. To update what we have today will cost hundreds of billions. So now the proposal is to make our energy grid even less reliable and even more vulnerable. To provide enough energy from renewable will require substantial use of land. Land that will be dangerous to wildlife (e.g., wind turbines) or excludes most wildlife changing the local ecosystem dramatically (e.g. large solar arrays, battery farms.). The estimate is that wind turbines last year killed between 214,000 to 368,000 birds. Now multiply that by the number of wind turbines require to replace fossil fuel power plants. Funny, I saw a “news website” that went on about how few birds wind turbines killed in comparison to guide wired towers, cats, and tall buildings. Those forms of mortality are not goin away anytime soon.

    • How do we know that “they” give out reliable numbers of dead birds they pick up? And “they” can’t count the dead birds that have been picked up and taken away by carnivores enjoying their free lunches (foxes, coyotes, feral dogs, lynx, cougars, pumas, feral cats, vultures, wolves) all the above are quite smart enough know where to go to get the good stuff. Their populations will grow to match the available food supply and after time there won’t be many dead birds for the staff to pick up in the morning. Problem solved!!
      And we don’t hear much about bats any more. Perhaps they’ve gone extinct. (/sarc)

    • So Edwin I so fill your pain about birds. And do not forget about puppies and kitties being snuffed at shelters
      Let me make it worse. How many birds do you think die a year? Oh no!
      Hear is the deal. All power projects must show insignificant environmental impact. That’s the law.
      Here is where every whiners fails. The judge is going to ask the same question. Wow that is a big number, is it significant? Do you have evidence?

    • They invented an imaginary horde of feral cats to make this even slightly plausible.
      The numbers for cats are wildly inflated projections based on populations in a few urban centers with feral cat colonies.
      And besides, cats might catch a few birds now and then, but the numbers claimed are impossible.

      • Claiming that since feral cats kill birds it doesn’t matter if windmills kill some more is like declaring that since Mao killed millions, it doesn’t matter if I kill one or two.

  8. OK. Solar energy can be unpredictable on cloudy days but in my experience it is totally predictable during the night.

    • LOL, but wait, a warmer world means more clouds, or less clouds or more clouds over the poles, and more snow in Greenland, or more albedo or less. So solar will be more predictable, or less or the same. But mainly, I want a subsidy for my “green” $140k car which can beat yours at 0-60, and for the solar panels on my roof, and since I voted for these subsidies, it proves I’m a better person than you, which is all that matters.

  9. At least with present technology I don’t believe 80% is achievable no matter how much one spends.

    • That’s my take too, even if everyone was pressed into switching jobs to renewables manufacturing, it would still take way more than that to produce and maintain 80% of the world’s power. The redundancy that would be required plus the massively strung-out grid supply would be a nightmare to look at, and still would be incapacitated to some extent by anything other than ideal conditions.
      50 years from now the present renewables will be hazardous waste. Making new units creates more hazardous waste per watt hour produced than nuclear. The numbers of solar and wind instruments required to reliably provide 80% is large, and the lifespan is so short that there would undoubtedly be a massive disposal problem within decades.

    • We already have 86% “carbon-free” in Ontario thanks mainly to three very large nukes and some decent hydro. And Quebec, Manitoba and BC have essentially 100% thanks to hydro. That doesn’t include the hydro that Quebec “buys” for a fraction of a cent per kWh from Labrador and retails to New York & New England States. But somehow all of that doesn’t count, because they aren’t “renewable”. Or not renewable enough. Or something.
      Remember those weird people who hung around airports in the 1980s handing out leaflets campaigning for more nuclear power? We could use them to try and counter the 21st century anti-nuclear monologue. Oops, I forgot that molten salt thorium reactors will be in hardware stores next week. /sarc

      • That’s all true. But hardly anyone lives in Canada because the place is so bloody cold. Canada has roughly the same hydro resource as the US — but only 10% of the population. So you folks can, in fact, operate largely on hydro-electricity. … At least until you try to electrify your transportation sector. Montreal high today 38F — rest of the week will be about the same. That is, believe it or not, a considerable improvement over March.

    • It is possible to get high market share of wind and solar. South Australia sets a great example. At penetration in the range 10 to 15% the power price starts to be felt by heavy industry that can no longer survive without government subsidy so they close down operations. The primary reason is that to get that level of penetration the installed wind and solar capacity is enough to displace the lowest merit order dispatchable generation, usually closed cycle gas turbines.
      At 30 to 40% market share there is enough wind and solar capacity to completely upset the grid stability as well as making the highest merit order dispatchable generation uneconomic so it closes down. The grid is left with wind and solar generation plus all high cost fast response open cycle gas turbines and diesels. So costs are now really skyrocketing.
      The unreliability and rocketing grid prices encourage anyone with a roof or sun exposed space to install solar panels. They find that there are times when their solar system shuts down on over-voltage because everyone who has solar is trying to shove power into the grid on sunny days. Having spent the money on panels they want a return so buy a battery so they can fully utilise their panels. This means the grid is no longer of economic value. Its operation and maintenance has to be funded from general revenue. It is basically a service for the poor who do not own a roof or do not have the capital to buy solar and battery.
      The National grid operator in Australia is forecasting that the minimum load in South Australia will be zero by 2024. That means all the distributed solar will be enough to supply the total demand of the grid when the sun is shining. It also means that all the large scale solar and wind grid assets will have zero load at that time. Grid scale wind and solar proponents have realised this dilemma and are wanting more high power connections to the other States so they can make the forecast income from their existing assets as the demand dries up in the SA network.
      So it is possible to get high market share for wind and solar with this two-pronged approach; subsidise grid scale wind and solar to connect to the grid and give them priority access to the grid demand without any need to have dispatchable generation. (It is termed semi-dispatchable meaning it can be in the range 0 to rated capacity at any time.) These conditions are enough to ensure the economic demise of the grid and it will eventually have high market share for wind and solar supplying a much diminished demand that is paid for from general revenue as those who remain connected cannot afford to make their own, which would be the lower cost option than getting it from the grid. South Australia has the highest rate of forced disconnections in the country. “Bill shock” is a common term in the country as South Australia’s folly is felt across the country due to the interconnectedness of the grid and the way the wholesale market prices electricity.

  10. Perhaps it is discussed further on in the article, which is paywalled, the reported efficiencies of wind generation are enormously exaggerated. The way efficiencies of wind generation are reported are profoundly misleading. For example;
    “Wind turbines convert around 45% of the wind passing through the blades into electricity (and almost 50% at peak efficiency). Over time, coal power stations operate at around 85% of full capacity (known as the capacity factor).”
    What is not explained is that those numbers are only for when the wind is blowing at a rate that is within a relatively narrow range of wind speeds. If the wind speed is outside of that range, the output of the wind generator is significantly reduced or there is no electricity generated at all. The times that the wind speed is out of range is not included in the above efficiency statement.
    Furthermore, the frequency of, necessity for and cost of maintenance is considerable more than is reported. Downtime is almost completely ignored when producing the reports, MTBF is significantly shorter than anyone will admit publicly.
    I did some consulting for a major wind generator manufacturer (Lightning induced failures. Who would have thought?) and got to see the seamy underside of the business. Without the massive government subsidies that the industry has been receiving there would not be wind farms, they are economically indefensible.

    • I can’t speak for other regions, but, in the Tennessee Valley area (South Eastern United States) wind assets annual capacity factors are in the 15-18% range. The capacity factors from wind purchased from the mid-west isn’t much better.

  11. Meh — stating the obvious and still sugar-coating it (for virtue signaling?). No 12-hr battery storage system for the whole country will ever be built — not plausible. High-speed transmission system? WTH? Anyway, you can hardly build new transmission systems any more w/o decade-long delays and arguments. A massive new system? Again — can’t be done.
    For MIT, 80% or even 20% renewables for the whole country is pie-in-the-sky stuff and they should know it. Get real.

  12. No matter how I try to be energy efficient my utilities bill here in far northern California keeps rising and rising. Saving the planet my fanny! The only thing this “renewable energy” nonsense is doing is depleting my bank account.

    • The purpose of government is to transfer money from those who work to those who run government.

  13. What happens to the environment if such an amount of energy is taken out of the air? Will it affect the climate in general or just the microclimate? What about the vast areas of land shaded by solar panels? How does this affect microclimate or climate? What about precipitation, not just collecting the rain, but also preventing rainfall because of strong reflection of solar radiation? Unanswered questions as important as storage and grid stability. Any ideas?

    • I forgot a equally important problem: how will it affect animal life in the air and on the ground?

    • The Solar Panel question is a Poser…
      Solar Panels are Dark and as such act to decrease overall albedo by darkening the ground cover.
      Solar Farms are a tremendous overuse of land space (Low Density Electricity) for the amount of useful energy produced.
      California’s current energy usage, if replaced by solar, would require covering an area half the acreage of Sequoia National Park. To supply Sufficient energy to create night time battery storage and still allow California to function during the day would require an area slightly larger than Sequoia National Park. To electrify ALL Ca. Transportation would require an additional Sequoia Parks worth of solar panels. So, to supply night time recharging of those hundreds of millions of EV’s, power the grid during the day, recharge night time batteries (back up systems) would require solar panels covering an area of around 1/2 of the entire National Park system within California (3.6M acres for parks so 1.8M acres of Solar Panels) Good Bye National Parks

    • I’d be interested to see the Environmental Impact studies, complete product lifecycles, including restoration of the habitat after decommission,
      But more interestingly, 14 day backup is alot of energy. What’s the plan to charge the suckers?

  14. OMG somebody used the dreaded word….cost. That is clearly out of bounds in today’s energy policy.

  15. “Another possibility is to build long-distance transmission routes that could ship the electricity around the country at just the moment it’s needed.”
    How feasible would this actually be given the losses associated with long-distance transmission lines?

    • Don’t worry, just build more wind turbines and solar panel. That’ll fix that nasty bug…

      • Which reminds me, what ever happened to Elon Musk’s solar roof tiles? I haven’t heard much about them lately. From the hyper-hype surrounding them, I would have thought that everyone (at least in California) would have installed them by now and everyone (at least in California) would be living in Renewable Nirvana by now.

        • That Southe African snake-oil peddler is excellent in mucking out other people’s wallets, but his announcements aren’t worth the paper the Tesla stock exchange prospectus is printed on

    • Yes, that’s just one of the problems. There are practical limits to transmission-line lengths. Not just voltage drop, but also reactance-support. And then there’s the greenies-are-scared-of-high-voltage phobia.

    • I read one study a bunch of years ago that proposed what was called the “superconducting supergrid”>
      The basic idea was to transmit power around the country using large 1,000,000+ watt DC cables, kept cold by the liquid hydrogen that we would also be using and shipping hither and yon inside of the pipes that the cables were inside of.

      • Hmm, I wonder how much energy would be consumed keeping all of that hydrogen in a liquid state.

  16. I reckon another 20 years of “renewable” production and we’ll reach the energy levels that are routinely dumped annually ala Lawrence Livermore’s Energy Flow charts. What a scam, with an evil purpose behind all the Green posturing. I can “see” the exclusion zones now…

  17. “A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades.That might sound like a great idea”.
    It sounds like a complete load of nonsense to me, but then I am very knowledgeable on the subject of ruinable (or unreliable) energy.

    • And needless. There is NO need to “capture” CO2. More is better, to any extent WELL within “our” ability to “contribute” it to the biosphere.

  18. “….A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades….”.
    Why does politics seem to attract the most clueless and ignorant people?
    If the cities and states with renewable mandates were run by people with any brains, they would be listening to scientists and engineers about the prospects of wind, solar and biomass/biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. But no, instead they probably listen to environmental activists, local citizens supporting wind and solar and others with little or no background in physics, engineering and mathematics.
    So we end up with renewable mandates reflecting a level of ignorance which makes those who understand the problems with “renewables” want to pound their heads against a wall in frustration. At least I know I do. One can only hope that these bozos will eventually wake up and realize that their mandates aren’t going to work when they set the targets so high (like 50% or 100%), if they will work at all.
    You can usually tell when an idea or technology doesn’t work well, because its supporters have to go to govt to shove it down the throats of the public. Anything that does work in the market doesn’t need govt to start with—-except for maybe some regulation.

  19. They are also ignoring the power losses that are associated with both transmission and storage.

  20. The future of power is molten salt nuclear power from Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Easily and quickly built in factories and trucked to the site, they require no cooling water nor extensive site preparation , costing less than half of conventional nuclear and intrinsically safe, impossible of a meltdown or significant expulsion of radiactive material into the environment. Levelized cost of power will be less than 4 cents per kWhr. SMRs can be located anywhere – within cities and towns.
    These generators can also load follow, and don’t require mid or peak load generators.

  21. Let’s pick a country and see how well they do before forcing even 50% renewable energy production on the world. Let’s us Australia (sorry mates) as the crash test dummy since they seem to be further down that rabbit hole than anyone.

  22. “In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand…”
    I GUARANTEE that the “study” in question is pure garbage. “Renewables” couldn’t satisfy 8% of US annual electricity demand, much less 80%.
    “but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts”
    All the investments in the world wouldn’t save us from the major, and repeated, and extended, blackouts. “Renewables” are intermittent and unreliable by nature (no pun intended), and tend to drop out of sight production-wise at exactly the times when demand is at its highest. And the stupifying destruction of landscapes necessary to pursue this folly to its self-destructive end CANNOT have been considered. And this also says nothing about the fact that in storm-prone areas, not only are both traditional AND the ADDED “massive” ADDITIONAL “transmission and distribution” lines threatened with damage and destruction, but the GENERATION equipment ITSELF would ALSO be subject; just ask Puerto Rico how that worked out when their windmills and solar panels were introduced to “Maria.”
    https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=esOwMds2&id=C54B342922C160D9C5DB3B070B9D1E584C5A2B50&thid=OIP.esOwMds26WNdhIQFPFrsNQHaEa&mediaurl=https%3a%2f%2fi0.wp.com%2fwww.puertorico.buzz%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2017%2f10%2fhurricane-maria-in-puerto-rico-101917-01.jpg%3fw%3d840%26ssl%3d1&exph=501&expw=840&q=puerto+rico+windmill+hurricane+damage+2017&simid=608037135054602439&selectedIndex=41&ajaxhist=0
    https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=XUVE82S0&id=487D75EB2FB0AE42A8B04FB8E37AF2E0ABF61D97&thid=OIP.XUVE82S0k7haeX4GcJ-ZwwHaE8&mediaurl=https%3a%2f%2fcdn.vox-cdn.com%2fuploads%2fchorus_asset%2ffile%2f9481327%2fHumacaoSolarGetty.jpg&exph=3264&expw=4896&q=puerto+rico+hurricane+damage+solar+panel+2017&simid=608028858612910187&selectedIndex=7&ajaxhist=0
    You’ll never see a coal, or gas, or nuclear power plant blown apart by a storm, but you WILL see “renewables” destroyed by storms with utter regularity, whenever their locations and a storm’s path cross. It’s one thing to have scores of people without power because there are lots of lines and poles damaged; it’s quite another when you don’t have anything left to connect them TO upon repair.
    Furthermore, you don’t even have to “destroy” “renewables” to render them useless; iced up windmill blades and turbine motors, and snow and ice covered solar panels, will be “producing” NOTHING, even if otherwise intact – so you can kiss your wintertime electricity goodbye with great frequency anywhere that you get snow.
    The price that will be paid in lost productivity and ultimately in LIVES of instituting this sort of colossally STUPID energy “plan” is STAGGERING.

    • I’m guessing that to replace fossil/nuclear electric generation with renewables you would need name plate capacity at least 10 times and probably closer to 20 times the total energy needs.
      That’s to cover both the generation of power needed right now, plus having enough left over to quickly recharge the batteries quickly enough.
      That of course doesn’t cover the fact that charging and recharging batteries is not 100% efficient, and that power being transmitted from where it is being generated to where ever it is needed or the batteries are is well shy of 100% efficient as well.
      Because of that you are going to have to increase that factor of 10 to 20 by at least 10 to 20% more.
      Finally, they talk about wanting to make all cars electric as well. That means you are going to have to increase name plate power by another 5 to 10 times.
      Just from these rough figures, you are going to need name plate power that is some 55 to 240 times greater than current generation capacity.
      Good luck building solar panels and wind mills fast enough to even replace the ones wearing out, not to mention actually increasing capacity.

      • Fundamentally solar offers no benefit of scale and wind minor benefit of scale. They only make economic sense for low energy intensive use in locations remote from an existing grid when coupled with storage. Economics can improve a little if the system includes some gas or diesel generation.
        As improvements are made they could make economic sense on the fringes of existing grids if installed with storage. That can work out as a lower cost option to upgrading the network for increased demand in a particular location.
        There is no sense in having a grid designed for centralised generation being used for distributed generation. More economic to decentralise the power supply and place at the load.

  23. Where have the professional engineers and project managers been all these years when they should have been kicking in the doors of the political establishment and our parliaments and halting these ridiculous, obscenely wrong, and unnecessary over-expensive power generation policies.
    This Article simply states what has been blatantly obvious ever since this debate started: namely that all current forms of so-called renewable power generation require extensive and very expensive additional facilities and works to provide the continuous, reliable and adequate overall power generation system as needed and not when available. When such renewables are used, then necessary standby plants, providing massive over-capacity, and massive extended and enhanced transmission works are required to provide the base load systems that are needed.
    The renewable energy industry and their supporters conveniently and fraudulently never mention or allow for these massive “hidden” costs when they compare their unit power prices with fossil fuel fuelled systems and neither do they mention the subsidies they demand or the costs of the subsidies needed for the inefficiently operated standby plants. All these additional costs are not paid for by them but by others, including taxpayers.
    Even the claimed CO2 savings provided by such renewables are equally fraudulent as they ignore the CO2 emissions of the base load fossil fuel standby plants which are needed to maintain power during no/low wind or sun conditions and which generate the vast majority of the total power in any year. Unsubstantiated claims of future CO2 induced “damage” remedial/replacement works cost savings are similarly wrong, even if CO2 did provide such future “damage”, as they ignore the already substantiated benefits increased CO2 provides: such as increased crop yields and overall greening, as well as lower crop water demands during drought conditions.
    Added to this, nuclear plants have the massive “hidden” long term costs of toxic waste management and disposal as well as similarly excessive costs for de-commissioning works contaminated by the same toxic materials.
    Battery storage as a necessary standby plant also has many such additional costs including costs for massive land usage, additional capital works and power losses in the generated power to battery to power supply system. Dams, reservoirs and pumping and hydro turbine systems’ massive costs also need adding to the overall costs to consumers where such systems are used as “battery” storage.

    • macawber,
      In general I agree with you wholeheartedly regarding renewables, and the fact that this has all been known from the start (excessive costs). I’d quibble with you regarding nuclear power, or at least the “hidden” costs part. Not sure how it is your neck of the woods, but decommissioning costs are collected from ratepayers (so the people using the power pay for the eventual costs of decommissioning). Nuclear waste has been discussed ad nauseum, and regardless of one’s opinions, there does exist a path for reprocessing and/or storage of these radioactive (note, radioactive is different than toxic) byproducts. This is easily priced into the nuclear cycle costs, and probably doesn’t change the economics significantly away from their current status. Finally, this is not a defense of current light water reactor technology, which is clearly not the optimal approach for fission power in the future.
      rip

      • I forgot to add the UK’s Hinkley Point Nuclear Plant experience. Its costs, guaranteed minimum prices, together with recent continental Europe design and safety scares on similar works and the nuclear industry’s current appalling record of ever escalating delays and costs once a project is sanctioned, tells me that uranium fission nuclear reactor plants should not now even be considered.
        The only hope for the UK in filling its Energy Gap in time is a significant programme of Gas Turbine Plants with the eventual benefits of UK fracked gas. This will at least give us the time for the desperately needed independent R&D work needed to develop the next generation of base load power generation, including such possibilities as renewable Thorium Reactors or similar, which are much simpler, hopefully much cheaper, and much safer than present and currently planned reactors.

    • Here in the UK I have been writing to my MP, to government ministers and responding to consultations for many years. As professional engineers in the UK know, it is a waste of time trying to kick down the doors, as the establishment refuses to listen to the professional engineers – they prefer to listen to the Greenblob.

    • For the most part professional engineers and project managers views have been limited by the “external affairs” people in their companies. A quote from a blog I wrote a few years back provided some of the rationale: “Speaking honestly and truthfully to regulators and other stakeholders can easily be re-interpreted by them as the utility being anti-renewables, inflexible and protectionist. Worst case as noted they can find some of your decisions imprudent and not allow cost recovery. ”
      https://judithcurry.com/2014/10/22/myths-and-realities-of-renewable-energy/

      • The obvious solution, in the short term, is to get some Professional Engineers into the House of Commons and onto the HOC Department of Energy and Climate Change Committee. I suggested this more than 15 years ago at one of my professional Institution’s seminars and discussion on UK Infrastructure Works led by a visiting and supposedly eminent, leading member of the Institution. I explained that that was the only way the UK could get some sense and direction into its infrastructure works’ policies and achieve far less expensive but more effective solutions. The look on the man’s face, in response, was of absolute fear tinged with anger; as if he and his colleagues should have to accept such an accountable responsibility. Is it know wonder the UK’s infrastructure works are far too often under-performing and even more often costing massively more than necessary. Such an attitude at the top explains why the engineering professions have continually lost more prestige and influence during my lifetime. These leaders, for far too long, lack courage; something far from missing in their Victorian and even early to mid 2oth Century predecessors who generated the UK’s past technological and engineering dominance!

  24. Nonsense like this leads me to believe that MIT now stands for Morons In Training.

  25. Much of the planet can make use of fairly simple solar hot water collectors. Hot water for domestic uses, including space heating in mid climes, makes far more sense than taking high grade electricity, especially if created by renewables, and turn those electrons into thermal heat or hot water. The Third World, most of which is in the mid or tropical/equatorial latitudes already does a lot of passive solar water heating, albeit usually a small tower or water barrel etc, on a platform or roof.
    Given that the majority of the people on the planet live in these regions, including some of the First world to 45 – 50 degrees latitude makes solar hot water low hanging fruit to pick to reduce electrical demand. Solar hot water is even a good source seasonally in higher latitudes, due to higher spring/summer insolation. Either hemisphere. Anyone who has traveled to tropical or sub tropical regions all over the planet would know what I am talking about. Most of that is still fairly inefficient passive solar hot water, but hey, it is mostly free save for pumping the water to the tank where it flows via gravity even if the power is off. No subsidies required, and lasts a lot longer than PV or a windmill.
    Heating hot water is currently the second highest energy demand domestically, behind either home heating or A/C. It is absurd to heat water electrically with solar PV or wind, and then use those electrons to heat water. You can fairly easily make the water hot or warm directly from solar sunlight and/or ambient outdoor temperatures in warmer climes. High efficiency solar collectors even work good in northern cooler climes, albeit less solar insolation in fall/winter. But still excellent for 2/3 of the year even in a cooler northern climate.
    If I was younger and wanting to get into the renewable energy business, it wouldn’t be large scale solar PV or wind, it would be the newer high efficiency solar hot water collectors. This has the capacity to create the same BTU equivalent of energy for hot water usage, for a fraction of the cost that it would be to install the same wind or solar PV actual production of electrons to create the same hot water. Implementing more solar high efficiency hot water systems would do a lot more to reduce electrical or gas demands to heat the same water volume. Nobody is talking much about this, but is abundantly clear that it works fairly cost effective to save high quality electrons for lower grade thermal hot water.

  26. I though that M.I.T. was the worlds premier technology university. Seems that I was very wrong.

  27. There’s driving that wussy PC electric vehicle and then there’s drivin’ like you meant it.

  28. I ain’t eatin’ bugs and I ain’t giving up my electricity. If these kooks ever really get serious about enforcing their craziness, they better learn how to shoot straight.

    • The thing is, Peter, they won’t be coming to take your electricity away (or guns or most other things for that matter). They just aim to just make it progressively more expensive so that people are forever using less of everything, and yet not really knowing who to blame when they end up poorer than their parents generation.
      This is the ratchet of environmentalism: Industrial capitalism has slowly and incrementally afforded us a better life-style than even the King of England had 300 years ago. Most people never noticed it happening. Greens want to reverse that. Many of them don’t even understand how it works, but support policies in that direction.

      • You’d be amazed how many of them actually believe it was government that made all the things we enjoy possible.
        Because of that they believe that more government will increase wealth even faster.

      • The standard developed world lifestyle is better today for the masses than was that of King George III just 200 years ago, let alone than his ancestor George I 300 years ago.
        Even George V 100 years ago would have benefited from modern medicine. The COPD and pleurisy which killed him could be treated today.

      • Of course mad King George III’s porphyria is also treatable now.
        Edward VII, his son George V and his sons Edward VIII (abdicated) and Geroge VI all died from Pocahontas’ Revenge. Edward VII habitually smoked twenty cigarettes and twelve cigars a day. His great-granddaughter Margaret’s sad life was also cut short by smoking. Her big sister Elizabeth II was wise enough in her youth to break the chain afflicting her German dynasty, the Saxe Goburg Gothas, so-called “Windsors”.
        They all should have heeded the advice of their homosexual, witch-hunting ancestor James VI and I, who blasted the foul habit of tobacco smoking, spreading during his reign thanks to Matoaka “Pocahontas” Powhatan and her English husband John Rolfe of the eponymous Jamestown, Virginia colony.

  29. But, but, but we were told that intermittent “renewables” were cheaper – after all, the sun and wind are free!
    Meanwhile, in the real world, Australia has a requirement to achieve 23.5% of power from “renewables” by 2020, currently at about 15%. Wholesale prices ex generators have increased from AUD$ 46/MWhr just two years ago to over AUD$90/KWhr as coal fired stations have been shutdown. In addition, “renewable” generators also get issued with certificates that retailers are obliged to buy at a price around AUD$80/MWhr – a subsidy paid for by consumers. We are suffering because of the fatuity of our politicians and their “scientific” advisers.

  30. A policy that demands the most expensive and unreliable energy sources while exempting the world’s largest polluters and producers of carbon dioxide and rejecting clean reliable and affordable natural gas and nuclear energy is absolute insanity.

  31. Obama said in 2008 that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” under his energy plan…which he claimed would include all sources of energy and not just be limited to expensive renewables.
    MIT is just now getting the message?

  32. All this talk about ‘renewable’ energy, giant expensive storage batteries and a Pakistani future would only make sense if there was any evidence that the climate was or had ever been unchanging in the past. The climate is always changing. Changes like those of the past century are common in the geological record, and are known to have bene driven by powerful natural phenomena. The Human influences, now, on the climate from all sources, are about 1% of natural energy flows.
    It is not possible to tell how much of the recent warming can be ascribed to human influences or natural causes. There have been, in fact, no detrimental changes observed in the climate variables. On the contrary, extra CO2 is greening the whole world and plants are loving it.

  33. I personally don’t think 80% wind/solar is feasible in the next 20 years for a grid as large as North America East. It is clearly possible for cities of 100k within a large grid. Alternatively if you are Norway with large hydro resources and a small population you can get 100% hydro. Beyond 20 years though? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. The US grid was largely built in 20 years. Yes, it grew after that, but the first half or so only took 1920-1940 to build. The US also moved from primarily horse to cars in the same timeframe. We went from maybe a home computer to near universal internet access in the same time frame.
    Also, ERCOT is probably headed to at least 30% wind and solar in the next 5 years (going to hit 20% wind this year, while wind and solar are being built out rapidly), without hydro to balance. If you were on the North-America West and used the Grand Coulee simply to balance wind from Wyoming and Solar from Nevada you start having a grid that can manage with an enormous fraction of wind and solar. In fact, if you assume that you will run the Coulee at 40% capacity and use that to back wind/solar at a 5:1 you get a full 20% of generation on the western grid using only a single hydro facility (granted, the largest one in the US). The reality is that if we in the US were to use hydro as a battery, and upgraded our transmission lines on the three main grids (East, West, ERCOT) it is feasible to achieve at least 50% of our electricity from wind, solar, and hydro.

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