As a state or a country, if you want to have any status in the ranks of the climate virtuous, the key metric is your commitment to get most or all of your energy from “renewables” (mainly wind and solar) by the earliest possible date. Everybody is doing it, and you are nobody if you don’t get in on the bidding. Just a couple of weeks ago (July 14), according to Reuters, the European Commission entered a bid of 40% of final energy consumption from “renewables” by 2030. Back here in the US, the most recent bid from the Biden administration (from April 28) is a goal of 80% of electricity by 2030, which is ambitious on its own, although electricity is a minority of final energy consumption. Congress has yet to consider the Biden administration bid.
Within both the EU and the US, there are national and state champions that are far out-virtuing everybody else. In the EU, it’s Germany. Germany adopted its “Energiewende” way back in 2010 to transition its energy sector to wind and solar. Since then Germany has repeatedly ramped up its renewable energy targets. Most recently, in December 2020, Germany adopted by statute a binding goal of 65% of electricity from renewables by 2030. Here in the US, our champion is California. In California the governing law is the famous SB 100, enacted in 2018, which sets mandatory targets for the electricity sector of 60% from “renewables” by 2030 and 100% by 2045.
As readers here know, the Manhattan Contrarian from time to time has expressed a high degree of skepticism as to whether these mandatory targets are achievable in the real world. Indeed, I have often noted that at somewhere around 40 – 50% of electricity from “renewables,” it becomes impossible as a practical matter to increase the share of electricity from renewables just by adding more renewable capacity. As far as I am aware, no large jurisdiction to date has gotten its percentage of electricity generation from “renewables” up above 50% for any extended period of time. (If a reader can point me to an example, I will be very interested.)
But maybe I’m just a crank. Surely these geniuses in Germany and California must know what they are doing. So let’s check in on the latest news.
The website No Tricks Zone has a report on July 27 covering electricity output in Germany for the first half of 2021. The No Tricks Zone post is based on data compiled at a German website called Die kalte Sonne.
And the answer is that in the first half of 2020 Germany achieved the level of 50% of its electricity from “renewables.” But in 2021 that level fell back to 43%:
“The share of renewable energies in gross electric power consumption in the first half of 2021 fell from 50% to 43% compared to a year earlier,” Die kalte Sonne reports.
What happened? The wind just didn’t blow as much:
“The production of onshore and offshore wind energy decreased by 20%.” . . . The reason for the steep drop, according to the findings, was due to unfavorable weather conditions. “This year, especially in the first quarter, the wind was particularly still. . . .”
So did solar energy then pick up the slack? Unfortunately, no:
“[T]he sun output was low. . . . Solar energy output . . . rose a modest 2%.”
So how did Germany make up the difference? The answer will not surprise you:
“Coal energy saw a renaissance. Brown coal [lignite] power plants produced 45.8 terawatt-hours of the net power – that is the power mix that comes out of the outlet. That’s a strong increase of 37.6% compared to 2020, when only 33.6 terawatt-hours were produced. The net production by black coal power plants also increased, by 38.9% to 20.4 terawatt-hours after 14.4 terawatt-hours in 2020.”
Basically, Germany has hit the limit of what can be achieved by adding capacity of wind and solar power sources. To get to the higher levels of “renewable” market share that they have committed to, they will need to add large and rapidly-increasing amounts of grid-scale storage. So far, they have barely begun that process.
Perhaps you remember the excited headline from the LA Times from April 29: “California just hit 95% renewable energy.” April 29 was just the very day after President Biden had announced his goal of 80% of US electricity from “renewables” by 2030. Now California was already showing the world that they were way ahead and basically all the way to home plate:
Something remarkable happened over the weekend: California hit nearly 95% renewable energy. I’ll say it again: 95% renewables. For all the time we spend talking about how to reach 100% clean power, it sometimes seems like a faraway proposition, whether the timeframe is California’s 2045 target or President Biden’s more aggressive 2035 goal. But on Saturday just before 2:30 p.m., one of the world’s largest economies came within a stone’s throw of getting there.
(Emphasis in the original.). But maybe we shouldn’t get too excited just yet. First, although the author (Sammy Roth) says this was “95% renewable energy,” it turns out as you read further that he is only talking about electricity, which is only about 30% of energy consumption. And for how long did the renewables provide the 95% of electricity consumption?
Saturday’s 94.5% figure — a record, as confirmed to me by the California Independent System Operator — was fleeting, lasting just four seconds.
So what’s the real picture over the course of multiple months or a year? For that you’ll have to ignore the cheerleading reporters at the MSM, and try to find some aggregate statistics. Here are the figures from the California Energy Commission for the full year 2020. The total contribution to electricity supply from “renewables” is claimed to be 33.09%. Oh, but that includes 2.45% from “biomass,” 4.89% from “geothermal,” and 1.39% from “small hydro.” Take those out and you’re left with a big 24.36% from wind and solar. And since electricity is only about 30% of final energy consumption, that means that wind and solar are only contribution around 8% of total energy consumption in California.
Over at the website of California’s Independent System Operator (“CAISO”) they provide a chart for every day’s electricity production that dramatically illustrates the problem. California’s peak electricity demand is around 40 GW, generally occurring around 6 – 8 PM. The large majority of their “renewable” production is from solar. Their current solar capacity, on a sunny mid-summer day like today, provides around 12 GW from about 9 AM to 5 PM — and nothing the rest of the time, including at the time of peak usage. In the winter, the output is more like 8 GW from 10 AM to 4 PM, and nothing the rest of the time. So far, they have almost nothing in the way of grid scale energy storage. In the evening, they ramp up the natural gas plants, and import power from Arizona and Nevada — mostly natural gas, nuclear, and coal. Close to 30% of California’s electricity comes from imports from neighboring states.