If you are even a semi-regular reader of this blog, you know about the energy storage problem that is inherent in the effort to eliminate dispatchable fossil fuels from the electricity generation system and replace them with wind and solar. As discussed here many times, other than with nuclear power, the storage problem is the critical issue that must be addressed if there is ever going to be “net zero” electricity generation, let alone a “net zero” economy based on all energy usage having been electrified. For a sample of my prior posts on this subject just in the last few months, go here, here and here.
The problems of trying to provide enough storage to back up a fully wind and solar system without fossil fuels are so huge and so costly that you would think that everyone pushing the “net zero” agenda would be completely focused on these issues. And given that the issues are quite obvious, you would think that such people would be well down the curve with feasibility studies, cost studies, and demonstration projects to make their case on how their plans could be accomplished. Remarkably, that is not the case at all. Instead, if you read about the plans and proposals in various quarters for “net zero” in some short period of years, you quickly realize that the people pushing this agenda have no clue. No clue whatsoever.
Today, I am going to look at discussions of the storage situation coming out of three jurisdictions with ambitious “net zero” plans: California, Australia and New York. First a very brief summary of the problem. It is (or certainly should be) obvious that wind and solar generators have substantial periods when they generate nothing (e.g., calm nights), and other times when they generate far less than users demand. Get out a spreadsheet to do some calculations based on actual historical patterns of usage and generation from wind and solar sources, and you will find that to have a fully wind/solar generation system and make it through a year without a catastrophic failure, you will need approximately a three-times overbuild (based on rated capacity) of the wind/solar system, plus storage for something in the range of 24 – 30 days of average usage. For these purposes “usage” at any given moment is measured in gigawatts, but usage for some period of time is measured in gigawatt hours, not gigawatts. California’s average electricity usage for 2020 was about 31 GW; Australia’s was about 26 GW ; and New York’s was about 18 GW.
To calculate how much storage you need in gigawatt hours, multiply average usage in GW by 30 days and 24 hours per day. So California will need about 22,302 GWH of storage, Australia about 18,720 GWH, and New York about 12,960 GWH. That is to supply current levels of demand. For the “everything electrified” case, triple all of these numbers: 66,906 GWH for California, 56,160 GWH for Australia, and 38,880 GWH for New York. Price that out at current costs of Tesla-type lithium-ion batters (~$150/KWH) and you will get around $10 trillion for California, $8.4 trillion for Australia, and $5.8 trillion for New York. These figures are in the range of triple total annual GDP for each of these jurisdictions, before you even get to the cost of the three-times overbuild of the generations system to account for charging of the batteries when the sun is shining and wind blowing. Nor can Tesla-style batteries hold charge for months on end as would be necessary for this system, but at this point, that seems like a minor quibble.
With that, let’s consider some recent discussion of the march toward “net zero” in each of these jurisdictions:
California. On March 14, PV Magazine (I think that stands for “Photo Voltaic”) had a piece by Christian Roselund with the title “California’s solar market is now a battery market.” The gist is that California’s solar developers have now caught on to the need to pair batteries with their projects, and that therefore new projects going forward are as much battery projects as solar panel projects. Here’s a sample of the cheerleading:
No US state has led the energy transition like California has. . . . As a result California has been a pioneer for a range of clean energy technologies. . . . California is on the cusp of no longer being a solar market where batteries are being added – instead, it is becoming a battery market that (sometimes) includes solar.
So how much battery capacity is being added by the new projects?:
According to the American Clean Power Association, California had only 256MW of utility-scale batteries before 2020, but had reached 2.1GW by the end of 2021 – an eightfold increase. . . . The 256 solar-plus-storage projects representing 72GW of solar and 64GW of batteries make up the vast majority of hybrid projects in the CAISO queue. . . . California will need all the energy storage it can get its hands on; a recent analysis suggests that the state needs 37GW of batteries over the next 20 years, as well as 53.2GW of utility-scale solar.
It’s all GW, GW, GW. But guys, how about the amount of GWH that California will need? You will not find any mention of that unit in this piece. Sorry, but if those 64 GW of batteries you are planning to buy only store energy for one hour, then you will need to multiply your purchase by about a factor of a thousand. If they store energy for about four hours (typical of what you might be able to buy today), then multiply your purchase by a factor of 250.
Could they really be so far off from the actual problem? I’m afraid that the answer is yes.
Australia. Over in Australia, it appears that they have people who have figured out that they need to measure the storage requirements for wind/solar backup in GWH rather than GW. Here is a piece from March 25 from Energy Storage News, headline “Australia surpassed 1GWh of annual battery storage deployments during 2021.” That’s huge progress. But one GWH?
Read the article, and again it’s all cheerleading for the great progress being made:
[F]or Victoria it was a record-breaking year, while NSW has already recorded strong installation volumes and its tally of 7,377 installations was in line with figures in recent years. . . . Victoria hosts a 48% share of the commercial and grid-scale operating capacity today, with South Australia the next biggest at 24%, Queensland on 14% and NSW on 9%. Last year, the Victorian Big Battery came online, which at 300MW/450MWh made a big contribution to the state’s total.
And how much is in the pipeline?:
There is around 1,000MWh of grid-scale energy storage currently under construction, but the development pipeline of projects is a massive 57GWh.
“A massive” 57 GWH. Really? Has anyone told them that they are going to need more like 56,160 GWH to fulfill their “net zero” fantasies? Like California, they are off by about a factor of 1000. Here is a picture from the article of what a Tesla-type battery installation for a mere 150 MWH looks like. That’s well less than 1/6 of one GWH.
Looks like they’re going to need 400,000 +/- of these installations. And by the way, these Tesla-style batteries have no ability to store energy without loss for months on end. Good luck trying to find anyone addressing these issues.
New York. In crazy New York, we have a statute passed in 2019 that requires state-wide greenhouse gas emissions to be cut to 60% of 1990 levels by 2030. Since electricity is less than 1/3 of final energy consumption, this would necessarily mean that all fossil fuel electricity generation will be gone in 8 years.
How to do that? A collection of panels and advisory bodies have been putting out reams of reports, thousands of pages in the aggregate. Nobody could possibly keep up. On the other hand, it is obvious that essentially no batteries are yet under construction.
A lone guy named Roger Caiazza, who blogs as the Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York, is the only critical thinker I am aware of who tries to read most of this stuff. On March 25 Caiazza had a post titled “What the Experts Are Saying Now.” That post was also picked up at Watts Up With That here.
Here’s Caiazza’s big discovery. Rather than proposing a massive build of batteries, New York’s “experts” think they have a better idea: the “DEFR”. That stands for “Dispatchable Emissions Free Resource.” And what exactly is that? As far as Caiazza can determine, it’s something that hasn’t been invented yet. Caiazza links to this March 24 Report from New York’s Independent System Operator, title “System and Resource Outlook Update.” Plow your way through through 17 pages of incomprehensible gibberish and you will come to this on page 18:
DEFR Builds Allowed Starting in 2030
Input Assumption Adjusted:
– First allowable year for DEFR builds advanced to 2030
- – Significant uncertainty related to cost / availability of DEFR technologies, as well as regulatory definition of “zero-emissions” compliant technologies
- – Assumption is not based on estimate of realistic timeline for first potential DEFR additions
- – DEFR capacity build earlier on in model horizon,although comparable capacity builds by 2040
- – Decreased fossil capacity (i.e., primarily earlier retirements and less new builds) offset by earlier DEFR capacity additions
Yes, we are to be completely dependent on so-called “DEFR” technologies, which have not been invented yet and as to which “significant uncertainties” exist. Could this get any more ridiculous?
I guess if you work at the ISO and open your mouth and say “this can’t possibly work,” you will be immediately fired.