It occurs to me that before moving on from my obsession with energy storage and and its manifest limitations, I should address the policy implications of this situation. I apologize if these implications may seem terribly obvious to regular readers, or for that matter to people who have just thought about these issues for, say, five minutes. Unfortunately, our powers-that-be don’t seem to have those five minutes to figure out the obvious, so we’ll just have to bash them over the head with it.
Here are the three most obvious policy implications that nobody in power seems to have figured out:
(1) More and more wind turbines and solar panels are essentially useless because they can never fully supply an electrical grid or provide energy security without full dispatchable backup.
Here in the U.S. the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” of 2022 provides some hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies and tax credits to build more wind turbines and solar panels. Simultaneously, the Biden Administration, directed by a series of Executive Orders from the President, proceeds with an all-of-government effort to suppress the dispatchable backup known as fossil fuels. Does somebody think this can actually work? It can’t.
And then there’s the December 6 press release from the UN’s International Energy Agency, touting how renewable energy sources (wind and solar) are being “turbocharged” to provide countries with “energy security.” The headline is: “Renewable power’s growth is being turbocharged as countries seek to strengthen energy security.” Excerpt:
The global energy crisis is driving a sharp acceleration in installations of renewable power, with total capacity growth worldwide set to almost double in the next five years. . . . “Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalise on their energy security benefits. The world is set to add as much renewable power in the next 5 years as it did in the previous 20 years,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
Completely ridiculous. Wind and solar power provide the opposite of energy security. Back in the real world, just a few days after the IEA issued that nonsense, on December 11 the UK got a taste of the kind of “energy security” provided by wind and solar power, when a cold snap at the darkest part of the year came along with a prolonged period of calm in the winds — a typical winter occurrence. From the Guardian, December 11:
Live data from the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator showed that wind power was providing just 3% of Great Britain’s electricity generation on Sunday [December 11]. Gas-fired power stations provided 59%, while nuclear power and electricity imports both accounted for about 15%.
And what was the inevitable consequence of the wind conking out just when it was needed most?
UK power prices have hit record levels as an icy cold snap and a fall in supplies of electricity generated by wind power have combined to push up wholesale costs. The day-ahead price for power for delivery on Monday reached a record £675 a megawatt-hour on the Epex Spot SE exchange. The price for power at 5-6pm, typically around the time of peak power demand each day, passed an all-time high of £2,586 a megawatt-hour.
2,586 pounds/MWh would be equivalent to about $3 per kWh (wholesale), compared to a typical U.S. price for electricity of around 12-15 cents per kWh retail. Congratulations to the UK on achieving this level of “energy security.”
(2) The so-called “all of the above” energy strategy is equally disastrous.
In the U.S., Republicans sensibly looking to blunt the disastrous energy policies of the Democrats and the Biden Administration have somehow come up with something they call the “all of the above” strategy is their proposed alternative. For example, here is the webpage of the Republicans on the House Committee on Natural Resources, led by one Bruce Westerman of Arkansas. Excerpt:
Republicans support an all-of the-above energy approach that includes development of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear, geothermal and biomass, along with clean coal and American-made oil and natural gas. A comprehensive plan will help protect the environment and improve our economic and natural security.
No, no, no and no. Because of the impracticability and cost of energy storage, building more and more wind and solar facilities cannot lead to any reduction, let alone elimination, of the fossil fuel infrastructure. You will inevitably end up with two fully redundant energy systems, both of which must be paid for even though each supplies only about half of the power to the grid. Thus at the minimum you have doubled the cost of electricity to consumers. But the worst case is far worse than that, where the government suppresses the fossil fuel backup (as in the UK). In that case, when the fossil fuel backup has been reduced but is suddenly needed, the consumer may have to pay 10 or 20 or 30 or more times a reasonable price for electricity. All due entirely to government folly. Can the U.S. Republicans avoid the disastrous blind alley into which the UK Tories have driven their country? That remains to be seen.
(3) A carbon tax is a terrible idea.
Over at the GWPF (where I am the President of the American Friends affiliate), they are in the process of sponsoring a back-and-forth debate on the subject of carbon taxes as a way to address the issue of climate change. Professor Peter Hartley of Rice University has taken the side of advocating for a carbon tax. William Happer of Princeton and energy analyst Bruce Everett have taken the negative.
The gist of the Happer/Everett piece is that CO2 is not a pollutant and poses no danger to humanity, and therefore a tax designed to suppress it is unjustified. I agree with that argument. But an equally valid and independent line of reasoning is that, because of impracticability of energy storage and the consequent futility of trying to make wind and solar generation work without fossil fuels, a carbon tax can only serve to drive up the price of energy to consumers without meaningfully changing the use of carbon fuels.