US Grid Needs Fossil Fuels, Not Wind


By Paul Homewood

Just to follow up yesterday’s post on the Texas grid, here are two charts for the US as a whole.

The first show how total demand rose by more than 100GW during the cold spell just before Christmas.

The second illustrates how wind power halved in the space of 24 hours at the same time:

This destroys the idea that the wind is always blowing somewhere, and that all you have to do is distribute surplus power around the country in order to meet demand.

And without gas or some other dispatchable source, how would that loss of wind power and surge in demand have been met?

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Ronald Stein
December 27, 2022 2:07 pm

“The nameplate farce”:
There should be financial penalties for wind and solar power plants inability to deliver at least 90% of their permitted nameplate ratings on an ANNUAL basis, like their backup competitors of coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants that provide continuous uninterruptable electricity.

Subsidies for wind and solar power plants are based on “nameplate ratings”, thus they should be penalized when they cannot deliver what they have been permitted for.

Practically every windmill or solar panel requires a backup from coal, natural gas, or nuclear, thus understanding electricity generation’s true cost is paramount to choosing and prioritizing our future electricity generating systems.

December 27, 2022 2:14 pm

I’d say all our grids need fossil fuels. Wouldn’t you?

Leo Smith
Reply to  strativarius
December 28, 2022 1:33 am

No. What they need is reliable long term energy at a sane cost and at decent EROEI figures that doesn’t cause too much pollution.
Only nuclear fits that bill.
The USA can be complacent with frackable oil gas and plenty of coal, The rest of the world is not so fortunate,

J Boles
December 27, 2022 2:33 pm

OT a bit but a quick note – I just registered (formerly John Bell) so I am hot to post a comment. I want to share a very interesting series on sustainable air transport, a column called Bjorn’s corner.
Bjorn’s Corner: Sustainable Air Transport. Part 44. eVTOL operating costs. – Leeham News and Analysis I am reading the series (I’m a retired engineer).

Reply to  J Boles
December 27, 2022 4:26 pm

Looks like they left out insurance.

Rud Istvan
December 27, 2022 2:56 pm

Saw this over at Paul’s. High level generic comments may be in order, since the factual techie ‘denier’ stuff just bounces off most net zero climate believers. So you need to use really simple, really powerful, really on target ‘artillery’:

  1. Renewables are NOT economic. There are two proofs. (1) if they were, they would by now be adopted without subsidies. (2) with capacity factors (cf) of at best 20% (PV) or ~30% (wind) they are inherently stand alone uneconomic compared to natgas or coal fired generation cf of 85+90%. Simple inescapable amortization of capital.
  2. Renewables are by definition intermittent, so require an alternative underutilized backup FF for a stable grid system, which effectively almost doubles the real grid cost, ignoring they cost more anyway because of CF.
  3. Renewables provide NO grid inertia (coming from the kinetic energy of massive spinning fired generators). So they inherently contribute to grid frequency instability, brownouts, and blackouts. Now this could be compensated by adding massive (and costly) static condensers, BUT no renewable system anywhere requires that yet. The third renewable cost cheat.
Leo Smith
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 28, 2022 1:42 am

they are inherently stand alone uneconomic compared to natgas or coal fired generation cf of 85+90%. Simple inescapable amortization of capital.

Rest of post is ok, that one wont wash. If wind were relaible and one tenth the capital cost a 30% capacity factor wouldnt be an issue.

Coal and nuclear using fairly conventional steam, plant are less than 40% efficient, but that doesn’t prevent coal being the cheapest on the block if you have access to the raw material.
You can’t take capacity factor alone and make sweeping generalisations about it. Any more than you can take capital cost alone.

Or even consider costs on a per power station basis. You need to look at the overall lifetime cost of the complete grid solution.

And the only way you find that out is looking at you electricity bill. no one else is interested in doing it, because the answers that emerge are political dynamite and totally unacceptable.

Oh, and the way that artificial inertia is added to the grid, is not with capacitors, it is with batteries.

The myth is that batteries are there to counter intermittency. They are not. They are there to stabilise the frequency. The other is just another green lie

December 27, 2022 2:56 pm

Pretty sure we need to bring nuclear up to 200k megawatthours and let the rest fight it out for delivering peak demand without subsidies.

This also presumes our investment in nuclear includes more east-west TIE lines to distribute power across time zones.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Giving_Cat
December 28, 2022 1:47 am

I can’t disagree with that in the US context. Also you have the central regions where hydro and pumped hydro could be utilised for peak following. Hydro has very little startup losses (unlike thermal plant) which makes it perfect for balancing renewables and peak folowing.
A combination of wind sun and hydro actually works, if you have enough hydro.
Obviously a combination of nuclear and hydro works way better/cheaper with far less environmental impact.

Reply to  Leo Smith
December 28, 2022 9:46 am

Intermittent sources + hydro do not work at northern latitudes. In the northern part of N. America, there is very little to zero solar for most of the year. Wind is often too little or too much. Hydro has tremendous environmental impacts to the local area where it is built.

Only nuclear has both the very high reliability base load + very small land area footprint. Use natural gas and coal for variable load supply. CO2 is wholly beneficial and the other emissions can be engineered out.

It doesnot add up
Reply to  JamesB_684
December 28, 2022 11:08 am

Look at Norway, which has been almost entirely powered by hydro. Adding in wind allows them to use it to replace some of the hydro production. Northern latitudes are not the problem: it’s plenty windy enough. Having enough hydro to be a complete backup is the key. But until they build enough wind capacity to generate surpluses they can use wind at maximum efficiency.

The problem now for Norway is that interconnectors expose it to bids for power at high prices at the other ends of the lines, which drives up its own prices and also runs down its snowmelt dangerously fast. There are distinct limits on how much renewables capacity it can really support. See


Reply to  It doesnot add up
December 29, 2022 2:25 pm

“Adding in wind allows them to use it to replace some of the hydro production.”

At an excessive cost and short lifespan compared to Coal or Nuclear base line “energy” generation.

Hydro, where there is not excessive amounts of capacity, should be for peaking only, not for helping unreliable sources of “energy” production seem to be worthwhile, which they are not.

Reply to  Leo Smith
December 28, 2022 9:50 am

Yeah, like flooding and draining repeatedly isn’t an environmental disaster.

I took the tour when it opened. (1972)

Bryan A
December 27, 2022 3:25 pm

And without gas or some other dispatchable source, how would that loss of wind power and surge in demand have been met?

B O B?

That’s what renewables amount to

Chris Morris
December 27, 2022 3:50 pm

You are wrong in one of your comments. Statcons don’t add inertia. It is synchronous condensers that do that. Statcons correct the phase angle/ voltage (which syncons also do)
To add more inertia, the syncons also drive flyweels.
And to be fair to those battery supporters, they can set up batteries with a lot of expensive power electronic control systems to give synthetic inertia

Reply to  Chris Morris
December 27, 2022 9:03 pm

Rud did not say, the way I read it, that condensers contribute to inertia. It was the latter, grid frequency… at least that is the way I clearly read it. So Rud was spot on… me thinks.

Chris Morris
Reply to  Chris Morris
December 27, 2022 10:31 pm

Rud wrote “Renewables provide NO grid inertia … Now this could be compensated by adding massive (and costly) static condensers,”  That is the incorrect statement.
What static condensers do is reactive power correction. Nothing else. This is the same function that a generator can do using their AVRs or transformers do using tap changers. Grids can also do it switching lightly loaded lines in and out.
Syncons have an AVR where they can alter the current in the rotor windings just like a generator. That is why they are in switchyards, to compensate for the reactive power like a statcon. However, as a bonus, they do provide inertia.
If Rud had changed the word “Static” to “Synchronous”, his statement would be correct. However, he didn’t so it isn’t.

Chris Morris
December 27, 2022 3:58 pm

Here is info on the grid forming inverters/ batteries.
So yes it can be done, giving System Security at the same time. However, it is massive cost for something coal fired plant gives for free.

December 27, 2022 4:25 pm

Freeze in the dark is a fun game. “We’re sorry” is a great excuse.

Pat from Kerbob
December 27, 2022 6:28 pm

Been chatting with people on LinkedIn over the break on this subject. On how Alberta had several grid alerts last week when we used to have none.
One guy suggested it was “unfair” to suggest renewables were responsible, and also that the grid load had increased in recent years, so there.
That was his argument.

To which I asked if as a “thought leader” he ever actually “thinks”.
Yes our grid load has increased
But most of the added new generation is intermittent renewables.
If they’d added reliable generation, no grid alerts.
Funny how that works.

December 27, 2022 7:17 pm

We need more wind….more wind to blow the methane outta here.

Kit P
December 27, 2022 8:16 pm

wait for it!!!! It is a cold day in winter (or a hot day in summer) so it is the perfect day to say something stupid.

Just because Griff say stupid stuff does not require to be just as stupid.

December 27, 2022 9:34 pm

Meanwhile the wood fire burns in my fireplace insert and warms us to the bone. There is nothing like the heat from a wood fire to warm one and to give a feeling of general wellbeing. Though the insert is pretty darn efficient once it is hot, I have sure gone through the wood during this Arctic blast.

Leo Smith
Reply to  rah
December 28, 2022 1:49 am

Yeah. My one and a half acres dont grow enough wood by and large to get me through the year.

Reply to  rah
December 29, 2022 2:43 pm

Yep. It is also nice to be able to watch the fire burn. And the warmth from the coals when adding wood is a wonderful pick me up after an hour or two out blowing snow.

Sure glad I have gas to run the snow blower. Fossil fuels are great.

And living in the US adjacent to national forest, $5.00 per cord for a permit is not too bad and there is essentially an unlimited supply of dead standing, although it is pine, fir and aspen. The only negative to soft woods is the inability to load the fireplace to last more than 3 hours, so it burns out at night. My FP has a catalytic on it and the chimney does not get much build up, I have only cleaned it once in over 15 years, and that was not even necessary, but I bought the sweeps and just had to use them.

Hauling, cutting, splitting and stacking firewood is ALL good fresh air exercise.

It doesnot add up
December 28, 2022 5:10 am

I stitched together 12 months of hourly downloads of the generation data. I took total generation as a proxy for demand, ignoring the trade with Canada and Mexico. I checked the nominal capacities of wind and solar as at 2021 (the latest EIA data easily found), and then created a pair of columns for wind and solar that are simple multiples of the actual generation, with the multiplication constant and hence the implied nominal capacity separately settable for each. A further column of hourly surplus and deficit is created by adding the two scaled up generation columns and subtracting the demand. The surplus/deficit column maximum defines the input capacity of the storage conversion required to utilise all the surpluses. The (negative of the) minimum defines the output capacity needed by the backup generation: this turns out to be similar to average demand with these data. The grid has to be able to handle the maximum generation from wind and solar to supply the demand and route the surplus to storage. Total generation less total demand gives round trip storage losses when the rest of the calculations are set up.
The next column is constructed to handle storage. The amount in storage in the previous period (from the cell above) is added to if there is a surplus in the previous column, scaled by the efficiency of storage: if there is a deficit then the amount in storage is reduced to fill it, allowing for the efficiency of conversion back to electricity from the storage medium by multiplying the deficit by 1/efficiency. If you run the calculation with initial storage set to zero, then the minimum of the column will be the amount you need in storage at the start of the year to avoid running out, and the difference between the maximum and the minimum is the volume of storage required. Using different efficiency assumptions allows comparison between storage technologies.
Create a cell that is the difference between the initial and final storage volume. This will allow a simple way of calculating feasible combinations of generation capacity and storage. Use the cell as the target in a goal seek calculation with a target value of zero. The variable should be one or other of the capacity multipliers for wind or solar, so that it is scaled to generate sufficient to meet demand including demand supplied via storage. Then you can manually adjust the other multiplier and re-optimise and compare results. Cost the various capacities and you can see where the optimum combination lies, and how sensitive it is to the variables.
I found that the amount of storage required is surprisingly insensitive to wide ranges of different composition of generation between solar and wind (amounting to just under a month of average demand), but that there is a level of solar which is effectively a minimum because lower values start requiring substantially more storage. That is not a surprise given that peak US demand is in summer, driven by aircon. Combinations with higher amounts of solar also require larger increases in grid capacity and storage input capacity. Cost will be dominated by storage.
These calculations are not difficult: any reasonably competent teenager ought to be able to replicate my work. Slightly more involved are calculations that look at the trade off between storage capacity and additional generation which is subject to being curtailed. But even those are not particularly difficult.

Here is a chart of summary results

US Lower 48 wind solar.png
It doesnot add up
Reply to  It doesnot add up
December 28, 2022 5:18 am

I looked at a 75% round trip that might be associated with batteries or pumped storage, and a 36% round trip assumption for hydrogen based storage. The big difference is in the amount of wastage and the capacity required to produce it. Not shown is that a solar only solution with hydrogen storage requires 50% more PV capacity – over 3.4TW! Peak demand is 736GW, and average 465GW.

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