By: Leen Weijers, VP Engineering, Liberty Energy
Wind and solar don’t work most of the time. You may think intermittency is acceptable because the sun shines for free and the wind blows for free. Capturing these diluted energy sources, however, is anything but free. If you require electricity to be available at the flip of a switch from renewables, their temporal lightness requires massive overbuilding, making wind and solar the most expensive sources of primary energy.
Solar and wind’s capacity factor, the actual energy output vs the maximum energy output over time, is only 14% for worldwide solar and only 26% for worldwide wind. If this strikes you as low, that is true, as this number is weighted toward installations by Europeans, for example Germans, who are ahead in installations in some areas most unsuitable for solar. But there are other reasons solar and wind work even less than you think.
The map below shows that the sun shines a lot more in the United States than in Germany, as it lies further to the south. In both places, sunshine duration is significantly higher than hours of electricity generation at maximum capacity, because the sun’s angle is seldom perfectly perpendicularly to a solar panel. While the German sun shines about 1,600 hours a year, generation at capacity is only 940 hours. Texas has 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, but generation at max capacity is only 1,600 hours a year.
Texas solar therefore works about as hard as a hardworking Frenchman, about 31 hours a week. German solar clocks an average of 18 hours a week, takes lots of vacation days, sick days and strikes occasionally. Both workers are highly unreliable, only show up when they want and count on other colleagues to pick up their slack at any given time. Would you hire them?
No. And that’s the resounding answer for the capital of world solar, where collecting solar power supposedly makes the most sense. As discussed by Liberty Energy CEO Chris Wright on CNBC Last Call, together with the Northern European capital of wind, these two places represent the low-hanging fruit for solar and wind, where they are backed by massive subsidies. Population centers like China, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, etc., have much poorer wind and solar resources, making their rollout in these countries much more challenging.
As is evident from the above graph, US wind and solar take long vacations. The US solar capacity factor is 12% during its winter vacation and 21% during summer. Wind works a bit harder – a 27% capacity factor during the summer/fall vacation and a 45% capacity factor the rest of the year. The seasonal variations result in significant shortages that are backfilled by coal and natural gas. If you want to get your average electricity without fossil fuel backup, the average summer/fall electricity gap from current wind (137 GW) & solar (100 GW) capacity is about 3.7x that capacity.
However, it does not stop there. Just overbuilding wind & solar by 3.7x over what is currently available will not be sufficient. The problem with renewable replacements is that just matching daily average electricity generation does not work. We are used to reliability in electricity every second. Eliminating intermittency and blackouts is the top requirement of our modern electricity system because not having power available at the flip of a switch can simply be deadly.
If you want renewable power without fossil fuel backup you need to account for situations where wind and solar take their regular “sick day”, i.e. when they work at less than 10% of their maximum capacity for the day. Below is a Texas example in late January – early February 2023. In this example of the lack of power generated by wind & solar, TX electricity council ERCOT was about 12x short in wind & solar of what natural gas and coal backup provided for three full days. There were 14 sick days for TX wind and 62 sick days for TX solar in 2022.
But it gets worse. Weather variability occasionally causes the wind to stop blowing for many more days in a row. The same applies to subsequent days when the sun does not shine. An evaluation of the frequency and duration of low-power wind (LPW) in Germany found that almost every year there will be 5 consecutive LPW days; every ten years, however, there will be an 8-consecutive day LPW event.
If ERCOT decides this needs to be avoided for the occasional week without flexible and reliable backup from fossil fuels, there are two solutions, both highly impractical and very costly: (1) overbuild the current wind & solar power generation by at least a factor of twelve, or (2) rely on massive battery power backup.
Currently, TX wind and solar capacity totals 64 GW. Overbuilding wind & solar for the sake of reliability would require ERCOT to match current fossil fuel backup capacity of 50 GW by about 12x based on my simple graphic math. ERCOT would need 770 GW in wind & solar. Rough installation costs would be about $770 billion (or $30,000 per ERCOT rate payer).
ERCOTs current battery power of about 5 GWh is enough to power its grid for about 6 minutes. Enough battery power to cover demand for a week requires about 8 TWh, which requires ~20,000 battery farms each with 100 MW capacity/400 MWh power, at a cost of about $3 trillion (or $120,000 per ERCOT rate payer). This number is so outrageous I decided not to pursue possible supply chain and building area constraints.
Despite the physical and economic constraints of the real world, there is a desire to overbuild wind, solar and batteries in many places. A recent study in Minnesota by Isaac Orr showed that existing 1 MW coal power plants are being replaced by 1 MW natural gas, 0.62 MW solar and 1.6 MW wind. 100% backup thus requires a 3.2x power replacement rate, with a disproportionate share going to low-energy renewables. Another plan, for 100% solar, wind and battery backup in Wisconsin, shows that state would need to build 7.7x its current reliable power capacity in wind, solar and batteries.
ERCOTs power building additions show a similar trend – it yearly adds to solar & wind power and battery backup, but peak load remains at about the level of reliable fossil fuel and nuclear power. Do you feel you need hundreds of extra bikes if you have one car to drive the distance?
Last month, a US DOE Director took pride in the fact that renewable power capacity additions massively dominate general power capacity additions in the US. However, this is a direct result of renewable’s intermittency and government favoritism.
Coping with intermittency will require massive overbuilding of our power generation needs. This overbuilding massively adds to renewable’s CO2 footprint, which comes from mining, manufacturing and building them. The same applies to their building cost and true levelized cost per MWh generated.
The sad truth is that the poorer renewables work the more will have to be build. Could it be that progressive politicians love the fact that wind and solar have such a low capacity factor? Why? Overbuilding is a green gift that keeps on giving to progressive politicians, utilities and renewable companies. Let’s hope I am wrong.
This figure is impressively high. It will reduce as penetration increases.
Australia has the highest penetration of wind and solar. Wind now has an installed capacity of 10GW in the NEM with average grid demand of 17GW, The wind averages 21% capacity factor. It used to be higher but economic curtailment is increasing as the installed capacity increases.
A significant portion of the demand is now met with rooftops and these are not included in the wholesale market. However they erode the potential output of grid scale wind and solar because they do not respond to price signals and continue to operate when the price is negative.
I operate some of my household load off-grid and the lowest system cost, that includes battery price, ended up with a solar capacity factor of just under 6%. I could have got it a little higher by tilting the panels to May sunlight as that is the month of lowest average surface insolation in my part of the world. My worst day has been 20 minutes equivalent full sunshine. The battery has enough capacity to supply the demand for 48 hours.
It might come as a surprise to some but wind tends to be lower at night when there is no sun. And wind can go missing for two weeks in most of Australia. It is rare to have two days less than 2 hours of full sunshine equivalent. So on a system basis, solar is not as useless as wind.
Yes it’s less windy at night. Aviation weather always tells you the wind 24 hours a day. Here’s the chart closest to me. It usually shows close to calm at night.
Solar also requires storage. You could have 100 times the amount of solar that is required but it still produces NOTHING for 16-18 hours every day … THEN … suddenly you are producing significantly more than you’re using for (up to) 4 hours daily, perhaps 50 times more. That extra generation needs to be stored until it’s required…which isn’t when it’s generated
I live in Ontario Canada. We went through a big build out of wind in the early 00’s. I was at a seminar sometime around 2007 given by a engineering prof whose specialty was wind power, in other words an advocate. Even back then he stated that there was saturation of all good locations for turbines, any newer installations would be less efficient. Last I heard we were averaging 80% hydro and nuclear, 10% Nat gas, and 8% wind with some negligible solar. After billions spent and continued subsidies.
You pay US states to take the excess at night.
Parker Gallant did some excellent write ups on the Ontario insanity, $10’s of billions wasted.
Wind is weather and is driven by the sun. Here on the canadian prairies, my favorite time of day in summer is just after sunrise, calm and beautiful, but as the sun keeps going up the wind starts to drive. Not reliably, of course.
Denialism is the name of the game with unaffordables. It’s as plain as the nose on your face that they do not work. But rather than admit the stark reality the UK alarmist industrial complex is doubling down.
“Lords amendment to energy bill may stop new coalmines in England
An amendment to the energy bill currently going through the House of Lords means that it will not be possible to open a new coalmine in England. The amendment may still be reversed in the House of Commons, but it marks the growing frustration of politicians as they press the government to move faster and harder on the climate crisis.”
Ironic, eh. A wholly unelected chamber of placemen and women – the so-called experterati – is telling us no new coal. Forget it. But the elected chamber is no better, for the amendment to be removed, the government will have to table another amendment in the Commons to get rid of it.
So, where is the government?
“The government said on Monday it has begun a review of the “contracts for difference” (CfD) scheme, which is used to determine the price of electricity from offshore wind and solar farms, with the aim of adding factors such as how many jobs they create to the regular auctions.
The move comes partially in response to the net zero review by the former energy minister Chris Skidmore and amid a global race to provide greater subsidies for renewables projects following Biden’s $369bn (£297bn) Inflation Reduction Act package. Ministers are under pressure to boost the domestic supply chain for renewables projects and speed up Britain’s transition away from fossil fuels with the aim of reaching net zero by 2050.”
It’s in a global race to provide greater subsidies for renewables. Only when it all goes boobs up and the power system crashes, then and only then will they admit there seems to be a problem. And for anyone thinking of hanging on to their gas heating and cooking…
“Households in the UK could face even higher energy bills amid reports the government is planning to introduce new charges on gas. The government could cut the price of electricity and impose a levy on gas bills to fund low-carbon heating, according to The Times.
The newspaper said the plan, which is likely to start in 2023, could add £170 a year to gas bills.”
What was that about a cost of living crisis? What was that about human flourishing?
“Chair of the Net Zero Review Chris Skidmore said:
The UK continues to lead the world on tackling climate change, having been the first G7 country to commit in law to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
This review seeks to ‘double down’… “
22m of the 28m households in the UK are connected to the gas network. There’s an election not too far away. Will the government want to completely pi$$ of that many voters? 🙂
Next UK general election is Jan 2025 at latest. Might be in summer /autumn before that
You only have to look at the annual data for the UK from Gridwatch to see that we have a problem too.
And all this is before the morons make up use battery vehicles and electricity for heating and cooking which will create an even greater demand.
“… the morons…” like Just Stop Oil
They hate joy wherever they see it.
Sadly in today’s world the only way to make any sense of it is to follow the money.
Work in elected office for a time, make contacts. Go into private business and use those contacts to make a mint. Back into public office, rinse, repeat. Piles of public cash into private hands.
Or you can simply set up one of these cash machines for your relatives or friends and stay in office. Explains why an avowed Socialist who has never had a private job can have three million-dollar homes.
Our country spends idiotically astronomical amounts of money for political campaigns. This allows large companies and moneyed individuals to strongly influence the system, to their pecuniary benefit. The will of the people never has a chance.
Sadly this is not a left-right problem. Both sides do this and screech loudly if anyone threatens to shut off the spigot.
Don’t they know that all that cash churn with no productive outcome will eventually degrade the currency and collapse the whole economy? Most of them do know, and it is après moi le déluge. The others actually want the economy to collapse for ideological reasons.
Big green is mostly this kind of money laundering. That is why it is so irrational and so utterly immune to facts and logic. If young people fall for it and succumb to anxiety disorders or even suicide, that just cements their power. Of course a few true believers are around to generate the ideological rants, but most are motivated by money.
I like the analogy to “sick days.”
E.g., “There were 14 sick days for TX wind and 62 sick days for TX solar in 2022.”
“Would you hire them?
Let’s keep working to help more folks wake up and push back hard against the insane promotion of intermittent, unreliable, and costly wind and solar sources of electricity. The land- and materials-intensive harvesting of “free” energy is one of the worst ideas ever for the good of the people and for the environment.
So the best you can do, say in Texas is 1600 hours a year for solar. Given that there are 8760 hours in a year that amounts to 18.3%. Similar percentages for wind I presume. Even the most basic back of the envelope calculation shows none of these hair brained ideas is fit for purpose. The grid needs to be powered 100% of the hours in a year.
And what about the added atmospheric warming from thousands of acres of solar panels themselves? Solar panels intercept the sun’s rays so the ground and plants underneath do not get this energy, and solar panels get HOT – some 85% of the solar energy is not converted to electricity, so becomes heating of the panels, which will heat the air instead of being absorbed by the ground or reflected and used by plants…. Huge unintended consequences there methinks.
What about harnessing wind energy causing untold weather and climate changes by disturbing natural flows of wind energy which serves to transport both heat and water???
Not to mention the habitat destruction wrought by either system, direct killing of important animal species by windmills and loss of ground cover vegetation in the case of solar farms.
The balance sheet does not add up, and only deficit and detriment are the outcomes. But then again the loony left prefers to run on deficit spending as if money grows on trees….
There is an existential threat, but it’s not some mild possible warming, it is the absurd notions to “save” the planet that will kill most of humanity and a large proportion of the plant and animal life if their evil plans bear fruit.
“some 85% of the solar energy is not converted to electricity, so becomes heating of the panels, which will heat the air instead of being absorbed by the ground or reflected and used by plants”
hmmmm- interesting- it might be a good experiment to measure the temperature of the air at 100′ over a solar “farm”- and compare that to the air over a nearby field or forest
Giving them ideas, they will move all the temperature monitoring sites to solar farms, or build solar farm around existing sites.
The need to manufacture evidence never abates.
“the sun’s angle is seldom perfectly perpendicularly to a solar panel”
in my blue collar neighborhood in north central Woke-achusetts- with maybe 50 mostly “ranch” style homes- about 2/3 now have solar panels on the roof thanks to generous state subsidies and tax breaks – yet, most are not south facing, instead most are either west or east facing and most have many panels blocked by large trees
I suspect these panels are not very productive and wouldn’t exist with massive subsidies.
trickle charging , especially in winter
probably enough to keep their phones charged 🙂
“You may think intermittency is acceptable because the sun shines for free and the wind blows for free.”
Let’s stop feeding the lie that only wind and solar are ‘free’. Oil, coal and gas are the equally free. No one gets in invoice for the oil, coal, and gas that are extracted. The cost for all of these comes from getting the energy from where it is found to consumers, exactly when it is needed, in the form it can be used. For that, wind and solar are the most expensive, especially when considering the cost of doing without them when they are not available.
Ever notice how ‘free’ energy is also the most expensive?
Like a credit card with some initial sweetener !
It is not an either/or situation. If a person expects to rely on massive battery backup, then that person should also expect a rather large overbuild of solar/wind because when wind takes a 5-8 day holiday the massive battery banks are going to be depleted, and will require charging, and not the lollygagging sort of charging from a little bit of wind and solar. You see, the probability of another 5-8 wind vacation is likely to be the same or higher just after a 5-8 day wind vacation.
Maybe keep a gas-peaker to charge batteries!
Often those with say Tesla battteries dont know how much kWhr they use per day and are surprised in extended cutoffs that they are out of power within a day or so.
Then the next surprise when the sun returns after a storm that charging Tesla batteries from flat cant happen from solar , it needs the local power network to ‘fill her up’ to a certain base charge
Population centers like China, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, etc., have much poorer wind and solar resources
It’s pretty ridiculous to throw those countries into the comparison, considering that their governments are not part of the virtue-signaling cabals in charge in the US and Europe – and are much less likely to confiscate their constituents’ incomes for those lavish E-‘subsidies’ so beloved by our elected and unelected ‘leaders’. They have more practical uses for those confiscations.
Leen Weijers ==> Exceptionally well done, sir. Love the analogy of work week, sick days, vacation days.
Looks like ERCOT’s response to the February 21 near blackout was to add more solar and batteries. Think I will still keep my stack of firewood and gas generator.
As I learned and understood ‘climate’ – it was invented by a curious young man in (really) Ancient Greece
His observation was incredibly simple, everybody knew it, but his breakthrough was to ask ‘why’
His wonderation was ‘why’ – what made that happen?
And to this day *nobody* has explained it and they damn well ought to – it is what defines climate after all.
i.e. If there is going to be any noticeable Climate Change, what will change will be the length/duration of the calm period, both after sunrise and before sunset
As shown by the map of Europe accompanying the article, Greece gets over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year (some parts over 2,500 hours), while most of Germany gets less than 1,600 hours of sunshine per year. Since Germany is farther north, the sun is at a lower angle to the horizon than in Greece.
I had the (mis)fortune of living in northern France for 11 years. While the winters there are relatively mild compared to similar latitudes in the USA, they tend to be both less windy and less sunny than the USA.
Most of the northern USA has a fairly regular pattern every few days of alternating high-pressure areas that bring sunshine, and storms that bring rain, snow, and wind in late fall and winter. This means that most of the time, there should be some power available from either wind or solar, and both in some cases (near the boundary of a high-pressure area can be both sunny and windy).
Northern Europe has a different pattern in late fall and winter. There can be a succession of relatively weak storms that bring drizzly rain, but not much wind. Occasionally, a large anticyclone (high-pressure area) can park itself over northern Europe for a few weeks without budging. Due to the high humidity and very low sun angle, a layer of fog or low clouds forms, and sits there day and night waiting for the next breeze to blow it away. During such periods neither wind nor solar could produce any power, except perhaps in the Alps above the cloud layer, where it is warmer on the ski slopes than in the valley below.
Why is it that Germany, which has the least to gain from wind and solar power, has invested the most money in it?
Look again — it is BOTH, not either-or. Overbuild even at 12x would not make power available across ERCOT when the wind isn’t blowing — about 65% of the time. Storage at less than 3x watt-hour demand would still be inadequately charged unless attached to reliable gas, coal or nuclear generators, or an additional overbuild of about 15x — 27x overbuild of current real load capacity.
Storage is always in one of three states: discharged, charging, or discharging. Both of the latter states involve energy loss, so 3x watt-hour demand would have to include nearly 20% loss. Most often, hypesters assume thta a battery is always fully charged, not requiring charge time or allowing for loss from either trickle discharge or transmission.
lets not forget grid scale batteries are good for one thing…only one . As the instantaneous reserve power backup when a major generator trips or a power line goes down. this is usually very short period of grid instability , handy as the batteries dont last very long.
It can be profitable to be paid for “waiting around ” but you have to have major penalties for their battery system failure to supply and not just penalties in being where they pay them off over time with the revenue for being on standby. Thats means insurance
Good points. However over building only works if the extra capacity is not located so that the same weather front affects all the renewable systems. The Texas Feb 2021 deep-freeze affected much of the surrounding states too. Being connected to them would not have helped much.
But there is a fourth state for a grid battery: end-of-life.
You need to plan on replacing them about every 15 years or so.
Sooner if they catch on fire Lol
yes. Intermittency -in minutes- is good use for the battery system, overall shortage is out of the question as even 1/2 hour is too long.
Wind and solar are worse than worthless for the simple reason that they take money and resources away from power sources that actually work, are dependable and affordable.
When I retired, the CF of US nuke plants was 95% with an availability factor of 99%. My first commercial nuke after being in the navy came on line in 1982, it still running. The operating license has been extended for 60 year and they are working on 80 years.
A more important point than CF is our ability to build power plants at a sustainable rate. Clearly steam plants work fine and last a long time. Even if not running at full load, the can easily match power out put to demand.
This based on 100 years of experience.
Wind,solar, and batteries barely work at all and do not last very long.
Keeping track of steam plants is easy because we do not need very many. We do not keep track of wind and solar failures because we do not need any.
There will come a when the construction rate of wind and solar matches the die off rate. Power storage systems is a fools errand until such a time wind and solar work fine and last a long.
Amazingly some Sandstones do the sums and tell it like it is-
Gas power a critical safety net in energy transition set to cost ‘trillions’, top universities say (msn.com)
‘Sandstones’?? Please explain…
Australia’s oldest Universities have a lot of Victorian and Edwardian sandstone buildings.
The “sandstones” are our equivalent of the US Ivy League, or the UK’s Oxbridge.
The situation is much worse than the average capacity factor indicates and the analogy of “sick days” is the way to go, with less numbers and stark clarity. Start with the iron triangle of power supply that proves that wind and solar will not work.(1) The grid needs continuous input to meet demand, (2) wind droughts break the continuity of wind in put (3) there is no storage at the scale required to bridge the gaps.
In countries like Britain, Germany and Australia where the capacity of conventional power has been run down to the point where wind is necessary (rather than just an expensive addition to the system) every wind drought threatens the power supply and prolonged wind droughts are catastrophic.
We need to promote wind literacy in the general public so they understand why wind will not work. It looks as though the official wind watchers in the met bureaus of the world selected the wrong measure of wind resources – the average wind velocity over weeks, months and the year. They either carelessly or deliberately neglected to issue wind drought warnings and so the west made the disastrous policy blunder to connect subsidised and mandated intermittent wind and solar power to the grid.
What I find truly bizarre about this cult of ‘free energy’ via so called renewables is that wood, coal, oil and gas are also ‘free’, you just have to gather/harvest them and pass them through a device to generate electricity, same as wind, wave, solar and geothermal etc.
The ‘free’ or ‘renewable’ label is just a marketing fig leaf used to deflect the mind’s eye from the practical realities of unreliablility and practical problems of interim storage using bizarrely low energy density technology such as chemical or say pumped hydro batteries.
It is similar with EVs vs PHEVs when the vast bulk of emissions comes from cars and light vehicles doing short hau, commuter trips at maximum fuel consumption which could easily be done on short range batteries with say 30 to 50 km range vs 300km +. This would optimise the practical use of batteries as well as that of the IC engines with LPG a possible fuel and down the track a hydrogen sourced replacement. Don’t need special charging stations, just a local single phase power point.
Unfortunately there are not headlines in common sense policies.
I’ve completely given up on both a reliable national energy supply (I live in South Africa!) and the wind/solar unicorns our clueless government and private sector are intent on portraying as a ‘sustainable’ solution. I’ve just bought a generator capable of meeting all of our energy needs at a fraction (+/-15%) of the cost of an equivalent solar/battery system. And it works under all conditions – period. Bright spot is that we should be able to buy diesel with Rands through BRICS after the insane Americans ban the sale of diesel.