By Kevin Killough, visitor column
Through the warmth waves this summer time, Californians discovered themselves roasting at the hours of darkness when rolling blackouts left a whole lot of 1000’s of residents with out energy.
Whereas the causes proceed to be debated, some vitality specialists consider the state’s decade-long efforts to interchange coal, nuclear and gas-powered vegetation with photo voltaic and wind was the principle offender.
As air conditioners sucked up energy, there wasn’t sufficient wind or sunshine to energy California’s wind and photo voltaic vegetation, nor was there sufficient vitality from fossil gasoline and nuclear vegetation to fill the void.
Whereas California’s renewable vitality program has been particularly bold, there’s a nationwide push towards wind and photo voltaic.
Hoping to faucet into this demand and diversify Wyoming’s economic system, wind and photo voltaic initiatives have been arising right here within the state. Park County just lately authorised particular use permits for 2 proposed 20-megawatt photo voltaic amenities southwest of Frannie.
Renewable vitality proponents are fast to level out how the value of wind and photo voltaic has turn out to be so low that it may now compete available on the market with coal and pure fuel.
But, 84% of the world’s vitality nonetheless comes from fossil fuels — down from 87% twenty years in the past — and a couple of% comes from wind and photo voltaic. If vitality from renewables is so low-cost, why isn’t it dominating the market?
Right here’s the argument in opposition to renewables. When the wind stops blowing and the solar stops shining, these applied sciences produce precisely zero megawatts. Sometimes, wind and photo voltaic vegetation, averaged over a 12 months, produce vitality lower than 30% of the time. For comparability, a nuclear plant produces energy over 90% of the time.
Intermittent electrical energy from wind and photo voltaic requires dependable backup to offer energy when demand exceeds provide, a scenario confronted frequently with renewables.
Most frequently meaning tapping into coal, nuclear, and pure fuel vegetation. Renewable vitality proponents argue that we are able to shut these down and depend on huge battery storage to retailer up vitality throughout occasions when there’s an excessive amount of wind and solar, in order that it may be used when there’s not sufficient. That is the place the optimistic economics of wind and photo voltaic collapse.
Tesla’s Gigafactory, which is the world’s largest battery factory, stores up enough energy to supply the U.S. with enough power for about three minutes. Compare that to the nation’s oil reserves, which would meet demand for about two months.
The total cost to store a barrel of oil or equivalent of natural gas for two months is less than $1. Storing the barrel-equivalent in coal is even cheaper. To store the same amount with batteries is roughly $200. This is why barges crossing the ocean are transporting barrels of oil rather than batteries full of stored solar energy from the Sahara Desert. Battery storage just isn’t economical.
Renewable energy proponents argue that the industry is constantly innovating — “If we can put a man on the moon …,” they say. But here’s reasons to be skeptical. Those 10-fold increases in efficiency that wind and solar have seen in the past couple decades are running up against the limits of physics, which means future increases are projected to be much smaller.
Expecting more is a lot like insisting we can visit other galaxies with rocket-powered ships. Rockets will never achieve the faster than light speeds necessary for intergalactic travel, and no amount of government subsidies will ever change that.
In a 2019 report, Mark P. Mills, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, outlined what it would take to replace the U.S. grid with non-hydrocarbon electricity by 2050, as many targets aspire to do.
The U.S. grid construction program would have to be 14 times larger than the grid build-out rate that has taken place over the past 50 years, and that wouldn’t include non-electric sectors — such as the combines that harvest crops.
“Transforming the energy economy is not like putting a few people on the moon a few times. It is like putting all of humanity on the moon — permanently,” Mills wrote in the report.
This is not to dismiss wind and solar altogether. No one can predict future technologies.
If we develop a superconductor that works at room temperature, for example, we would indeed have batteries more efficient than barrels of oil. At that point, wind and solar as replacements for fossil fuels and nuclear would become entirely possible.
Until a super efficient storage system becomes a reality, Wyoming might not want to expect wind and solar to provide long-term economic diversification.