The Ugly Truth About Renewable Energy


When Texas literally froze in February, some blamed the power outages that left millions of Texans in the dark over wind turbines. Others blamed them on gas-fired power plants.

The truth is not that simple politically. In truth, both wind turbines and gas plants froze due to abnormal weather conditions.

And when Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway said he had plans for additional generating capacity in Texas, he wasn’t talking about wind turbines. He was talking about more gas-fired power plants –ten more gigawatts of them.

While Texas Freeze made headlines in the United States, across the Atlantic, the only European country producing all electricity from solar farms was tiny Slovenia. And it’s not because Europe doesn’t have solar capacity – on the contrary, it has a substantial amount of it. But Europe had a brutal winter with lots of snow and clouds. Despite the oft-mentioned fact that solar panels perform best in cooler weather, sub-zero temperatures are much more drastic than fresh. It’s not even to mention the cloud cover which, based on the data from the electrical map above, didn’t help.

If we go back a few months, there were the power outages in California in August which state officials and others insisted the state was heavily dependent on solar and wind power. . The state’s own utilities commission disagrees.

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This is what the California Public Utilities Commission and the state grid operator, CAISO, said in a common letter to Governor Newsom after the power cuts:

“On August 15, CAISO experienced [to August 14] supply conditions, as well as large fluctuations in the production of wind resources when evening demand increased. Wind resources first rapid increase in production during the 4:00 p.m. hour (approximately 1000 MW), then fell rapidly the next hour. These factors, combined with another unexpected loss of generating resources, led to a sudden need to shed the load to maintain system reliability. “

Later in the letter, CPUC and CAISO also had this to say:

“Another factor that appears to have contributed to resource shortages is that of California. heavy dependence on import resources to meet growing energy needs in the late afternoon and evening during the summer. Some of these import resources bid on CAISO’s energy markets but are not guaranteed by long-term contracts. This poses a risk if import resources become unavailable when there are western-wide shortages due to an extreme heat event, such as the one we are currently experiencing. “

These long quotes essentially say one thing – and it’s a well-known thing: wind and solar power generation is intermittent, and this intermittence is a problem. This problem continues to be overlooked in the mainstream renewable energy discourse with only a few occasional discussions of storage capacity. The reason? Storing batteries is quite expensive and will increase the cost of solar and wind generation. Hence the risk of blackout as renewable energy capacity continues to increase.

“People are wondering how we survived the heatwave of 2006”, mentionned Stephen Berberich, Director General of CAISO, last August. “The answer is that there was a lot more production capacity in 2006 than in 2020 … We had San Onofre [nuclear plant] of 2,200 MW, and a number of other plants, totaling thousands of MW not there today. “

In a recent item Forbes, environmentalist Michael Shellenberger cited both the Texas Freeze and California outages of August 2020 as examples of why there should be less solar and wind capacity added to the grid, not more: because that the more renewable capacity there is, the greater the risk of power outages.

Solar and wind are weather-dependent sources of electricity and, as events in Texas and California show, they are unreliable, wrote Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, a research organization at non-profit. He also referred to Germany, where an audit of the country’s energy transition plans showed some of the projections were overly optimistic, while others were downright implausible.

Germans, like those in California and New York, by the way, pay more for electricity than people in areas less dependent on renewables. While some may be fine with paying more for cleaner electricity, not everyone can afford it in the long run. And affordable energy is crucial for civilization, notes Shellenberger. Related: Oil Guards Yemen As Saudi Arabia And Iran Meet In Secret

Affordability is an essential condition of energy if it is to contribute to the improvement of living standards, even if we take economic growth out of the equation as it seems to be very outdated these days in the fight against climate change. Yet affordable energy is one of the driving forces for equality between different communities around the world. And the same goes for reliable energy.

Affordability and reliability are therefore the two things that good energy sources need to be. Solar and wind – unlike hydropower, which is also a renewable source – can only be one of those two things, and that is if no storage is included. They can be affordable, as we are often reminded. Yet unfortunately they cannot be reliable.

This means that the more billions are invested in increasing renewable capacity, the greater the risk of further blackouts. Perhaps at some point, if wind and solar become the main sources of electricity, authorities will have to institute planned blackouts.

The author of this article grew up in the 1980s in Bulgaria – a time when the country’s socialist government exported so much electricity for hard currency payments that blackouts were a part of life. It was not a particularly practical life, but millions of people lived like this in Bulgaria and Romania. It’s worth mentioning, however, that in the 1980s people weren’t constantly online. Since then, our energy consumption has skyrocketed.

To be fair, the limited availability of electricity would have an incredibly positive effect on greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, if the limitation comes from the limited amount of energy produced rather than excessive exports. Ultimately, from an environmental point of view, an overwhelming reliance on wind and solar power, and the predicted power outages that are very likely to result from this dependence, would go a long way towards the goals of the ‘Paris Agreement. Of course, this would cost people some inconvenience and loss of economic, scientific and medical activity. But if the number one priority is tackling climate change, then the end must surely justify the means.

By Irina Slav for Oil Octobers

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