It really is the age of "green-energy" hype. Hype without any serious substance.
We hear nonetheless of new “renewable energy” plants commissioned, falling prices in the sector, new evidence “smart people” are seeing the possibilities of renewables, and new possibilities on the horizon for solar, for wind, for making energy out of everything from banana skins to hemp.
Here’s an example
"In the last couple of years these renewable energy sources have stopped being just the right thing to use and are now the smart thing to use," says wind generation programme manager Reza Sehdehi of Pacific Wind. "They offer a lot of benefits with low cost of production, reduced investment costs and increased flexibility to name just a few things." …
Countries and companies are increasingly turning to wind and solar projects because it makes sense for their bottom lines according to Sehdehi.
Global use of solar and wind generation has risen by 39% and 12% respectively according to an International Renewable Agency report released in July. In Germany alone the amount of power generated in wind farms rose by 50% between 2014 and 2015 while almost all other forms of energy production had fallen, some by as much as 7%.
Already, about three-quarters of approved new capacity in NZ is from planned wind farms, with the balance coming from proposed geothermal, hydro and tidal generation. And New Zealand’s energy providers could scrap existing fossil fuel plant almost overnight, or at least by 2020, simply by turning to new generation wind turbines, according to Sehdehi.
It sounds exciting, doesn’t it! But is it likely? Is it reliable?
Take a step back for a minute. Why is energy important? Not jsut because it keeps us warm in winter, but because it leverages human effort, and has done since the Industrial Revolution began – turning us in just a couple of hundred years from beasts of burden into folk worried that computers and robots mean we’ll never work again. And overwhelmingly, still, that leverage is by fossil fuels.
European Energy Production (by Proportion), 1860-present:
Why are fossil fuels still so overwhelmingly important? "If you rely on wind and hydro, if it does't rain, you have to have something else to turn on,” explains Meridian chief executive Mark Binns. “And at this stage, that is fossil fuel; either coal or gas.” Fossil fuels are still New Zealand’s reliable backstop. Just one reason he’s reluctant to encourage Genesis turning off New Zealand’s largest reliable energy producer, at Huntly.
New Zealand was "a long way away" from generating all its electricity from renewables [said Binns], questioning whether that might ever be possible.
The fact is, there is a lot of nonsense talked all around the world, says Alex Epstein, “particularly by anti-fossil/anti-nuclear/anti-hydro green groups [keen] to argue that their policies won’t lead to energy poverty but rather a future full of cheap, plentiful, reliable solar and wind energy.”
But extravagant claims always use a misleading word that, if you spot, you know something is going on. That word is capacity–as in wind being the leading new source of “electrical generation capacity.”
When you hear that wind has the most increased capacity, you are supposed to think that it has the most increased ability to provide electricity in the way we need it–affordably and reliably.
But in energy, “capacity” is actually a technical term meaning the maximum momentary ability to produce electricity–not the consistent, long-term ability to produce electricity, which is what matters to human life.
For the kinds of energy I call “reliables”–coal, oil, gas, hydro, nuclear, capacity is roughly equal to ability because their fuel sources are stored, always available, and therefore controllable….
But for the kinds of energy I call “unreliables”–solar and wind, whose fuel sources are intermittent, unpredictable, and most of the time unavailable, the term “capacity” is inherently misleading. A wind farm may operate near maximum capacity at brief, unpredictable moments and produce little to nothing the rest of the time. Those unreliable bursts might add up to 20-30% its supposed capacity. A set of solar panels may operate near capacity in the middle of the summer in the middle of the day when there are no clouds, but most of the time it has far less ability, when clouds (or non-summer seasons) come that ability can disappear, and at night the panels obviously have no electrical generation ability. For the purposes of providing individuals the cheap, plentiful, on-demand electricity they need, this is useless.
The actual ability of wind and solar is essentially zero. Witness the celebrated electric grid of Germany:
Since solar and wind can always dip to zero, it has to purchase enough real capacity from reliables to give everyone the electricity they need. Thus, the solar and wind are unnecessary and indeed problematic since they add unpredictable, destabilizing electricity to the grid. Such wastefulness helps explain why Germans pay 3-4 times for electricity what they do in the U.S.
In short, The Age of Sol has not yet come ...
Every time you hear some claim about wind and solar capacity remember that since their reliable capacity is zero, more 'capacity' means more dead weight and higher prices–until and unless someone can create independent solar or wind power plants with affordable mass storage. The lack of one single such plant in the world illustrates how inefficient and convoluted such an arrangement would be.
Fix that problem of affordable mass storage, and you may have an argument. But despite gobs of cash and decades of promises, the problem remains as intractable as before.
So until that’s solved reliably, how abot we keep the home fossil-fuel fires burning. And call “renewables” what they are: unreliables.
READ: The Myth Of Wind And Solar 'Capacity' – Alex Epstein, FORBES