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Ramping Up Renewables Can’t Provide Enough Heat Energy in Winter

Ramping Up Renewables Can’t Provide Enough Heat Energy in Winter

We usually don’t think about the wonderful service fossil fuels provide in terms of being a store of heat energy for winter, the time when there is a greater need for heat energy. Figure 1 shows dramatically how, in the US, the residential usage of heating fuels spikes during the winter months.

Figure 1. US residential use of energy, based on EIA data. The category “Natural Gas, etc.” includes all fuels bought directly by households and burned. This is primarily natural gas, but also includes small amounts of propane and diesel burned as heating oil. Wood chips or other commercial wood purchased to be burned is also in this category.

Solar energy is most abundantly available in the May-June-July period, making it a poor candidate for fixing the problem of the need for winter heat.

Figure 2. California solar electricity production by month through June 30, 2022, based on EIA data. Amounts are for utility scale and small scale solar combined.

In some ways, the lack of availability of fuels for winter is a canary in the coal mine regarding future energy shortages. People have been concerned about oil shortages, but winter fuel shortages are, in many ways, just as bad. They can result in people “freezing in the dark.”

In this post, I will look at some of the issues involved.

[1] Batteries are suitable for fine-tuning the precise time during a 24-hour period solar electricity is used. They cannot be scaled up to store solar energy from summer to winter.

In today’s world, batteries can be used to delay the use of solar electricity for at most a few hours. In exceptional situations, perhaps the holding period can be increased to a few days.

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