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Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Powering the world’s economy with wind, water and solar, and perhaps a little wood sounds like a good idea until a person looks at the details. The economy can use small amounts of wind, water and solar, but adding these types of energy in large quantities is not necessarily beneficial to the system.

While a change to renewables may, in theory, help save world ecosystems, it will also tend to make the electric grid increasingly unstable. To prevent grid failure, electrical systems will need to pay substantial subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear electricity providers that can offer backup generation when intermittent generation is not available. Modelers have tended to overlook these difficulties. As a result, the models they provide offer an unrealistically favorable view of the benefit (energy payback) of wind and solar.

If the approach of mandating wind, water, and solar were carried far enough, it might have the unfortunate effect of saving the world’s ecosystem by wiping out most of the people living within the ecosystem. It is almost certain that this was not the intended impact when legislators initially passed the mandates.

[1] History suggests that in the past, wind and water never provided a very large percentage of total energy supply.

Figure 1. Annual energy consumption per person (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Tony Wrigley, Cambridge University.

Figure 1 shows that before and during the Industrial Revolution, wind and water energy provided 1% to 3% of total energy consumption.

For an energy source to work well, it needs to be able to produce an adequate “return” for the effort that is put into gathering it and putting it to use. Wind and water seemed to produce an adequate return for a few specialized tasks that could be done intermittently and that didn’t require heat energy.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why solar power can’t save us from the coming energy crisis

Why solar power can’t save us from the coming energy crisis

Preface. Embedded within the posts below are even more reasons why solar electricity can’t replace fossil fuels.  Meanwhile, all solar and wind do is add to the giant fire of burning fossil fuels and contribute a tiny bit more power, about 4% of all the power we use. But that will end at some point of the maximum grid integration level for a given area which is already happening in California (California hits the solar wall).

* * *

Solar power contraptions require oil for every single step of their life cycle. 

If solar power and concentrated solar power plants can’t produce enough power to replicate themselves entirely, plus produce the energy needed by society, then they are not sustainable.  Oil is used by mining trucks, ships to take the ore to facilities that use fossil fuels to crush the rock and permeate it with petro-chemicals to extract the metal from the ore.  Then the metal is taken by diesel truck to a smelter which can only run on a blast furnace running 24 x 7 x 365 for years to extract the metal for fabrication (these aren’t electric because even one outage would destroy the brick lining). Every single part uses fossil energy to make, and thousands of parts are shipped on diesel vehicles to the assembly factory.  And of course, in all of these steps, workers drive to work to do their jobs, including finally building roads, cement platforms, and electric transmission to connect the solar PV or Concentrated Solar plant to the existing electric grid. 

Wind and solar power require even more fossil fuels

Wind and Solar Power Require MORE Fossil Fuels

Solar is seasonal

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s cheaper to replace most coal plants with renewables than keep them open, per report

It’s cheaper to replace most coal plants with renewables than keep them open, per report

New research finds that replacing 74 percent of coal plants with renewables would immediately reduce costs.

It would be more expensive to keep the majority of U.S. coal plants open than to replace them with new wind and solar power alternatives, according to new findings published Monday.

Authored by the environmental firm Energy Innovation in partnership with the grid analysis company Vibrant Clean Energy, the research finds that replacing 74 percent of coal plants nationally with wind and solar power would immediately reduce power costs, with wind power in particular at times cutting the cost almost in half. By 2025, the analysis indicates, around 86 percent of coal plants could similarly be at risk of cheaper replacement by renewables.

“We’ve been closely following the cost of wind and solar in the U.S. and globally, and the costs have come down so far that we’re now seeing unprecedented low [costs] for wind and solar,” said Mike O’Boyle, Energy Innovation’s electricity policy director, on a call with reporters.

That trend has opened up an opportunity for a dramatic shift, the groups argue, one that could see coal largely replaced in many areas by energy sources that are better for both human health and the environment.   

President Donald Trump has worked hard to save U.S. coal, going so far as to advocate for a financial bailout to rescue the dying industry. But data largely suggests that coal’s economic value will continue to plummet, a downturn that comes as wind and solar power are becoming increasingly cheaper and more viable options.

“America has officially entered the ‘coal cost crossover’ – where existing coal is increasingly more expensive than cleaner alternatives,” the report argues.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Developing Country Issues at COP24 … and a Bit of Good News for Solar Power and Carbon Capture

Developing Country Issues at COP24 … and a Bit of Good News for Solar Power and Carbon Capture

Photo Source Doman84 | CC BY 2.0

We humans are an interesting species … instead of seeing eye-to-eye, we are inclined to see eye-to-nose.  We focus on the present and ourselves, particularly where our comfort is concerned, no matter how dire the predictions for the future.

Although these are now over, such has been evident at the climate change talks in Katowice, Poland.  An effort to mandate the Paris agreement, in light of the dire 1.5C report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been stymied repeatedly by Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Kuwait.  Particularly disturbed are island countries like the Maldives that are literally disappearing with sea-level rise.  One of the last spats was on the word “welcoming” as in welcoming the IPCC 1.5C report.  It has been changed to “welcomes the timely completion of … ” in the final draft thereby not endorsing its conclusions, stark warnings or more ambitious goals.

The serious sticking point has been Article 6.  It deals with country plans and is of special concern to the poorer countries promised financial support.  But to obtain it Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of carbon emissions reduction is sought by donor agencies and private sector groups.

Thus Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) is an international organization promoting balanced economic growth, that is without harming the environment.  It can help prepare a low emissions development strategy by assisting in developing viable MRV schemes.   It has for Colombia, Fiji and Mongolia, and is pursuing the same for others like Laos, Mozambique, Nepal and Senegal among others,  Sri Lanka, a vulnerable island nation, has prepared MRV systems for energy and transportation but requires help in other areas like agriculture, animal husbandry and industrial emissions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The cost of wind & solar power: batteries included

The cost of wind & solar power: batteries included

For some time now we here on Energy Matters have been harping on about the prohibitive costs of long-term battery storage. Here, using two simplified examples, I quantify these costs. The results show that while batteries may be useful for fast-frequency response applications they increase the levelized costs of wind and solar electricity by a factor of ten or more when used for long-term – in particular seasonal – storage. Obviously a commercial-scale storage technology much cheaper than batteries is going to be needed before the world’s electricity sector can transition to intermittent renewables. The problem is that there isn’t one.


Making detailed estimates of the future costs of intermittent renewables + battery storage for any specific country, state or local grid requires consideration of a large number of variables, plus a lot of crystal-ball gazing, and is altogether too complicated an exercise for a blog post. Accordingly I have made the following simplifying assumptions:

* The grid is an “electricity island” – i.e. no exports or imports.

* It starts out with 30% baseload generation and 70% load-following generation . Renewables generation, including hydro, is zero.

* Baseload and load-following generation is progressively replaced with intermittent wind and solar generation, with baseload and load-following generation decreasing in direct proportion to the percentage of wind + solar generation in the mix. This broadly analogs the approaches a number of countries have adopted or plan to adopt.

* Annual demand stays constant.

* Enough battery storage is added to match wind + solar generation to annual demand based on daily average data. Shorter-term variations in generation, which will tend to increase storage requirements, are not considered. Neither is the option of installing more wind + solar than is necessary to meet demand, which will have the opposite effect but at the expense of increased curtailment (see this post for more details).

* Transmission system upgrades are ignored.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Sustainable Living: A Primer on Batteries for Use with Solar Storage

Sustainable Living: A Primer on Batteries for Use with Solar Storage

Ready Nutrition guys and gals, this article is being posted to address questions posed by one of the readers, as well as any others who might want to know about batteries for use with solar panels. The main thing is to understand this is an overview and will give you the basics to make your own choice when it comes to choosing the right batteries for the job. Let’s get into it!

First of all, when you charge up a battery and then use it all up (until it is drained), this greatly reduces the battery’s longevity. Depth of Discharge (abbreviated DoD) is the capacity of a battery that has been used…and there is an optimal level for best performance specified by individual firms. The higher the DoD (usually expressed as a percentage), the more you can utilize before it uses its charge.

A 15 kWh (kilowatt hour) battery with an 80% DoD means that you can safely use up to 12kWh of power before you have to recharge it again. Seems simple enough, but in times of need people allow it to go beyond the DoD and then this decreases the life of their battery as well as its effectiveness. That power rating for your battery is the kWh (kilowatt hour) figure here. This power rating refers to the amount of electricity the battery can deliver one time/all at once.

The reason this is important with solar panels? A battery with a low power rating, yet a high capacity can deliver power over a protracted period of time for some tools or appliances that you need. You have to figure out the cycle…and this is an amount that is estimated numerically in your warranty.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…



The Amazing Amount Of Solar Power Needed To Run The U.S. Transportation Sector

The Amazing Amount Of Solar Power Needed To Run The U.S. Transportation Sector

The U.S. Solar PV Industry will never be able to grow large enough to power the transportation industry.  Why?  Because the amount of energy needed is well beyond the forecasted growth of U.S. solar power generation.  And, it’s even worse than that.  Industry analysts are making their forecasts based on rising fossil fuel production… the critical energy necessary to manufacture and build solar power plants.

There seems to be this notion by Americans, that in the future, they will just plug in their electric cars and drive to their heart’s desire.  It seems as if no one takes the time to do a bit of simple math.  While U.S. solar power generation has increased significantly over the past several years, it is still a fraction of the total energy supplied.

For example, U.S. fossil fuel production (coal, natural gas, and oil) still supplies 88 times more energy than solar PV power.  However, if we just focus on the U.S. solar power generation versus the transportation sector, it only amounts to 2.6% of the total:

According to the EIA, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, total U.S. solar power generation in 2017 was 0.77 Quadrillion BTU’s versus 29.5 Quad BTU’s consumed by the entire domestic transportation sector… cars, buses, trucks, and trains.  To give you an idea of how much 1 Quad BTU equals, it represents the energy in 170 million barrels of oil.  Thus, the U.S. transportation sector consumes 29.5 times that amount or roughly 5 billion barrels of oil per year.

For the U.S. Solar Power Industry to increase in size to equal the same energy that is consumed by the transportation sector, it would need to grow by over 33 times.  Now, I am just making some simple calculations here, but even with the optimistic projects in this renewable energy industry, solar would still only represent about 15% of the present transportation energy consumption by 2035:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Most Ethical Renewable Energy Systems


The main thing in renewable energy systems is the embodied energy: the energy over the lifetime of the product versus the energy of manufacturing it. Lithium batteries are used a lot because they are lightweight, but they don’t last. Lead-acid batteries, like car batteries, are also short-lived. An old technology, the nickel-iron battery, lasts a long time.

Lithium batteries are great when there might be a space or weight issue, but they are consumable products. Lead-acid batteries decays as they give energy. The nickel-iron battery powered the first electric cars, some of which had batteries that worked over 100 years later. These are not acid, but alkaline, made with a potassium hydroxide mix.

While they are only 1.2 volts, which means a lot of batteries and a lot weight, in a stationary situation, such as a house, the embodied energy is much, much better in nickel-iron batteries.

Key Takeaways:

– Renewable energy is best judged via embodied energy: the amount of energy it provides over a lifetime versus the amount used to produce the system.

– Lithium and lead-acid batteries both have short lifespans, decreasing their embodied energy, and as a result, they create more waste.

– Nickel-iron batteries, a very old technology, lasts an incredibly long time and have much more embodied energy.

-In a stationary situation, such as powering a house, nickel-iron batteries, though they require more space and weigh more, are a more ethical choice.


Coire Glas – the raging beast of pumped hydro storage

Coire Glas – the raging beast of pumped hydro storage

What makes current PHS tick?

Most pumped hydro storage schemes in countries like the UK, France and Switzerland operate in tandem with nuclear power where surplus (low price) electricity is used to pump and store water at night, every night, to supply power into the daily peak demand (high price) that in the UK occurs at 18:00±2 hours. The facilities get used every day and make money from the predictable price arbitrage that exists in wholesale electricity markets.

Low latitude solar may tick too

At low latitudes, solar PV may also be twinned with battery storage to cover the predictable diurnal cycle where surplus day time solar PV electricity may be used at night – every day and every night. And for so long as the goal is to not disconnect from the grid, this could make sense subject to prevailing electricity costs and the capital costs of installing a PV + battery system.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The National Infrastructure Commission’s plan for a renewable UK

The National Infrastructure Commission’s plan for a renewable UK

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was launched by then-chancellor George Osborne in October 2015 to “think dispassionately and independently about Britain’s long-term infrastructure needs in areas like transport, energy, communication, flood defence and the like.” Well, the NIC has now thought dispassionately and independently about energy and has concluded that the UK can meet its 2050 decarbonization goals with either a mostly nuclear or mostly renewable generation mix, but that “wind and solar could deliver the same generating capacity as nuclear for the same price, and would be a better choice because there was less risk”. Here we take a brief look at this renewables-beats-nuclear option to see whether it might work.

The NIC study was brought to my attention in a comment by correspondent Ed T in Blowout Week 236, so a hat tip to Ed T. The data available to me consisted of the NIC report, NIC’s Power Point presentation, the source of most of the data I use, and a summary article from the Guardian. The power sector modeling work was performed by Aurora Energy Research (Aurora).

The NIC “aims to be the UK’s most credible, forward-thinking and influential voice on infrastructure policy and strategy, producing reports and analysis of the highest quality, written in plain English, independent of government and all vested interests, and making clear recommendations based on rigorous evidence; and developing an evidence base which sets a gold standard in its quality and breadth.” Its conclusions are summarized in the Guardian article:

Government advisers have told ministers to back only a single new nuclear power station after Hinkley Point C in the next few years, because renewable energy sources could prove a safer investment. Sir John Armitt, the NIC’s chairman, said: He argued that wind and solar could deliver the same generating capacity as nuclear for the same price, and would be a better choice because there was less risk.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

And why we need a new energy strategy — fast.

My years working in corporate strategy taught me that every strategic framework, no matter how complex (some I worked on were hundreds of pages long), boils down to just two things:

  1. Where do you want to go? (Vision)
  2. How are you going to get there? (Resources)

Vision is the easier one by far. You just dream up a grand idea about where you want the company to be at some target future date, Yes, there’s work in assuring that everybody on the management team truly shares and believes in the vision, but that’s a pretty stratightforward sales job for the CEO.

By the way, this same process applies at the individual level, too, for anyone who wants to achieve a major goal by some point in the future. The easy part of the strategy is deciding you want to be thinner, healthier, richer, or more famous.

But the much harder part, for companies and individuals alike, is figuring out ‘How to get there’. There are always fewer resources than one would prefer.

Corporate strategists always wish for more employees to implement the vision, with better training with better skills. Budgets and useful data are always scarcer than desired, as well.

Similar constraints apply to us individuals. Who couldn’t use more motivation, time and money to pursue their goals?

Put together, the right Vision coupled to a reasonably mapped set of Resources can deliver amazing results. Think of the Apollo Moon missions. You have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there to succeed. That’s pretty straightforward, right?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Cook Islands go solar

The Cook Islands go solar

Like a number of other remote island communities, The Cook Islands have decided to get rid of expensive diesel power and go to 100% solar within the next few years. To do this they are constructing solar arrays backed up with small amounts of Li-ion battery storage which they believe will overcome the solar intermittency problem. Once again, however, the planners have failed to recognize the prohibitive amounts of battery storage that will be required, and their plans are doomed to fail as a result. The only approach that has any chance of succeeding is to minimize storage requirements by installing far more solar capacity than is needed to meet demand (“overgeneration”), but this approach has problems of its own. (Inset- Rarotonga, the largest and most populous of the Cook Islands).

The Cook Islands consist of 15 widely-separated islands, some inhabited, some not, located 3,000-4000 km northeast of New Zealand and divided into northern and southern groups (see map below). The Islands’ economic exclusion zone covers 1.8 million sq km but the islands themselves only 236 sq km:

According to the UN the population of the Cook Islands was 17,389 in 2017 and according to the World Bank its nominal GDP in 2016 was $US 311 million, giving it a per capita GDP of around $17,900, about the same as Slovakia. The unit of currency is the New Zealand dollar (The Cook Islands are self-governing but Cook Islanders have New Zealand citizenship). Tourism is the main industry.

The Cook Islands are effectively 100% grid-connected, with generation coming dominantly from 6.5MW of diesel plants (photo below). An unspecified amount of solar PV has also been installed, with the largest single installation being the 0.96 MW plant at the Rarotonga airport. Annual electricity consumption was 30.0 GWh in 2013 and peak load in 2011 was 4.83 MW. Because of the cost of imported diesel, however, electricity rates exceed those in either Denmark or South Australia.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Energy Externalities Day 7: Solar Photovoltaics

Energy Externalities Day 7: Solar Photovoltaics

Solar PV is a multidimensional energy system difficult to evaluate on a global basis. Maximum concentration required from The Game players! First, there is solar thermal hot water, solar thermal power generation (also known as CSP) and solar PV. Today’s game is exclusively on the latter. And in solar PV there are two main families of panels: 1) thin film and 2) polycrystalline. Today’s game is exclusively on the latter. Add to that the fact that solar PV works much better at low latitude than high, not only from the resource perspective but also from the seasonal storage one. In short, solar PV makes much better sense in Arizona and Mexico than it does in Aberdeen. Politicians tend to see devices that generate free, clean electricity, while I tend to see expensive devices made from coal in China that produce electricity some of the time.

[Inset image: abject cognitive dissonance seems to be a feature of renewable energy enthusiasts and politicians who see environmental advantage in plastering the countryside with low power density renewable energy devices.]

The Externalities of Energy Production Systems (Day 1 Coal)
Energy Externalities Day 2: Gas-fired-CCGT
Energy Externalities Day 3: Biomass-Fired-Electricity
Energy Externalities Day 4: Nuclear Power
Energy Externalities Day 5: Wind Power
Energy Externalities Day 6: Hydroelectric Power

I am proposing to use 12 metrics to measure costs and benefits:

  • Fatalities / year / unit of energy produced
  • Chronic illness years / year / unit of energy produced
  • Environmental costs not covered directly by the system operators
  • Foot print of energy system per unit of energy produced
  • Energy system costs where energy source transfers costs to the transmission system
  • Energy system benefits where energy source provides a service to the transmission system
  • Environmental benefits derived from energy system operation
  • Taxes raised / year / for total energy produced
  • Subsidies paid / year / for total energy produced
  • Tax free cost of energy
  • EroEI
  • Resource availability

For the following 12 electricity generating systems

  • Coal-fired (Monday 19 March)
  • Gas-fired (Tuesday 20 March)
  • Biomass-fired
  • Diesel
  • Nuclear
  • Hydro electric
  • Wind
  • Solar PV
  • Solar thermal
  • Wave
  • Tidal
    • barrage
    • lagoon
    • stream
  • Geothermal

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Australia’s east coast solar generation is replacing coal by only 2% in late summer

Australia’s east coast solar generation is replacing coal by only 2% in late summer

This is an analysis of late summer. Data are taken from Open NEM: http://opennem.org.au/#
The graphs in this post are a bit different from those on the above website

Fig 1: Generation by fuel: 55% black coal, 19% brown coal, 9% gas, 7% wind, 6% hydro, 4% solar

All times shown in NEM time. AEST is one hour later.
The vertical lines show 12:00 noon, the start of hot afternoons. Note that Feb 24th – 25th was a weekend with lower demand.


Victoria’s inflexible brown coal was running 24/7 at an average of around 4,500 MW, near to capacity of 4,630 MW. The minimum was 3,800 MW on 21/2/2018. There are problems with Loy Yang as reported by The Australia Institute: http://www.tai.org.au/gas-coal-watch
VIC_coal_fired_power_plants_Dec2017Fig 2: Nameplate capacities of Victoria’s brown coal

Open_NEM_All_States_Coal_21-28Feb2018Fig 3: Black coal generation

Black coal had an average generation of 13,000 MW, variable between a minimum of 9,400 MW (at night around 3 am, -27% down from average) and 15,300 MW (afternoon, +18% above average)

NSW_coal_fired_power_plants_Dec2017Fig 4: Nameplate capacities of NSW black coal


Fig 5: Nameplate capacities of Queensland black coal

During day time, black coal is less variable as shown in this graph:

Black_coal_22-27Feb2018Fig 6: Black coal generation over 24 hrs/6 days

Compared to 7 am power generation at 7 pm was up to 800 MW (average 500 MW) higher or around 4%-6% which is not very peaky.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Wind and solar on Thursday Island

Wind and solar on Thursday Island

While rummaging around the internet to see if I could find any information on the performance of wind farms in Queensland (and especially in Far North Queensland – Andrew Blakers’ supposed panacea for the rather more correlated wind farm outputs in the NEM area), I came across Thursday Island, which installed a small two turbine wind farm 20 years ago. Thursday Island is about as FNQ as you can get – about 25 miles into the Torres Strait that separates Australia and Papua New Guinea. The bonanza came when I encountered a pamphlet from Harwell complete with charts showing monthly performance of the wind farm and its contribution to local power demand.

Figure 1: Thursday Island wind generation and percentage contribution to power demand

Digitising the plot allowed monthly demand to be estimated by dividing wind generation by its percentage contribution, as well as showing the highly seasonal nature of generation with almost no wind during the “Doldrums” summer months. The twin turbines have a total capacity of 450kW, and produced 1,680MWh, for a very respectable average capacity factor of 42.6% – somewhat above the projections of 36% made on the basis of a 5 year study of wind speeds. This pattern is not untypical, as this chart of monthly average wind speeds from the study shows:

Demand shows a peak in the hot summer months – precisely when wind is in the Doldrums. It is therefore no surprise to find that the pair of wind turbines were sized to provide under 10% of the island’s annual demand of about 18.5GWh – aside from there not being a great deal of space on the island anyway, with much of the area already taken by housing. The rest of the generation is of course diesel powered.

Figure 3: Power demand, derived from Figure 1

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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