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Much Talked About Myths about Renewable Energy

renewables myths debunked

In the ever growing transitional world, we find ourselves hovering between two ages: a time dependent on fossil fuels and a future subjugated by renewable energy sources. Yet not everyone is sold on the same vision. Opinions vary not only on how dependable some of these renewable energy sources are but also how they’ll be able to sustain life post-fossil fuel era. 

The entire world has been debating over the topic of renewable energy sources for decades – how much should renewable energy be supported, how big is its impact and much more. Of these theories, majority of them are debating points based on obsolete assumptions and facts, which don’t really hold up anymore.

Out of all this a number of myths and misconceptions have risen to the surface. So, here’s presenting 8 of the bigger renewable energy myths currently making the rounds:

#1 Renewables Are an Insignificant Source of Power

This is by far one of the most common criticisms that renewable energy accounts for only a portion of U.S. electricity system. When we talk about the ‘newer’ renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind power – the statement largely stands true. This is because, these renewables provide 5% of generation capacity and as little as 4% of electricity production in US i.e. one tenth of the total energy provided by coal.

This criticism however ignores one very important aspect – conventional hydroelectric power, including the Hoover Dam is also an important source of renewable energy. Taken together, the hydroelectric sources with other renewables such as – biomass, solar, wind, and geothermal sources – together accounted to supply around 12% US electricity production last year and approximately 14% so far this year. 

#2 Renewables Can Replace All Fossil Fuels

Few proponents claim a future 100% dependant on affordable and reliable renewables. Maintaining their focus on electricity, researchers at National Renewable Energy Laboratory handled this question. According to their study, approximately 80% of the electricity in US would be generated from renewable energy sources by the end of 2050.

However, getting there would be long and challenging slog. Precisely, the study found no reason why renewable energy cannot provide 80% power in US, but there are a host of challenges which would have to be met first. 

#3 Renewables Are Too Expensive

At present, renewable energy is already cheaper than nuclear and coal power at every step.

A unit of electricity from Eskom’s new coal plant will cost around 97c, while the same energy from renewable sources would cost only 89c. Also, solar and wind energy do not require any input costs. For instance, certain amount has to be spent to purchase coal for a coal fired plant, however, solar and wind do not involve such input costs, as sunlight and wind are absolutely free.

#4 Renewable Energy Is Science Fiction

Renewable technology is all set to go and is in fact working reliably in many countries around the world.

The biggest economy of Europe – Germany already gets its 25% of electricity from renewable energy sources. The country is aiming to attain 80% energy from its renewable sources by 2050. Scotland, especially, has been doing exceptionally well in this area. With extremely helpful schemes such as those related to green deals assessments and energy grants, Scotland is on its way to set an example for rest of the world to follow.

#5 Renewable Energy Cannot Supply Electricity 24/7

The key to get continuous supply of renewable energy is to attain it from mixed sources of wind and solar power, anaerobic digestion plants and natural gas. Having a mixed of all sources, vastly spread over a wide area will definitely ensure a continuous supply of energy.

#6 Renewable Energy Is Bad For The Environment

A widespread argument against wind farms is their probability to kill bats and birds. However, if migratory patterns are studied and environmental impact assessments are conducted before construction, such hazardous impacts can greatly be reduced.

The land used for renewable energy projects, such as the wind farms can still be used for cattle grazing and farming. International experiences have revealed that livestock is completely unaffected with the presence of wind farms. 

#7 Solar Power is Non-Viable During Winters

This is largely a false belief that solar power is non-viable in the absence of solar light. As the days in winter are comparatively shorter than summer months, so the expected yield may be lower during the winter days. But as long as there is sunlight, solar power can always be utilized to generate energy. 

#8 Conventional Wind Turbines Are Noisy

Conventional wind turbines are far from producing any noise. In fact, you can even have a normal conversation while standing right next to one. All the wind farm proposals are supposed to comply with stern noise pollution standards outlined by the EPA, where FoE is completely supportive of it.  

Renewable energy has a bright future and each country of the world should be optimum in it for a secure, healthy environment and for a brilliant future. 

Photo Credit: Renewables Myths/shutterstock

Content Discussion

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 21, 2014

You’ve left off what I would call myth  #0:  that “only renewables can be sustainable“.

This article on Nuclear Green talks about millions of years of nuclear power sustainability using land-based uranium and thorium resources.  This article on NextBigFuture gives an update on advances toward feasibilty of harvesting the inexhaustible uranium which constantly washes into the sea (from rivers and deep in the Earth’s crust).

Also, your arguments against myth # 3 (renewables are too expensive) are basically wrong in the ways that matter.  For a start, have a look at this TEC article, Understanding the Continued Dominance of Fossil Fuels, which discusses global energy costs (note that in China, wind power has a capital cost which 1.8 times higher than that of nuclear, adjusted for capacity factor).

As far as costs in the US, the EIA says that wind and solar power costs  8¢/kWh and 13¢/kWh respectively.  However, they are used to reduce consumption of coal and natural gas with a “variable cost” of  3 and 4.5 ¢/kWh (society must still pay for the plant “fixed cost”, as the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine, so the plants must remain staffed and ready to produce).  The NREL 20% Wind Study found that transmission would add another 10% to the cost of wind power.  As penetration of wind and solar climb above 20-30%, curtailment (discarding of produced energy) increases, and energy storage (which is very expensive) starts to become increasingly important.  The NREL Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study looked at scenarios with 20-30% wind, and found that transmission increased cost by around 20%.

The NREL RE Futures study which you mentioned predicts a large increase in electricity cost in their high renewable penetration scenarios, around 50% increase in retail cost, which is about a doubling of wholesale costs.  This cost increase will decrease prosperity for everyone, and will likely be hardest on the poor. (By the way their 80% renewable scenario uses a large amount of environmentally destructive biomass burning, and uses a lot of very expensive solar thermal with energy storage).

In contrast, adding nuclear power replaces not only the “variable cost” of fossil fuel, but also the capital and other fixed costs, since unlike renewables, nuclear provides firm capacity.  Hence the EIA predicts that new nuclear power has a levelized cost of 9.6 ¢/kWh, which not only beats wind and solar with transmission added (even more so with storage), but also matches new coal (before any cost of carbon emissions is included).

Also, note that the fleet average cost of nuclear power is much lower, since once a plant’s mortgage is paid off, it produces power for the rest of its 60 year service life for the “variable” cost (fuel & ops), which the EIA says is 1.2¢/kWh.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on June 21, 2014

Nathan,

It’s a testament to the high quality of readership on TEC when the first comment exhibits a level of understanding and depth of knowledge totally lacking in the OP. Thanks.

I would also point out that EIA’s LCOE numbers are not comprehensive, as they do not account for difference in plant lifetimes. That artificially inflates the cost of long-lifetime plants (like nuclear, and especially hydro) while artificially lowering the price of short-lifetime plants (like wind and solar). Further, EIA’s system integration costs are also not nearly as comprehensive as they could be (and should be); for a better idea of real system integration cost by plant type, OECD’s numbers are much better. Here again, solar and wind take a hit.

if we account for the difference in plant lifetimes and apply OECD’s system costs, LCOE for nuclear is actually lower than wind, and much lower than solar.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 21, 2014

Great post. 

Myth #2 may or may not be a myth.  The study you cited was based upon 2009 wind technology and did not projections of improvements in technology or cost reductions in technology.  In the short time since the study’s assumptions were frozen a new wind resource assessment was done using 100m towers rather than 80m towers.  It was found that vast tracts in the great plains, previously assumed to offer <40% capacity factor wind actually have in excess of 50% CF winds.  This CF increase of roughly 25% reduces the intermittency and cost of wind power.  In so doing all of the negatives to renewables are substantially reduced.  It is reasonable to assume that similar results would be found for the off shore wind sites. 

Myth #3 While that is all somewhat theortical, the proof is in the PPA pricing.  Last year PPAs were coming in at $21 / MWhr.  After adjusting for the PTC that is still a very low $44 / MWhr.  And experts are projecting another $5.00 drop.

The study above does not consider V2G.  When one looks at the rate of progress in wind and solar over the last 36 years, it seems strange that one would discount the probability of a massive distributed battery available in the form of EVs.  And only the most jaded cynic could deny that there will be many GW of batteries that after outliving their EV usefulness will still offer considerable capacity in a utility scale aftermarket repurposing for bulk grid stabilization.  So the EV market will be able to provide vast storage to offset intermittent renewables. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 21, 2014

“… only the most jaded cynic could deny that there will be many GW of batteries [taken out of old EVs and used for grid storage]…”

I guess Clayton means me.

The counter argument is that cars last so long that even if a battery has not exceeded its useful cycle life, it will generally exceed its calendar life.  Li-ion technology is claimed to be capable of 2000 deep cycles, which might equate to 4000 shallow cycles or 12 years of use for a car with an initial range of 200 miles, and daily use of 50 miles.  

I think in a few years, the vast majority of new EVs will be sold with ranges of 200+ miles (today’s EVs with 60-100 miles are only accepted by early adopters).  These cars will stay in service as long or longer than gasoline cars, as maintanence costs will be low.  After a few years, the battery capacity will fade by 10-30% (see  this article which gives battery data, such as an 8 year calendar life), but they will remain drivable, and will be driven.  After 8-16 years, the batteries will begin to fail due to age related degradation (e.g. dendrite growth, leaky seals, separator breakdown, etc); so they will have poor reliability and non-trivial handling and refurbishment cost, which will make them unattractive to be repurposed for grid use.

I can tell you that my 12 year old Prius was taken out of service with 206,000 miles on it when the battery died ($4400 to replace it), with no other problems.  It used a NiMHyd battery rather than more robust Li-ion technology, but plug-in EVs put much more wear on their batteries than Priuses (due to deep cycling). 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 21, 2014

Nathan,

I agree that 200 miles is the sweet spot.  You and I can speculate all we want on whether car batteries offer a viable grid support.  However the fact that ABB is pursuing this is encouraging.  And irrespective of whether that source of storage becomes available, Navigant and McKinsey telling us that we likely will see a factor of three drop in battery prices in 6 years and Elon Musk seems to be in agreement.  That really represents the beginning of the Li-Ion revolution since EVs will then have the economics to go mainstream.  At that point EV market growth will be rapid driving many cumulative doublings of Li-ion battery volume and rapid progress down the learning curve. 

Experience curves have proven time and again to predict price reductions in manufactured products as varied as aircraft, flat panel displays, wind turbines and solar modules.  There probably are better ways to do storage but if they are not developed, the relentless power of experience curves will likely bring us Li-ion batteries as grid storage well before 2050.  Certainly the smart guys at Tesla seem to be thinking along these lines!

And anyway, at the end of the day, my point was that there are a number of areas where the NREL 80% report is conservative and that if the numbers nearly work with an infrastructure based upon 2009 technology, it is pretty much a slam dunk that we will see drastic improvements. 

There are a lot of folks on this board that see nuclear as the only path.  Ironically, while pointing to the renewables camp as culty or like a religion, they dismiss sound reasoning with the waive of a hand and model denial far more impressivly than the majority of the renewables advocates.  I think the molten salt breeders have potential.  However I just simply do not agree that that is the only path or that it is unreasonable to continue to push hard on renewables.  The massive cost reductions available through economies of production are just too powerful to ignore. 

 

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on June 21, 2014

When the rebuttal to a myth is itself a myth:

#5 Renewable Energy Cannot Supply Electricity 24/7

The key to get continuous supply of renewable energy is to attain it from mixed sources of wind and solar power, anaerobic digestion plants and natural gas. Having a mixed of all sources, vastly spread over a wide area will definitely ensure a continuous supply of energy.

The “rebuttal” effectively concedes its claim when it added “… and natural gas.”  NG is not renewable.  Biogas, which is more or less interchangeable with NG, relies on feedstocks like animal manure; in other words, leftover biomass.  The available energy from this is far too small to take over from natural gas even before it is called on to replace coal and nuclear.  For all intents and purposes, the “renewable” grid will be a natural gas fiefdom.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on June 22, 2014

#1: Critisism of “renewables” is generally directed at the heavily susbsidized intermittent technologies of wind and solar. I don’t think you will get a single renewables critic on this forum who denies the positive contributions of hydropower. If we value intermittent wind/solar equally to dispatchable thermal generation, these sources contributed 1.3% of global energy in 2013 (BP statistical review). 

#2: It is vital here to distinguish between energy and electricity as well as between the US and the world. Electricity production accounts for only 33% of global fossil fuel consumption and the US (which is arguably the best country for modern renewable energy deployment on Earth) accounts for only 20% of global energy consumption (probably closer to 10% by 2050). The NREL scenarios fully exploit the unique US onshore wind, bioenergy and CSP resources and, like most high penetration renewable scenarios, derives its economic acceptability from enormous savings brought by huge assumed gains in efficiency (the continued economic growth required for a very challenging RE rollout while maintaining flat electricity demand). Flat electricity demand also implies that most of the 67% of fossil fuels not used in electricity remain entrenched up to 2050. 

#3: Very few people will dispute the fact that low-penetration onshore wind is a good investment in the best locations (e.g. central US). However, economics quickly deteriorate with increased deployment. Solar PV still needs to fall to about $1/W fully installed to reach the point where wind is now. 

#4: Never heard of this before. 

#5: So natural gas is now a renewable resource? Challenges related to the supergrid are also truly daunting on all fronts: technical, economic and political. 

#6: Environmental impacts of modern renewables are not yet clearly visible because of the small scale of current deployment. When scaled up by a factor of 100, the direct land footprints, material requirements and waste handling challenges both of renewable energy generation and balancing equipment will probably rival those of fossil fuels today. Indirect environmental effects of renewable energy technology forcing include increased outsourcing of energy intensive industries to coal-driven developing nations with much looser environmental standards, and reduced economic development which slows the deployment of cleaner industrial practices and prolongs high population growth rates. 

#7: Of course PV also works in winter. It just makes very little economic sense at latitudes above 40 degrees where demand usually peaks in winter while PV output is many times lower than during summer. PV should be deployed in areas where output aligns well with demand such as the Southwest US. 

#8. A Google search of “protest wind” and “protest coal” shows that activity on these two topics is roughly similar. This is quite telling considering that coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and supplies 27 times the primary energy of wind. Sound and visual pollution from wind turbines are probably the most important reasons for this surprising observation. 

About your final statement: Renewable energy viability varies massively from country to country and should certainly not be agressively pursued everywhere. Also, even though it is unquestionable that the long-term future belongs to nuclear and renewables (unless we finally master fusion), the fact that renewable energy technology forcing is undoubtedly the most expensive form of CO2 abatement makes it very dangerous within the framework of the real 21st century sustainability crisis: massive developing world economic growth ambitions vs. the very tight CO2 budgets recommended by climate science. 

Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on June 22, 2014

Wind in intermittent and unpredictable. 

70% of wind power is generated at night during non-peak hours. 

28% of solar even in Southern California is gathered on weekends. 

Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on June 22, 2014

Wind in intermittent and unpredictable. 

70% of wind power is generated at night during non-peak hours. 

28% of solar even in Southern California is gathered on weekends. 

Wayne Lusvardi's picture
Wayne Lusvardi on June 22, 2014

I would also point out the economist Charles R. Frank of the liberal Brookings Institution has convincingly found that hydro, nuclear, and natural gas power reduces about the same amount of C02 but at way less cost than wind and solar.  We don’t even need “renewable power” to significantly reduce C02. 

Frank’s article “Why the Best Path to a Low Carbon Future is Not Wind or Solar Power” can be found at

www dot brookings dot edu / blogs / plantetpolicy / posts / 2014 / 05 / 20-low-carbon-wind-solar-power-frank 

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 22, 2014

Thanks Keith.  Do you have a link to OECD data (that is not behind a paywall)?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 22, 2014

The fundemental concept behind nuclear waste storage, worldwide, is that once material is emplaced and sealed in suitable deep geological storage, the material can be safely left unguarded for all eternity (anything of value to would-be-evil-doers that is there can be obtained or manufactured more easily than digging 2000 feet underground to get it).  Such facilities would not need more monitoring than any other man-made or naturally occuring garbage dump (yes, there are plenty of naturally occuring toxic accumulations).

Your claim that the scientists, engineers, and subject matter experts at WIPP (the US Department of Energy’s existing nuclear waste repository in New Mexico) who believe their waste repository is and always will be safe, are wrong and/or lying counts as an “extraordinary claim”, which therefore requires “extraordinary proof”.  Your handwaving explaination and bumper-sticker logic do not constitute even ordinary proof. 

Your belief that nuclear accidents make nuclear power unaffordable is also numerically wrong.  The media reports (such as this one) throw around a figure of $58 billion for the Fukushima cleanup (and probably very little of this is medically or scientifically justifiable).  This is the sum total damage done by not just one power plant, but a whole global fleet of Gen II nuclear plants, totalling about 375 GWatts.  Assuming an electricity cost of $50/MWh, and a capacity factor of 80%, this fleet will produce $7.9 trillion worth of electricity over their 60 year lives  (the Japanese 42 GW nuclear fleet which is currently awaiting resolution to the re-start debate would displace $35 billion worth fossil fuel purchases each year – see here).

Gen III reactors, such as the AP1000 (4 of which are currently under construction in the US and several more in China) are expected to be a couple of orders of magnitude safer than Gen II reactors.

Furthermore, no amount of efficiency improvements will make fossil fuel a sustainable energy source on a planet of 7 billion people.

Nuclear and hydro power are currently the only energy sources that are used anywhere in the modern world to power a major non-fossil electric grid.  So any claim (particularly by non-experts) that other solutions are also possible must be met with more than a little skepticism.

Michael Goggin's picture
Michael Goggin on June 23, 2014

Frank’s results are driven by his use of wildly incorrect figures for wind and gas plant capacity factors, obsolete data on wind energy costs, and an incorrect understanding of the economic value of capacity. Once those errors are corrected, his methodology shows wind to be a cost-effective way to reduce emissions, as explained here.

http://aweablog.org/blog/post/fact-check-wind-power-is-a-costeffective-w...

Michael Goggin,

American Wind Energy Association

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 23, 2014

“If wind and solar energy require super grids, should not their cost be added to the cost of wind and solar?”

If one thinks that climate change is not an issue then that would make sense.  However, since it is widely acknowledged to be a very important issue and since it is not being monetized in a way that offers credit for avoided carbon then no, renewables should not bear the burden. 

A super grid would aggregate great plains wind in areas that have 50% CF and higher.  These areas of exceptionally high CF have, to date, hardly been touched due to limited transmission access.  However new powerlines in KS and TX are making them accessible.  The impact is stunning with average PPAs in the interior coming in at $21 / MWhr.  Aggregating intermittent sources dramatically reduces the net intermittency and that changes the equation in terms of how much backup is required.  A supergrid allows for enough geographic dispersion that the generation decorrelates.  That means that the variability is reduced and the rate of change of generation is lower significantly reducing stress on the compensating systems. 

So I agree, if we use a few dispersed wind turbines on the East Coast with 25% CF then that doesn’t work so well.  But since you brought up the supergrid it seemed worth pointing out that it has substantial benefits including access to vast amounts of high CF wind power.  Also, depending upon how it is implimented, it can also be justified on national security grounds as it would add considerable redundancy to our currently brittle, terrorist vulnerable grid.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on June 24, 2014

Sorry I missed this follow-up earlier.  

OCED systems costs can be found here:

http://www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/reports/2012/system-effects-exec-sum.pdf

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 24, 2014

Untrue.

The only reason a supergrid becomes necessary is when countries decide to go anti-nuclear. Countries which decide to emulate France by quickly decarbonising their electricity supply using nuclear energy will not need a supergrid, even while their electricity costs will plummet to the lowest in the world and they cease to become dependent on natural gas and coal exporting oligarchies.

The costs of any supergrid would need to be borne completely by solar and wind energy suppliers, because it is only for them that a supergrid has any purpose.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 24, 2014

How much does wind power reduce emissions when the wind doesn’t blow, which is most of the time?

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 24, 2014

“the wind doesn’t blow, which is most of the time”

Really, please post a reference to support your comment.

The US has enough 50% CF wind to power the entire country

 

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on June 24, 2014

Clayton, can I conclude by invoking the “T” word (terrorism) or one of its variants in the context of a staid industry like American electricity you’re officially advancing an agenda which is on its own merits untenable?

I’d hate to think that renewables advocacy has come to that, but preceded by a parade of adjectives like exceptionally high, stunning, dramatically, significantly, substantial, vast, etc. I should have seen it coming.

I feel like I need to kick a tire.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 24, 2014

Bob,

There are many stakeholders who derive benefit from a more redundant, robust grid.  Grid security is mostly ignored in this forum and so it seemed relevent in the context of a discussion of who should pay for grid upgrades.  Do you think that we should avoid talking about it in order to shield ourselves from glib comments such as yours?  If you choose to look at the post I linked to you will find it well documented and perhaps compelling as I did.  The WSJ article, linked in the post, points out that the grid is a highly vulnerable, relatively soft target that could be taken down for months with a coordinated attack on 9 substations using nothing more than high power rifles.  I.e. as few as 9 individuals could take down the grid for a year using rifles they could purchase at Wall Mart.  This has been known for over a decade and little has been done to harden the grid.  While many are suggesting that the San Jose substation attack was the work of terrorists, there is another theory that it was orchestrated by individuals familiar with the vulnerability.  After over 10 years of inaction by the feds, homeland security and the utilities, they may have seen this as the only way to raise awareness sufficiently to make the needed changes.

Rather than armor plating substations we can direct the money to add redundancy to the grid making it resilient against terrorists.  This has additional benefits such as reducing the likelihood of failures like the 2003 blackout and adding to the siting options for nuclear power plants increasing transmission efficiency, reducing transmission bottlenecks and increasing the market flexibility for selling power. Rather than dictating that we wait 10 – 20 years for next gen reactors to be commercialized and permitted, we could be building out renewbles and retiring coal plants.  Also by upgrading existing transmission corridors to 345kv, 500kV and 765kV we would add siting flexibility for next generation nuclear.  

That said, with $21 / MWHr PPAs for 50% CF wind, really all the feds need to do is make it easier to permit the transmission across state lines.  Economics will do the rest and the wind industry can carry the water for the rest of the power industry.  And truth in advertising it is really $44 / MWhr unsubsidized.  But of course that gives the FF industry a free ride as they don’t pay for the right to emit GHG.  Anyway, at $44 / MWhr, central plains state, 50% CF wind is still competitive even with the additional $20 / MWhr if they pay the entire cost of grid upgrades to get it to loads on the East coast.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on June 24, 2014

Clayton,

Frankly, the graph does not say that the US has an overall  CF of 50%. It merely displays the Capacity of wind power available for any place with a given gross CF at 80m or at 100m. And for sure some locations might reach 50% gross CF.

At least that is what I see it saying, care to reconsider? No doubt that there are places where the gross CF would reach 50%, and in those places the capcacity at 80m and 100m given newer turbines, would be decent for sure.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 24, 2014

Paul,

Thank you for pointing out the possible confusion.  What the graph shows is the total available wind resource at different capacity factors.  It shows that the US has approximately 1.5 Terrawatts of wind resource at 50% CF and nearly 5 TW at 45% CF.  So if the US chooses to build the needed transmission infrastructure, we can get wind power with these capacity factors.  BTW, this does not include off-shore wind.  In putting this together NREL removed things like urban areas, government or private land where wind is off-limits and other similar considerations.

Currently the US fleet average CF is well below 50%.  However, in any meaningful expansion of wind power in the US, siting will be at these better sites.  This requires transmission access like that being developed in KS and TX, where they are building transmission access to the underutilized optimal wind areas.  Similar benefits will be derived as ND, SD and NE figure out the huge economic benefits of harvesting their sizable wind resource.  I did some digging into this and wrote a post with some great maps that show that the best sites are hardly used due to lack of transmission access.  However it would appear that is changing given the recent announcement of PPAs that are coming in at about $21 / MWhr.

So in answer to the poster who said that most of the time the wind doesn’t blow, I think he likely is more familiar with areas with relatively poor wind resources.  Also note that the wind turbines are not always running at full capacity.  As such, 50% capacity factor implies that they are producing power far more than 50% of the time.

Clayton

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on June 24, 2014

Clayton, this is fearmongering. Though I can’t get to the WSJ article without subscribing, there is no way to take down the entire US grid for “months” with 9 rifles. In fact, grid bottlenecks serve to compartmentalize generation and prevent the very nationwide blackout you’re worried about.

Your link to the San Jose Substation Attack had this tidbit of information:

As a result of the attack, PG&E shut down much of the substation for nearly a month while repairs were made. During that time, power was routed to customers through other PG&E equipment.

Perhaps grid security is mostly ignored here because it’s mostly not much of a problem.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 24, 2014

Thanks Bob,

I am relieved that you have straightened this out.  The FERC report is fiction and there is no problem.   

In any event, I agree that this should not be dwelled upon, the issue is whether the cost of grid upgrades should be born by renewables, wind in particular, simply because it benefits.  My opinion is no.  I am unaware of any other generation source being required to pay for the privilidge of feeding power to the grid.  And there are a variety of reasons that other stakeholders benefit by grid upgrades.  Security is only one example.

 

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 24, 2014

“…little has been done to harden the grid“”

I don’t think the solutions being proposed here will help with grid security.  The security weak link in question is sabotage to multiple sub-stations.  A sub-station is the device that links the city or neighbor grid to the long distance grid.  

Adding more long distance transmission to support wind power won’t help protect substations. 

Adding smart meters to homes won’t protect substation (in fact they add an incredibly risky new vector for computer attacks).

Adding small power plants to neighborhoods with “islanding” and “black-start” capability would help, but at the cost more local air pollution (and distributed solar would only reduce it 20% or so) and higher generation costs.

Adding fences or berms around the substations would help.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 24, 2014

Perhaps it would be better to say “we have enough high quality wind resources to make a year’s supply of electricity every year“, lest we make the surprisingly common mistake of forgetting that the wind does not always blow.

The really bad news for battery optimists is that wind has a seasonal demand mis-match problem: the wind is strongest in the spring when demand is lowest, and is weak in summer when demand peaks.

That is one reason I like dispatchable ammonia fuel synthesis for supply-demand balancing.

Of course, ammonia fuel has poor exceptance in the alt fuel world, and wind energy imports are pretty unpopular too.  And frankly as a resident of the US wind belt, I would hate to see my state generating much more wind energy than it uses, since wind farms are already fairly prevalent, and not very attractive or harmonious with nature.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 24, 2014

I have apprehensions about nuclear but am cautiously optimistic about the closed cycle nuclear.  I agree that the US should be looking at it and have a program to, at a minium, master the technology. 

This is somewhat irrational but as a patriot I would have as much pain around buying Thorium reactors from the Chinese as I do currently about having to kiss up to the Russians to send our astronauts to the space station. 

One of the benefits of finding a way to “not do” Nuclear is that unstable countries such as Iran could no longer claim peaceful need in developing nuclear programs.  There would be a clearer line drawn simplifying the international politics and policies in dealing with proliferation. 

On the other hand, the CCRs are wonderful in that they burn spent, long half life nuclear waste and render it much less nasty (a technical term).  And Thorium reactors eat waste from mining of the very important rare earths. 

My expertise is in renewables.  I am not satisfied that I know enough to take a strong postion for or against nuclear at this point.  I would love to see the nuclear contingent writing more posts that clarify the status of development of various closed cycle reactor technologies and start discussing the remaining challenges to commercialization. 

 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

“Adding fences or berms around the substations would help.”

No doubt.  Hardening is good, redundancy is better. 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

” wind has a seasonal demand mis-match problem”

Hard to find data on that but I did finally find something.  I had not realized it was that large a mismatch.  I was more familiar with CA data where they get excellent wind in the summer that dovetails nicely with the solar.  This is again an example of where a supergrid would be helpful.  Solar, of course, peaks in summer so is complementary.  Not perfect but reduces the midwest problem.

The NREL study assumed wind less than 40% CF on average so while I agree that what you bring up is important it does not alter the fact that 50% CF wind improves their scenario.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 25, 2014

I suppose you realise that there is a very easy way to increase the CF of a wind turbine. The trick is to design them to have a lower peak output capacity while having the same swept area and tower height. This will cause the turbine to operate for a larger percentage of the time at it’s peak output capacity. It’s average power output throughout a year will then be closer to it’s peak power output, which will by definition result in a higher CF. But while the CF increases, the average efficiency of the wind turbine is of course reduced concurrently, since the ‘new’ turbine now discards more of the potential energy in the wind at higher wind speeds. In other words, one could get the same result by artificially limiting the peak power capacity of an existing turbine below its design capacity.

And this is exactly what some wind turbine manufacturers are doing. They are designing turbines which have relatively longer blades and larger swept areas in combination with relatively smaller capacity generators. The result is – as expected – a higher CF (but also a lower average conversion efficiency).

Of course, such shenanigans do nothing to alter the fact that wind turbines simply don’t work during periods of low wind speed, regardless of tricks to improve the CF. But it allows politicians and the industry to report ‘improvements in capacity factor’ and ‘continuing innovation’ with regards to wind power technology, which presumably helps them secure futher tax-payer billions subsidy as reward for their ‘progress’. 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

There are two ways to do it, what you describe and putting the turbines at better sites or some optimal combination of both.  The post I linked to makes it clear that the sites that have the best wind resources have been hardly touched.  That is what is interesting to me and clearly offers opportunities going forward. 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 25, 2014

Clearly, using locations with a higher average wind speed (which are not too far removed from the grid) will result in a more economical exploitation of wind energy, both in terms of achieving higher CF’s at lower cost, and at achieving higher energy production per installed turbine, all things being equal.

But this well established truth has no bearing on the fact that the concept of a ‘supergrid’ was developed solely in order to mitigate (somewhat) the crucial intermittency problem of wind and solar energy. The supergrid is superfluous in an energy system which relies on nuclear power in order to quickly achieve a zero-co2, low cost and reliable energy supply. Hence, the cost of developing any supergrid must be allocated completely to solar and wind generators in order to prevent market distortion and confusion as to the actual costs and benefits of competing sources of clean energy.

Advocating for the allocation of (a part of) the cost of any proposed ‘supergrid’ to nuclear generators is percieved by me as simply yet another attempt to shift the significant external cost of intermittent renewable energy away from where these costs actually belong. In this way, it is merely a tool in the hands of the anti-nuclear propaganda sector.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 25, 2014

Of course, ammonia fuel has poor exceptance in the alt fuel world, […]”

That seems to be changing, at least at my end in The Netherlands. I visited a lecture on (among other things) sustainable liquid fuels production and a principal researcher from my alma mater, the Technical University of Delft, presented his conclusion that the large scale synthesis of ammonia fuel was a promising option (among others) for the future as far as he was concerned. He called it the ‘The Nitro-Hydrogen Economy’.

https://www.kiviniria.net/media/Techniekpromotie/Thema_sKIVINIRIA/Energie/2014/20140424/20140424_B.J.Boersma.pdf (presentation slides in Dutch)

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 25, 2014

As far as I know, wind power’s intermittency profile is both a benefit and a curse. It’s greater randomness makes it harder than solar power to fit into the typical electricity demand profile of most countries. However, this randomness becomes a benefit of sorts in the sense that if wind farms across a (very large) area are connected, it is possible to realise at least some actual firm capacity by using wind power. For example, if wind farms across the region of Europe were connected, then up to 9% of the total installed wind capacity would behave as actual firm capacity. Comparing this to solar energy, its aggregate firm capacity credit would remain 0% even if solar farms across Europe were connected. The only way for solar energy to provide firm capacity is by using electricity storage (which is extremely expensive unless limited amounts of pumped-storage are used, in which case it becomes merely expensive) or by creating a Global Supergrid to link a string of solar farms distributed on all the continents (also extremely expensive).

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 25, 2014

I would not qualify Iran as an unstable country per se. There was a time when it was one of the most progressive and advanced countries in the Middle East. It can be again. I’ve talked to enough Iranians (exchange-students I met at uni, including fully emancipated females) to understand that Iran is a major country with a large potential, despite it’s current troubles.

Anyway, since I happen to believe that only nuclear technology will allow a cost-effective and sustained decarbonisation of global energy supply, I view attempts at preventing nuclear power development in currently non-nuclear countries as contributing greatly to the threat of catastrophic climate change.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 26, 2014

In some ways I think all our debates are really metaphors, and the real argument is whether to hate nuclear power or not to hate nuclear power.”

Paul, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.  Whenever someone tries to give reasons for not liking nuclear, their aversion always seems out of proportion to the alleged cause.  For example, the sensible reaction to the Fukushima accident would not be a nuclear phase-out, but rather bigger seawalls around existing low-lying plants, and accellerated deployment of modern plants (much safer Gen III types).

This hatred has lot in common with racial and ethnic bigotry.  I’m sure many environmentalists believe that it’s a harmless preference, given the large amount of potential renewable energy available.  But as we have been discussing and have seen historically, it is much harder to eliminate fossil fuel consumption when nuclear power is off the table.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on June 25, 2014

“…could no longer claim peaceful need in developing nuclear programs

And what about medical isotopes and submarine power?  The old diesel/battery submarines could not travel far underwater, they mainly ran at snorkle depth.

But in any case, this flys in the face of history, which shows that nuclear weapons preceeded nuclear power.  To believe that we can somehow forget how to build nuclear weapons is simply unconvincing.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

“Hence, the cost of developing any supergrid must be allocated completely to solar and wind generators in order to prevent market distortion and confusion as to the actual costs and benefits of competing sources of clean energy.”

I don’t think we are too far apart on this.  Once the costs of FF and Nuclear are monetized by the market then let the renewables pay for their portion of the grid.  Until then, I don’t see any justification for it. 

The current utility / monopoly structure is much more like a communist centrally planned business model than a market economy based business. 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

” I would love to see the nuclear contingent writing more posts that clarify the status of development of various closed cycle reactor technologies and start discussing the remaining challenges to commercialization. “

Hope you will follow up with this portion of the comment. 

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

“My advice is to get less of your information from RE sites.   Here is a URL with government data”

Hah ha Willem, thanks.  I am sure that a site whose homepage is splattered with photos of burnt and burning wind turbines will provide me with a clear and objective perspective of the wind industry. 

In any event, I reviewed the data and it is consistent with my thesis.  The best wind sites do not have good access to transmission lines and therefore, to date, are underutilized.  Also, 100 meter turbines are relatively new so the average hub height skews toward 80m.  So the averages of installed capacity do not reflect the available resource. 

I think the useful discussion is whether the economics are there to build transmission access to the high CF wind areas in KS, TX and other great plains states.  This would provide roughly a 25% increase in wind energy significantly improving the economics.  Enough to justify the transmission line build?  It is looking like it.  Recent PPA’s coming in at $21 per MWhr.  And at least one private company seems to think so to and they are working to build a 3.5GW transmission line from SW KS to Indianapolis.

I would really appreciate it if you would read THIS POST carefully one time.  Look at the maps showing where the wind farms are, where the power lines are and where the wind is.  The turbines are not at the best wind sites and neither are the transmission lines.  I am not sure why you are so attached to the notion that todays 37% CF is the ceiling.  The data just does not agree.  That number is for 80m turbines in good but not the best sites. 

 

 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on June 25, 2014

Unfortunately we have to rely on the Chinese fro serious developments, and it appears they have several versions in development ofr being built. The Chinese however aren’t saying too much , I suspect that they want to keep trade secretes secrete.

 

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/ambroseevans-pritchard/100026863/china-going-for-broke-on-thorium-nuclear-power-and-good-luck-to-them/

 

 

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-21/china-wants-nuclear-reactors-and-lots-of-them

 

Unfortunately for us, the US Government (that has the funds for any serious progress), and the NRC (that throws regulatory hinderances in the way), both have their heads firmly implanted in their collective @$$es.

Pardon my French.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on June 25, 2014

Thanks Mike, hopefully U.S. substations are more secure than WSJ’s paywall!

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

There are other sources of money . . .  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwRYtiSbbVg

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on June 25, 2014

thx, that worked, added it to the post.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on June 26, 2014

Electricity generation is essentially a fully developed and mature industry that is more or less one dimensional and has little or no real potential for unexpected and ‘disruptive’ innovation. Its product is utterly fungible and always exactly the same. All electricity generation technologies are essentially mature and fully understood. The purpose of the industry is simply to provide reliable, low-cost electricity.

I have always had a hard time seeing how a market-based electricity sector is necessarily better than a planned electricity sector. As far as history is concerned, the price of electricity (not necessarily the cost) has increased significantly in all countries and regions where electricity markets have been ‘liberalised’. I am therefore quite comfortable with the thought of a centrally planned electricity sector that is fully regulated and focussed on long term planning as opposed to the quarter-by-quarter hustling typical of market-based economic activity.

By the way, implementing the kinds of heavy-handed broad-spectrum subsidised energy policies they use in countries like Denmark and Germany would seem to favour more central planning of the electricity sector rather  than less. Such intervention policies effectively eliminate market-forces from the electricity sector anyway. It seems but a small step to simply revert to central planning and do away with liberalisation which is little more than a veneer these days in Germany and Denmark. As it is now, the energy companies in those countries are being wrecked financially on an epic scale and all have been making heavy losses and are in chaos. Central planning would have prevented this chaos.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on June 26, 2014

Joris,
Amazing. We agree almost!

~7 years ago I travelled around in Iran (skiing and climbing mountains). Found Iran to be the most advanced country in those areas.
Iranians kept their promises, seem to work hard, etc.

They support their democracy. Consider the guidance of the ayatollah’s a necessity in order to prevent a new western putsch (the cruel dictatorship of the Shah came through a putsch organized by the CIA operating out of US embassy in Tehran).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on June 26, 2014

Willem,“… Germany rushed out the door to fight global warming, without being fully equipped for the battle, and deluding itself regarding the cost, etc…”
You amaze me.
Germany decided in 2000 to the present Energiewende scenario towards 80% renewable in 2050, expecting a.o. the high prices of PV-solar would fall if they created a market (now they do same with batteries). That scenario then had detailed costs budgets. The real costs are much smaller than expected at 2000. So public support grew from ~55% in 200 to near 90% now.

They took the decision after a decade long hot debate and spending ~$200million to scenario studies. Global warming played a minor role then.

Their priorities were and are:
1. all nuclear out (done in 2023);
2. democratize energy (incumbent utiliies loose);
3. sustainability; so towards 100% renewable
4. less GHG (CO2)

So you see detailed reports of Fraunhofer, etc. about the share of renewable, and little about GHG/CO2. While Germany is the only major country that surpassed Kyoto targets! They are now at ~27% less CO2, decreasing that further while the share of renewable grows with 1.5%/a (now >25%).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on June 26, 2014

“…sensable reaction to the Fukushima accident would not be a nuclear phase-out, but rather bigger seawalls around existing low-lying plants,..”
Agree but that is not done as the costs would affect the P&L of the NPP. Often so much that closure is more advantageous for the owner.

E.g. the Dutch NPP, Borssele, is 6 meter below sea level, behind a standard dike. There is >50% chance it will develop a Fukushima like scenario if the dike brakes (with much more damage as major winds go the Dutch major cities and business centers, such as Rotterdam).

Our dike authority estimate it will breake once in 5,000years.
EU stresstest recommended strongly to rise the dikes.
Nothing happened.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on June 26, 2014

The Proper place for Nuclear Power development is the Government, or a consortium of Governments.

Nuclear Power already works, It is a source of Awesome and Nearly inexhaustible power. It is stable and steady. It is predictable. It needs no new efficiency, and it needs no new breathroughs. What it needs is steady and strong Engineering to iron out the most economical design, and build techniques.

So while we dilly-dally around constructing windmills and dreaming of super-grids and storage schemes, while burning Natural gas and pretending it is not a fossil fuel, and while we are sitting there hoping for newer more efficient machines and homes, our planet’s temperature continues to rise, and will almost certainly keep rising till doomsday catches up on us.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on June 26, 2014

Wind production is accurately predicted days ahead by German grid management. Predictions become more accurate when the lead time is shorter (within 1% for 4hrs lead time).
That is ~10 times better than load predictions!

As there are no surprises as with big power plants that can fail in a second, the better predictability of wind (and solar) allows for less spinning reserve. 

Based on the days ahead predicted wind production, grid management can take a number of the power plants completely off (nowadays those can restart in a day, and more flexible ones in few hrs).

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