We’re now scrambling to ensure electricity: why renewables are failing and can’t succeed
The Irish Government has now announced that it will rush through legislation so that emergency generators required to fill the gap left by the State’s switch to ‘green’ or renewable energy can bypass planning laws. The move is in response to serious concerns about electricity blackouts in the winter months – with senior sources saying this might be a “very hard winter”.
The past six months have seen the same Government draw a sudden halt to peat harvesting, and demolish two “pristine” power plants in the midlands in its bid to gain green credentials. The subsequent rush to make up for the outages in electricity that relying on renewables will bring, means that fossil-fuel powered ’emergency’ generators are now being built in a rush to replace those pristine plants that were demolished, and energy (powered by fossil fuels or nuclear) will also likely be imported from abroad to plug the gap, because renewables are unreliable and unpredictable.
This makes no sense whatsoever, but allows the Government to continue bragging about being the greenest in Europe while the media turns a blind eye to the carbon-fueled energy being imported to make up for the failure of green energy at home to meet consumer needs.
This is invariably always the case. It happens in California, Germany, and even in Texas. When the intermittency (weather dependency) problem of renewables causes system failure (blackouts) the energy regulator have to turn to reliable dispatchable (on demand) emergency supply. It usually means importing fossil fuels to generate electricity (such as Germany do), or electricity generated in some other place from fossil fuels or nuclear.
Few realize that the problems facing renewables – wind and solar – are fundamental, not temporary. It’s not that renewable technologies are in their infancy and will improve as the technology develops. The truth is they are nearly at their maximum efficiency (for instance solar cells are now within a few percentage points of their maximum theoretical efficiency) and still they are inadequate, environmentally destructive, unreliable, and far too costly.
One of the problems with renewables is the unreliable nature of weather dependent electricity, but it’s not the only one. The other is power density! Renewable energy gets too little electrical output from the use of resources and land that it requires.
This also opens up the complicating factor of proximity. If intermittency raises the problem of storage, density raises the problem of proximity and transmission. When the electricity required by an industrial city is generated hundreds of miles away, in a windswept wilderness, transporting the electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed becomes an issue.
POWER DENSITY ENABLES MODERN LIVING
The improved prosperity and living conditions over the past three centuries has happened in tandem with, and because of, movement from low density energy sources to higher density energy sources.
Before the mining of coal, the chief source of fuel was wood. This also included the burning of wood to create charcoal which is needed for Iron. It led to massive deforestation in Europe, and the eventual necessary transmission to coal in England by the 16th Century.
Power in the middle ages was pure muscle or wind. Transport was slow and industrial output was low. It was the invention of automation, which is available because of the higher power density of coal, which led to the industrial revolution.
Later on, petroleum gave a higher power density than steam and so the evolution of power again transitioned from low power density to high power density, and we moved from steam ships and steam trains to far more efficient diesel-fueled shipping tankers, and road transport based on the internal combustion engine.
This transitioning from low to high power density in fuel is what makes modern cities possible.
Nuclear was the latest development in this progression from low to high power density. Each technological breakthrough in energy production involved moving from dilute energy to dense energy. The renewables trend, which seems to be philosophically based on a romanticisation of the pastural middle ages, reverses this. The problem is that it can’t deliver on the energy needs of modern life.
REVERSING THE POWER DENSITY PARADIGM
Low energy density has two major technical problems; the land resources required in generation, and the transport of this dilute energy to the high density market. Getting electricity from offshore turbines in the North Sea or from solar farms in the Mohabi desert, to industrial centres hundreds of miles away is a problem.
To get a grasp of how big this problem is, this simple example of how the problem materializes in Germany’s Energiewende project is illustrative.
In this scenario, the windy North Sea generates high levels of electricity. Power is needed in the industrial south, but the transmission lines can’t transmit that amount of power. The big problem is that Germany has not built the required high power transmission lines that were needed to make the Energiewende system work. A 2019 Spiegel article said they had built less than 20% of the planned transmission lines.
Because electricity may not be generated where the demand is, it requires an entirely new generation network of high power transmission lines. For a dispersed and sometimes very distant supply network, a whole network of supply lines has to therefore be built and maintained. To make renewable energy capable of dealing with local shortages (it might be sunny in Spain giving an excess of electricity, and still in the North Sea giving a shortage of wind energy) this grid has to be capable of transferring massive amounts of energy to renewable dependent areas that are experiencing unfavourable weather conditions. This generation grid has to be built and maintained as well.
One of the chief reasons California burned so badly last year was the bad state of these high power transmission lines. They are literally crumbling apart and causing electrical fires which set the dry unmanaged forests alight. California are pumping massive resources into subsidising massive expansion of wind and solar generation but are neglecting to manage their existing transmission network. Don’t forget that money spent on trying to build inherently fragile power systems, is money not spent on making the power grid and generation network resilient.
Added to that is the density problem: because of the dilute nature of the “fuel source”, renewables such as solar and wind require massive amounts of space, up to 400 times more land than a nuclear or gas plant of similar output. Researchers at Princeton University have admitted that critics of renewables were right and that wind farms require 370 times more land than nuclear plants.
Turning over deserts, meadows, bogs, mountains, and wilderness to power generation is not ecologically sound. Despite what the Green party says, the two objectives of biodiversity and renewables are mutually divergent.
What is becoming apparent through examination of the experiments in renewable energy in high power economies such as California and Germany, is that electricity from grids with a high proportion of renewables is expensive. Its no mystery why this is so.
Where solar and wind projects were assured of their survival thanks to subsidies and preferential purchase programs, it means that the grid users are held hostage by these unreliable sources. When they work, they decrease the price of energy, but that price volatility can make other forms of energy unviable in the long run.
Wind and solar are like the relative who turn up for Christmas dinner, gets drunk, and fights with everyone. Its very volatility means that the market is ruined for dependable energy who end up withdrawing from the market. Just like the appeased drunk relative who drives everyone away and is eventually left on their own at an empty party, renewables through preferential policy can end up bankrupting reliable energy production leaving the grid at the mercy of unreliable sources with exponentially rising costs.
The irony of this is that when there is a supply crisis, electricity is bought in from stable fossil fuel supplied networks. The paradox is that the renewable grid is usually backed up by standby fossil fuel generators which are left running as a backup.
This is why Germany is paying the highest power costs in Europe (43% higher than the European average) and are paying 50% more for electricity than their nuclear-powered neighbours, France.
Renewables present a windfall of cheap energy at unpredictable times, however this is not the blessing it seems and actually leads to price inflation in the long run because it instigates system fragility.
As researcher Michael Shellenberger puts it “Because of their weather-dependent nature, solar and wind often produce more electricity than is needed as all the solar and wind in a region turns on at once, drastically reducing prices, which over a few years can bankrupt reliable power plants if those plants need lots of online time to earn revenue to pay for their costs.”
As California and Texas learned in the past year not having a stable base load supply is more than a slight headache, because when the weather lets you down you have power shortages.
A lot of the talk about renewable has been on the falling cost of the generation equipment –solar panels and wind turbines. While solar panels and wind turbines can be produced for less (though recent revelations have shown that that is due to human rights abuses in global supply chains), integrating them into electricity grids requires more and more land, labour, transmission lines, and storage, which all serve to drive up costs. These are costs which are largely hidden from consumers and policymakers but which end up on the monthly bill either as higher electricity charges, PSO levies, or both. Weather-dependent renewables like industrial solar and wind, externalize onto the public their high costs.
Everywhere that has put renewable as a priority in their energy strategy has failed. They have failed on both costs and emissions. Energy prices have risen as the inherent reliability issue has become a greater central problem. Wherever gas and nuclear has been swapped for renewables we see higher, not lower, carbon emissions.
IS GREEN ENERGY FAIR?
Despite being hugely accepting initially, Germans now see green energy as being too expensive, too chaotic and too unfair. This is a view that many people, through experience, are coming around to.
The idea of a just transition in Ireland didn’t pass its first inspection. There is no waiting job for the turf cutters and plant workers of Offaly who lost their jobs to a political decision to close down peat production in Ireland. Offaly loses jobs so that Green-obsessed elites can feel good about themselves. If there was ever a plan in the decision to replace the jobs in Bord na Mona with new jobs we have yet to hear it.
When Eamonn Ryan says that Ireland can show leadership on climate action by increasing renewable, is there anything to this?
The first thing to note is that though Ireland has a low population it also has plenty of space and coastline. We have low density population and low electricity demand, and so dilute power generation is feasible in Ireland in a way that it isn’t in Germany. Germany, their experience has shown, is in no position to replicate Ireland’s 43% renewable electricity, and with the public turning against the Energiewende project it seems destined to fail.
As the authors of this report on energy and climate policy said: “each energy policy has pros and cons and each government needs to assess their priorities before deciding what policy to follow. Reliable and cheap energy won’t be obtained from renewables, and if the priority is emissions reduction, transitioning to low emission base load supply such as gas and nuclear will be more effective than wind and solar.”
The truth of the matter is that to supply the electrical needs of the continent with wind and solar, we would not have the occasional windmill decorating the occasional hill and a solar panel on every roof. Our country would be more like a hedgehog paved with solar panels. This is what wind farms in California look like. It’s no wonder there is a ‘Starbucks rule’ for windfarms (don’t build them within 30 miles of the nearest Starbucks as there will be too many NIMBYs to block the development).
Which raises the question of “why the crusade” which is obviously based on faith and not on science? Even Greta Thunberg has recently identified that the Green activists are actually virtue signalling “rules for thee not for me” NIMBYs.
Wind and solar have the appearance of window-dressing. Ineffective as a solution to the needs of a modern industrial world, but a coup for those who can afford luxury beliefs and need to feel morally superior. The windmills and solar panels we see are subsidised signallers of a progressive mind set that looks more and more like a modern response to the loss of religion.
It is not science, it’s the worship of anything that smells of lab coats no matter how manifestly ridiculous it is. Not much different from a medieval relic, renewable infrastructures are costly charms against the prophesised impending doom of “climate catastrophy”.