Why Wind and Solar Generation of Electricity Fail – California learns the hard way

The Science and Public Policy Project (SEPP) publishes a weekly newsletter (on Mondays) that review the week’s happenings in energy and climate. The newsletter is called “The Week That Was” (TWTW). The often 20+ pages provide commentary and links to many papers. You can get the newsletter in PDF form from SEPP at http://www.sepp.org/ .

The newsletter is also published at https://wattsupwiththat.com/ on Mondays. See the August 22 issue here.

The following are comments by Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP):

I’m shocked! Shocked! To protect the energy system which provides electric power for most of the state, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) was forced to create rolling blackouts during unusually hot days this past week. Immediately the chief executive of the state, Governor Gavin Newsom began blaming others for these needed actions, sending a letter to CAISO and the Public Utility Commission. According to the state constitution, the Commission “consists of 5 members appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate, a majority of the membership concurring, for staggered 6-year terms.” CAISO has no authority over the Commission.

Newsom’s letter claimed: “These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,” and he later declared “This cannot stand.”

For years, CAISO has been warning anyone who will listen of the dangers of relying too heavily on unreliable renewables, particularly solar power, which requires rapid increases in reliable power in the late afternoon of sunny days when the sun goes down. These power outages are a result of legislative and executive errors from failure to recognize the serious damage that relying on untrustworthy power will do.

To illustrate the risks involved, CAISO used its Duck Chart [presented in the links below] showing the risk of overgeneration from solar power during the middle of the day as compared with the net load and the rapid ramp-up needed to meet the net load in the early evening. From 2012 to 2020, each year the belly of the beast descended, showing the overgeneration risk increased, and the ramp-up needed from reliable generation increased. As estimated on March 31, for 2020 the ramp need was about 13,000 megawatts in three hours – about one-half of the maximum net load (consumption or demand) which occurs around 8 pm.

Providing such ramp-up is highly inefficient. If realized in time, hydro-electric can do it, but the cost is excessive wear on heavy turbines. Pumped hydro storage can do it, but the power needs to be replenished daily, something that cannot be assured if the primary sources of power are unreliable solar or wind. The likely choice is gas turbines which can ramp-up in about 15 minutes. But these are far less efficient than modern natural gas combined cycle (NGCC). Straight gas turbines have about 35% to 44% efficiency, depending on the model, its age, and the amount of ramping up and down it has to do. The efficiency diminishes when run at variable speeds. Thanks to continued innovation, the efficiency of NGCC is exceeding 60% Thanks to continued innovation, the efficiency of NGCC is exceeding 60%.

Blackouts in California have provided a stark example of how green ideology has so blinded some government officials that they ignore stark warnings that their policies are leading to economic disasters. There is no magic technology or pixie dust that can make unreliable solar and wind reliable. Government officials who claim the problems have been solved are irresponsible.

While the California officials have been congratulating themselves on green power, as Steve Goreham notes, from 2008 to 2017 the state had the most power outages of any state, 4297, more than 2.5 times the number of the next highest state, Texas. And, as Robert Bryce notes some of the highest electricity rates in the country, “19.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is 47% higher than the national average of about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

Destabilizing Wind: As discussed above, the Duck Curve illustrates how overreliance on solar power can destabilize the grid, especially on hot, sunny days with evening approaching. The question is, does wind power have similar weaknesses? In a presentation titled “The Storage Delusion” at the annual meeting of the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (DDP) physics Professor emeritus Howard Hayden shows that it does and explains why.

Wind power can ramp up and down very quickly and unpredictably, based on wind speed and unrelated to time of day. This can destabilize the grid without warning. Thus, a grid with a high percentage of wind power is subject to not only sudden drops in power, but also rapid increases requiring equally rapid decreases in conventional power. It is exceedingly difficult to keep the grid stable with a lot of wind power on it.

To illustrate the weaknesses of solar and wind, Hayden asks, Can you buy electricity from it at midnight or when the wind does not blow? The answers are obvious. But usually advocates claim you can store it, or the wind is blowing somewhere. The latter response is foolish, one cannot build wind turbines everywhere, and the cost of providing transmission lines to carry it to wherever it may be needed is prohibitive.

In addressing storage, Hayden shows that the only proven storage on a utility scale is pumped-hydro storage. As for other types, most hydrogen comes from natural gas, creating CO2, which contradicts the goal of avoiding creating CO2. Compressed air has been tried but has not been well received. The earliest system, Huntort CAES was created in Germany in 1978.

As Hayden states, flywheels just spin and are excellent for brief backup in data centers and electronic manufacturing such as computer chips until other generating systems such as diesel can be brought online.  They are certainly not grid scale. Capacitors are unsuitable on a grid scale, and a solar/molten-salt scheme has been tried in Nevada and failed.

All backup and storage systems involve a loss in energy. Hayden uses an estimate of the loss from pumped storage which was based on a dated (not clear) table by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA’s most recent estimate of loss in a closed system where water is pumped uphill is from 15 to 30%. Discussed in the June 13 TWTW, the largest pumped-storage facility in the world, Bath County Pumped Storage Station, in Virginia, reports an operating loss of 20%.

As presented by Hayden, wind and solar cannot be considered reliable forms of electricity generation, and except for pumped-hydro storage, energy storage is a delusion. Electricity storage is only in batteries which are not feasible on a utility scale. Until this problem is addressed, deployment of wind and solar will continue to be unreliable and a waste of resources. Please note that Howard Hayden is a director of SEPP.

Click the links above to read more.





One comment

  1. For a farm or ranch, or single family, wind and solar are fine. The pipe dreamers will not allow geothermal because they quote Hitler, “The earth is man’s only god.” Point that out and they shriek hate, but persist and you see them shut down and perhaps think first. We have to care for the earth, yes, because it’s not ours, but belongs to the future. Denying future generations a life, a good life, is not how to do it. All neolibs have to offer is racism and a new Dark Ages.

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