Clean Energy

The high cost of electricity from wind and solar generation

Written by Jonathan DuHamel

Some European countries, particularly Germany and Denmark, have invested heavily in electricity generation from solar and wind sources with the result that the cost of electricity has increased substantially. The alleged rational for using “green” energy is that it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and save us from dread global warming. The reality is that carbon dioxide emissions have not been reduced and real world evidence shows that carbon dioxide emissions have almost no influence on global temperature. (See my Wryheat post: Evidence that CO2 emissions do not intensify the greenhouse effect).

Here is what is happening in Europe. The more installed solar and wind capacity per capita a country has, the higher the price people pay for electricity. In the graph below the vertical scale is Euro cents per kilowatt-hour, the horizontal scale is the installed capacity of renewables (solar and wind) per capita. (For reference, the U.S. average residential cost is 12 cents/kwh which is about 9.6 euro cents/kwh, lower than all European countries on the graph.)


Pierre L. Gosselin, a graduate of the University of Arizona who resides in Germany, writes: “Despite the rapidly growing green energy capacity being installed, the effort to reduce CO2 has failed, and what’s left is an unpredictable power grid that often produces energy when it is not needed (waste energy) and thus costing Germans hundreds of millions annually. The Green Party claims that wind energy is “the most inexpensive” on the market, but “If that is really true, then why do they need subsidies? Why are we paying 25 billion euros annually for their feed-in?” An array of expert panels have determined that wind energy is not leading to more climate protection, but rather is only making electricity outrageously expensive.” (Source)

Australians are experiencing the same thing. The last 65 years of Australian electricity prices — indexed and adjusted for inflation show that during the coal boom, Australian electricity prices declined decade after decade. As renewables and national energy bureaucracies grew, so did the price of electricity. (Source) See graph at source.

Peter Rez (Professor at Arizona State University) explains Why solar and wind won’t make much difference to carbon dioxide emissions (Oxford University Press)

“In many circles there is a comforting belief that renewables such as solar and wind can replace fossil fuel electrical generation and leave us free to live as we do without carbon dioxide emissions. Fundamental physics and engineering considerations show that this is not so.”

“Power needs fluctuate with time of the day and, to a lesser extent, day of the week. In most places, peaks occur in the evening when people come home, start cooking, and turn on lights and entertainment systems. In Arizona in summer, the peaks are even more extreme due to the air conditioners all cutting in. There are also morning peaks, as people get up and turn on lights and hair dryers. Commercial and industrial use generally doesn’t change much throughout the day. The electrical utilities call this a baseload.”

“Solar and wind present two problems. One is low power density; massive areas have to be devoted to power generation. The other, more serious problem is intermittency. If we only wanted to run electrical appliances when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, fine, but don’t expect to use solar to turn on your light at night! So solar and wind cannot manage on their own; it’s always solar or wind AND something else.” Read more

All of this has implications for Arizona energy policy.

In 2006, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) imposed the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) on non-government-owned electric utilities. REST requires that electric utilities generate an ever increasing amount of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The original mandated goal was to reach a total of 15 percent renewable generation by the year 2025.

Now ACC commissioner Andy Tobin is campaigning for what he calls an “Energy Modernization Plan.” (See ADI article “Tobin Appears To Overstep With Energy Modernization Plan”)  Read full plan at: 

From the plan: “The singular unifying goal is to have Arizona’s economy powered by clean energy sources that make up at least 80 percent of the state’s electricity generating portfolio, by 2050, with the ultimate goal being 100 percent.

The high cost of electricity from wind and solar generation refers not only to the price of electricity, but also to the cost to the environment and health of humans and other animals.

Several years ago I wrote a Wryheat post: “Petition to Arizona Legislature – Dump Renewable Energy Mandates” which lists six reasons why the Arizona legislature should get rid of this mandate. Besides the cost and grid instability, solar and wind generation are not as “green” as advertised.

For example, many PV solar panels rely on polysilicon being manufactured in large quantities and at high quality. A byproduct of polysilicon production is silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic substance that poses a major environmental hazard. Wherever silicon tetrachloride is dumped, the land becomes totally infertile. A major environmental cost of photovoltaic solar energy is toxic chemical pollution (arsenic, gallium, and cadmium) and energy consumption associated with the large-scale manufacture of photovoltaic panels.

Concentrating solar plants such as the Ivanpah generating station, in the Mohave Desert southwest of Las Vegas, uses 173,500 heliostats each with two mirrors to focus sunlight on a tower where water is converted to steam to generate electricity. This method is called “solar-flux” and it generates very high temperatures. Birds experience traumatic impact with the mirrors, but the larger danger is getting singed by the heat flux which is up to 800 degrees F. (See my post: Avian Mortality from Solar Farms)

Wind turbines chop up millions of birds and bats every year. (See: Wind Turbines Versus Wildlife) Wind turbines also cause health problems in humans and other animals due to their low-frequency noise and the “flicker” of the turbines themselves. (See: Health Hazards of Wind Turbines)

I can find no place in the Arizona State Constitution nor the Arizona Revised Statutes that gives the ACC explicit authority to dictate the methods by which utilities must generate electricity. I recommend that the Arizona legislature repeal the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff and forbid the ACC from dictating how electricity must be produced. Instead, let the free market decide.

Generating more electricity from solar and wind is just a very expensive exercise in political correctness that will have little impact on carbon dioxide emissions, but a big impact on your wallet.

See also:

A Simple Question for Climate Alarmists

“What physical evidence supports the contention that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are the principal cause of global warming since 1970?”

This article may be reprinted/reposted  provided that credit of authorship is given with a link back to the source.


Politics versus American Energy Security

There seems to be a great disconnect between administration rhetoric and actual administration policy.  Here I will examine two examples, policy on outer continental shelf drilling for oil and gas, and actions on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

White House rhetoric:

“We need to deploy American assets, innovation, and technology so that we can safely and responsibly develop more energy here at home and be a leader in the global energy economy.” – White House website.

“[T]he Obama Administration has launched the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history to ensure that our nation can safely and responsibly expand development of its offshore energy resources.” – White House website

The reality:

Exploring for oil and gas offshore has been an on-again, off-again circus.  The latest round is a de facto moratorium.  On November 8, 2011, the Obama administration announce a draft plan that would close exploration drilling on the outer continental shelf until 2017.

OCS-2008This moratorium places some of the most promising areas off limits and blocks some leases that were in progress.  This policy certainly is “aggressive” but misguided.

The Keystone XL pipeline would bring OCS2010additional oil from Canada.  Canada currently supplies us with more oil than all the Persian Gulf sources combined, and this pipeline would put an additional large dent in that unstable source.

The pipeline is awaiting administration approval.  President Obama is caught between his environmentalist lobby supporters who want him to ban the pipeline, and the unions because the pipeline would create many new jobs.  President Obama has decided not to decide until after the 2012 election when he will have less need of these opposing forces.

White House rhetoric:

“As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs – but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment.” – President Barack Obama

The reality:

This is a green fantasy that ignores reality.  So-called clean energy or green energy, such as solar and wind generation, is actually a parasite on the economy because neither would exist without government mandates and subsidies.  Expenditures on these programs divert resources that could otherwise be spent on more economical and productive development.

One administration claim is that increased use of solar and wind generation will reduce our dependence on foreign oil imports, but this doesn’t fly because less that 1% of our electricity is produced from petroleum.

The experience in Europe should serve as a warning:

Spain spent €571,138 (Euros) to create each ‘green job’, including subsidies of more than €1 million per wind industry job.” “… the programs creating those jobs also resulted in the destruction of nearly 110,500 jobs elsewhere in the economy,” and that “each ‘green’ megawatt installed [including solar jobs] destroys 5.28 jobs on average elsewhere in the economy.” The study also estimates that between subsidies, and higher production costs, Spaniards would have to pay 31% higher electricity prices to repay the incurred debt.

The administration’s EPA is also promulgating unrealistic regulations which will harm our ability to produce energy.  For a story close to home, The San Pedro Valley News-Sun has a story which starts:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new regulations that, if enacted, could cause the cost of generating electricity to go up substantially in rural areas. In some cases, the cost of implementing the infrastructure to support the regulatory changes is so prohibitive, power generation facilities may be forced to shut down entirely.

Potential regulatory changes involving the sequestering of carbon and how coal ash is used – if enacted – could impact generating stations throughout rural America, including Cochise County, said Geoff Oldfather, the communications, marketing and public relations manager for Arizona Electric Power Cooperative.  (Read the rest of the story here.)

Politics and environmental zealotry are getting in the way of sound energy policy.


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday that he was looking at exporting more oil to China after the United States delayed a decision on a controversial pipeline.  Read more here.

See also:

Obama Clueless on Energy – Part 1

Obama Clueless on Energy – Part 2

Obama administration still clueless on energy

Blowing in the Wind, a look at green jobs

The myth of green jobs

Clean Coal: Boon or Boondoggle?

EIA says Clean Energy program will increase electricity costs 29%

EIA says Clean Energy program will increase electricity costs 29%

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), part of the Department of Energy, says it “collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.”

In a new report (see here) EIA examines the proposed federal Clean Energy Standard (CES) program. CES requires electrical generation utilities to produce an increasing percentage of electricity from so-called clean sources such as hydroelectric, solar, and wind.  The stated rationale for this program is to reduce dread carbon dioxide emissions to forestall global warming.

Under CES, carbon dioxide emissions are projected to be 60% less than the reference case by 2035.  EIA projects the cost of electricity to rise 16% by 2025 and 29% by 2035 as a result of the program.  EIA projects the average household will spend $211 more per year for electricity.

EIA also projects that the cost of natural gas will rise 9.3% by 2025 and level off to an increase of 5.4% by 2035.  Non-electrical natural gas expenditures will increase 10% by 2035.

The impact of CES will vary regionally.  Those areas more dependent on fossil fuel generated electricity will experience higher electricity costs than those areas which have more nuclear and hydroelectric generation.

Real GDP will be reduced, reaching a peak reduction of 0.8% in 2024, but converging to a 0.3% reduction by 2035.  EIA also says that CES will negatively affect non-farm employment from 2015 through the mid 2020s.

The EIA does not speculate upon the effect of CES in reducing global warming.  But I can.  In my post Your Carbon Footprint doesn’t Matter , I estimate that if all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions were suddenly stopped, it could reduce global warming by 0.003°C.  If CES reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 60% (and ignoring burning of fossil fuels for transportation), the program has the theoretical possibility of reducing global warming by something like 0.001 C or less.   Will we notice the difference for all the dollars spent?