Renewables Out of Context

The headline of the article embedded above might be literally true, but it ignores so many contextual issues that it is almost meaningless. One big blind spot is the true life-cycle cost of building, using, and finally decommissioning each kind of power generation installation. Life cycle costs are notoriously hard to quantify, and government meddling (like hidden subsidies for politically favored kinds of renewable energy) make such analysis even harder and less reliable. Here are a few more issues beyond the scope of the article:

What is the environmental impact of each type of energy source? The most dangerous energy source on the chart may very well be coal, with nuclear the least dangerous (contrary to certain narratives). We know that wind generation kills owls, hawks, eagles, and bats. Solar energy farms displace wildlife and (sometimes) vegetation, but we have not seen much analysis yet of what happens when acres of almost-black surfaces radiate immense amounts of heat back into the atmosphere.

How does each type of energy source fit into an integrated, well-managed power grid to provide reliable electricity around the clock and every day of the year? As California and Texas have shown, increased reliance on renewables has effectively been a disaster for power grid reliability. For some green activists, though, an unreliable power grid seems to be a feature rather than a bug because they would like to discourage other people’s energy use. And issues of reliable electricity supply lead to the next issue.

Where are the effective, efficient energy storage technologies that allow us to store wind- or solar-generated power on an industrial scale for when the wind stops blowing or the sun doesn’t shine? In concept, this might be done with some really large energy storage projects or by a distributed, coupled system involving a small energy storage device in every home. Regardless, we are not there yet, not even close.

Last but not least, how quickly can each of these energy sources be cycled on or off as needed? Wind and solar are governed by the availability of wind and sun, as mentioned above. Hydroelectric can be designed to turn on or off very quickly, assuming water resources are availability. Same for gas-fired turbines. Coal and nuclear take much longer, perhaps even days, to take a large plant from cold start to full operation, or vice versa. Each generation technology has its advantages and limits for either flexible operation or for steady baseload production, but they need to be engineered (rather than politicized) into the mix.

One thought on “Renewables Out of Context

  1. Great commentary, Jesse. This topic falls under the category of the amount of lipstick you put on a pig determines how much like a pig it looks. At the end of the day, it is still.a.pig. I for one, think we are missing the boat of not better exploiting nuear energy. The challenge of how to dispose of the waste is no greater than disposing of all those dead batteries.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s