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New York Times: There Are Serious Problems With Wind And Solar

July 23, 2016

By Paul Homewood 




A thoughtful piece from the New York Times:


Is the global effort to combat climate change, painstakingly agreed to in Paris seven months ago, already going off the rails?

Germany, Europe’s champion for renewable energy, seems to be having second thoughts about its ambitious push to ramp up its use of renewable fuels for power generation.

Hoping to slow the burst of new renewable energy on its grid, the country eliminated an open-ended subsidy for solar and wind power and put a ceiling on additional renewable capacity.

Germany may also drop a timetable to end coal-fired generation, which still accounts for over 40 percent of its electricity, according to a report leaked from the country’s environment ministry. Instead, the government will pay billions to keep coal generators in reserve, to provide emergency power at times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

Renewables have hit a snag beyond Germany, too. Renewable sources are producing temporary power gluts from Australia to California, driving out other energy sources that are still necessary to maintain a stable supply of power.

In Southern Australia, where wind supplies more than a quarter of the region’s power, the spiking prices of electricity when the wind wasn’t blowing full-bore pushed the state government to ask the power company Engie to switch back on a gas-fired plant that had been shut down.

But in what may be the most worrisome development in the combat against climate change, renewables are helping to push nuclear power, the main source of zero-carbon electricity in the United States, into bankruptcy.


The United States, and indeed the world, would do well to reconsider the promise and the limitations of its infatuation with renewable energy.

“The issue is, how do we decarbonize the electricity sector, while keeping the lights on, keeping costs low and avoiding unintended consequences that could make emissions increase?” said Jan Mazurek, who runs the clean power campaign at the environmental advocacy group ClimateWorks.

Addressing those challenges will require a more subtle approach than just attaching more renewables to the grid.

An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, narrowly distributed two weeks ago, estimated that nuclear reactors that produce 56 percent of the country’s nuclear power would be unprofitable over the next three years. If those were to go under and be replaced with gas-fired generators, an additional 200 million tons of carbon dioxide would be spewed into the atmosphere every year.

The economics of nuclear energy are mostly to blame. It just cannot compete with cheap natural gas. Most reactors in the country are losing between $5 and $15 per megawatt-hour, according to the analysis.

Nuclear energy’s fate is not being dictated solely by markets, though. Policy makers focused on pushing renewable sources of energy above all else — heavily subsidizing solar and wind projects, and setting legal targets for power generation from renewables — are contributing actively to shut the industry down. Facing intense popular aversion, nuclear energy is being left to wither.

As Will Boisvert wrote in an analysis for Environmental Progress, an environmental organization that advocates nuclear energy, the industry’s woes “could be remedied by subsidies substantially smaller than those routinely given to renewables.” The federal production tax credit for wind farms, for instance, is worth $23 per megawatt-hour, which is more than the amount that nuclear generators would need to break even.

Nuclear generators’ troubles highlight the unintended consequences of brute force policies to push more and more renewable energy onto the grid. These policies do more than endanger the nuclear industry. They could set back the entire effort against climate change.

California, where generators are expected to get half of their electricity from renewables by 2030, offers a pretty good illustration of the problem. It’s called the “duck curve.” It shows what adding renewables to the electric grid does to the demand for other sources of power, and it does look like a duck.

As more and more solar capacity is fed onto the grid, it will displace alternatives. An extra watt from the sun costs nothing. But the sun doesn’t shine equally at all times. Around noon, when it is blazing, there will be little need for energy from nuclear reactors, or even from gas or coal. At 7 p.m., when people get home from work and turn on their appliances, the sun will no longer be so hot. Ramping up alternative sources then will be indispensable.

The problem is that nuclear reactors, and even gas- and coal-fired generators, can’t switch themselves on and off on a dime. So what happens is that around the middle of the day those generators have to pay the grid to take their power. Unsurprisingly, this erodes nukes’ profitability. It might even nudge them out of the system altogether.

How does a renewables strategy play out in the future? Getting more power from renewables at 7 p.m. will mean building excess capacity at noon. Indeed, getting all power from renewables will require building capacity equal to several times the demand during the middle of the day and keeping it turned off much of the time.

Daily fluctuations are not the end of it. Wind power and sunlight change with the seasons, too. What’s more, climate change will probably change their power and seasonality in unforeseen ways. Considering how expensive wind and sun farms can be, it might make sense to reconsider a strategy that dashes a zero-carbon energy source that could stay on all the time.

A report published last month by the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers suggests there is space for more renewable energy on the grid. New technologies — to store power when the sun is hot or to share it across wider areas — might allow for a bigger renewable footprint.

But there are limits. “There is a very real integration cost from renewables,” said Kenneth Gillingham, an economist at Yale who wrote the report. “So far that cost is small.”

In Germany, where renewables have mostly replaced nuclear power, carbon emissions are rising, even as Germans pay the most expensive electricity rates in Europe. In South Australia, the all-wind strategy is taking its toll. And in California, the costs of renewables are also apparent.

Nuclear energy’s fate is not quite sealed. In New York, fears that the impending shutdown of three upstate reactors would imperil climate change mitigation persuaded Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to extend subsidies comparable to those given to renewables, to keep them afloat. Even in California, where nuclear energy has no friends, Diablo Canyon, the last remaining nuclear plant, is expected to stay open for almost another decade.

Still, both New York and California expect to eventually phase out nuclear power entirely. An analysis by Bloomberg puts the cost of replacing Diablo Canyon’s zero-carbon power with solar energy at $15 billion. This sum might be better spent replacing coal.

Displacing nuclear energy clearly makes the battle against climate change more difficult. But that is not what is most worrying. What if the world eventually discovers that renewables can’t do the job alone? “I worry about lock-in,” Ms. Mazurek said. “If it doesn’t work, the climate doesn’t have time for a do-over.”

  1. AlecM permalink
    July 23, 2016 10:32 am

    What Climate Change?

  2. July 23, 2016 10:42 am

    all this to solve a problem for which no empirical evidence had ever been produced except for spurious correlations between cumulative valuations.

    please see

  3. July 23, 2016 11:10 am

    This was so obvious that even a blind man could have seen it coming. Only the wilfully blind would be surprised.

    • July 23, 2016 11:46 am

      Never underestimate the propensity of politicians to be wilfully blind.

  4. Stonyground permalink
    July 23, 2016 11:52 am

    I have always thought that you would only need a handful of wind turbines, strategically located and monitored for a few years, to asses whether it would be practical to use them on a much larger scale. It would be a simple matter to extrapolate the output of these few turbines and assess what their effect would be on electricity output if you installed them by the thousand all over the place. So, as David and John have said, only an idiot would be surprised that they don’t work.

    • AlecM permalink
      July 23, 2016 12:47 pm

      Engineers know different. The problem with windmills is that like solar they are asynchronous so when an excess of ‘renewable’ energy enters the Grid, its synchronous frequency increases. That means some of the steam turbines have to speed up and some must be disconnected but remain spinning, using fuel but providing no power to the Grid.

      The increased angular momentum needs energy input which does not provide grid power. The ‘spinning reserve’ needs energy input from fossil fuels but provides no Grid power.

      Then, when the ‘renewable’ energy suddenly falls, the Grid frequency falls the connected steam turbines slow down and the ‘spinning reserve’ has to be reconnected.

      The bottom line is that except in special circumstances** >10% renewable energy means no fossil fuel saving, >20% increases fossil fuel consumption, both statistics relative to having no windmills or solar cells. The use of CCGTs complicates matters***.

      Basically, windmills and solar cells suck without pump storage. Spain is lucky, Norway is lucky, the Bonneville Power Authority is lucky. Germany and the UK are unlucky hence our Grids are heading for meltdown.

      **Steady wind, only the case for 55% at full load to ~35%.

      • AlecM permalink
        July 23, 2016 12:49 pm

        Sorry **Ony the case for <20 days/ya in the UK.

        ***CCGT efficiency falls from 55% at full load to 35% when the steam cycle trips out at ~40% loading.

  5. tempestnut permalink
    July 23, 2016 12:02 pm

    What we see in action is the religious mind. A mind that has been made up and despite being presented with irrefutable facts that disprove its belief simply cannot or will not change.

  6. David Young permalink
    July 23, 2016 12:50 pm

    And locally, the proposed 1MW solar farm at Stretton Sugwas has resurfaced [1] along with the never previously needed diesel powered STOR plant at Dormington [2]. You couldn’t make it up.



  7. July 23, 2016 12:57 pm

    Reblogged this on Patti Kellar.

  8. sean2829 permalink
    July 23, 2016 2:32 pm

    The problem with most climate change zealots is that they were anti-nuclear zealots first. It is almost impossible to leave that cultural history behind, hence the shut-down of California’s last nuclear power generator. Combine that with a tendency for public officials who only hear what they want to hear, then insist on both setting goals while micromanaging the methods to achieve those goals and you get a well defined system incapable of meeting its objectives… written into law. So, no Nukes in Germany because of how reactors respond to earthquakes even though the strongest earthquake recorded in Germany was a magnitude 6.1 more than 100 years ago. Britain can’t afford the system they chose even if they hadn’t just discovered large reserves of frackable gas. California’s abundant sunshine, predictable summer wind patterns when demand is highest, coupled with topography and water transport system should allow low cost pumped storage that would be easier to manage but laws give nearly anyone standing to block construction for years with litigation. The only hope in California is that the one party state is beginning to see divisions between wealthy liberals and the inland working poor who have grown tired of paying for environmental ambitions of rich coastal elites.

  9. markl permalink
    July 23, 2016 3:20 pm

    Reality gets in the way of ideology again, and again, and again. The problem is the econuts don’t care as long as they get to pee on everyone’s lawn.

  10. July 23, 2016 4:14 pm

    This is what happens when Governments, with limited knowledge, pick “winners” on the basis of who shouts loudest.
    And the Taxpayer shells out for their stupidity.

  11. July 23, 2016 4:20 pm

    Winds of change for this to appear in NYT. Reality starting to set in even there.

  12. Green Sand permalink
    July 23, 2016 4:58 pm

    UK nuclear energy? Ho hum…..

    “French finance authorities have raided the offices of EDF just days before the state-backed energy giant is expected to give the go-ahead to its controversial Hinkley Point new nuclear project.

    The long-awaited final decision on the Hinkley project is scheduled to take place at a board meeting next Thursday, even as authorities in both the UK and France escalate concerns over the costs of the £18bn project……

    ……In a recent report, the NAO heaped criticism on the Hinkley Point plans saying the spiralling costs will hit consumers in the pocket, even as other low carbon energy options offer an increasingly better deal.

    The subsidy bill to be paid by households and businesses for Hinkley Point has more than quadrupled since the agreement for the new nuclear plant was signed in 2013.

    At the time the deal was signed, power price projections had implied a lifetime cost to consumers of £6.1bn for the subsidies. But as of March this year, that had more than quadrupled to £29.7bn due to significant cuts to official power price forecasts.

    EDF declined to comment on the raid, and the AMF was unavailable.”

  13. July 24, 2016 12:39 am

    Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    Reality bites. #unreliables

  14. Political Sceptic permalink
    July 24, 2016 1:12 am

    If it’s an article in the New York Times, then it is aimed at Democrat voters. What’s the angle? If chosen as POTUS, Clinton is going to walk back from her renewable promises? Her appeals to the Greens don’t hold water? It’ll become apparent soon enough.

  15. Yippiy permalink
    July 24, 2016 9:34 am

    Paul, you comment on “Southern Australia, where wind supplies more than a quarter of the region’s power, the spiking prices of electricity when the wind wasn’t blowing full-bore…” Firstly, ‘Southern Australia’ should be ‘State of South Australia’ – the other States have yet to hit the too many wind turbines lack-of-power wall. Secondly, not only when the wind wasn’t blowing, but also these super duper high flying electricity makers cannot cope with gale force winds, which have lashed us of late, and had to be shut down. The mind boggles at this mania.

    Keep up your excellent work.

  16. Gamecock permalink
    July 24, 2016 5:37 pm

    “If it doesn’t work, the climate doesn’t have time for a do-over.”

    What exactly is ‘the climate?’

    Nothing more than a reification fallacy.

    Greentards aren’t going away. If renewables don’t work (even the spellchecker doesn’t like renewables), they will just have to curtail human activity. Or tax the bejesus out of energy consumption; they’d love that!

  17. July 25, 2016 11:17 am

    Blaming “the economics of nuclear power” for their losses shows a severe lack of knowledge about grid economics. Nuclear plant costs are overwhelmingly not fuel costs,
    so buying renewable power (which means that the nuclear plant’s power goes unsold)
    directly increases the cost per kWhr of nuclear power. A nuclear power plant is designed as a baseload plant (always running at full capacity). It cannot ramp up and down quickly, and even if it could, the fuel savings would be paltry, since fuel to run a nuclear plant costs very little. Run at full capacity, nuclear power is cheaper than all other – including gas. Nuclear planrts are losing money because they are being operated in an environment they were not designed for. HOWEVER, the future of nuclear power is not the current technology, but molten salt reactor technology, which eliminates any and all concerns even the most anti-nuclear folks might have, and will produce power at probably less than half that of current nuclear. It also can load follow (ramp up and down rapidly). They will be built in factories and transported to site – cost of construction willl no doubt be well less than half of the cost
    of current reactors. Tey will undoubtedly use nuclear wastes for their fuel, eliminating yet another concern (nuclear wastes disposal) They are right around the corner and so far advanced in development that any talk of nuclear’s future which doesn’t mention them is invalid, ignorant blathering.
    The economics and benign technology of molten salt reactors will force their universal acceptance.

  18. July 26, 2016 8:19 am

    When you’re in a hole, best stop digging.

  19. July 30, 2016 1:17 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.


  1. Liberal Senator Chris Back: ‘No More Subsidies to Intermittent and Unreliable Wind Power – a Proven Failure’ – STOP THESE THINGS
  2. SA’s Wind Power Debacle a ‘Poisoned Chalice’ for Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg – STOP THESE THINGS
  3. South Australia’s Wind Power ‘Experiment’ Crushing its Unwilling Subjects – STOP THESE THINGS

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