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Is 100 Percent Renewable Energy Possible?

June 8, 2018

By Paul Homewood


An interesting analysis from energy expert, Norman Rogers at American Thinker:


American Thinker

The people who are best described as members of a renewable energy cult are lately promoting the idea that we should run the country on 100% renewable energy, whatever that is.  I say “whatever that is” because different branches of the cult have different definitions of renewable energy.  It seems to be a matter of fashion and prejudice.

One definition of renewable energy is that it is naturally replenished on a human timescale.  Solar energy and wind energy fit in nicely with that definition.  Most fans of renewable energy explicitly reject renewable hydroelectricity if it involves damming a river.  Most renewable energy-lovers are also dam-haters.  They literally feel that fish are more important than people.

Global warming, which supposedly is caused by emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, is frequently cited as a justification for using renewable energy.  But hydro and nuclear, energy that does not emit CO2, is excluded from the renewable universe.

The only energy that satisfies all branches of the cult and can be scaled up to provide large amounts of energy is wind and solar.  Even if hydro were allowed, there are not enough good sites to provide enough energy for the needs of the U.S.  Hydro currently supplies only 7% of our electricity.  The problem with wind and solar is that they make for erratic energy that comes and goes.  In the case of solar, it goes every night.

If we are to power the country on wind and solar, there has to be a way to fill the gaps when the wind dies or the sun sets.  Currently, that job falls mostly on fossil fuel plants that are abused to speed up and slow down as necessary to compensate for the erratic wind and solar.  The fossil fuel plants are being abused because they were not originally designed for ramping up and down rapidly to follow wind and solar.

The Texas electric system has a large wind power element, capable of generating 18,000 megawatts if every wind turbine is receiving sufficient wind.  On average, the system provides about 6,000 megawatts, sometimes more and sometimes less, with rapid variations.  The erratic nature of the Texas wind generation is illustrated by the graph below, showing hour-by-hour generation for ten days in 2016.

If Texas wind power were a core source of power, the ups and downs would have to be smoothed out.  If backup generating plants are not used, storage of electricity is necessary, storing electricity when output is too high and releasing stored electricity when output is too low.

I ran a one-year simulation of a battery storage system large enough to maintain an average of 6,000 megawatts of output from the Texas wind system.  It turned out that that the battery would have to be able to store 430 hours of average power output.  A lithium ion battery big enough for that would cost about $500 billion, or about ten times what it cost to build the entire wind system.  Such a battery would have to be replaced every ten years.  On the other hand, six nuclear plants big enough to supply 6,000 megawatts continuously would cost about $36 billion.  Natural gas-generating plants to supply 6,000 megawatts would cost $6 billion.  The gas would cost about $1.16 billion per year.

Another way to store electricity is pumped storage.  A dual hydroelectric system pumps water to an upper reservoir to store electricity and lets the water run down to a lower reservoir through a turbine to recover the stored electricity.  Typically, 25% of the electricity is lost.  For the Texas wind system, to store enough energy using pumped storage, upper and lower lakes with 500 feet of vertical separation would each have to be 92 square miles in size and 100 feet deep.  The turbines would cost about $12 billion.  Creating such lakes in East or West Texas with the required vertical separation would be a hugely expensive and difficult undertaking – perhaps impossible, given the lack of mountains in East Texas and the lack of water in West Texas.  Such a hydroelectric system would be equal to the biggest system in the U.S., the Grand Coulee dam on the Columbia River.  The Grand Coulee dam is one of the largest structures ever built by mankind.  Yet 6,000 megawatts of generation is a small fraction of the needs of Texas, which run as high as 70,000 megawatts.


Full story here.


I ran a similar analysis for the UK last week, and arrived at similar conclusions.

In fact the wind capacity and output numbers are pretty similar betwee, the UK and Texas. I estimated that we would need 3 days of storage, whereas Norman reckins about 18 days. However, he has looked at annual data, whereas mine was based on just one month. It may be that there are big seasonal variations in Texas – eg very little wind in summer – which would mean much more storage would be needed.

This is unlikely to be the case in the UK.

  1. Robin Guenier permalink
    June 8, 2018 10:43 am

    Paul: you’re supposed to be on (a well-deserved) holiday. So why are you publishing all these (interesting) articles?

  2. Jack Broughton permalink
    June 8, 2018 11:01 am

    Roger Andrews, (on Euan Mearns site), did a similar calculation for California a few months ago and found that the storage requirement was similar to those in Texas. So the argument devolves to how much over-capacity versus how much storage; and the economics are always horrendous.

    Saving the planet from a silly hypothetical disaster seems to justify any costs to the believers and the powerful people that they influence.

    • dave permalink
      June 8, 2018 11:32 am

      Just imagine one’s heart muscle pumping as erratically as the wind.

  3. Gamecock permalink
    June 8, 2018 11:12 am

    ‘we should run the country on 100% renewable energy’

    Easily accomplished.

    Get rid of 95% of the people.

    • Dave Ward permalink
      June 8, 2018 8:39 pm

      “Get rid of 95% of the people”

      They want to do that as well…

      • Gamecock permalink
        June 9, 2018 9:34 pm

        Not ‘as well.’ It IS the objective. All this claptrap is to get people to accept it.

  4. June 8, 2018 11:45 am

    The amount of energy needed to be stored to power the UK for one day is equivalent to 5 times a Hiroshima size bomb. If you used Tesla battery arrays spread around the country it would cost over £70 billion. However it would also need replacing every 5 years – so an annual maintenance budget of £14 billion. You would not want to live anywhere near such battery storage arrays.

  5. dennisambler permalink
    June 8, 2018 1:15 pm

    Interesting commentary on batteries here from Viv Forbes:

    “The idea of producing reliable grid power from intermittent green energy backed up by
    batteries looks possible in green doodle-diagrams, but would be absurdly inefficient and

    A green-doodle diagram:

    • Dave Ward permalink
      June 8, 2018 8:41 pm

      I see that some of the solar panels are supplied by the Spanish – i.e. they work at night!

  6. June 8, 2018 1:26 pm

    “On the other hand, six nuclear plants big enough to supply 6,000 megawatts continuously would cost about $36 billion”

    … how does that compare to £37billion for hinckley?


    • June 8, 2018 2:31 pm

      Hinkley will supply 3GW. So you only need 2. However you only get economy of scale when you build multiple identical stations.

      Sizewell B cost £2 Billion and supplies 1.2 GW. We should have built 10 more identical stations, and ignored Greenpeace. We would then not be in such a mess as we are currently

      • Up2snuff permalink
        June 8, 2018 7:38 pm

        Clive, you are so right there. The opportunities that our politicians and Civil Servants have wasted!

  7. June 8, 2018 2:09 pm

    That is just the electricity…

    • June 8, 2018 2:47 pm

      Exactly. We also then need to electrify heating and transport. That then increases electricity demand by ~60% Generating capacity needs to increase to roughly 90GW

      So we need 30 Hinkleys or 30 Wylfas. The French built 50 nuclear stations in the 70s and 80s so it can be done.

      • Dave Ward permalink
        June 8, 2018 8:46 pm

        As I understand it, the French government at the time said to the people (words to the effect of) “You can either remain living as peasants, or accept nuclear and have a dramatically better standard of living”. If that’s actually true, why can’t our lot be honest with the electorate and tell them the opposite – because that’s what we are faced with…

      • June 8, 2018 9:35 pm

        Because none of them understand the first thing about Physics or Engineering. They all did PPE at Oxford and have never worked in the real world. It is all about Virtue signalling and posturing.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        June 9, 2018 6:58 am

        I think the French nuclear programme was also partly in response to the oil crisis of the 60s and 70s. France not having the coal resources the UK and Germany does they were more vulnerable to oil shortages and price increases for electricity generation. Now they are just as committed to “renewables” as anyone else.

    • Derek Buxton permalink
      June 12, 2018 2:40 pm

      Is not that just what Politicians and Civil Servants do?

  8. June 8, 2018 4:08 pm

    People should be aware of the thick coat of greenwash being applied to grid-level batteries that are currently being added to grids. The spin is that they smooth intermittency, the fact is they merely deal partially with the instability resulting from the intermittency, and do not deal at all with the intermittency itself.

    The vested interests and green dreamers are keeping this from the bill paying public.

  9. Bitter@twisted permalink
    June 8, 2018 6:13 pm

    100% renewables? No!
    0% renewables? YES!

  10. chrism56 permalink
    June 8, 2018 7:50 pm

    I think you phrased the question wrong. 100% renewables is possible. !00% renewables for a society that has any chance of being above subsistence level – No Way.

  11. markl permalink
    June 8, 2018 7:58 pm

    Storage issues aside, how many solar panels would it take to provide the energy to make one panel replacement? In effect they are unsustainable.

  12. June 8, 2018 8:26 pm

    Of course any country or region can have 100% renewables. But they won’t have 100% reliability of supply – far from it.

    And they won’t be an industrialised country of any significance.

  13. June 8, 2018 10:40 pm

    “Is 100% renewable energy possible..”. As it’s not needed, why even consider it?

  14. It doesn't add up... permalink
    June 9, 2018 10:33 am

    Did you allow for the round trip efficiency of the batteries? The Hornsdale Power Reserve (Musk’s Big South Australian Battery) operates at about 80% round trip at the grid connection/metering point. That’s actually a slight improvement on the ~75% round trip efficiency at Dinorwig, which can store about 9GWh, using 12GWh to pump water to the upper reservoir – of course there are additional grid losses in transmitting power to and from Dinorwig or Hornsdale in the first place.

    I ran a calculation on UK 2015 data based on half hourly onshore wind generation and system demand (which is demand on GB grid generation, rather than domestic demand – i.e. it is lowered when we can import from France, and higher when we export). I came up with over 31TWh of storage needed if net generation were to match demand, with generation of about 34.7GW or about 304TWh over the year (which would require wind capacity of about 130GW), and storage losses of over 12TWh assuming 75% round trip efficiency. So that’s over a month’s storage.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 9, 2018 6:41 pm

      I can cut back on the storage to about 14.8TWh by adding 90GW of solar capacity, generating 10.1GW on average, and cutting back on the wind capacity to make room for it. That’s still over 1600 Dinorwigs, or about 115,000 BSABs. The storage hits close to zero in late spring and at the start of winter. Dinorwig cost £425m in the 1980s.

  15. mikeo28 permalink
    June 10, 2018 5:49 am

    I am an Australian with an interest in this exact same subject. We have a grid which connects five states on the eastern coast of Australia. It is 40,000 km and has about 400 generators. The Australian energy market operator records the output in megawatts of all those stations every five minutes. It is public data and I have four years of it in a SQL Server database on my own computer. Before I retired I was an analyst programmer and skilled at writing queries to extract information from such databases. I have done many times exactly what is explained in the article. My results are very similar so it seems the reliability of wind is the same here. Currently though what I am thinking about is that is all very well to strike a figure for a constant output but the load is not constant. So perhaps the model should account for this?

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 10, 2018 11:41 am

      Presumably you have looked at Blakers’ studies and concluded they greatly underestimate storage requirements. When I looked at the Australian grid, I reckoned it would take of the order of 10TWh or 80,000 BSABs.

  16. mikeo28 permalink
    June 10, 2018 5:50 am

    I don’t know about the USA or the UK but here renewables which are principally wind does not have a significant output. It is 5.8% of 2017 energy so variations in its output even though they are extreme go fairly much unnoticed. The wind stations occupy 2,250,000 km² even so the output of the whole dropped below 6% capacity factor in June 2017 and stayed that way for 45 hours. This was unnoticed by the press. Normally such things could be coped with because the output is in fact small. Our electricity system though is being destroyed because ideology has brought on FUD big time. Because of fear uncertainty and doubt the major sources of energy coal power stations are not being maintained or replaced as they reach the end of their life. Our situation is becoming critical and it appears only a major event is going to have an effect, such as a whole major state blacking out for an extended time.

  17. mikeo28 permalink
    June 10, 2018 5:51 am

    It is imperative we find better ways to get our knowledge to the general public. My attempt here is to write an essay about this subject explaining what I know and getting it in front of politicians and sympathetic journalists.

    The energy sources that are opposed are the same here. Those of the environmental bent only support sources that do not work. My motto is “if it works it is not green”. The obsession with CO2 serves to diminish our economy and civilisation is that its true purpose?

    • June 10, 2018 3:36 pm

      Australia has some of the world’s largest reserves of Uranium (and coal). It is ironic that your environmental lobby opposes nuclear power with as much vehemence as it does coal. Nuclear is the only zero carbon option that actually works.

      Solar panels linked to some car batteries makes some sense if you travel around the outback with a caravan, however neither solar nor wind alone can ever run a modern economy. This is so obvious that I suspect they are just Ponzi schemes to increase energy prices. Meanwhile their promoters become millionaires thanks to government subsidies.

  18. June 11, 2018 5:41 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

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