The End of Energy Flim-Flam? Or More Potemkin Power?

I don’t really have much to add to John’s post yesterday about the fatuity of thinking the United States can supply all of its energy needs from solar power, though I do think solar is much more promising than wind as a decent supplementary source of electricity. (Wind power blows so bad that even the deepest greenies at Vox can figure it out.) But you have to keep in mind that solar power is literally much more about sun worship than it is about power. The facts never matter much to the advocates of “renewability,” and the media never bother to ask serious questions about it.

Consider this story about how Facebook is going to build a new data center that will be powered by 100% wind energy in Texas. The story seems to suggest that the center will be connected only to windmills and will be disconnected from the general power grid that is supplied by natural gas and coal. There is zero chance that any data center, which requires absolutely 100 percent electric reliability within very severe tolerances, will not be connected to the general grid.

This story tacitly admits as much if you know how to understand this paragraph:

“We worked with Citi Energy, Alterra Power Corporation, and Starwood Energy Group to bring 200 [megawatts] of new wind energy to the Texas grid as part of this deal,” Facebook’s vice president of engineering Jay Parikh said. “The wind development will be 17,000 acres, located less than 100 miles away.” (Emphasis added.)

So all Facebook is really doing is calling 200 MW of new general wind power “their” power, even though it will feed into the general grid whose backbone and main stabilizer will be natural gas and coal. How nice for them. Because data centers are so energy-intensive and this represents a new source of power consumption, these new windmills won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all. (By the way, note once again that this story reveals how incredibly land-intensive wind power is: 17,000 acres for just 200 MW?  You can build a 500 MW gas-fired power plant on about 20 acres.)

Sometimes you will hear headlines about how Germany or Denmark generate 100 percent of their electricity from wind and solar. These stories always depend on fluke conditions, as explained patiently by this CarbonCounter story:

Where does Germany’s climate change reputation come from? It certainly does not come from achievements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This decade Germany’s emissions have been essentially flat, and Germany is on course to come a long way short of meeting its 2020 national targets for emissions reductions.

This planet saving reputation instead comes from what Germany has supposedly achieved with renewables. The German renewables revolution is apparently in full gear. If you want to understand what is happening in the world it is better to ignore adjectives and instead count.

Counting is instructive about the realities of renewables in Germany. According to the most recent data, Germany got only 3.3% of its final energy consumption from wind and solar installation (Eurostat data for 2013 available here and here).

Does that sound like a revolution? Obviously not.

The 3.3% figure above tells us that renewables are in fact marginal to Germany’s energy system. So where does this idea that there is a renewables revolution in Germany come from?

The answer is easy to find by googling and searching social media. This will immediately lead you to the following type of headline:

Germany Just Got 78 Percent Of Its Electricity From Renewable Sources

Another popular variant are headlines about German solar output exceeding 50% of electricity demand. The obvious problem with these headlines is that many people come to the mistaken conclusion that these record highs are somehow representative of what goes on the rest of the time. They are not.

Or take this triumphant story from July about how Denmark generated 140 percent of its electricity from wind! If that doesn’t save the world, what will? Again, even the glowing news story suggests that it was an unusually windy day, not easily replicable let alone reliable:

A surge in windfarm installations means Denmark could be producing half of its electricity from renewable sources well before a target date of 2020, according to Kees van der Leun, the chief commercial officer of the Ecofys energy consultancy.

Actually—oops—Denmark probably won’t make that, as Bloomberg Business reported earlier this week:

Denmark’s Government Readies U-Turn on Ambitious Climate Targets

Denmark’s widening budget deficit is forcing its policy makers to take some hard decisions in the very area where they are considered global role models: the fight against climate change.

Denmark’s Liberal government is to reverse ambitious CO2 emission targets introduced by the previous administration. It will also drop plans to phase out coal-fired power plants and become fossil-fuel free by 2050, according to leaked documents first reported by newspaper Information.

The news about Denmark’s cost-cutting measures, which also include a reduction in green funding initiatives worth 340 million kroner ($51.5 million) through 2019, came on the same day on which U.S. President Barack Obama issued a global appeal for urgent action in the buildup to a United Nations summit in Paris in December.

I’m waiting for a truth-in-energy moment when someone starts a green energy company called Potemkin Power.