Energy: Power Line Vindicated Again in the NY Times

It was almost exactly a month ago that we explained here why the climatista fetish for renewable energy uber alles would backfire on their cherished goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in the course of which we introduced readers to the arcane world of California’s electricity demand “duck curve.” And separately we reported on how Germany and other northern European countries were slamming the brakes on further renewable energy, perhaps scuttling Germany’s goal to phase out coal-fired power in another decade.

So it’s nice to see New York Times economics columnist Eduardo Porter ratify everything we said in his column today, “How Renewable Energy Is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course.” His discussion is remarkably lucid and the conclusion inescapable:

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. . . 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.

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 reportleaked 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. . .

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. . .

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 they were all 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. . .

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.

Green Weenies all around.