With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris firmly committed to a radical version of the Green New Deal, it is a good time to ask: what would happen if we actually tried to rely on wind and solar for electricity generation? South Australia gave us a preview of the answer in 2016 when its lights went out due to reliance on wind energy.
My colleague Mitch Rolling studies utility company filings. He found that Xcel Energy, the principal electrical utility in Minnesota and Colorado, recently warned that reliance on wind energy could lead to power outages:
Xcel warns that the growing presence of remote energy sources like wind and solar could trigger power outages similar to what occurred in southern Australia in 2016. As the utility company notes:
[I]n 2016, the Australia power system experienced storm damage that forced several transmission lines to open. The wind farms that were being relied upon at that time…started to trip offline – resulting in a large-scale power outage in southern Australia. While there are standards and practices in place in the Eastern Interconnection, MISO and Minnesota transmission systems to help avoid this same scenario, the rapid escalation of renewable resources and the earlier than expected retirement of baseload generation places a greater strain on the transmission system to deliver more remote sources of generation, and increases the likelihood of events similar to the Australia power outage occurring on the local transmission system.
Mitch explains that what happened in Australia in 2016 could easily happen here. He focuses on Minnesota, but the logic applies everywhere:
Xcel details at least four recent examples of weather conditions in Minnesota taking wind and solar off the grid entirely – which, interestingly, didn’t always involve extreme weather.
Here are four examples, provided by Xcel, showcasing the unreliable nature of wind and solar energy coming in at least three different scenarios – a major winter storm producing below -20 degree temperatures, a windless winter day with heavy snow coverage, and two windless summer days. They help explain why Minnesota cannot rely on renewable energy sources alone to supply electricity on a consistent basis:
1. 2019 Polar Vortex:
Xcel states that on January 30th, “the vast majority of wind turbines shut down due to extreme cold temperatures, and output dropped sooner than the forecast had predicted. As a result, firm dispatchable resources were needed to fill the gap left by the forecast error and lack of wind.” “Firm dispatchable resources” is essentially a different way of saying coal, natural gas, and nuclear power.
And while solar energy typically operates best in colder, winter months, panels across the state experienced difficulties due to high amounts of snow coverage and, as a result, generated electricity well below their forecasts.
What resulted was a near disaster.
2. February 5, 2019:
On this occasion, Xcel notes that “While the polar vortex involved extreme weather conditions that affected wind production especially, February 5, 2019 was a normal winter day that offers another example where” renewable energy output was essentially zero for nearly 16 hours, and traditional sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear power supplied almost the entirety of electricity demand.
That being the case, how can we possibly rely on wind and solar for 100% of our electricity needs, or anywhere close to that? We can’t, obviously.
The utility goes on to say that “During this period, all wind and solar resources on the system combined to have an average hourly capacity factor of six percent, and there were particular hours when neither wind nor solar resources had a capacity factor greater than three percent.”
When an energy source can only generate at 6 percent potential as a maximum output, it would take hundreds of thousands of megawatts (MW) of capacity to ensure demand is being met.
In fact, Xcel says it would need “in excess of 180,000 MW” of combined wind and solar to meet demand in a 100 percent renewable world, and even, Xcel notes, “this amount of renewable generation may be insufficient given the declining capacity value of renewable generation, as discussed above, and the probability there will be times with extremely low levels of wind and sunlight.”
Translation: Because wind and solar are unreliable, they need to be massively overbuilt to try to ensure that somewhere the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. But the extent of such overbuilding of capacity is almost unfathomable–more than 180,000 MW, Xcel says, and even that may not be enough.
[For comparison, Xcel Energy currently owns around 19,000 MW of total capacity in the country].
The capital investment alone for 180,000 MW of wind and solar capacity would be over $225 billion.
That isn’t for the country, that’s for Minnesota. Someone would make an enormous amount of money on that $225 billion, or the many trillions that would be spent nationwide for just this one part of the “Green New Deal.” That “someone” is probably a Democratic Party donor. But you–as taxpayer and ratepayer–would pay it.
It isn’t only cold weather that causes “renewables” to be useless. It happens during the Summer, too.
3 and 4. July 2018 / May 2019:
On one occasion in July 2018, Xcel details an “especially windless day” when “in one hour, the wind turbines that were online were taking more power than they were producing. This hour was also part of an approximately 110 hour sustained stretch in which the combined output of all wind resources in the MISO footprint fell well below the accredited values used in present planning processes.”
Xcel continues, explaining that “During the 8:00 a.m. hour, the entire MISO wind portfolio (over 17,000 MW at that time) had a combined output of minus 11 MW – meaning the wind turbines that were online were taking more power than they were producing.”
This example should disqualify any ideas proclaiming that “the wind is blowing somewhere.” The entire wind fleet in the MISO region – spanning from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico – was collectively using more power than it was producing, and the entire energy grid was relying primarily on coal, natural gas, hydro and nuclear power.
More at the link, but the conclusion is obvious: “green” energy is a joke. We would be crazy to rely on it. I don’t want to be one of those riding an elevator 50 stories in the air when the wind stops blowing and the power goes out. You can name your own nightmare scenario. We all need reliable energy, which comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydropower. Wind and solar are ridiculously expensive add-ons that add zero to our reliable supply of electricity. They do nothing for the environment; their main purpose is to enrich politically-connected investors who trade on the credulity of people who vote for the likes of Joe Biden.
If you want all the details, go here.