California is cruising toward a 100% “green” energy future, or so the state’s leaders tell us. But how, exactly, will that objective be brought about? In March of this year, the responsible state agencies issued a plan to achieve 100% carbon dioxide-free electricity by 2045. That is an achievable goal if you use nuclear power. Unfortunately, California is trying to do it with wind and solar.
Francis Menton weighs California’s plan in the balance and finds it wanting:
[Wind and solar] don’t work all the time, so to start with you need to build far more capacity than your peak usage. California’s peak power usage is currently about 40 GW, and that is projected to increase substantially as more of the economy gets electrified, for example automobiles. So the Plans call for the addition of some 97.6 GW of solar capacity and 22.6 GW of wind capacity by 2045, on top of 26.5 GW of those two currently existing. … With the additions, California would have a total of some 146.7 GW of wind and solar capacity, which may be around triple peak usage after you account for incremental electrification of the economy by 2045.
Of course, the intractable problem with wind and solar is that most of the time, they don’t generate any electricity. California’s solution to this problem is battery storage. But this is where elementary mathematics comes in:
[H]ow much storage will we need? They give a very specific figure: 52.8 GW.
Which will cost, including the new wind and solar facilities, a mere $6.4 billion more per year. But there is a problem with California’s arithmetic:
All discussion in the Plans of storage needs and capacity is expressed in units of gigawatts (GW). Now, GW of capacity can certainly be relevant in this context, because assuring that power can be delivered from these massive batteries quickly enough to satisfy peak demand is definitely an important engineering challenge. But another whole subject is gigawatt hours (GWH); in other words, is the total amount of energy stored by the system sufficient to carry you through the longest possible period when demand will exceed supply? How about if there are entire seasons — like “winter” — when days are short, cloudiness is high, the wind has extended periods of calm, and batteries could be getting drawn down for weeks or even months on end? How much will you need in the way of GWH of storage capacity to support this entirely-wind-and-solar system; and how much will that cost?
Not to keep you in suspense, the answer is something like $6.7 trillion, given that electricity would have to be stored for up to seven or eight months. California’s gross domestic product is less than half that amount.
My colleague Isaac Orr carried out a similar calculation for just one state, Minnesota. Isaac found that to store enough electricity to meet Minnesota’s needs for one day would cost around $38.7 billion. He used a battery cost, $250 per kilowatt hour, that is in the same range that Francis used, based on pricing data from Tesla, which ostensibly will supply California’s batteries.
Battery storage is prohibitively expensive, and if you think it is expensive now, just wait until the world’s supplies of lithium and cobalt are further depleted by governments’ voracious appetite for “green” energy.
The idea that wind and solar power will ever fuel our power generation sector, let alone our entire economy, is ludicrous. But the amount of damage that will be done by pursuing that chimera will be incalculable.