The Penetration Problem. Part I: Wind and Solar – The More You Do, The Harder It Gets

by Planning Engineer

There seems to be a belief that increasing the level of wind and solar projects will make subsequent progress with these resources easier. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Increasing penetration levels of wind and solar is like a Sisyphean task, except that it is worse. The challenge may be better understood as akin to pushing a huge rock which is getting heavier and heavier, up a hill of a steeper and steeper slope while the ground below gets slicker and more unstable. The problems associated with increased penetration swamp any potential benefits that might be achieved through economies of scale. 

The bulk power system has traditionally been strong and very robust. There are generally not significant problems associated with adding small system elements (small amounts of wind and solar) which lean on the system, rather than support it. The system has a limited ability to absorb wind and solar power and can use it to displace generation which relies on costly fuels. But at higher penetration levels this ability is greatly reduced and the economics can degrade and even reverse. Listed below are some reasons why increasing the penetration levels of renewables will lead to rapidly increasing costs as well as rapidly decreasing reliability. 

1)Wind and solar do not readily supply essential reliability services. Conventional generation has characteristics that support the stability and operation of the grid. They have inertial mass and spin in synchronism with the wave forms powering the system while readily providing voltage and frequency support.    As wind and solar make up a larger percentage of the generation resource base we see an erosion of these desirable characteristics. Some argue that electronic emulation can serve to compensate for the loss of these characteristics but it is costly and the results are inferior. Previous writings going into detail on this topic include:

2)Wind and solar are intermittent resources and their availability/output often does not match or support system needs. While there is hope for battery technology, current goals are modest. Other resources must compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar. The greater the percentage of wind and solar the greater the challenge and cost for backup. Previous writings on this topic include:

3) The success of wind and solar installations is highly location specific. You can pull up maps showing the suitability and appropriateness of various locations for both wind and solar power. Other land use considerations make locations more or less suitable for wind and solar as well. Current effort to increase wind and solar make use of the most optimal sites. Remaining sites are less optimal. As penetration levels increase above current levels the suitability of potential sites will decrease. The posting below cowritten with Rud Istavan provides some discussion of locational problems.

4) Wind and solar depend on materials which must be mined and their ability may be limited. Greatly increasing solar and wind production will likely increase costs and create supply problems. European wind power is already seeing a fight over scarce materials

5)As wind and solar generation increase penetration it will become more and more challenging for other resources to subsidize their expansion. It’s one thing to subsidize a small component of the generation mix, another thing entirely to subsidize the major components.

6)It takes a lot of energy to build wind and solar facilities. Their operation and support consume a lot of energy. Many see that it is doubtful that such facilities can support themselves, serve load and provide enough energy to build replacement facilities of the same sort. Additionally, if electric vehicles are thrown in, the problem is further magnified. The “green” plan to eliminate gas appliances and added losses from increased battery deployment will not help either. There are a class of concerns focusing on all the energy and resources consumed by wind and solar resources. This is referred to as the energy density or power density problem. Here are a couple links (here, here,  here and here) discussing these type concerns. These concerns have been outside my area of experience. I hope that readers may add more references in the comments.

7)Wind and solar make the study, control and operation of the power system more complicated and uncertain. These resources are intermittent and more unpredictable for operators to contend with. To maintain stability good modeling is imperative. Detailed models are run involving complex differential equations. Planners can force builders of large power plants to provide pretty good data on the plant impacts. Getting good data for dispersed projects with many small elements which might change during a project and after installation is much more challenging. Lastly, system operators and planners have years of experience with large rotating machines, not as much with wind and solar. 

8)Widespread deployment of wind and solar would require that power be transmitted across great distances (or you would need an unrealistic and incredible amount of battery storage.)  Getting wind’s power from the plains to the population centers involves long transmission lines. Green advocates argue that imbalances between load and generation from solar and wind resources can be overcome by drawing on resources from a broader geographical area. This requires even greater needs for long power lines and a robust grid. Wind and solar produce DC power which must be converted, with the help of the grid, to AC power. Edison and Tesla had a battle years ago over AC and DC power. Tesla won because to transmit power a long distance you need to use an alternating current system. As noted in item 1, solar and wind do not provide sufficient elements like inertia and vars for such a system to remain stable. (Side note-A high voltage DC line can transmit power great distances with lower losses. However, to utilize a high voltage DC line it is imperative to have a strong AC system receiving the power. The system must be robust such that the power can be converted from DC to AC. High voltage DC lines will not be the savior of a wind and solar based system.)  While high levels of wind and solar penetration require a robust grid, their greater presence reduces the capability of the grid.

The above is a formidable list of challenges. How might they be overcome?  Not by economies of scale from increased wind and solar production. First off, it’s hard to imagine that any economies of scale would allow these resources to leap the formidable challenges described above. Secondly, it does not appear that significant improvements in economies of scale are to be expected. My perusal of the topic shows that attempts to find economies of scale have all failed. Building more and more smaller units likely will not provide greater economies of scale due to increased material costs. Larger wind and solar facilities incur a class of costs not seen by smaller facilities. Promoters of wind and solar argue instead that smaller local projects provide more benefits than might be obtained from larger facilities.

Could nuclear energy be a piece of a lower carbon emission future? Most certainly. None of the above concerns apply to nuclear power. We could see cheaper costs from standardized nuclear facilities and reasonable regulations. Hydro too works well with the power system. Unfortunately, there are negligible to no potential locations to expand hydro generation. (Note-pumped storage is an option for storing energy, but not producing additional net energy). 

It is way too soon to be envisioning a 100% renewable future with significant contributions from current wind and solar capabilities. It is not a good strategy to support current “green” technologies and retire and prohibit conventional generation hoping that a miracle will occur when we need it. Perhaps with the extensive deployment of nuclear power, carbon capture and other technologies we might be able to approach a zero-carbon grid. At best, current wind and solar technologies will play at most a small part in such a plan.

This is the first post in a series on The Penetration Problem

Part 1 Wind and Solar:  The More You Do, The Harder it Gets

Part 2 Will the Inflation Reduction Act Cause a Blackout?

186 responses to “The Penetration Problem. Part I: Wind and Solar – The More You Do, The Harder It Gets

  1. A bit of simple maths: if you have solar input from a perfectly sunny day that matches demand at its peak, then addition of another equal amount of solar will increase usable supply by less than a third of that new supply. That’s because the new supply comes at exactly the same times as the original supply. Addition of a third equal amount of solar will increase usable supply by just a sixteenth of that new supply – which is about as close to zero as makes no difference.

    The same basic rules apply for wind, but in a more complex pattern. The bottom line is that installing some wind and solar disrupts the system but with care can be managed so that it doesn’t increase costs too much (the disruption to other sources of supply, assuming that wind and solar are given preference as is the case in most administrations, can soon cost more than the value of the wind and solar). Adding more wind and solar is then a waste of effort and money.

    • Can you elaborate as I’m not clear on this explanation and how it differs from adding any additional source of energy supply?

      • The sun comes up and goes down at the same times all around a region. Once solar supply at its peak meets supply, all other solar input at that time is wasted – it can’t be used without storage. There is only a very small part of additional solar energy that can be used, basically at the edges of the original solar supply.

        Solar installation
        1st : % of demand = 31 (ie, about 1/3 of day)
        1st+2nd : % of demand = 41
        1st+2nd+3rd : % of demand = 44
        Propn used
        1st : 1.00 (all)
        2nd : 0.32 (= (41-31)/31)
        3rd : 0.07 (= (44-41)/41

        The obvious way to use wind and solar is not to connect them to the grid at all, but to use them exclusively for things that can easily handle the variability, such as making Hydrogen, with such facilities being installed close to the wind or solar farm. Perfect for remote places.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        To add to mikes point – The EIA website provides a wealth of information.

        One section provides the electric generation by source.
        The california grid CISO shows solar electric generation peaks at 3pm, the drops dramatically after 4pm. The peak demand starts at approx 1pm peaks around 6pm -7pm then slowly drops starting around 9-10pm.

        What it shows is that solar electric generation is almost completely out of sync with demand.

      • Can you elaborate as I’m not clear on this explanation and how it differs from adding any additional source of energy supply?

        Adding energy that can and will work 24/7, is adding energy that can be used 24/7 and you may want some margin but don’t need much.

        Adding energy that works sometimes and does not work other times and you cannot know ahead of time if or when it will work you need to be able to replace it with 24/7 energy that can be depended on 24/7, in other words, intermittent energy cannot really replace any 24/7 energy.

        If you ever plan to recycle the materials in the wind and solar, their lifetime is short, you will need to add energy to power the recycling, that will be huge, but it is not knowable how huge, but that is our children’s problem, oops, some of us are still here and there are already wind and solar projects that no longer work, but now, they just sit there doing nothing and no one has figured a way to economically recycle them.

  2. Geoff Sherrington

    The other penetration challenge involves the public and the decision makers accepting the experience and messages that planning engineer brings.
    Why has common sense become a rare commodity?
    When I read the Buck Rogers future fantasy papers of our Australian Energy Market Operator pushing a goal of 70% penetration on the way to 90%, and governments accepting this, I wonder why they refuse to speak about the problems planning engineer raises, let alone factor them into their plans.
    What has driven away their common sense?
    Should officials be screened psychologically to exclude those driven by blind zealotry? Who screens the screeners?
    The world has gone crazy.
    Geoff S

  3. Richard Foland

    Shifting climate patterns are another issue complicating the wind/solar feasibility narrative.

  4. Add to this the fact that per person electricity consumption has been flat for the past two decades. It rose consistently as new electricity hungry appliances were adopted, but there haven’t been many of those since the clothes dryer and AC. So for the last 20+ years electricity demand has been flat, while environmental laws have tightened. That didn’t matter from a grid perspective, because we didn’t need new capacity. But decarbonization means electrification esp for heating buildings and transportation. That requires replacing the 40-50 percent fossil fuels on the grid three times over. Once to supply existing demand and twice more to supply the new demand. It can’t be done.
    The entire environmental movement and it’s vast legal arsenal are all aimed at de-industrialization, but the only solutions for climate change require scaling industry up. Fighting climate change through fossil fuel project approvals is counter-productive. It loses support for the transition via higher prices and it enables the very tools that are everywhere the biggest obstacles to building clean power.

    • Alan Tomalty

      Climate change is a colossal fairytale. You are a member of a doomsday cult Get professional help.

  5. Bill Fabrizio

    planning engineer … thank you for another excellent piece.

    Do you have any thoughts on the coming winter in Europe and the reliability of their grid? If they can’t procure sufficient fuels for existing rotating machinery, the existing penetration of renewables will increase accordingly.

    • Aplanningengineer

      It’s hard to get enough details to have a confident opinion. It certainly seems alarming. I hope for the best. But always I hope whenever something unfortunate happens, we will learn from each other’s mistakes instead of having similar ones made separately.

      If there is a big outage “caused” by insufficient conventional generation It will happen following a triggering event. My expectation is that blame and media focus will be placed on the triggering event not the system conditions that made the trigger so consequential (as happened in Texas).

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        Concur with Planning engineer – The renewable advocates have a gospel talking point –
        All the fault of fossil fuels and since renewables performed as expected, then renewables are the salvation. (note that wind fell to less than 10% across the nation for 4 days (less that 3% of name plate capacity)

  6. Hi Judith, generally love your work but I think you have it wrong on this one. Battery costs are coming down steadily per the “Kammen curve” that I’ve written about here, and is based on a peer reviewed paper by the Kammen team at UC Berkeley. This is just one example of reliable learning curve effects that lead to steady cost decreases over time with increased deployment, in a virtuous cycle of ever-decreasing costs. So just as we’re seeing continued exponential growth for solar leading to massive installation growth around the world, and ramping up even faster each year as a general trend (a few exceptions along the way), we will almost certainly see similar trends for distributed battery storage around the world that will make integration of solar and wind a very manageable problem even at very high penetrations.

    • How about battery storage for 2 week extreme cold event during winter in Montana, without any wind (and not much hydro or solar at that time of the year).

      • A few good options for long-term storage or generation: 1) flow batteries (pretty nascent but promising; 2) pumped hydro storage; 3) hydrogen storage combined with generators (this is one use case for hydrogen that makes a bit of sense even though it entails massive loss of energy due to the various conversions); 4) keeping a natural gas and/or nuclear “backbone” available on grid for these kinds of events, at relatively low cost and limited emissions due to only occasional use; 5) interconnected grids allowing export/import of power as required (this recently happened in a big way in CA during the heat storm a couple of weeks ago).

      • David Wojick

        The green answer is numerous huge power lines to Arizona.

      • The green answer is numerous huge power lines to Arizona.

        long power lines and long pipelines cannot be protected from our enemies, cannot be protected from nature, cannot be counted on, if we ever have any conflict with even a minor enemy. They say Putin blew up that gas line in the Black Sea, but who knows if someone else is just blaming it on him.

        Each region needs abundant, reliable, low cost energy that will work independently of other regions.

        Texas is, or was the energy capital of the world and we could not even keep our almost statewide grid up during a few days of freezing weather in February of 2021, my power and water was off, water was off for major hospitals in Downtown Houston, most of the Grid was out. Major Hospitals have planned for Backup Power but never dreamed that they would need Backup Water. We have had times that some areas have had to boil water, but we could generally flush the toilets.

      • “4) keeping a natural gas and/or nuclear “backbone” available on grid for these kinds of events, at relatively low cost and limited emissions due to only occasional use; ”

        So why not save the cost of building the green system and simply make the backbone the system?

        This is a core problem of wind and solar; you need a full capacity backup that you only use occasionally. But still need to buy it, maintain it, and release the emissions involved in all those activities. With a useful life of a few decades the on-stream factor might be 15 or 20%, so the amortized cost of the backup facility is 5-6x a conventional facility – on top of the green boondoggle.

      • Bill Williams

        Meteorologist Brian Sussman 10 years ago wrote book “Eco-tyranny” which postulated banning fossil fuels is left’s genius plan to kill off “capitalism” by starving it of energy…I collaborated on 3 books on economics history. Look up Sussman book.

      • Richard Foland

        Will kill off more than capitalism.

    • Aplanningengineer

      Let’s assume that battery cost do not plateau, but continue to decline. Batteries can help with intermittency, but they provide asynchronous power. I’d like to hear more about how a future widespread power grid is supposed to function with limited synchronous generation. Certainly small networks of wind, solar and batteries could provide limited areas (military, wealthy, and such) renewable service where resources are good. But I don’t believe it would work generally for most.

      • There is another major problem with batteries. If you have fuel-based power, and if you have enough fuel until a certain time, then to go on providing power after that time all you have to do is to obtain more fuel. If on the other hand you have a battery that can provide power until a certain time, then to go on providing power after that time you have to have power to charge the battery, and power is exactly what you have not got. ie, when your battery runs out you are stuffed.

    • David Wojick

      Grid scale battery costs dropped about 70% in the last five years but have now started back up thanks to the supply crunch. Even if they dropped to 10% of present low cost the cost to make zero emissions power wind and solar reliable is astronomical, as in greater than US annual GDP. Much greater with electrification of transport and gas heat. The storage required is incredible. I am working on a report on this. Stay tuned.

      • > but have now started back up thanks to the supply crunch

        Are you saying that’s not addressable? With follow on benefits of an improved economy and increased resiliency, no less?

      • George Turner

        By my calculations, based on an average US consumption of 3,930 TWh per year (power = 448 GW average, or about 38% of nameplate grid capacity), you need 448,000,000 KWh/hour. A Tesla model S batter is 100 kWh, so 4.48 million Tesla S batteries per hour average, or 108 million Tesla S per day.

        To cover a 14-day period of all snow and no wind, it would take 3.36 billion Tesla model S batteries, or about 10 per capita. Maybe $100K per person, or $300K per taxpayer. And they’ll wear out so we’d have to keep replacing them. So that’s on top of the cost of converting the grid to solar and wind.

        But wait! I forgot that everybody is driving Teslas, which they’ll have to keep on charging to avoid shutting down the entire economy for two weeks. Each car will need to be recharged about five times, so add about a billion more Tesla batteries. Plus the trucks will be electric, and the heating will be all electric, and industry will be all electric. Oh heck, just double everything. So 7 billion Tesla model S batteries, 20 per capita, and $600K per taxpayer.

        But Wait! At the end of the 14-day disaster period, all the batteries are dead and have to get recharged, and that has to be done on top of supplying the normal grid usage. So our 1.1 Terawatt nameplate power generation had to double because dumped all the cars and industry on it, and it has to double again to recharge all the dead batteries after a weather crisis. So we need to up our nameplate (all wind and solar!) to 4.4 teraWatts.

        But it saves the cost of burning coal (US average of 1.12 lbs/KWh) for those two weeks, which at $80/ton would’ve come to $20.45 per person, or $41.00 if the crisis lasted a whole month. Of course there would be mark-ups and profit margins and fees on top of that $41.00, and I’m not figuring those in.

    • Curious George

      “a virtuous cycle of ever-decreasing costs.”
      When will the virtuous cycle begin in California? My electricity costs are ever increasing.

      • Strange really isn’t it? Every where unreliables have been introduced in quantity electricity prices have soared even as their proponents keep trotting out the mantra of them being cheaper.
        Of course what those proponents always leave out of the equation is that you need reliable despatchable power generation to back up the unreliables when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

        Hence fossil fuels still supply 80% of the world’s energy same as they did in 1970 and they will continue to provide the bulk of those energy needs for decades to come.

  7. “Could nuclear energy be a piece of a lower carbon emission future?”

    We need to get serious about nuclear fusion. Right now fusion is being perused by the national labs and a dozen or so private projects. I fear even in their aggregate the investment is far short of the kind of funding that is realistically needed to match our clear need of a clean high density power technology.

    Why in the 1960s could the US and USSR invest huge assets into their space programs? In the case of human space travel it could only have been thought to be useful someday. Building super-colliders is useful for understanding particle physics.

    But with fusion power it’s a critical sink or swim moment for our technological civilization’s survival. Why is there is no such “space program” discussion of an effort to make a fusion power station?

    • There are lots of fusion projects out there, we have the big multi-national projects like JET and ITER, plus the big national projects like NIF. Then we have the commercial companies, in the UK I find First Light and Tokamak Energy to both be very interesting.

      However we don’t actually know that fusion is a practical technology for providing industrial power. No fusion device has come close to being able to provide usable net power.

      While often hear of devices coming close to providing net gain, this is only Q sci, so basically no where close. Stars achieve self sustaining fusion simply by virtue of being massive.

      I’m advocating against fusion research or projects, but there is quite enough public and private money being thrown at this, and no evidence we should increase this.

    • Gary, thanks for your reply. You say: “However we don’t actually know that fusion is a practical technology for providing industrial power.”

      Would you agree that “we” didn’t actually know that powered flight could be one day safe and economical in 1909? In fact, it took years for powered flight to be taken seriously as useful per se. The technology would have almost withered on the vine had it not been for the Great War of 1914, when the military saw initially a use for a less vulnerable platform for battlefield observation.

      “We” didn’t know that an atom bomb would be possible in 1939 when German scientist Leo Szilard wrote Albert Einstein the famous letter. But FDR started the Manhattan Project anyway.

      We do know that there is little alternative on the table technologically for a high density power source other than fission, which is inherently dangerous and has a huge political stigma.

      We are talking scores of trillions of dollars at stake. I think it’s worth the investment. What is your objection and your alternative?

      • Curious George

        I am not against a research. Even a vey expensive research. I am against relying on optimistic predictions of research results.

      • One could argue that great engineers are a thing of the past. But great projects like the space program inspire a generation to become great engineers.

      • Bill Fabrizio

        Ron … here’s the attempt. Note that it is almost two decades off. But, it is an attempt.

      • Thanks for the video, Bill. For others the fusion energy blurb starts at 13m and ends a 14.5m. Britain plans to have a working fusion power plant on the grid by 2040. But they admit they do not know how to do it yet — very admirable. JFK would be nodding with approval.


        “We choose to go to the Moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

        John F. Kennedy speech at Rice Univ., Sept. 12, 1962.

      • The UK Step site at West Burton “aims to be built” by 2040 but is “not expected to be a commercially operating plant at this stage”

        So don’t hold your breath, we’ve been here with fusion many times before!

    • Hi Ron, Are you familiar with Skunks Works’ fusion program? You may enjoy the following article if not. Skunk Works has some confidence in fusions near-term potential, the middle of this decade, based of their prototype models:

  8. I was talking with a person in the business, and he had an interesting concept about Pumped Hydro. Perhaps you could create a suitable dam in mountainous regions near the ocean. You have the ocean as the bottom side, no need to store it. He mentioned Greens in CA shut this down. Note, I’m asking, as it seems offhand like not too bad an idea. Big drop, and you only need some suitable locations.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      Pump storage sound great – but geography doesnt work across most of the US.

      One of the Canary island (?) tried pump storage, – it isnt very effective.

      • aplanningengineer made that argument some years ago, that all pumped hydro locations were mostly tapped.

        Perhaps there are no usable locations in mountainous regions in which a damn(s) could be built economically taking advantage of the one sided nature. That’s why I’m asking planning engineer.

        I heard Green is opposed.

      • Hawaii would ideal for this. I am not sure what it would take to plug the caldera of Haleakalā, which is 3000m high by 11Km by 3Km, but since Hawaii has wind and sun and no fossil fuel other than what’s shipped in, it would be interesting to look at.

    • Our enemies dream of blowing up pumped hydro dams, and just imagine the fossil fuel that will be needed to just build the dams.
      You need energy to keep pumping the water uphill, that energy is more than you get back. But, it will be classified as “green energy” so we will not need to keep track of emissions related to providing all the stuff required. Likely be huge subsidies and more can get rich.

    • Many areas already have the dams in place with generation capability. In Washington state you could pump between a lower lake and Grand Coulee for example. California has lots of dams as does the Tennessee river. All that is required is to build the pipeline and install the pumps. It could be done relatively cheaply.

      • Washington has some of the best hydropower in the nation. The Mississippi basin needs an above average snow fall this winter or it could spell trouble next year.
        “Nearly all of the Mississippi River basin, from Minnesota through Louisiana, has seen below-normal rainfall since late August. The basin from St. Louis south has been largely dry for three months, according to the National Weather Service.

        He estimated that barge capacity is down by about one-third this fall because of limits on the tows caused by the low water. That reduced capacity at a time when demand remains high is contributing to a 41% jump in barge shipping prices over the past year.”

    • Norway has a hydro power system with a storage capacity of over 80TWh – more than the rest of Europe together – but still struggled over the last 3 years.

      Of course not everywhere has the same geomorphology

  9. Joe - the non climate scientist

    Planning engineer – you know post is contrary to Marc Jacobson 2022 study ( a projection model) where he shows that 100% can be done.

    There was a Clack / pnas counter study that said that his 2017 study was bunk/science fiction – though he turned around and sued.

    The question I have is if any one has seen a rebuttal to jacobson 2022 study

    Thanks in advance

    • Aplanningengineer

      I hadn’t seen it. Generally academic studies of this sort solve some of the problems associated with a renewable transition, but ignore many important factors. The simplest studies look only at replacing fossil energy with green energy (total amounts) and say it can be done. A step above looks at regional delivery. Says problems solved. A step above worries about delivery and does a basic transmission study that looks at transmission lines as pipes. Says problems solved. Some add peak and time of supply, Solving one problem at a time is not that hard, getting them all is required though, I may be wrong but looking at the description here, it does not look like he is worried about the concerns I have raised,

      • Aplanningengineer

        I thought I’d discussed this before . See:

        Academics often make narrower studies and analysis which are touted by others with much less careful language. For example, I’ve seen pronouncements about how renewable green technology can replace conventional technology. In the simplest case an academic could look at replacing MWHs of conventional technology with MWHs of renewable resources by 20XX. .What’s fine in generalities breaks down when you consider that we need the electricity to be produced when it is needed. At the next level an academic might consider the timing issue. Beyond that the issues increase exponentially with concerns for grid deliverability and grid stability. In considering statements as to what can be done, factors like the following must be considered: 1) What was studied?, 2) What else needs to be studied?, 3) What is being claimed?, 4) What has been demonstrated versus what is theoretical? And 4) What extra costs are or might be associated with the claim? I think blogging can serve as an important role checking on conventional media who too readily make outlandish claims based on misinterpretations of academic studies.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        PE – thanks for the reply – same jacobson though 2021 vs 2022, though all his studies are basically regurgitations of the same fantasy.

        One of jacobsons claims is that 4 hour battery storage back up will work. As I noted above, 4 hours wont work on any good day in CA, much less the 2-5 day doldrum that is common once a month.

        I made the mistake of commenting at skeptical science. I was seriously attacked by the religious zealots – none of whom had any comprehension of the reality.

      • Aplanningengineer

        Interesting stuff with all the scientists fighting. This from 2017. I think they need input from practicing engineers.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        PE – thanks for the additional comment and link to scientists fighting scientists.

        I concur that the debate should involve people who know what they are talking about.

        Reminds me of the adage –
        “everything is easy if you dont know what you are talking about”

        Certainly applies to the renewable advocates


      Lawsuit was dropped. Link contains links to rebuttal study.

      Jacobson had basically made unrealistic assumptions to make his model work. These studies typically make unrealistic assumptions and sometimes don’t run the model at sufficient resolution. Load and power must be matched at all times you can’t just look at the ability to carry peak daily load.

      • Sorry apparently i am talking about an old study not the new one.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist


        Interesting that the advocates claim that Jacobson solved all the deficiencies in the old version and the 2022 version is robust – it must be robust because no “peer reviewed “ studies have come to say it’s wrong.

        Jacobson claims he ran the model test every 30 secs without failure – which proves its robustness

  10. Yes, market is designed to push cost of variability from wind, solar, and demand on to fossil fuels/nukes. Relative cost of FF is artificially high, wind/solar low. Fossil fuel get taken off line, increasing the variability cost which is borne by remaining FF.

  11. Pakistan was unable to secure long-term LNG supply, threatening to prolong its fuel shortage 🇵🇰⚠️

    🙅 No supplier participated in Pakistan’s tender to buy LNG for 4-6 years from 2023. Deadline was today
    🚢 This highlights how there is little spare LNG supply until at least 2026

  12. >” … the intermittency of wind and solar”< [quote from the article here]

    Solar is intermittent. Wind is spasmodic.

    "Renewabubbles" need backup, not "firming".

    No weasel, me.

  13. PE – I have heard that one of the factors limiting wind farm scale is the shielding effect experienced by the turbines situated in the centre of a large farm, something that makes intuitive sense, but for which I can’t seem now to find any references. Can you comment?

  14. Tom Forrester-Paton

    PE – I have heard that one of the factors limiting the scale of wind farms is the shielding effect experienced by turbines situated in the middle of a large farm – something that makes intuitive sense, but for which I can now find no reference. Can you comment?

  15. Kind of like a bag of french fries, no? A treat but… requires oil!

  16. Fully concur with what you wrote PE.
    The fact that no-one has built an isolated AC grid, running on just solar, wind and batteries tell you all you need to know. No doubt we will have people touting this or that academic study to “prove” that it will work. Those aren’t worth the paper they are written on. The authors and their proponents invariably don’t know what they are talking about., What used to be called charlatans in less correct times. I notice they never risk their own money on such schemes.
    Then you get the politicians who believe they can pass laws over-ruling the laws of physics. Pass legislation and someone will invent something stuff. That is the green hydrogen advocates.
    Maybe this winter will be the turning point – I can’t imagine German voters will be warmed by sitting there in the cold dark, knowing how green their country is. But I fear it will need widespread blackouts and grid collapses before people see sense. The voter revolt will be ugly. That is why popularism is on the rise.

  17. What surprises me is that the regulatory organisations that should be very concerned about the issues raised in this paper are so complacent about them. I am in Australia and AEMO (market operator) and ESB (energy security board) appear totally locked into a solar wind battery future and think that tendering for ancillary services is the solution. In Australia large thermal plants are exiting the system early and I truly worry about secure power…something once taken as a given.

    • Old planning engineer

      In my experience with AEMO the engineers involved are very politically motivated and will NOT stick their head above the parapets unless its to blame someone else for the entirely predictable failings of their ideology. For instance the S.A. black out of a few years ago.

      Its worth noting that AEMO have NOT published (at least to my knowledge) any serious planning study to demonstrate their belief that weather dependent generation can support the NEM at the existing level of reliability given historic weather patterns.

      My advice – buy a gas or wood barbeque and a rain water tank large enough to cool the beers.

      • Geoff Sherrington

        South Australia has another blackout as I write. Still emerging how big it is. Officials seem reluctant to provide prompt details about some events these days.
        Australia’s AEMO is described so well by Old planning engineer. Because these AEMO people are afraid to lose their jobs by departing from the party line, Australia suffers a large fall in standard of living. Is that right, is that fair?
        The mistakes being made by AEMO are fundamental. They were known and acted upon when I first was involved in large scale electricity concepts in the early 1970s. Talk about failing to learn in AEMO, from the lessons of history. Geoff S

    • Michael Cunningham aka Faustino aka Genghis Cunn

      ww, ope and GS: my experience in Australian government, particularly at state level, is that those such as myself who are genuinely concerned with public wellbeing rather than feeding the often-ignorant pollies what they want to hear are harassed and driven out, and sometimes to suicide. I’ve worked for bodies advising UK and Oz PMs and for State Premiers etc. The adopted policies are often irrational and not soundly based, but if you want to get on, you have to go along with them.

      This is getting worse as government reach and public service numbers are increasing. In Queensland, increasing public sector employment is a way of guaranteeing Labor votes.

  18. What a great article. Thanks. Is there any way you can encourage TV stations across the globe to make and show documentaries based on this article. It maybe that only with an educated population can we find our way through our energy problems.
    I find it amazing that people think that battery storage could in any way solve the problem of prolonged very cold weather with little wind. Here is hoping that we don’t get such a spell this winter in Europe.
    By the way I live in the UK and have just had a log stove installed because of my lack of faith in the current direction we are heading. I am too old to be cold.

    • aplanninghengineer

      I welcome anyone to build and improve upon this in anyway. I’m glad to help and don’t need to be sourced. Ideally some one with better writing skills and time will expand and tighten where needed and find a broader audience. There are some who do a good job getting the word to a broader audience, but I haven’t seen then talking about the compounding problems of penetration.

  19. Rognvaldur Hannesson

    The basic problem here is the climate scare. Many influential people believe this is an existential problem and are willing to go to great lengths to solve it. Only when they experience how costly this is and that our living standards will be set back decades by the green energy transition will they ask the question whether the cure might be worse than the disease.

  20. old planning engineer

    There is another issue that is not mentioned in the remarks above. This concerns how to dispatch electricity when it is produced at zero marginal cost.

    All grids swing substantially from periods of minimum to maximum loads. The seasonal difference between Spring / Autumn (periods of minimum loads) and Summer / Winter often being over 100%. Due to the extreme cost of long term seasonal storage all serious studies done to show near 100% R.E. in a grid work by over sizing wind and solar in comparison to peak loads to ensure that a “normal” peak can be successfully handled. (This is quite a complicated calculation given the highly variable nature of R.E. generation and the presence of short term battery storage). This leads to a problem for the rest of the year in that there is no demand for the substantial amounts of electricity that could be generated. Most serious studies suggest that the “sweet” spot is having at least 30% of potential energy generation curtailed on annual basis.

    Remember your basic macro economics – the price at which demand meets supply is given by the marginal cost of the last supplied item. When wind and solar are being curtailed due to insufficient demand this cost is zero. Consequently any grid with high penetrations will have lengthy periods of near zero dispatch pricing. South Australia is a very good example of where this is happening at the moment. As penetration grows these periods of over supply and zero pricing will increase. This implies that the fixed costs of the R.E. generators have to be carried more and more by fewer and fewer periods of non zero pricing.

    This in turn leads to the observation that in a free market with multiple suppliers competing, penetration will NOT grow past the point where fixed costs are covered by non zero pricing periods; i.e. periods when other non zero marginal cost suppliers (e.g. gas, coal, battery support) are setting the price. This point will be way below 100% penetration.

    The alternative is of course massive subsidies to cover capital costs that are not connected to the actual level of generation. And guess who pays through the nose (us) and who gets the subsidies (friends of the polies).

    As an interesting aside its worth noting that behind the meter solar (for instance residential solar) that is not seen by the distributor has much lower costs than utility installations as it does not carry transmission and distribution system costs and will therefore always be dispatched first. This will significantly compound the marginal pricing issue for utility solar as the two forms of generation carry more or less the same pattern of generation. (“the duck curve”)

    • aplanningengineer

      Good catch. The above enumerated points are broad and cover a lot that I don’t go into detail about. However, Item 2 which mentions the duck curve does not really get at the point you raise like I mistakenly thought it would. As penetration levels vary the value of resources can change considerably such that what was once an asset, becomes a liability. What was valuable can become a detriment. In Part 2 I will touch on that. I suspect there may be other additional points that deserve a mention as well. We are up to 9 now.

      • aplanningengineer,
        Almost every source of base load power you are promoting depends on access to clean water. It is a vulnerability of almost all thermal energy sources. Plus billions of gallons of water are needed to frack gas wells and tens of billions more are required to turn thermal energy into electrical energy. How much does it cost to build a closed loop 500MW thermal power plant?
        Wind and solar need almost no water and that has value.
        All the major aquifers are in steep decline so we need more lakes and pray we don’t have too many severe droughts.
        I still think to future points toward microgrids.

      • Aplanningengineer

        Jack smith – see below. Water use can be reduced and clean water is not the only option. I don’t see then roadblock, you do.

        Further down the road, While abundant water from desalinization may be a long time coming, I see it as at least as good a bet as stepping up wind and solar.

        As I’ve stated I see that microgrids will be good for some areas with local resources and money but not workable for most areas within planning /policy time frames.

      • Air cooled condensers are routinely used with combined cycle natural gas power plants. Small efficiency loss and somewhat more expensive than a water cooled condenser. Water needs are significantly reduced, particularly when factoring in the very high overall efficiency of these types of plants. Roughly 55% versus around 32% for a conventional nuclear unit. Most of a combined cycle plant’s electrical generation is from the gas turbine(s), not the steam turbine which requires a condenser.

      • Power plants do not consume water. They use it as a cooling medium. Either by heating it up several degrees and returning it to where it came from, or by evaporative cooling that turns it to vapor and makes a minor change to the natural water cycle.

        Water issues are a legitimate issue in many parts of the world, but in many other parts water is so plentiful it has no economic value. The “cost” of water in these areas is only the cost to move it and to treat it.

      • dougbadgero,
        Technology can change reality. No water needed for this tech.

        China (who leads the world in new patents) has switched on the world’s largest compressed air storage battery. The new plant can store and release up to 400 MWh, at a system design efficiency of 70.4%.. This follows the the world’s largest vanadium flow battery @ 100-MW, 400-MWh that was connected to the grid earlier this year…
        China is planning to lean heavily on compressed air energy storage (CAES) as well, to handle nearly a quarter of all the country’s energy storage by 2030.

      • SMRs don’t need an external water source either.

      • Re use of water as a thermal sink:

        Some years back I recall a limitation was introduced in Europe on the temperature that river water could be raised.

        In my case we have seen water temperature in bay areas increase by several degrees over the years. At the lower end of the PV diagram that amounts to a considerable loss in efficiency.

      • jim2
        The SMRs seen frequently at this site most lack the Heat Rejection section. With the use of gas turbines as the prime driver, the rejected heat is considerable. In combined cycle plants some of that is used by a back-up steam cycle.
        Dumping amounts of heat direct to atmosphere require enormous size heat exchangers.

  21. Since the energy input is approximately proportional to production costs overbuilding of capacity over the mentioned penetration limit will also reduce the EROEI of the renewables system.

  22. Another excellent post by planning engineer. This subject, much like climate science, is simple until you begin to really dig in and increase your understanding, then it becomes infinitely more complicated.

    I believe I read the previous posts from several years ago. However, after reading them the first time I’m not sure I really appreciated the issues. Reading the earlier posts again leads me to believe that many who think the transition is a walk in the park are way off base. And those who do, ought to throw their preconceptions into the trash can along with the control knob theory.

  23. King Coal makes a comeback. The Green Energy Extremists can’t stop it.

    Despite a slowing global economy and lockdowns in China, soaring natural gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are propping up the world’s use of coal this year.

    The world’s consumption of coal is set to rise slightly in 2022, taking it back to the record level it reached nearly a decade ago, according to an IEA report published today, which notes that significant uncertainty hangs over the outlook for coal as a result of slowing economic growth and energy market turbulence.

  24. Solar can NEVER fulfill peak demand. As the solar supply curve begins to go down the demand curve goes up. On the few periods of days when solar supple exceeds demand they are almost always during periods of peak supply and not demand. It is a near physical impossibility for solar supply to be increased as the Sun sinks.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      Good point – As I noted previously, The CISO grid in california uses a lot of solar.

      Electric generation solar is out of sync with demand. (at least in summer)

      In CA, electric generation from solar peaks around 2-3 pm with a rapid draw back starting at 4pm with approx 20% generated at 6pm vs 3pm. ( a very sharp cone shaped curve)

      The peak demand starts around noon and continues with a peak around 5-7pm with a slow tapering off demand until approx 8-9pm when demand falls back.

      The renewable advocates claim the when solar doesnt produce, then wind does produce electricity and visa versa. Though its obvious they have looked at actual raw / source data.

      My back of the envelope computation is that you have to have approx 3x of peak demand for solar and 2x – 3x wind (combined ) plus some form of storage to have 100% renewables just to hand the normal day to day fluctuations. That is without regard to the commonplace 2-4 days without wind.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        slight correction to my statement

        the electric generation from solar drops slowly from the peak at 3pm (ish) then makes a rapid drop off starting at 6pm. Note that the peak usage/demand occurs in the5-10pm time frame.

  25. One could make the case that the US Navy is more important to us than whole house air conditioning. And the US Navy is today largely nuclear-powered. They gave up sailboats decades ago.

  26. Wind energy in Ontario Canada cannot grow any more. Last weekend they shut down all the gas fired turbines and shut off some of the hydro power to make room for wind. Crazy. Check the supply graph yourself A Geophysicist in Fernie

  27. For a look at where this breathless rush to wind an solar leads, I’d like to recommend Noah Rettberg’s appearance on the very popular Decouple podcast. He’s their second most downloaded guest and a virtual encyclopedia of technical knowledge about energy. It’s hard to believe he’s only about 22 years old.

  28. It seems to me that so far to date, only top-down, global-scale looks into the problems have been carried out. The two references below are examples of the approach. The research looks at copper from an integrated-consumption question; is there enough copper available to meet the estimated consumption many future years from now. The analyses could be, and very like have been, applied to various other aspects of raw natural resources.

    The situation might be characterized as follows. We have been given, almost by Royal Fiat: (1) an end objective; end fossil-fued electricity production, (2) a solution; develop, build, and apply renewable energy sources, and (3) a deadline, 2035-2050. In stark contrast to almost universal planning methodology, a very critical assumption has been made. That is, it has been assumed that the normal supply-demand market forces will be sufficient to successfully handle a rapid change in a fundamental and critical aspect of society: our energy supply and distribution systems. Never before has such a massive and critical change occurred in primary energy production and distribution. Not to mention that due to the very low power density of the Royal Fiat imposed solution methods, truly immense numbers of individual pieces-parts are required; hundreds of thousands of major end-use pieces-parts, composed of millions and millions of sub-assembles.

    Without consideration of timelines and labor requirements, along with capital equipments in highly specialized sub-systems, the analyses do not address the essence of the situation. Transportation of those turbine blades to where they are needed is far, far away from a Sunday-afternoon drive.

    It is not clear to me that the assumption that normal supply-demand market forces can meet the requirements of complete transformation of our energy-supply systems is valid. The availability and amount of raw materials, while very important, might be a minor consideration when all the integrated entire systems are viewed. Useful applications of processed raw materials is an equally important aspect. Raw copper ore is fine, but what we need is copper wire wound up around rotors; and installed at the top of support structures.

    Transformation of raw materials to useful products depends on vast numbers of complex sub-systems. Is it clear, for example, that sufficient numbers of complex and expensive capital equipment systems, and equally important, numbers of workers, will be available in the timeline that is necessary to meet the imposed deadline? The timelines themselves are also important. For example, can the raw materials be gathered and transformed into useful application in concert with the time demands for generator rotors. Gathering and transformations of raw materials also have intrinsic timelines, for both highly specialized capital equipments and for people to carry out the work. What are all the requirements and at what time schedule are needed to meet the imposed ultimate deadlines?

    The answers to those questions cannot be found in global-scale analyses of the availability of raw materials alone. What is needed is a bottom-up time schedule for each and every aspect of the imposed solution of renewable energy sources. To date, the Royal Fiat plan seems to be entirely composed of two parts: (1) shut down fossil-fueled electricity production, and (2) install renewable-energy electricity production.

    A couple of global-scale examples:
    Branco W. Schipper, Hsiu-Chuan Lin, Marco A. Meloni, Kjell Wansleeben, Reinout Heijungs, and Ester van der Voet, Estimating global copper demand until 2100 with regression and stock dynamics, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 132, May 2018, Pages 28-36.

    Decarbonization of energy and transportation systems linked to strong rise of copper demand.
    The projected demand results in copper depletion unless high recovery rates are achieved.
    The stock dynamics method provides more detail while regression is easier to conduct.

    Future global copper demand is expected to keep rising due to copper’s indispensable role in modern technologies. Unfortunately, increasing copper extraction and decreasing ore grades intensify energy use and generate higher environmental impact. A potential solution would be reaching a circular economyof copper, in which secondary production provides a large part of the demand. A necessary first step in this direction is to understand future copper demand. In this study, we estimated the copper demand until 2100 under different scenarios with regression and stock dynamics methods. For the stock dynamics method, a strong growth of copper demand is found in the scenarios with a high share of renewable energy, in which a much higher copper intensity for the electricity system and the transport sector is seen. The regression predicts a wider range of copper demand depending on the scenario. The regression method requires less data but lacks the ability to incorporate the expected decoupling of material use and GDP when the stock saturates, limiting its applicability for long-term estimations. Under all considered scenarios, the projected increase in demand for copper results in the exhaustion of the identified copper resources, unless high end-of-life recovery rates are achieved. These results highlight the urgency for a transition towards the circular economy of copper.

    Rui He and Mitchell J. Small, Forecast of the U.S. Copper Demand: a Framework Based on Scenario Analysis and Stock Dynamics, Environmental Science & Technology, .2022, 56, 4, 2709–2717, Publication Date:January 28, 2022.

    ABSTRACT: In a world of finite metallic minerals, demand forecasting is crucial for managing the stocks and flows of these critical resources. Previous studies have projected copper supply and demand at the global level and the regional level of EU and China. However, no comprehensive study exists for the U.S., which has displayed unique copper consumption and dematerialization trends. In this study, we adapted the stock dynamics approach to forecast the U.S. copper in-use stock (IUS), consumption, and end-of-life (EOL) flows from 2016 to 2070 under various U.S.-specific scenarios. Assuming different socio-technological development trajectories, our model results are consistent with a stabilization range of 215−260 kg/person for the IUS. This is projected along with steady growth in the annual copper consumption and EOL copper generation driven mainly by the growing U.S. population. This stabilization trend of per capita IUS indicates that future copper consumption will largely recuperate IUS losses, allowing 34−39% of future demand to be met potentially by recycling 43% of domestic EOL copper. Despite the recent trends of “dematerialization”, adaptive policies still need to be designed for enhancing the EOL recovery, especially in light of a potential transitioning to a “green technology” future with increased electrification dictating higher copper demand.

    • I scanned the research paper and noticed they didn’t mention deep ocean mining, maybe because they were focused on mainly US demand trends..
      “It is estimated that there are 21 billion tonnes of polymetallic nodules resting on the ocean floor in the CCZ, containing an estimated: 6 billion tonnes of manganese 226 million tonnes of copper – about 25% of land-based reserves.”

      There should one goal written into the DNA of all future energy projects: Maximize the amount of energy you can extract from the ambient environment and fill in the gaps with centralized power plants.

      • “Increasing penetration levels of wind and solar is like a Sisyphean task, except that it is worse.”
        True, it is a dysfunctional nightmare.
        The answer to such nightmares is to wake up,
        Reevaluate what you are trying to do.
        Be practical.
        Solar and wind energy are perfect for battery storage and use.
        Heating hot water systems in some houses.
        Heating swimming pools for the rich.
        Effective use will reduce overall energy needs.
        Penetration in the right places is a boon.

        Connecting them to a 24 hour grid is not sensible when the grids, by necessity, cannot modify their output.

        As jacksmith said.

      • Geoff Sherrington

        What is mined and what is not is best determined by the skill of operators in free enterprise mode – when it is allowed.
        Failures are most often associated with the clean hands of central planners who know little of the damage they cause when they inhibit free enterprise. Geoff S

    • Geoff Sherrington

      Dan Hughes,
      Like many others in the minerals business, I spent decades doing studies of future resource demand as a necessary part if intelligent exploration planning.
      You quote from a study by He & Small “In a world of finite metallic minerals …”.
      This type of bafflegab immediately introduces opinion and politics into the sense of the paper. There is a spectrum of availability of probably all minerals, that starts with the high-grade, small-cost low hanging fruit that are easy to pluck and then heads towards increasingly higher-cost sources, like was done with uranium in sea water. It is not worth a mention that resources are finite. It is sometimes worth a comment about how far along the cost spectrum we are with a nominated commodity. Then, as happens from time to time, along comes a discovery that shoots down the academic scarcity curve to illustrate a new type of occurrence that responds to different exploration and/or recovery methods and presto, you have a new ball game. We did this with uranium at Ranger 1, after which world known resources did a large leap. It was done with oil/gas drilling in the Permian basin of the USA.
      Academic studies, even when authors manage to keep special pleading, funding, saving the world, global politics etc out of the study, frequently fail because of lack of including (whoops! I nearly wrote that word “inclusion”, sorry) allowance for the ingenuity of mankind in solving difficult problems, often by unexpected methods. Geoff S

    • The reason for the entire exercise is irrational; namely believing we can control the planet’s distant climatic future by controlling CO2. The sun and the complex, chaotic processes moving energy around the globe control the climate. CO2 is a minor bit player by virtue of being a minor sliver in the sun’s energy spectrum and a trivial fraction of the earth’s atmosphere. Further, from a practical standpoint, man’s ability to the control the planet’s CO2 levels is zero.

      Rational policy is based on providing the planet with reliable, reasonably priced, and reasonably clean energy.

  29. Victor Adams

    All said and done penetration of wind and solar beyond 30% generated power is not feasible.

  30. Dr. Curry, before anyone opines or makes a decision on any aspect of energy transitions they must be required to read Vaclav Smil’s “How the World Really Works.” Anybody in a decisionmaking position who is ignorant of the realities of modern industrial societies and their requirements for materials and energy sources are a danger to all of us.

    Additionally, anybody that looks at a graph of the amounts of the various energy sources mankind relies upon on an annual basis will realize that near-term (20-40 years) energy transitions are pipe dreams. And the developing world will not go along with the West’s suicide pact anyway.

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  32. Funny. The folks that claim that RE sources are less expensive than fossil fuels are quite vocal about their beliefs. The academics from this camp run “studies” to show that RE sources CAN work to replace ff at scale. Remarkably, they can never point to any specific real world application at scale that shows that their beliefs/models are correct. They continue to say it’s doable, yet it’s never actually be done. Curious.

    Meanwhile, the world has spent ~ $5 trillion over the past 20 years on RE projects and the percentage of RE energy world wide still sits at ~ 3% of total energy. More remarkably, the areas that have the greatest penetrance of RE power have the highest electricity costs in the world. For energy generation that’s supposed to be easy and cheap, actual experience shows that it’s expensive and difficult, even at (relatively) small scale deployment. As PE outlines, scaling up further increases costs and complexity.

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  36. I just attended the GCPA: Gulf Coast Power Association fall conference.
    Both Calpine and Vistra CEOs highlighted the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act – and predicted that this would lead to 35 to 50 GW of new solar installation into the Texas electrical power generation ecosystem.
    To put this in perspective: there are presented around 46 GW of BOTH wind and solar PV installed.
    Another story that was making the rounds: the increasing amount of inverter based power generation (i.e. solar PV and wind) – that this caused a minor fault in the grid. This is in addition to the other way around: apparently in September 2021 – a fault in the grid caused 1100 MW of solar PV to go offline
    Overall, really interesting event with main themes being the post-Yuri legislation pushing weatherization requirements, and the rising cost of natural gas and its effects on dispatchable generation seeming to be the 2 main themes.
    There was also a lot of talk about cryptomining. In particular, several presenters including a Texas state politician noted that a single cryptomining facility would consume as much electricity and 1/2 of the entire city of Austin – and that these miners were making more money by selling electricity during peak demand times than they were by mining cryptocurrency. The question then is just how sustainable the cryptomining is since supporting this volume of consumption would require increase of electricity generation – and that isn’t going to be good if the cryptomining goes away in 5 years.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      Vistra also operates the moss power plant in CA which has had 2 fires in the last 6 months.

      certainly an indication of the reliability of lithium battery storage. Apparently not directly due to the batteries. though offline for 8-9 months.

  37. Climate Activists should use the Green Paradox to their advantage to get people on board and accelerate transitioning to a less carbon intensive future. But it requires accelerating fossil fuel use in the short/medium term, which is scary.

    Transitioning to a more diverse & secure energy future will take an increase in fossil fuel use in the short term. Judith Curry’s excellent essay on the IRA.

    The best outcomes are near the highend emissions early. Developing economies protects against weather. Our best path is high emissions early, focusing on transition to nuclear and natural gas and a mix of renewables as #AntiFragileEnergy policy.

    [Reminder we should not be relying on natural gas for heat, peaking power, and baseload. Too many eggs in one basket.

    A long and deep cold spell could cost lives. NG supply should be high capacity, but low use. Baseload should be nuke, some coal, renew, and small amount of NG.]

  38. Joe - the non climate scientist

    AAron comment – “Reminder we should not be relying on natural gas for heat, peaking power, and baseload. Too many eggs in one basket.”

    I agree with the foresight of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Currently it is a mix of natural gas, coal nuclear, hydro, wind and solar. The Texas Feb 2021 is a good example.

    40% of gas shut down while 90% of wind and solar shut down. Image what would have happened if the north american continent was all wind and solar during that freeze. Instead of 700 dead – it would have been ?

    • One thing that I hope will not happen when the next winter storm hits is ERCOT will not cut the power to the well and pipeline network. As I pointed out at the time the oil and gas industry never complied with the law requiring they have a ‘priority infrastructure’ form on file at ERCOT so they would be prioritized to stay online. Even when they decided to shed load they ignored the fact that +90% of the grid has smartmeters they could have put on a rolling 4hr on/off cycle that would have saved many lives and property loses. This was a self-inflicted crisis.

      • At one time oil well pumps were powered by “poppin’ John’ engines run on natural gas from the oil field itself. Now it runs on electricity. Sometimes, progress isn’t.

      • I remember those pump jacks😁. They had a strange pop-pop-pop rhythm cycle. The can still freeze up due to condensation in the pipes. One caught fire northwest of here near Possum Kingdom lake back in the 90s and burned down several houses. If you lived near one you hated them.

      • True, the noise. I suppose a more modern version could incorporate a muffler and heating system. I understand the economics. Electric motors are standardized and relatively cheap. The Texas grid and oilfield simply weren’t prepared for that degree of cold. It is a relatively rare event. How much money should be spent to gird the grid against rare occurrences? Put another way, how much more per month are we willing to spend for a grid that can withstand those rare events?

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  41. Matthew R Marler

    Planning Engineer,

    Thank you for your essay.

  42. When a battery plant can produce 2,200 mw of uninterrupted power 24/7 for 60 years, something along the line of, oh.. I don’t know.. Let’s say Diablo Canyon then we’re on to something.. But until that happens.. Solar and wind is pure fantasy..

  43. geoffrey Williams

    The renewable wind and solar story is rapidly falling apart and it will leave so many nations the poorer . .

  44. Geoffrey Williams

    The renewable wind and solar dream is rapidly disintegrating.
    It will leave many nations the poorer and many decades to recover . .

  45. Europe listened to the Green Energy Extremists, building out wind and solar whilst failing to ensure local supplies of fossil fuels. Now that misinformed decision threatens to break up the EU itself.

    Energy supplies could prove to be a test for Europe’s solidarity this winter if rationing is needed. Germany and the UK have raised concerns about flows of electricity between countries petering out if it’s cold and there’s not much wind. French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that solidarity must be upheld.

    “For me, it’s essential that we react as Europeans, that is to say, together,” Macron said in an interview with Czech newspaper Hospodarske Noviny.
    Supplier Impact

    There are concerns that a price cap would make Europe less attractive to exporters of pipeline gas like Norway and liquefied natural gas from Asia. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said experts need to weigh in on how a price cap would affect the market, adding that “we need to make sure this measure doesn’t impact suppliers important for us such as Norway.”

  46. Pingback: Das Verbreitungs-Problem, Teil I: Wind und Solar – je mehr man macht, umso schwieriger wird es | EIKE - Europäisches Institut für Klima & Energie

  47. Pingback: Das Verbreitungs-Problem, Teil I: Wind und Solar – je mehr man macht, umso schwieriger wird es – Aktuelle Nachrichten

  48. Humanity always finds a way…
    “Humanity has had a pretty good run so far. In the last two hundred years, world GDP per capita has increased by almost fourteen times…
    But predictions of catastrophic shortages virtually never come true. Agricultural productivity has grown faster than Malthus realized was possible. And oil production, after a temporary decline, recently hit at an all-time high…

    One reason is that predictions of shortages are based on conservative estimates from only proven reserves. Another is that when a resource really is running out, we transition off of it—as, in the 01800s, we switched our lighting from whale oil to kerosene.

    But the deeper reason is that there’s really no such thing as a natural resource. All resources are artificial. They are a product of technology. And economic growth is ultimately driven, not by material resources, but by ideas.”

  49. Hi Planning Engineer, could you comment on the effectiveness including cost effectiveness of using specialized inverters to help wind and solar provide essential grid services.

    • Aplanningengineer

      Paul – you need someone more specialized. I hope technological improvements with these approaches will help. Quick scan of the report indicates this is pretty preliminary. I may have missed things and may be too hash, but this is my initial take. Some indication of what “works” but not really how well. No idea of costs for extra capability to be there all the time but only used for grid services. standby wind is wasted 24/7 except for service, rotating machines can exceed their average capability for the bursts that are needed by the system. standby wind is wasted.

      I would like to see a real proof of concept type study, I’ve been retired for a number of years and they was a lot of talk before I retired about wind emulating essential grid services. So this early stage analysis tells me progress is slow. Challenges are big. But someday. Maybe. In theory.

      • From my understanding of wind providing grid support functions, the proposal was that they be held back and only generate at about 80% of the load they could do with that wind force. Then they could go up to full load if they sensed the frequency was dropping. Several problems with this proposal. It was only a paper study – no understanding of voltage regulation and inertia. If the wind wasn’t blowing, 20% of nothing is nothing. And they wanted to be paid for running their machines underloaded all the time.
        So it was invariably written by academics with no practical experience of grid or generation.
        The CAISO test was an actual test using a wind farm. However, it was using GE turbines which are not common. I am not sure that the major suppliers on the market have plant with the required characteristics and equipment – the others are built very cheaply so their generators are crude.
        The last point of the conclusion is telling “The project team considered testing the capability of the Tule WPP to provide synthetic inertia; however, this test was not completed because of the cost and labor required to upgrade controls in all 57 turbines at the plant. In addition, the project team did not
        view the inertial response from wind power as an essential service at the present time because the Western Interconnection does not anticipate an inertia deficiency in the
        near future. When this test is completed in the future, an addendum to this report will be published.”
        The fact that this proposal did not go into grid rules tells one that there were undocumented issues.

      • Thank you for your and Chris’s replies.
        I think the study does show that wind and solar could provide essential grid services when running slightly curtailed and with the control equipment. I don’t know the extra cost of that equipment but balance of systems have been the bulk of the installation cost for solar projects for a while so I think it might already be somewhat accounted for in the Levelized cost of Energy.
        Your post got me trying to find recent data. A couple of charts were informative.
        1. California has too much solar and has been struggling with negative prices mid day for years now. Policy changes seem to be helping to improve things slightly. See negative pricing tab here.
        2. I checked the real time price yesterday at noon California time.
        The cost was generally $50/MWHr throughout CAISO but it was -$10/MWHr throughout Utah. It made me think that CAISO was paying Utah to take their spare capacity. CAISO readily admits that they have been trying to manage overcapacity by sending it to nearby states during the day.
        3. I think the most telling graph was graph 10 from this report.
        I think it agrees with what you wrote. Additional solar is not cost effective on the grid after only a few percent penetration. California is totally overboard. It should have stopped adding solar capacity in 2014 and that even with the LCOE falling by a factor of 3 since then.

      • Paul
        I don’t think you can say slightly curtailed. They were looking at 10-20% load drop of rating to give reserve. Doesn’t sound that much, except the plant is often only running 30-40% of rating.
        All the LCOE costs I have seen take no account into control, transmission lines or the cost to the grid to put in equipment to cover the lines going from heavily loaded to light or no load. Those factors there make wind a lot more expensive than gas or even coal plants.

  50. Matthew R Marler

    Off-topic, but …

    For those of you who like modeling weather phenomena (actually, the measurements) with stochastic partial differential equations, there’s this: Statistical Modeling for Spatio-Temporal Data from Stochastic Convection-Diffusion Processes;
    by Xiao Liu, Kyongmin Yeo and Siyuan Lu;
    Journal of the American Statistical Association, 2022, Vol 117, pp 1482-1499.

    And for those of you who like generalized extreme value distributions applied to weather data, there’s this:
    Approximate Baysian Inference for Analysis of Spatiotemporal Flood Frequency data;
    by Arni V. Johanneson and 4 others;
    Annals of Applied Statistics, 2022, Vol 16, pp905 – 935.

    fwiw, I recommend them.

  51. Let’s see, is the water usage considered an external cost? Also, I’m thinking those batteries won’t be recycled either. Sounds like someone needs to invent a lithium oxide capture system :)

    Electric car owners have seen their rides catch fire after becoming waterlogged during Hurricane Ian and it can take hours to put the conflagrations out, a top Florida official warned Thursday.

    As the Sunshine State recovers from the punishing Category 4 storm that made landfall last week, first responders have faced further destruction from electric vehicles that were submerged in water from the extensive flooding and later caught fire, Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, said on Twitter.

    “There’s a ton of EVs disabled from Ian,” he tweeted. “As those batteries corrode, fires start.

    “That’s a new challenge that our firefighters haven’t faced before. At least on this kind of scale.”

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  53. Mathew S. Molk

    A touch off topic,,,,but just exactly what are fossil fuels?….Maybe “Stored sunlight” from the plants and animals of days gone by?

    So let’s think about that from a global warming stand point. . Unless us science deniers are wrong about the FOSSIL evidence of a tropical world of yesteryear I would say the plants and dinosaurs did pretty damn good in a warmer world. If anything as a totally foolish engineer with over 40 years behind me I’d conclude that it was global cooling that rubbed out the dinosaurs and killed off the massive amount of vegetation that flourished on the planet back then. – I know none of that can be true, though, because the 19 year old wokies tell me a warmer earth is a dead earth. ,,,, but just on the chance they are wrong just how bad IS global warming and why do we even need ANY unreliable high buck solar and wind power systems.

    OH,, one more thing. The anti nuc wokies say nuclear power is WAY to dangerous. – with only ONE failure incident in the US ever, that actually caused no problems and the cancer rate around that one accident is less then the average in the rest of the state. ,,,, ZERO deaths form commercial nuclear power accidents since Shippingport went on line in 1954. There have been over 40 serious wind accidents in less then half that time and Rooftop solar is actually more dangerous then Chernobyl per watthour produced. ,,,,, Let the woke crew put that in their crack pipe and smoke it.

  54. Marty Anderson

    Very interesting thread. It is directly related to an older one on land use. The land required to mine, melt, manufacture, sell, use, scrap, and recycle “green” technologies – is one of the largest barriers to global deployment of these new technologies – and will make innovation harder and harder as surprises and failures happen.

    Several months back I made a comment relating to this land use and the absence of knowledge on recycling new “clean” technologies.

    One frequent poster above wrote that I new little about the technology systems. Rather than comment on that, I’d like the group to try to answer this simple question, which is crucial to all the assumptions about the future of EV’s and therefore the theme of this post – new energy land use.

    Assume BOTH gasoline and Electric vehicles take up 130 to 230 square feet of space – then:
    A: If a typical gasoline vehicle takes 3-9 minutes to refuel for 175-500 miles of driving…and..
    B: A typical Electric vehicle takes 15-180 minutes to recharge for 90-400 miles of driving…
    How much land is required for recharging the parc of Electric vehicles if they replace 30% of the total fleet of vehicles in use in the United States?
    And – exactly WHERE will this land be?
    Really. Try this. And maybe post your answer.
    This question is central to the penetration of ANY EV technologies (including the recycling of e-waste)
    Give this a shot.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      marty – Since you mention land use

      Marc jacobson’s 2022 study for 100% has a deceptive claim regarding land use for wind turbines. According to the data in his supplemental report, He only includes the concrete base supporting the wind turbine tower and the land covered by the ground level cabling.

      He doesnt include the land beneath the swirling blades, or any buffer zone because that land is still available for crops and cattle raising, Ignoring the decreased productivity of the land,

      Talk about honesty !

  55. UK-Weather Lass

    I have always enjoyed the contributions made by Planning Engineer. As an author we find in PE’s writings expertise and practical know how the two things which aid and encourage joined up thinking for policy makers looking towards the future. A policy maker receiving good advice and guidance is worth exponentially more than all the countless others acting upon popular fictions.

    Watts’s invention of the condenser was an amazing step forward saving fuel and miner’s lives as steam engine efficiency improved so successfully the steam engine would spread to industries, construction, transport both road and railways and to the production of electricity. It was possible because people had expertise, practical know how and experience. The dots simply needed joining up.

    Not so with wind and solar. Except for a few isolated pumping projects where hydro technology has been successfully deployed wind and solar are not helping electricity users. The much needed energy storage alternative is nowhere near having been solved and reservoirs are still our best ‘batteries’. And so why did we get to the point of spending huge amounts of money on technology that is not only flawed but needs huge conventional backup to support it when it fails? The only answer can only be idiocy of the lowest order.

    Rationally if we discover a viable ‘battery’ with grid safety, stability and reliability in use then conventional electricity production (all forms) takes another leap in efficiency almost equivalent to Watts’s condenser since we will not be wasting so much fuel in ever changing demand periods. Wind and solar may have local application which is fine but we will not be throwing good money after bad searching for a solution that just makes us feel good for maybe a decade or so provided we don’t look too hard at the environment we have destroyed. Only fools would believe otherwise.

    Thank you Planning Engineer for sharing with us the benefits of your expertise and know how. I always look forward to your postings.

  56. Very interesting post. What sort of percentage of wind power can be tolerated fairly readily today? I’m thinking about the UK grid.

    An article I was reading gave the impression that gas is an essential component in a grid running renewables. This did not surprise me because there is smoothing and balancing needed to maintain grid stability. But the article suggested that a “renewables” grid depended on rather a lot of gas. It gave the impression that to suggest that the grid was mainly using renewables was misleading. It was really gas generation.

    Germany is an interesting case. Their Energiewende project is the transition from fossil fuels (gas) to renewables and I understand that after more than two decades of huge investment in wind turbines, they now have excess electricity when the wind is strong. Yet when the gas stopped flowing from Russia, it plunged Germany into a huge energy crisis. Obviously they have to match demand, but the extent of their continued reliance on gas surprised me. I began to wonder about the article that I read and whether there was any truth in its claim.

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  59. PE You might be interest in this report.
    The System Operator in NZ puts it out every two years. Being an isolated grid, there is no import/export. The country is in the process of more electrification and replacing thermal with wind (geothermal are their equivalent of nukes in function). They have looked at every transmission line & grid node, then detailed what needs to be done. The costs are a lot higher to uprate than people thought. Even capital replacement budget is big.

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  61. A problem with solar energy is they get most energy during peak solar hours which 6 hours per day. But with satellite one could reflect sunlight at solar farm giving them peak solar hour power sunlight so it’s 12 hours instead of 6 hours- without really getting too complicated. And limited solar farms to low latitudes so satellites could be at zero inclination orbits
    But if want make more complicated you could bounce sunlight around in space environment so as to give 24 hours and solar farms could anywhere on Earth surface.
    But if double their power and have 12 rather than 6 hours {less power storage issues] solar energy could be viable on the Earth surface. And you also do things keep the solar panels cool, so one simply throw more intense sunlight- so double solar energy they get during peak solar hours and double it for added 6 hours.

    • Another harebrained, pie-in-the-sky money waster.

      • You might be correct, but your comment’s tone makes it appear you have read a cost benefit analysis–which I doubt.

      • Oh, I’m sorry. I must have missed gbaikie’s link to that. Silly me.

    • To bounce significant light energy around like that (reflecting over thousands of miles, using much smaller than astronomical [i.e., practical] sized mirrors) would be impossible. Due to the quick divergence, post reflection, of the heterogeneous-frequency light received from the sun, too little energy, effectively zero, would arrive at the destination — unless that light energy is first converted to laser light at the orbiting solar power station, prior to being relayed elsewhere.

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  65. My issue it not to sell, rather I just pointing out it probably will be done within perhaps, 10 years.
    As far as when you could consider it.
    Starship will test launch within few months. Many are eager to see if it will work.
    That test launch is just one step in the direction of whether it works.
    I would give it a year, before doing any detail plan.

    Plus there a lot stuff happening other than what SpaceX is doing.
    One thing about it, is could need zero inclination launch site, unless you want use the near inclination launch site of European launch site.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      I am with Jim2 on this one – Gbaikie idea/starship’s idea seems both hairbrained and likely to increase global warming.

      throughout the millions of years of history of this planet, one half this has gotten sunshine and one half the planet has been in the day – ie the daily rotation of the earth. If I understand the engineering, a satellite will capture the suns rays and reflect them back to earth at the solar farm, in effect increasing the amount of sunlight the hits the earth. The additional sun rays that would be redirected back to earth are sunrays that would not have been assorbed.

  66. “. If I understand the engineering, a satellite will capture the suns rays and reflect them back to earth at the solar farm, in effect increasing the amount of sunlight the hits the earth. The additional sun rays that would be redirected back to earth are sunrays that would not have been absorbed.”

    Well the dingbats who think sunlight is free and say solar panels only need a small portion of earth surface to power all our energy needs- are somewhat correct. Let’s look:
    What if we covered the Sahara with solar panels?
    “If 1.2% of the desert—around 110,000 square kilometers—is covered with solar panels, it would be enough to satisfy the entire world’s energy needs”

    And Sahara is tiny portion of earth surface: 9.2 million square km
    Earth is 510 million, 1.85% is 9.435 million square so 1.2 % of 1.85% of earth is small area [0.0222:%].
    And if reflect sunlight you would get same energy with 1/2 much land area and 1/2 as much solar panels. [0.0111%]
    and if double watt [which should then cool- though you really should be cooling any solar panels, anyhow {but makes it more costly- and no one actually thinks solar energy works- so why even try to do right]. Then need 1/4 as much land and 1/4 as much solar panels [0.00555% of earth surface].
    But idea we going to use: 0.0222:% or 0.0111% or 0.00555%
    of earth surface is utter fantasy. Let’s say as much 20% of our total energy need: 0.00111% of earth’s surface.
    But to partially solve cloudy weather problem, you could have redundant solar farms and select the least cloudy to reflect sunlight to.
    Getting 12 rather 6 hours is quite important.
    Or with Mars you get 12 hours rather 6 hours, and though Mars distance receives 60%, solar panels would on Mars.
    Another reason is the Mars planet is smaller, so you want a grid
    that is power by more the time zone, it’s shorter transmission distance. Also one can as much solar energy at higher latitudes
    as at near equator, and higher latitudes have much shorter distances separating time zones. And other factors, make possible to have grid solar power for more 16 hours of a 24 day
    fairly easily.
    And the spots in lunar polar region where you sunlight 85% of time- and using much smaller grid, could have 95% of time.
    Of course with Geostationary orbit, it’s 95% of time without using a grid. But you make a grid and get 100%. And could vast solar farms, and need a telescope to see it from Earth.
    Earth L-1 is better. Venus L-1 is a lot better.

      • aplanningengineer

        Sure it’s a great development, but the solar thing is a bit overhyped in many media. They are inland a good ways. Excluding the impacts of tornados, the impact of hurricanes drops a bait with every inland mile. Looking at their close neighbors the biggest concern I could see centered on mobile homes. FPL reported they lost no generating resources or transmission elements (did lose a lot of distribution lines) in the state. So no surprise an inland neighborhood with underground distribution next to a a big transmission station suffered no power outages. Had the solar located by them completely been unavailable for any reason- their power would still have been uninterrupted. Looks like they didn’t loose any shingles, crack or break any windows, maybe didn’t even loose any direct TV attachments. They may be incredibly resilient, but this was not much of a test.

      • The development was resilient, because the design was a holistic approach to a project. That holistic approach is missing in many a project.
        Solar are overhyped, but not unlike other options. Hype detracts from good design, many times in ancillary plant that eventually contribute to failure ( ) In solar, support structures that need to resist winds may fail due to mix of materials eg steel or aluminum structures held by stainless bolts. But that type of problem I frequently found in ff power plants. And similar to the Fukushima problem, a Black start plant that itself relied on electric power to start.

      • Curious George

        How much does tit cost to be resilient?

      • Equally, how much does it cost not to be resilient?

        It costs to be resilient, and even there, there is a limit to how far one can go to cover eventualities in a holistic approach. There are many risks to consider, but then again there must be some consideration of the risks. In much of what I hear risk consideration is missing – simply because those dictating just do not understand the subject technicalities to start with. Then there are a host of other fields with their problems; weather, international politics, source of fuels, changing social environment (Enron comes to mind); etc. The writing on the wall for what is happening today was clearly evident years ago.

    • Or we can just continue to use fossil fuels while we develop nuclear power. That will be cheaper AND better.

      • Or we continue to explore space- particularly the Moon and Mars, and get roughly an infinite amount of energy for millions of years.
        And most people assume if we have an infinite amount of energy, humans will each [per capita]. But I think using the space environment allow lower energy use per capita.
        Anyhow as I said, most people assume if humans have more energy and cheaper energy, humans will use more energy.
        And as I said, I don’t agree. But I would say [and think most will agree] that current use of space [the global satellite market] lowers energy costs.

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  72. A new paper attempting to quantify the FCOE (Full Cost Of Energy) for various technologies:

    That’s sort of hard to do for wind and solar at high levels of penetration, since there are no empirical examples.

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