Most comments at this site tend to have a perspective generally consistent with my own. But sometimes a post will attract comments from people with a very different point of view. That occurred on a post earlier this week titled “Two More Contributions On The impossibility Of Electrifying Everything Using Only Wind, Solar, And Batteries.”
That post and the one immediately preceding it (“Calculating The Full Costs Of Electrifying Everything Using Only Wind, Solar, And Batteries”) had both focused on a particular issue inherent in the project of replacing dispatchable carbon-based sources of energy (coal, oil, natural gas) with intermittent “renewables” (wind, solar). That issue is that, as the intermittent renewables come to provide a greater percentage of electrical generation and as dispatchable fossil fuels get phased out, there is an accelerating need for enormously expensive energy storage to provide the electricity at times when the renewables go quiet. The two posts linked to detailed studies written by four different authors, each of whom had provided a detailed description of their methodology. Two of the four authors even provided spreadsheets, so that a reader who believes the assumptions of the author are wrong can change those assumptions and derive a new cost estimate from the altered assumptions.
The import of all of these studies is that as renewables come to dominate the mix of electricity generation, and particularly as their share of generation goes above 50% and on towards 100%, and fossil fuel backup gets phased out, then the cost of necessary storage becomes far and away the dominant cost of the overall system. Therefore, any meaningful proposal to replace fossil fuel generation with renewables must grapple with this issue.
So what is the solution that the dissenting commenters offer for the problem of increasing need for expensive storage? They don’t offer any at all. Instead, they appear to think that the whole problem can be assumed away or ignored.
The dissenting commenters were three in number, and posted under the pseudonyms “Johnathan Galt,” “GKam,” and “reneawbleguy.” Galt and GKam each posted only one comment, but “reneawbleguy” posted over forty.
The gist of all these comments really comes down to the same thing, namely that the renewables are rapidly becoming cheaper than fossil fuels to generate electricity, if they are not so already, and therefore fossil fuels are a dying industry. Mixed in with this point is a good deal of snide and accusatory language, essentially asserting that anyone who may disagree as to the relative full cost of renewables must necessarily be both ignorant and politically motivated. (e.g., GKam: “More science nonsense from this group of political hacks. . . . Give it up You have already lost.”). Meanwhile, all three fail to deal in any real way with the storage problem inherent in expansion of generation from the renewables.
Here is “reneawbleguy” on the relative cost of fossil fuel electricity generation versus renewables:
Energy costs savings. RE will be cheaper that FF business as usual. 10.43 cents per kw-hr FF 7.81 cents per kw-hr RE. Dollars into our pockets is a clear difference favoring RE. Clear difference.
Money cost savings per person.
No source is cited, but I would agree that approximately these numbers can be found in some studies of relative costs of the renewables versus fossil fuels. But the studies that get these numbers do so by ignoring the entire storage problem completely.
Similarly, from Galt:
[T]he only consideration to consumers is, was, and always will be “what is the delivered cost to me?” That is neatly quantified in Lazard’s excellent publication providing LCOE.
As I have pointed out on this blog numerous times, the Lazard numbers for “LCOE” (Levelized Cost of Energy) specifically omit any inherent costs of necessary storage. Since the cost of storage is the dominant cost of the all-renewable system, LCOE is the opposite of a “neat quantification” of comparative electricity generation costs, and rapidly becomes completely misleading as the percentage generated from renewables increases beyond 50%.
GKam is even less sophisticated, simply relying on his own personal experience with a home getting its power from rooftop solar panels:
My entire household and both electric cars are powered by the PV system on our roof, as "Galt" can tell you, and it gives us free power having paid back in three years.
GKam does not enlighten us as to how he gets his electricity at night, or overcast days in the winter, or whether he has purchased batteries sufficient to store up power from the summer for use during those long winter nights. If he lives in the United States, it is almost certain that he relies on his local grid — in other words, on fossil fuel backup, with perhaps some nuclear thrown in — for power during those times.
Of the three dissenting commenters, the only one who addresses the storage issue at all is Galt. He asserts, with great confidence, that new battery technologies are coming to make the storage problem go away:
At least two separate technologies, Ambri and Form Energy, will almost certainly have their first large factories up and running within 5 years. Both use common materials (antimony and calcium, iron), both are environmentally safe. Ambri’s battery is 100% recyclable, and in theory may last more than 100 years. Form Energy’s product is likewise 100% recyclable, should cost only 20% that of Lithium Ion, and although the lifespan is not yet advertised it has the potential for similar lifetime of use (simply a “reversible rusting” process).
So the proposal is that a government-mandated total transformation of the entire energy system of our economy should depend on one or another of two not-yet-invented-or demonstrated-at-scale technologies, which may or may not work, and the cost projections of which may be wildly off. Galt does not do any actual numerical calculations. But at a cost of “20% that of Lithium ion” the storage systems he is talking about would still imply a cost of around $100 trillion in Ken Gregory’s spreadsheet, some 5 times current U.S. GDP. Shouldn’t this be acknowledged as a problem? And how can you advocate use of Lazard’s “LCOE” numbers for relative costs of energy sources when those calculations omit a $100 trillion item applicable to wind and solar but not to fossil fuels?
So I say to these three commenters: it’s time to step up your game. Don’t just make unsupported assertions that wind and solar are cheaper. Give us a spreadsheet with a numerical demonstration of how much storage a fully wind/solar/storage electricity system for the U.S. will need, what technology will be used to provide it, and how much that will cost. Without that, you are just dealing in fantasy. I for one will be happy to have the all-renewable system if someone can demonstrate that it can be built and will work at reasonable cost.