Today my long-awaited energy storage paper was officially published on the website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Here is a link. The paper is 22 pages long in the form in which they have published it plus another few pages for an Executive Summary and table of contents. They have given it the title “The Energy Storage Conundrum.”
Most of the points made in the paper have been made previously on this blog in one form or another. However, there is a good amount of additional detail in the paper that has never appeared here. I’ll provide one example of that today, and more of same in coming days.
The main point of the paper is that an electrical grid powered mostly by intermittent generators like wind and sun requires full backup from some source; and if that source is to be stored energy, the amounts of storage required are truly staggering. When you do the simple arithmetic to calculate the storage requirements and the likely costs, it becomes obvious that the entire project is completely impractical and unaffordable. The activists and politicians pushing us toward this new energy system of wind/solar/storage are either being intentionally deceptive or totally incompetent.
If you follow the news on this subject at a general level, you might find this conclusion surprising. After all, there are frequent announcements that this or that jurisdiction has entered a contract to purchase some seemingly large amount of batteries for grid-level storage. The Report cites data from consultancy Wood Mackenzie as to announced plans or contracts for storage acquisition in all major European countries, and cites other reports as to announced plans from California and New York in the U.S. The title of the April 2022 Wood Mackenzie paper on Europe certainly gives the impression that these people have the situation under control and know what they are doing: “Europe’s Grid-scale Energy Storage Capacity Will Expand 20-fold by 2031.” Impressive!
But this is one of those subjects on which you have to look at the actual numbers to evaluate whether the plans make any sense. In this situation, you need to compare the amount of energy storage that would be required for full backup of an almost-entirely wind/solar grid (with fossil fuels excluded), to the actual quantity of grid-scale energy storage being acquired.
Consider the case of Germany, the country that has gone the farthest of any in the world down the road to “energy transition.” My Report presents two different calculations of the energy storage requirement for Germany in a world of a wind/solar grid and no fossil fuels allowed (both of which calculations have been previously covered on this blog). One of the calculations, by a guy named Roger Andrews, came to a requirement of approximately 25,000 GWh; and the other, by two authors named Ruhnau and Qvist, came to a higher figure of 56,000 GWh. The two use similar but not identical methodology, and somewhat different assumptions. Clearly there is a large range of uncertainty as to the actual requirement; but the two calculations cited give a reasonable range for the scope of the problem.
To give you an idea of just how much energy storage 25,000 (or 56,000) GWh is, here is a rendering (also from my Report) of a grid-scale battery storage facility under construction in Queensland, Australia by Vena Energy. The facility in the rendering is intended to provide 150 MWh of storage.
Remember that 150 MWh is only 0.15 of one GWh. In other words, it would take about 167,000 of these facilities to provide 25,000 GWh of storage, and about 373,000 of them to get to the 56,000 GWh in the larger estimate.
And against these projections of a storage requirement in the range of tens of thousands of GWh, what are Germany’s plans as presented in this “20-fold expansion” by 2031? From my Report:
In the case of Germany, Wood Mackenzie states that the planned energy storage capacity for 2031, following the 20-fold expansion, is 8.81GWh.
Rather than tens of thousands of GWh, it’s single digits. How does that stack up in percentage terms against the projected requirements?:
In other words, the amount of energy storage that Germany is planning for 2031 is between 0.016% and 0.036% of what it actually would need. This does not qualify as a serious effort to produce a system that might work.
The story is the same in the other jurisdictions covered in the Report. And remember, these are the jurisdictions that consider themselves the leaders and the vanguard in the transition to renewable energy.
For example, New York, with an estimated storage requirement for a mainly-renewables grid of 10,000-15,000 GWh, is said by trade magazine Utility Dive to be “forging ahead” with plans to procure some 6 GW of grid storage (presumably translating into about 24 GWh). That would come to around 0.2% of what is needed. Unless, of course, New York simultaneously “forges ahead” with its plans to triple the demand on the grid by electrifying all automobiles and home heating; in that case the 24 GWh would be back down to less than 0.1% of the storage requirement.
California? The Report cites another article from Utility Dive stating that the California Public Utilities Commission has ordered the state’s power providers to collectively procure by 2026 some 10.5 GW (or 42.0 GWh) of lithium-ion batteries for grid-scale storage:
The additional 10.5 GW of lithium-ion storage capacity, translating to at most about 42 GWh, would take California all the way to about 0.17% of the energy storage it would need to fully back up a wind/solar generation system.
However bad you might think this situation is, it’s worse. Am I the only person who has ever made these simple calculations? I certainly have never seen them anywhere else.
I would be very happy to be proved wrong about any and all of this. All I say is that the proponents of this miraculous fantasy energy future owe it to the rest of us to build a working demonstration project before forcing us all to adopt their utopian scheme at ruinous cost, only to find out that it won’t work and can’t work.
Here’s what tells you all you need to know: not only is there no working demonstration project anywhere in the world of the wind/solar/storage energy system, but there is none under construction and none even proposed. Instead, the proponents’ idea is that your entire state or country is to be the guinea pig for their dreams. After all, they are “saving the planet.” If there has ever previously been something this crazy in the history of the world, I certainly can’t name it.
UPDATE, December 2: A commenter points out that 150 MWh is 15% of one GWh, rather than 0.15%. That is correct. I have corrected the text. The number of 150 MWh facilities to get to 25,000 GWh or 56,000 GWh does not change.