Green Energy Will Remain A Unicorn For Decades

Net Zero fanatics are wilfully blind to the problem of energy storage

new paper published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (“GWPF”) warns that renewable energy policies being pursued around the world are unrealistic.  That’s because renewables-only grids require large amounts of electricity storage to make them viable. However, the world currently lacks any power storage technology that is both affordable and scalable.

The paper aimed to shine a light on the critical aspects of the energy storage problem that governments have been wilfully ignoring.  Its author is Francis Menton who retired after 31 years as a partner of a major international law firm and is now President of the American Friends of the GWPF.

Using an analogy, the paper describes the recklessness of those enforcing Net Zero:

The push toward Net Zero without a fully demonstrated and costed solution to the energy storage conundrum is analogous to jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, and assuming that the parachute will be invented, delivered and strapped on in mid-air in time to save you before you hit the ground.

The Energy Storage Conundrum, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, November 2022, pg. v


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The paper’s opening statement reads: “Advanced economies – including most of Europe, much of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and others – have embarked upon a quest to ‘decarbonise’ their economies and achieve ‘Net Zero’ emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

The Net Zero plans turn almost entirely on building large numbers of wind turbines and solar panels to replace generation facilities that use fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to produce electricity.

But wind and solar facilities provide only intermittent power, which must be fully backed up by something – fossil fuel generators, nuclear plants, batteries, or some other form of energy storage – so that customer demand can be matched at times of low wind and sun, thus keeping the grid from failing. The governments in question have then mostly or entirely ruled out fossil fuels and nuclear as the backup, leaving some form of storage as the main or only remaining option. They have then simply assumed that storage in some form will become available. Their consideration of how much storage will be needed, how it will work, and how much it will cost has been entirely inadequate.

Governments are simply setting forth blindly, without any real idea of how or whether the system they mandate might ultimately work or how much it will cost. The truth is that, barring some sort of miracle, there is no possibility that any suitable storage technology will be feasible, let alone at affordable cost, in any timeframe relevant to the announced plans of the politicians, if ever.

The Energy Storage Conundrum, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, November 2022, Introduction

In one of Menton’s estimates, the cost of providing lithium-ion batteries for a grid could be more than ten times Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”). Moreover, because the batteries wear out, the expenditure would need to be repeated every few years. Despite this, policymakers are ploughing ahead with the deployment of wind and solar, hoping that scientists will come up with something to save the day.

The paper consists of seven sections covering the problems, requirements, cost and two half-hearted attempts at Net Zero systems – both of which have been, and continue to be, abject failures.

Section 3 looks at the current plans for acquisition of energy storage in some of the countries that say they are on the path to Net Zero. In all cases, the capacity that will be delivered by the 2030s is trivial – typically from around 0.1% to at most 0.2% of the amount that is necessary if Net Zero is to be achieved.

Section 7 discusses the truly shocking fact that politicians and governments have committed their people to Net Zero goals without any kind of demonstration project that shows that the goal can be achieved technologically, let alone at a reasonable cost.  Half-hearted efforts to build such demonstration projects have incurred unaffordable costs, without getting close to the Net Zero goal, leaving no reason to think that such a system can ever succeed.

The paper concluded:

Politicians throughout the developed world, urged on by environmental activists, talk with utmost earnestness about their plans for Net Zero, and have committed and are further committing their citizens and taxpayers to tens and hundreds of billions of dollars of spending to achieve this goal. Yet from their heads-in-the-sand approach to the energy storage conundrum, one would have to conclude that the entire effort is either wholly unserious or breathtakingly incompetent.

It is abundantly clear that no jurisdiction can get anywhere near Net Zero on the current path of just building more wind and solar generators and paying little to no attention to the problem of energy storage. Down that path one quickly comes to the current predicament of Germany, which has plenty of wind and solar generation capacity to supply its needs on a windy and sunny day, but almost no storage for when the night comes and the wind stops blowing. Germany has thus made itself dependent on fossil fuel backup, mostly in the form of Russian natural gas. And now, with the Ukraine war and the shutdown of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, it has hit the Net Zero wall. With winter approaching, there is no time to acquire batteries to serve as backup, even if any existed that could technically do the job. Moreover, fully replacing natural gas backup with battery storage is a multi-trillion-dollar project, likely costing a multiple of the country’s GDP, and thus completely infeasible. Realistically, Germany will never build any amount of storage that is meaningful relative to the scope of its problem. It is only a question of time until it gives up its Net Zero quest, with the other fantasist countries shortly to follow.

The Energy Storage Conundrum, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, November 2022, Conclusion

Three Policy Implications

In a blog, Menton discussed “the three most obvious policy implications [of The Energy Storage Conundrum] that nobody in power seems to have figured out.” We describe two of them below.

“I apologise if these implications may seem terribly obvious to regular readers, or for that matter to people who have just thought about these issues for, say, five minutes,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, our powers-that-be don’t seem to have those five minutes to figure out the obvious.”

Wind turbines and solar panels can never provide energy security

The first point Menton made was that more and more wind turbines and solar panels are essentially useless because they can never fully supply an electrical grid or provide energy security without full dispatchable backup.

In the US the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” of 2022 provides some hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies and tax credits to build more wind turbines and solar panels.  Simultaneously, the Biden Administration, directed by a series of Executive Orders from the President, proceeds with an all-of-government effort to suppress the dispatchable backup known as fossil fuels.  Does somebody think this can actually work?  It can’t.

A press release on 6 December from the UN’s International Energy Agency (“IEA”), touted how renewable energy sources – i.e., wind and solar – are being “turbocharged” to provide countries with “energy security” stated:

The global energy crisis is driving a sharp acceleration in installations of renewable power, with total capacity growth worldwide set to almost double in the next five years …  “Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalise on their energy security benefits. The world is set to add as much renewable power in the next 5 years as it did in the previous 20 years,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Renewable power’s growth is being turbocharged as countries seek to strengthen energy security, IEA, 6 December 2022

Wind and solar power provide the opposite of energy security, Menton wrote. Back in the real world, just a few days after the IEA issued that nonsense, on 11 December the UK got a taste of the kind of “energy security” provided by wind and solar power when a cold snap at the darkest part of the year came along with a prolonged period of calm in the winds – a typical winter occurrence.

Live data from the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator showed that wind power was providing just 3% of Great Britain’s electricity generation on Sunday [11 December]. Gas-fired power stations provided 59%, while nuclear power and electricity imports both accounted for about 15%.

UK power prices hit record high amid cold snap and lack of wind power, The Guardian, 11 December 2022

And what was the inevitable consequence of the wind conking out just when it was needed most?

UK power prices have hit record levels as an icy cold snap and a fall in supplies of electricity generated by wind power have combined to push up wholesale costs.  The day-ahead price for power for delivery on Monday reached a record £675 a megawatt-hour on the Epex Spot SE exchange. The price for power at 5-6pm, typically around the time of peak power demand each day, passed an all-time high of £2,586 a megawatt-hour.

UK power prices hit record high amid cold snap and lack of wind power, The Guardian, 11 December 2022

Congratulations to the UK on achieving this level of “energy security.”

Carbon tax is a terrible idea

The third point Menton made was that a carbon tax is a terrible idea. GWPF is in the process of sponsoring a back-and-forth debate on carbon taxes to address the issue of climate change.  The gist of the debate is that CO2 is not a pollutant and poses no danger to humanity – therefore a tax designed to suppress it is unjustified.

“I agree with that argument,” Menton wrote.  “But an equally valid and independent line of reasoning is that, because of impracticability of energy storage and the consequent futility of trying to make wind and solar generation work without fossil fuels, a carbon tax can only serve to drive up the price of energy to consumers without meaningfully changing the use of carbon fuels.”

Read the full blog ‘Policy Implications of The Energy Storage Conundrum’ HERE.

Featured image: Germany’s Renewable Energy Disaster, Wind & Solar Deemed ‘Technological Failures’, Stop These Things, 13 August 2018 (NER: This link should be opened for a detailed review of the ongoing Green Energy failure in Germany.)


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