The very prospect of a nation basing its entire energy security on intermittent, weather- and climate-dependent power sources ought to frighten any sane person.
[…] Instead of the promised nirvana of 100% renewable energy, the overhaul would inevitably end in chaos with exploding electricity costs, frequent blackouts, rationing of electricity consumption and repressive measures to cut energy consumption. Many power plants would most likely still be burning fossil fuels, as the country would not be able to get along without them.
Long before that, a powerful political backlash would likely have swept the Democratic Party out of power – along with anyone else identified with the plan. So what is so problematic about the “100% renewable” scenario?
First: the output of wind turbines and solar cells fluctuates over a wide range on time-scales of minutes, depending on weather conditions. Solar cell output varies depending on cloud cover and time of day, being zero at night.
Due to the erratic variations in wind strength, the average output of an onshore wind turbine is generally only about a third of its maximum rated capacity (the figure is about 38% for an offshore turbine). About 2000 typical-size 1.5 megawatt wind turbines are needed to generate as much average electric power as a standard one-gigawatt nuclear power plant. Unlike wind turbines, nuclear plants generate a constant, controllable flow of electricity.
To obtain a dependable supply based on wind and solar, supplementary electricity sources are needed to step in when their output drops. That costs money. In most present-day practice – where fossil fuels have not yet been banned – this is done mainly with the help of auxiliary gas turbines, diesel generators or – when nuclear plants are available – by “load-following” that constantly adjusts nuclear plant outputs. Load-following can work as long as the ratio of nuclear to wind-plus-solar is large enough.
Otherwise, the only alternative is to import electricity from somewhere else, assuming it is available when you need it, or to store part of the output of wind and solar sources and inject stored electricity back into the grid when their output falls. The most-cited option is to use batteries – a lot of them.
The second basic problem is the low power density of wind and solar energy. Aside from hurricanes and tornadoes, wind is a diffuse form of energy that requires large areas to “harvest” it. The same applies to sunlight on the surface of the Earth.
Compared to nuclear plants or state-of-the-art fossil fuel plants, wind and solar require hundreds of times as many individual units, hundreds of times more land area and tens of times larger amounts of steel, concrete and other materials to produce a given average power output….
We are constantly told that the cost of wind and solar energy has dropped dramatically and that they are already the cheapest power sources.
Common sense, and the electricity prices in California, Germany, and Denmark – which have all gone big on renewable energy – tell a different story, as do many independent studies. See for example the detailed study by Gordon Hughes of the University of Edinburgh, “Wind Power Economics – Rhetoric & Reality.”
The real costs of wind and solar are obscured by subsidized prices, renewable energy credits, production tax credits, green bond discounts, accelerated depreciation, property tax exemptions and tax credits.