Yes, I can appear hyperbolic, but I’ve joined the energy debate for most of my adult life. The first few years I was very nuanced, but this did not help. Then, when the subsidy racket started on large scale, I become a little more pointed. And since Fukushima, which allowed the anti-nuclear propagandists to kill nuclear power in many countries, I have decided that clarity is far more important than nuance. I call BS whenever I see it, and I do not attempt to soften my message. We need to put our foot down, or nothing will change. Anti-nuclearists need to feel hounded. They need to understand that they will be held to account sooner or later. That is why I call fraud when I see fraud, even though many might find the use of words like ‘fraud’ to be uncivilised or too heavyhanded. I don’t believe it is. It’s a matter of life and death now.
30% wind/solar would be the limit above which the costs for curtailment/storage start rising exponentially. Even before reaching 30%, profile costs start soaring already. Details can be found in the presentation and underlying report that I linked above.
Solar and wind power should only be installed along with a budget for funding their entire integration costs, and this total cost must be born entirely by the owner of the installations. This is the opposite of what is happening today. Today solar and wind power are financed almost completely by the public (and disproporitonately the poor, who pay the most relative to their income!), while the benefits are funneled into the pockets of the well-healed owners. This is a recipe for failure on multiple levels: environmental, social and financial. It’s a disgrace. It needs to be stopped immediately. See Spain as an example of how stopping this anti-social subsidy racket can be done quick and hard.
Environmental and economic constraints demand the building of cheap, clean energy. Solar and wind power have no role to play because they cannot deliver what is demanded, not now and not in the future. They only serve to complicate the task at hand, increase the cost of energy and magnify social inequality. Cui bono? Follow the money.
Brad Templeton, wizard of robocar thinking and strategy, also engages his active mind with challenges like GHG emissions. In this post Brad looks carefully at the logic of reducing coal burning. Most greens are focused on “feel good”, Brad shows how to be effective instead:
So while it is good to look at reducing all energy production that has problems, right now if you want to do something green, it’s a fair, if broad statement to say that the best way to do it is to stop the burning of coal.
What that means for people who don’t run power companies is that reducing electrical demand in a sub-grid that is heavy with coal (such as Chicago or West Virginia) is a fair bit better than doing it in a coal-light sub-grid like California. And doing it in a place like China would be even better.
There is an irony here. Californians tend, on average, to be more eco-conscious than others. This is the birthplace of the Sierra Club after all. And because it is natural for people to focus on where they live, you see lots of effort to conserve energy or use alternative energy in California. But the same efforts would get 65% more bang for the buck if they took place in the midwest or southwest. This calculator claims to report the CO2 cost of electrical production in each zip code. (…)
This conclusion will be disturbing for some. If you’re considering putting a solar panel on your roof in California, you would do 65% better at reducing pollution if you put the panel up on a roof in Arizona. (Actually a little better as Arizona has better sun.) If you are considering putting a solar panel up in Vermont, you would do almost 3 times better to put it in the southwest, since not only is their power twice as dirty, but they get a lot more sun.
What you would not get is the personal satisfaction of seeing panels on your roof and feeling that you personally are green. But there really is no such thing as solar electrons. Electricity is just electricity. There’s a big grid (and not being grid tied is really non-green) and the most you can do is improve how green the grid is. It doesn’t make a difference if you put the solar panels up on your house or a house across town. And it makes a positive difference if you put it up where it will have the best effect. It just doesn’t feel as good.
Tom Blees concluded: without considering how the intermittency will be compensated he estimates the German taxpayer is being stuck with about 70 times the cost of modern nuclear.
For reference, read the November 2009 study published by Ruhr University on “…the German Experience” [PDF].
The allure of an environmentally benign, abundant, and cost-effective energy source has led an increasing number of industrialized countries to back public financing of renewable energies. Germany’s experience with renewable energy promotion is often cited as a model to be replicated elsewhere, being based on a combination of far-reaching energy and environmental laws that stretch back nearly two decades. This paper critically reviews the current centerpiece of this effort, the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), focusing on its costs and the associated implications for job creation and climate protection. We argue that German renewable energy policy, and in particular the adopted feed-in tariff scheme, has failed to harness the market incentives needed to ensure a viable and cost-effective introduction of renewable energies into the country’s energy portfolio. To the contrary, the government’s support mechanisms have in many respects subverted these incentives, resulting in massive expenditures that show little long-term promise for stimulating the economy, protecting the environment, or increasing energy security.
The first fourteen pages of the study examines the German history public financing of solar and wind.
(…) the government’s support mechanisms have in many respects subverted these [market] incentives, resulting in massive expenditures that show little long-term promise for stimulating the economy, protecting the environment, or increasing energy security.
If you do not wish to read the detailed analysis, then section 3.3 summarizes the study’s conclusion that the photovoltaic solar (PV) subsidies have been a very bad deal for the German taxpayer.
3.3 Cost-Effective Climate Protection?
The estimates presented in the previous section clearly demonstrate that producing electricity on the basis of renewable energy technologies is extremely costly. As a consequence, these technologies are far from being cost-effective climate protection measures. In fact, PV is among the most expensive greenhouse gas abatement options: Given the net cost of 41.82 Cents/kWh for modules installed in 2008 (Table 4), and assuming that PV displaces conventional electricity generated from a mixture of gas and hard coal with an emissions factor of 0.584 kg carbon dioxide (CO2) per kWh (Nitsch et al. 2005:66), then dividing the two figures yields abatement costs that are as high as 716 € per tonne.
The magnitude of this abatement cost estimate is in accordance with the IEA’s (2007:74) even larger figure of around 1,000 € per tonne, which results from the assumption that PV replaces gas-fired electricity generation. Irrespective of the concrete assumption about the fuel base of the displaced conventional electricity generation, abatement cost estimates are dramatically larger than the current prices of CO2 emission certificates: Since the establishment of the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) in 2005, the price of certificates has never exceeded 30 € per tonne of CO2. Although wind energy receives considerably less feed-in tariffs than PV, it is by no means a cost-effective way of CO2 abatement. Assuming the same emission factor of 0.584 kg CO2/kWh as above, and given the net cost for wind of 3.10 Cents/kWh in 2008 (Table 6), the abatement cost approximate 54 € per tonne.
Read the whole thing, then write your elected representatives “please don’t repeat the German mistakes here”.
George Monbiot is earning more points for intellectual honesty. It is also refreshing that the Guardian continues to publish his very non-PC analysis of the solar subsidies:
(…) Against my instincts I’ve come to oppose solar photovoltaic power (PV) in the UK, and the feed-in tariffs designed to encourage it, because the facts show unequivocally that this is a terrible investment. There are much better ways of spending the rare and precious revenue that the tariffs will extract from our pockets. If we are to prevent runaway climate change, we have to ensure that we get the biggest available bang for our buck: in other words the greatest cut in greenhouse gas production from the money we spend. Money spent on ineffective solutions is not just a waste: it’s also a lost opportunity.
Environmentalists have no trouble understanding this argument when lobbying against nuclear power. Those who maintain that it’s more expensive than renewable electricity argue that we shouldn’t waste our money investing in it. But now I hear the same people telling us that we should support every form of renewable generation, regardless of the cost.
(…) The German experiment, almost identical to the UK’s, has now been running for ten years. An analysis published in November by the Ruhr University shows just what it has achieved.
When the German programme began, in 2000, it offered index-linked payments of 51 euro cents for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced by solar PV. These were guaranteed for 20 years. This is similar to the UK’s initial subsidy, of 41 pence. As in the UK, the solar subsidy was and remains massively greater than the payments for other forms of renewable technology.
The real net cost of the solar PV installed in Germany between 2000 and 2008 was E35bn. The paper estimates a further real cost of E18bn in 2009 and 2010: a total of E53bn in ten years. These investments make wonderful sense for the lucky householders who could afford to install the panels, as lucrative returns are guaranteed by taxing the rest of Germany’s electricity users. But what has this astonishing spending achieved? By 2008 solar PV was producing a grand total of 0.6% of Germany’s electricity. 0.6% for E35bn. Hands up all those who think this is a good investment.
After years of these incredible payments, and the innovation and cost reductions they were supposed to stimulate, the paper estimates that saving one tonne of carbon dioxide through solar PV in Germany still costs E716. The International Energy Agency has produced an even higher estimate: E1000 per tonne. There are dozens of ways in which you can save carbon for 100th of the cost of solar PV at high latitudes.
The paper comes out against using feed-in tariffs to stimulate wind power as well, but in this case it shows that largescale wind in Germany is likely to become cheaper than conventional power by 2022, at which point subsidies will become redundant. It makes no such prediction for solar PV. It reinforces the point I made in my first sally: that while Germany, like the UK, belongs to the European emissions trading scheme, any carbon savings made by feed-in tariffs merely allow polluting industries to raise their emissions. The net saving is zero. The paper suggests that a far more cost-effective mechanism would be to crank down the emissions cap under the trading scheme, then let renewable technologies fight it out to offer the biggest carbon savings per euro.
(…) While I’ve been taking plenty of flak for arguing this case, I’ve also received a lot of support from green energy experts. Chris Goodall and David Thorpe, for example, have both come to similar conclusions, by working the case out from first principles. If you doubt what I say, I urge you to read their analyses, and the astonishing figures they have produced.
I have no horses in this race: no products to sell, no shares in any company, no favours to discharge or lobbyists to please. I am simply trying to work out what’s best. I realise that there is no persuading some people: that they will believe what they want to believe. But I hope that some of you might be able to see that this is an honest attempt to get to the truth of the matter, and to find the most effective means of preventing runaway climate change.
Please continue reading…