Who’s Got the Power

Germany and Great Britain are further along the “green energy” path than we are.

On Friday, September 14, just before 10am, Britain’s 3,500 wind turbines broke all records by briefly supplying just over four gigawatts (GW) of electricity to the national grid. Three hours later, in Germany, that country’s 23,000 wind turbines and millions of solar panels similarly achieved an unprecedented output of 31GW.

But Germany is even farther ahead than Great Britain and, well, they’ve got a problem.

Germany is being horribly caught out by precisely the same delusion about renewable energy that our own politicians have fallen for. Like all enthusiasts for “free, clean, renewable electricity”, they overlook the fatal implications of the fact that wind speeds and sunlight constantly vary. They are taken in by the wind industry’s trick of vastly exaggerating the usefulness of wind farms by talking in terms of their “capacity”, hiding the fact that their actual output will waver between 100 per cent of capacity and zero. In Britain it averages around 25 per cent; in Germany it is lower, just 17 per cent.
The more a country depends on such sources of energy, the more there will arise – as Germany is discovering – two massive technical problems. One is that it becomes incredibly difficult to maintain a consistent supply of power to the grid, when that wildly fluctuating renewable output has to be balanced by input from conventional power stations. The other is that, to keep that back-up constantly available can require fossil-fuel power plants to run much of the time very inefficiently and expensively (incidentally chucking out so much more “carbon” than normal that it negates any supposed CO2 savings from the wind).

It gets better:

Thanks to a flood of subsidies unleashed by Angela Merkel’s government, renewable capacity has risen still further (solar, for instance, by 43 per cent). This makes it so difficult to keep the grid balanced that it is permanently at risk of power failures. (When the power to one Hamburg aluminium factory failed recently, for only a fraction of a second, it shut down the plant, causing serious damage.) Energy-intensive industries are having to install their own generators, or are looking to leave Germany altogether.
In fact, a mighty battle is now developing in Germany between green fantasists and practical realists. Because renewable energy must by law have priority in supplying the grid, the owners of conventional power stations, finding they have to run plants unprofitably, are so angry that they are threatening to close many of them down. The government response, astonishingly, has been to propose a new law forcing them to continue running their plants at a loss.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., 200 more coal-fired plants are being regulated out of existence. What will happen to our power grid “safety net” if this continues? Yes, some of that backbone capacity can be replaced with cleaner burning natural gas-fired plants or even nuclear (yeah, right). But probably not enough. So more, smaller generator packages, mostly of the fossil-fuel type, will be purchased by businesses and, one day, individuals, to guarantee that a constant flow of power is there. That will defeat the purpose of the green dream, won’t it? Unless of course the next step is to make internal combustion engines illegal.

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Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“200 more [US] coal-fired plants are being regulated out of existence.”
Thank you for catching this, Marc.
In view of both their very high cost and their impotency, which must be overcome with extra infrastructure, renewable energy sources have proven to be non-starters. The Magical, Mystery Fuel – the one that is as cheap and widely available as fossil fuel but lacks the greenhouse gases that may or may not be causing global warming – has not been discovered.
Accordingly, why are we shutting down energy generation plants that are CURRENTLY BEING EMPLOYED to meet our CURRENT energy needs?
And before someone says pollution, do the research and let us know how these plants compare for pollution emissions to those put up in, say, China in the LAST FIVE YEARS. Too many people, regrettably including the Obama administration, are not aware of how good the United States got decades ago at minimizing pollution from all fossil fuel-based energy generation.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

“The other is that, to keep that back-up constantly available can require fossil-fuel power plants to run much of the time very inefficiently”
The dirty secret is that other power generating facilities cannot easily be ramped up to cover the shortfall. Consequently, they are running all of the time. The surplus electricity they generate is simply wasted.
Germany gave us the “Green Party”, didn’t it?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
9 years ago

Germany still mines and burns lignite-aka”brown coal”-filthy and polluting much,much worse than anthracite or even bituminous.I remember learning that in “middle school”when they actually taught something besides social engineering.

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

“The Magical, Mystery Fuel… has not been discovered.”
Yes it has. It’s called Uranium. Unfortunately, we as a nation have become so coddled and weak that we’re unable to make proper risk/reward judgments. If it wasn’t for the naysayers, Rhode Island could dedicate two acres to nuclear power and have $0.02c/kWh energy and thousands of high-tech jobs.
That kind of energy would attract manufacturing, it would be ‘green’ to use electricity for heating instead of burning fuels, and we’d see datacenters popping up in our old empty mills.
“to keep that back-up constantly available can require fossil-fuel power plants to run much of the time very inefficiently”
It’s my understanding that while they do need to stay ‘spun-up and synced to the grid’, they aren’t actually burning much fuel. The quote is a bit misleading, it’s like saying that a car engine idling gets terrible mileage… True, but it uses less per-second, and talking about ‘mileage’ when you’re waiting for your wife to get into the car isn’t really fair.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
9 years ago

We will have such clean air and water when we arise every morning from our caves. We will also have the time to enjoy the clean air and water as there will be massive unemployment. The “green” movement is getting us back in touch with our primitive beginnings. Soon the only civilized people will be the liberal elites in their hybrid limousines with their Michelle Obama diets of nuts and seeds. How tranquil it will soon all be.

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