The Roadmap’s fuel-free grid for 2050 will consist of:
Since wave, tidal and geothermal systems are practically
non-existent in the U.S. at present, and will only amount to 1.76% of the Roadmap, we’ve left them out of this discussion.
The 1,591 GWs will include our existing renewables:
That’s 76 GWs. So at the end of the day, the Roadmap is actually calling for 1,515 GWs of new-build renewables.
That’s where we get our 1,515-GW nuclear grid.
And don’t forget, the entire backup for the Roadmap’s fuel-free national grid would be maybe 7-ish percent of total power, depending on what’s available to our intrepid gridmasters on short notice.
As the buildout proceeds and our oversized farms start backing each other up, they will gradually shed their natural gas training wheels until backup and storage become quaint memories.
Interdependent, fuel-free and self-supporting, our clean, green, smart grid will be balanced to a computerized T, despite the vagaries of a changing climate . . .
At least, that’s the plan. Some things are worth repeating:
As you may have guessed by now, we think the entire enterprise is ill-advised. Because even if LoadMatch is a flawless suite of software, and even if the smart grid is a screaming genius, stuff happens.
Sorry to pop your bubble, but this rosy vision of a fuel-free future is, to quote Eric Cartman, “a bunch of tree-huggin’ hippie crap.”
Don’t get us wrong – we love trees. And hippies. But in our view, We the People are not going to entrust our national grid to the caprice of Mother Nature without substantial backup, overbuild and storage.
Some WWS fans discount the importance of baseload,
and some even dismiss the importance of the grid itself, which is quite odd considering that the renewables they favor will only work in the way they hope if all the farms and rooftops are interconnected by an enhanced and expanded national grid.
A reality check will quickly confirm that our daily lives, and nearly every aspect of business, commerce and industry, are structured around a reliable supply of cheap, high-quality, on-demand energy – in any weather, any
time of day or night.
An advanced society requires a robust grid, delivering silky-smooth power 99.9% of the time. So if the completed Roadmap doesn’t work as planned, we’ll have to make it work with massive overbuild, backup or storage, or some combination thereof.
This presents two problems: Our existing backup technology involves burning methane, and our existing non-fuel storage methods (batteries, pumped hydro, etc.) are completely impractical for the price and scale involved.
Furthermore, we can’t assume that a cheap and scalable storage technology will magically appear if we embark on the Roadmap. Good karma doesn’t necessarily work that way.
Maybe a fabulous storage solution will reveal itself, and maybe it won’t. But the stakes are too high to take a flying leap, and hope that something comes along to save our butts.
This isn’t like putting a man on the moon, where we figured it out as we boldly went, inventing Tang and Velcro along the way.
Yes, we pulled off the moonshot, and yes, it did wonders for our national mojo, but it wasn’t an existential necessity.
We could have failed in the attempt, and it wouldn’t have jeopardized the economy or our prospects for a livable future.
The Roadmap is a fantastically expensive, 35-year nationwide mobilization to fundamentally restructure our entire supply of primary energy.
Addressing our energy needs is nowhere near as glamorous as a moonshot, but it’s something we absolutely cannot afford to screw up.
Which means we have to estimate the feasibility of any proposed solution based on existing technology, and that technology’s foreseeable improvements. Which is why use pumped hydro as our benchmark to evaluate other storage technologies.
Price is one thing, but figuring out the amount of storage required is quite another. Because like we said, there’s no way of knowing how well the Roadmap will actually work, and what augmentation it will need, until a sizeable portion is built and tested over time.
Germany’s track record of renewable energy production gives us some sobering hints5, but we won’t really know how things will work for us until we try it over here.
While Germany is large for a European country, and while it’s frequently cited as proof that large-scale renewables can work, it’s only the size of Montana. The U.S. is larger than all of Europe, with a much wider variety of landscape and weather.
But even with our considerable advantages and wide-open spaces, can we actually build a fuel-free, self-supporting national grid that needs less than 5% storage? And if we can’t, how much backup and storage will we need?
No one can rightly say unless the entire grid, and the weather it would likely encounter, can be accurately modeled over time. Which the authors of the Roadmap contend they have done, even though climate change makes long-term weather prediction a shot in the dark at a moving target.
The consequences of taking the wrong fork in the road, on such a vital issue as powering the entire national grid, could hobble our ability to get back on track. So even though we must act, we must first choose carefully.
One of the many drawbacks of the Roadmap is that it’s
an all-or-nothing proposition. Which means that it will either become a vital and enduring part of our national infrastructure, or a horrifically expensive herd of green elephants trampling the countryside.
Since it’s an undisputed fact that fuel can reliably power the nation, you would think that the response to climate change would be a transition to carbon-free fuel, rather than a transition to fuel-free systems.
We contend that the overblown fear of radiation and contamination – and the overblown costs that result – are the main reasons why this self-evident solution isn’t being pursued.6
Indeed, the carbon-free fuel of choice comes down to nuclear energy, since there isn’t anywhere near enough hydroelectric potential in the U.S. to do the job (you’ll get a great perspective on this in the next chapter.)
The Roadmap, however, proposes an aggressive transition to a fuel-free paradigm. This is so radically different from what we have now – or what we could have with an all-nuclear grid – that it can’t even be compared to changing horses in mid-stream.
It’s more like changing to a beast we haven’t ridden before, while charging into the future at a breakneck gallop. And if the stunt doesn’t work we’ll land on our wallet, so hard that we might not be able to get back on the horse.
Table 2, row 12, column 3
See internal footnote 67.5
Germany’s installed (peak) wind capacity, versus actual (average) production:
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