We will have to expand storage, or backup, or both. By how much is anyone’s guess, and since anyone includes us, we’ll give it a shot. Let’s start with storage.
At pumped hydro’s $0.20 per installed watt-hour, we’ll be spending $1.27 Trillion for 4 hours of all-grid storage. That’s 1,591 GWs for 4 hours, or 6,364 GW-hours.
Aside from the preposterous amount of fresh water required (remember those 23 days of fresh water consumption?) the price is somewhat reasonable, as far as non-fuel storage goes.
What’s unreasonable is the whole idea of energy storage backing up a fuel-free national grid. As you can see, even the best and cheapest technology doesn’t scale without a significant disruption to another vital utility – our national water supply.
Quite aside from that pesky problem, $1.27 Trillion is
nearly half the cost of an entire Molten Salt Reactor grid.
And that is our main issue with renewables:
The numbers simply aren’t there.
For the cost of just 4 hrs backup for a WWS grid (which probably won’t be enough), we could build nearly half of an entire national MSR grid.
And unlike a renewables farm, each reactor would be a fully independent power plant, placed exactly where we need it, with 18 months of storage built right in, and plenty more where that came from.
While it’s true that big-ass batteries are being developed, assuming that they can be scaled up to support the grid is exactly that: an assumption.
And like they say in the world of construction, where simple mistakes can injure and kill: “Assume” makes an a-s-s out of u and me.
All of which means that overbuilding our generating capacity is the only halfway-realistic option. As we pointed out, our existing fueled grid has an overbuild factor of 2.5X. In our view, it’s foolish to consider anything less for renewables.
But since the Roadmap’s authors are so confident of their modeling, perhaps they would consider a modest 1.5X overbuild (one and a half times the bare-bones grid.) That comes to $22.8 Trillion – not including backup and storage.
And keep in mind, that also includes 1.5X the land, or more than 196,800 square miles, up from 131,200. Then there are all the extra transmission corridors, and the copper wire, plus an additional offshore region half the size of West Virginia.
And, we’ll need to replace (and recycle) 1.85 million m2 per day of worn-out panels, up from 1.23 million m2 – forever. Plus there’ll be all those extra panel and turbine factories, when we’re already two years behind schedule, and the clock is ticking.
Remember those best-year-ever Xes? They’ll go up by 1.5X, too: Wind turbine production would have to ramp up from 17X to about 25X, and panel production from 29X to 43X.
Then there’s the price: A modest 1.5X buildout (with virtually no storage) would require a yearly outlay of $651 Billion for 35 years. That’s higher than our 2018 military budget, and nearly as large as our social safety net.
Adding a WWS buildout to the federal budget, even the bare-bones Roadmap of “just” $15.2 Trillion, is something that Washington is unlikely to do, no matter which party is in charge. But it was fun to pencil out.
Are we over-making our point? Perhaps. But just to overdo it a little bit more, there’s something else to consider that blows up all of our tidy guesstimates.
As you recall, capacity factor (CF) is a yearly average.
It’s a big-picture number which obscures the fact that after a long summer of high-capacity days, the winter production of an entire region’s WWS farms can dwindle to a trickle for weeks or even months.
For example, check out Germany’s pitiful winter solar statistics:1
Sluggish performance can sometimes last for weeks on end. Their “solution” has been to keep burning lignite (brown coal), the dirtiest coal there is.
Here at home, if a polar vortex comes swooping out of nowhere when we’re already in a seasonal slump, the wind farms that would normally back up our socked-in solar farms could be stuck in the doldrums as well.
Remember way back in Chapter One, where we mentioned the Clack Evaluation? The analysis written by 21 top climate experts?2
Here’s the big take-away from their report:
The Roadmap projects that it will need 1,300 GWs of hydro power (dammed hydro plus pumped storage) in January 2055. Even though its buildout will only produce 105 GWs from dammed hydro.
That buildout, plus our existing 22 GWs of pumped hydro, will total 127 GWs of maximum production, if we turn on all the spigots at once – less than 10% of the 1,300 GWs we’ll need.
Like we said, the numbers don’t work.
Dr. Clack and his colleagues extracted the following graph from the Roadmap’s supporting study, which utilized LoadMatch’s computer modeling projections:3
The numbers across the bottom of the graph are days 1,474 through 1,477 of the 6-year simulation that Dr. Jacobson and his colleagues ran on the years 2050–2056. (The “.5” numbers are high noon of each day.)
The top wavy red line is the total power that the model says we’ll need during those four days in mid-January of 2055.
According to the Roadmap, our 2055 power demand will be supplied by the four technologies plotted on the graph below the top line: Solar electric (PV), solar-thermal (CSP), hydro and wind.
Note clearly that the big brown terawatt-sized square humps in the graph are modeling projections of hydro demand, as distinct from the hydro power the Roadmap would actually supply. It’s what we’ll need, not necessarily what we’ll have.
All four renewables must contribute their share of power as marked on the graph, or else we’ll end up short. And from what we (and Clack et al) can determine, the Roadmap’s hydro contribution would come up 90% short in the darkest days of winter.
Let’s examine those big brown humps more closely.
Our dammed hydroelectric generating capacity in 2015 was 79 GWp
(p = peak, as in “maximum production.”)4 At a generous 36% capacity factor, that’s 28.7 GWs average.
As we pointed out in Chapter 6, the Roadmap calls for expanding our hydroelectric annual average (not peak) production from that 28.7 GWs average to 47.9 GWs average, a factor of 1.66X.
This expansion is supposed to be accomplished by adding additional turbines to our large dams, along with increasing the operating hours of the existing turbines.
It is unclear from the Roadmap what portion of the 1.66X increase will come from new turbines. If we assume that half the new turbines will generate half the extra power, their share of the increase would be 1.33X. This 50-50 scenario would raise our national dammed hydro capacity to 105 GWp (1.33 × 79 = 105.)
And don’t forget, we’ll still have our existing 22 GW of pumped hydro. So that storage, plus the increase to 105 GW from the new turbines, totals 127 GWs. Hold that thought.
Now look at the writing along the graph’s vertical axis: “Energy each hour (TWh/hr).” That means the hour-by-hour production rate of the entire grid, measured in terawatts. (A terawatt is a trillion watts.)
Now look at the power curves plotted on the graph. Notice that the highest brown hydro hump (on day 1,475) rises to 1.3 TW, which is 1,300 GWs.
The problem is, we’ll only have 127 GWs of maximum hydro capacity to respond to that demand. And that’s if our 50-50 scenario is even roughly accurate.
Like we said earlier, the total supply of hydro power would be less than 10% of the 1,300 GWs demand for same.
And note clearly that the big brown hydro humps on those four consecutive days in mid-January of 2055 aren’t just momentary spikes. Quite the contrary: They are continuous 12-hour demands, from about midnight through the lunch hour. In mid-winter.
The 90% shortfall (about 1,200-ish GWs) will simply be unavailable. Because remember, an integral part of the Roadmap is to decommission all of our fueled power plants by 2050. By 2055, the United States will be a fuel-free zone.
First the Solutions Project claims to predict the weather 35 years in the future. And then, their own chart shows that we will only have 10% of the hydro we need.
The truth is, we’ll never have anywhere near 1,300 GWs (1.3 terawatts) of hydro, even if we wanted it. Because that much hydro power would require the flow and volume of nearly 100 Mississippi Rivers (no, that’s not a typo.5)
And unfortunately, we can’t build more rivers.
Dr. Jacobson has responded to the Clack Evaluation point by point, and Dr. Clack has replied.6 Expect the debate to continue, because even if the Roadmap had no other issues, this by itself is a fundamental flaw.
Oddly enough, the Roadmap does offer a remedy if natural gas doesn’t turn out to be the backup hero that renewables need — a strategy that’s euphemistically called Demand Response, or DR. We prefer to call it:
Stripped of all the happy talk, Demand Response boils down to the re-scheduling or postponing of private, public, commercial and industrial activity in response to an energy shortage. In California, they call it a “flex alert.”
This would be accomplished by reducing power consumption as availability dictates, up to and including outright shutdowns if demand can’t be responded to. (To be fair, a demand for power can always be responded to: A shutdown is a response to a demand.)
DR boils down to: It’s a cloudy day and the flags don’t flap – no juice for you!
The externalized cost of DR to our industrial sector isn’t
part of the Roadmap, but it could easily run into billions of dollars: If a factory can’t get enough electricity from nine to five, they’ll have to invest in extra machinery to make up for lost production when the lights come back on.
We’ll all have to learn how to make hay while the sun shines.
The Roadmap aims to minimize DR downtime by siting enough farms in enough locales, based on the accumulated wisdom of historical weather patterns, with the expectation that past trends will likely continue, in spite of climate change.
They warn you in the stock market that past trends are not
indicative of future results. You would think that with a changing climate, this pithy caveat would find wider application. Because just like the stock market, the weather is a notoriously fickle beast.
And because it is, how can we expect to keep the lights on without actual fuel or other means of storage, if (or rather, when) the proverbial black swan flies north for the winter instead of south?
Relying on a fuel-free, weather-dependent grid, with virtually no overbuild, backup or storage, is a recipe for national disaster.
And the price tag for a WWS grid with adequate overbuild, backup and storage is a recipe for national bankruptcy.
Which is why, if for no other reason (and as you have seen, there are several), the Roadmap is doomed to failure.
While the Roadmap doesn’t call out specific wind farm sizes, we’ll venture a guess that the new farms would probably average 500 MWs (our existing wind farms average 135 MWs.) With the amount of wind called for in the Roadmap, that comes to 4,842 new onshore and offshore wind facilities.
The Roadmap does call out the number of new solar farms: 48,753. So new wind and solar farms for 2050 could amount to perhaps 53,600 large plants, plus an additional 1,364 CSP plants for overbuild.
Since the Roadmap calls for a shutdown of fossil and nuclear, the only remnants of our current grid would be our existing wind and solar and our 1,756 hydro dams.
Add those plants to the Roadmap’s new wind and solar facilities, and we’re up to something like 58,000 plants.
But wait! There’s more!
The Roadmap also calls for 75 million residential rooftop solar systems and 2.7 million commercial rooftop systems. And all of these systems, large and small, from farm to rooftop, are supposed to sing “Kumbaya” in perfect harmony 24 / 7 / 365.
In principle, it’s a compelling idea: Since electric-driven systems are far more energy efficient than fossil-driven systems, a 100% electric paradigm would be a great way to conserve energy, even with a growing population.
And though we applaud the goal of an all-electric primary energy grid, we’re leery of the proposed means of production, especially but not limited to its cost, complexity and practicality.
With the massive buildout the Roadmap has in mind, our manufacturing base will have to mushroom overnight, and the factories will have to be plugged into a rock-solid, reliable grid, running 24 / 7, to accommodate the nationwide mobilization.
Ensuring stable, high-quality power during a 35-year buildout, especially when that buildout is coupled with a simultaneous shutdown of fossil and nuclear, will require massive volumes of natural gas, for at least the first half of the project, if not more.
The growing instability of Germany’s grid is a cautionary tale. Their factories have had to purchase expensive backup batteries and generators to smooth the many destabilizing incidents caused by wind and solar’s penetration of their national grid.
When an injection-mold factory suffers a power glitch, for example, the computerized machinery resets and the plastic dries in the molds. It’s an expensive, icky, time-consuming mess.
Interventions by Germany’s gridmasters used to be
just a handful of incidents a year. Now they’re up to
more than 1,000 per annum, with no let-up in sight.8
The industrial base of our own buildout will encounter similar issues, unless each new WWS farm contributing power to the grid has an excellent set of training wheels.
This underscores the point that wind and solar can’t produce enough reliable power to enable their own paradigm shift, an irony that should not be overlooked.
A thought may have occurred to you: The Roadmap would be a huge jobs program.
Pretty much – the pyramids were weekend warrior projects in comparison. But even though the Roadmap would generate millions more jobs than an all-nuclear grid, we frankly don’t see that as much of a selling point, despite being widely touted as such In fact, we see it as a major disincentive.
We should explain . . .
Until about 1800, virtually all labor was performed by humans and other beasts of burden. Indeed, prior to mechanized farm equipment, it took 20 humans to raise enough food for 22 humans.
The extra two humans were the nobility and the privileged; everyone else was the underclass and tied to the land.
Today, only 1–2% of our populace is involved in agriculture. This frees the rest of the country to get on with the other important work that goes into building and maintaining an advanced civilization.
In our view, the same criteria should apply to the energy sector, and for much the same reason:
Assembling a massive work force devoted to building and maintaining the national grid depicted in the Roadmap would amount to energy feudalism. Indeed, it would be far better for the country if energy required as little labor as agriculture.
There’s so much important work to do! Something as
rudimentary as keeping the lights on shouldn’t consume
our resources, land and labor. To cite just one example, the U.S. needs to repair or rebuild nearly 60,000 bridges.9
If we didn’t have anything else that needs doing, the Roadmap might be all right as a jobs program to keep a restless population occupied, which some archeologists
think the pyramids were mostly about.
But we desperately need to repair and augment our entire national infrastructure, not just the energy sector. And though we’ll need a lot of clean energy to get the job done, most of the work should be devoted to actually rebuilding
In the same way that agricultural advances have freed us for other tasks, a clean, efficient, and reliable grid built and run by a tiny sliver of the work force would free us to do a lot more than produce enough power so we could produce more power.
We’re not hamsters, or serfs.
The Roadmap would be the largest construction project in history: The pyramids, the Great Wall of China, Three Gorges Dam, nothing even comes close. And we’re just talking about the U.S. portion of the Solutions Project’s ultimate vision: A WWS-powered world.
We’ll confine our analysis to the Roadmap’s U.S. wind and solar systems, which would comprise over 95% of our national WWS fleet.
Once our dams are upgraded, they’ll constitute 3% of the fleet. But geothermal, wave, and tidal will essentially be decimal dust.
Bottom line: The Roadmap will live or die on the performance of wind and solar.
Frame 5, page 15064, Figure 4B.
Then click on www.eia.gov . Open or Save the offered file. A spreadsheet doc will come up.
Scroll to line 38,854 for the year 2015: “Hydroelectric.”
Go to column “Nameplate Capacity”: 78,957 MW (79.0 GW).
See paragraph 26.
See: “Total Sectors” section, row 2015.
13th paragraph: “. . . demand-response . . . temporarily switch off part of their electricity consumption—increasing the elasticity of demand to keep the grid balanced.”
“Germany’s push toward renewable energy is causing so many drops and surges from wind and solar power that more utilities than ever are receiving money from the grids to help stabilize the country’s electricity network.”
“Twenty power companies . . . add or cut electricity within seconds to keep the power system stable, double the number in September, according to data from the nation’s four grid operators.”
“Germany’s drive to almost double power output from renewables by 2035 has seen one operator reporting five times as many potential disruptions . . . “