Wind, Solar and Fossil Fuels Part II
Wind and solar facilities have a “capacity”—which is the energy they produce when wind and sun conditions are perfect. But a solar panel’s output drops to 0% of capacity at night and drops by 50% or more on cloudy days (and even daytime capacity drops to zero when a panel is snow covered).
Turbine performance of course, is subject to the whims of wind. Wind droughts of a few days are common, but wind droughts can occasionally continue for weeks at a time.
Wind and solar are, by definition, unreliable. And when the unreliables perform below capacity the reliables must come to the rescue. Why? Because there is no affordable way to store energy harvested by wind and solar panels. The current cost of battery storage is about $600,000 per MWh. Wind farms cost about $1.5 million per MW. The cost of battery storage would be astronomical: 80 times greater than the cost of the wind farm. Even if storage costs were manageable such quantities of batteries are simply not available due to their dependence on the need to mine copious quantities of rare earth minerals.
So, as the electricity generated by unreliables flitters in and out of the grid, the grid is sustained by the good old reliables. Yup—mostly fossil fuels. The reliable that can most easily adjust up and down for wind and solar unreliability is a natural gas turbine. But here’s the rub: the gas turbines that can most easily be turned up and down are “open-cycle”. Open-cycle gas turbines burn about twice as much gas as their more efficient cousins “combined cycle gas turbines.” We are stuck using the less efficient open-cycle gas turbines because the grid needs to be constantly adjusting for the rapidly changing output of wind and solar farms.
And of course, you probably guessed it: the unreliable nature of wind and solar makes electricity much more expensive. Unreliable Nature Of Solar And Wind Makes Electricity More Expensive, New Study Finds (forbes.com) Germany’s 20 year commitment to the grand wind turbine experiment has resulted in a massive rise in electricity costs—Germans pay nearly 3 times what the average American pays. And, when Northern Europe suffered the weeks long wind drought in 2021, Germany had to turn to “reliable” natural gas to keep its electrical grid alive…except the “reliable” natural gas was being sourced from Russia. We all know how that turned out.