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Feasibility of moving to renewable energy (split from "Crops under solar panels can be a win-win")


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I'd love to see solar power get cheaper and take over the job of providing our energy needs. But at the moment, the true picture is never being told. Solar power is subsidised by fossil fuel. People need electricity when it's dark, and solar power doesn't cut it. There are ways of storing power during the day and releasing it at night, but they would make solar power hugely expensive. So fossil fuels have to do the hard bit, and solar power does the easy bit. But that means that fossil fuels are subsidising the shortcomings of the solar industry. If the solar industry had to supply all of it, they would be losing a fortune at current prices. The same applies to wind power. Combining wind and solar spreads the load a bit, but you still have to have fossil fuels subsidising their inherent inability to keep generating power when it's needed. 

At the moment there's no sign of any breakthrough in energy storage. That's why I'm a fan of nuclear power. It's the way to go for the future, and what's holding it back isn't the rise of renewable energy, it's politics, and the constant improvement in extraction techniques for fossil fuels. 

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3 hours ago, mistermack said:

I'd love to see solar power get cheaper and take over the job of providing our energy needs. But at the moment, the true picture is never being told. Solar power is subsidised by fossil fuel. People need electricity when it's dark, and solar power doesn't cut it. There are ways of storing power during the day and releasing it at night, but they would make solar power hugely expensive. So fossil fuels have to do the hard bit, and solar power does the easy bit. But that means that fossil fuels are subsidising the shortcomings of the solar industry. If the solar industry had to supply all of it, they would be losing a fortune at current prices. The same applies to wind power. Combining wind and solar spreads the load a bit, but you still have to have fossil fuels subsidising their inherent inability to keep generating power when it's needed. 

At the moment there's no sign of any breakthrough in energy storage. That's why I'm a fan of nuclear power. It's the way to go for the future, and what's holding it back isn't the rise of renewable energy, it's politics, and the constant improvement in extraction techniques for fossil fuels. 

1. This is based on the false premise that solar is all or nothing. Your questionable claim about being “hugely expensive” is moot, in addition to being unsupported.

2. There are countries that already generate most of their energy from renewables,

3. That’s not what “subsidy” means

4. This has nothing to do with growing food under solar panels

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1 hour ago, swansont said:

This is based on the false premise that solar is all or nothing.

Rubbish. I said no such thing. 

The point is that if you want to guarantee electricity supplies, it's academic if some countries get "most" of their energy from renewables. They still have to cater for the times when the sun's not shining and wind's not blowing. So they need the generating capacity to cover it. 

You have the same capital cost, whether you are using the equipment or not. So the country has to finance two lots of generating capacity, the renewable and the fossil or nuclear.

It's like owning a Rolls Royce, and never using it. It's dead money and it still needs maintenance. All to cover the current shortcomings of renewables. 

I understand why governments still push renewables. There are votes in it, if they are seen to be "green", and it's a very good policy to diversify where your energy is coming from, to cover unexpected international energy supply problems. I wouldn't like Britain to be too reliant on Russian oil or American gas. I'm simply pointing out that the economics of renewables are generally being misrepresented, by viewing them in isolation. To the price of every unit of renewable electricity, you should be adding the true cost of covering it for blank periods.

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58 minutes ago, mistermack said:

Rubbish. I said no such thing. 

If the solar industry had to supply all of it” implies your analysis is based on 100% solar. Which is a ludicrous position.

 

58 minutes ago, mistermack said:

The point is that if you want to guarantee electricity supplies, it's academic if some countries get "most" of their energy from renewables. They still have to cater for the times when the sun's not shining and wind's not blowing. So they need the generating capacity to cover it. 

And? Is anyone suggesting otherwise?

 

58 minutes ago, mistermack said:

You have the same capital cost, whether you are using the equipment or not. So the country has to finance two lots of generating capacity, the renewable and the fossil or nuclear.

You don’t need 1000 coal or gas plants if 500 will cover the load. So you don’t have the same capital costs.

 

58 minutes ago, mistermack said:

It's like owning a Rolls Royce, and never using it. It's dead money and it still needs maintenance. All to cover the current shortcomings of renewables. 

No, it’s not like that. You said yourself that the plants are being used, so it’s a pretty bad analogy.

 

58 minutes ago, mistermack said:

I understand why governments still push renewables. There are votes in it, if they are seen to be "green", and it's a very good policy to diversify where your energy is coming from, to cover unexpected international energy supply problems. I wouldn't like Britain to be too reliant on Russian oil or American gas. I'm simply pointing out that the economics of renewables are generally being misrepresented, by viewing them in isolation. To the price of every unit of renewable electricity, you should be adding the true cost of covering it for blank periods.

Renewable energy is cheaper in many, many cases. That’s not politics. Overall cost of electricity in the US doesn’t seem to have been negatively impacted. 2013-2018 it went up ~5%

https://www.statista.com/statistics/183700/us-average-retail-electricity-price-since-1990/

5% is lower than inflation, so in terms of buying power, the cost went down

http://www.in2013dollars.com/2013-dollars-in-2018?amount=100

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23 hours ago, swansont said:

Renewable energy is cheaper in many, many cases. That’s not politics. Overall cost of electricity in the US doesn’t seem to have been negatively impacted. 2013-2018 it went up ~5%

Not to mention that in many countries fossil fuels are also subsidized at a higher rate than renewables. Solar tends to be the most expensive of the lot. However, economic studies as well as intergovernmental organizations suggest that the majority of wind and solar which are going to be commissioned over the next few years will produce energy cheaper than fossil system, but without the need of financial assistance. I.e. the prices are projected to be much more competitive than the fossil systems.

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As long as the externalised costs of fossil fuels are omitted from calculations of relative costs the alternatives will look more expensive than they actually are - or rather, not using alternatives appears cheaper than it actually is. A lot cheaper if credible estimates of Social Cost of Carbon around US$40 per ton of CO2 are anything near correct - doubling or tripling the cost of coal.

I do see great potential in solar and wind with storage to take us a lot further than we are now without expecting it to reach a 100% threshold easily, especially were existing patterns of energy supply and use to remain unchanged. But I also see the way we use and distribute energy changing in ways that do moderate the impacts of variability of supply. Some regions would find it harder, but a large portion of the world's population do live in places that get lots of sunshine all year round.

I see gas plant being relegated to backup to solar as a step forward - because that reduces overall emissions, a circumstance where it does not compete with solar but competes with batteries and hydro or demand response (reducing load by agreement). Relatively small amount of storage (compared to the amount needed to do it all) can change the mix from gas or other fossil fuel plant running every night to switching off for days at a time during sunny periods: I think batteries appear to be capable of doing a lot of that. Dedicated pumped hydro is only just getting started - like other elements, they tend not to happen until the need is there. ie wind and solar penetration grows and other options for moderating the variability and demand are not available. Once through hydo can also be adapted to more responsive variability.

I am increasingly of the view that renewable Hydrogen, using excess solar and wind, is going play a big role; for one, it offers the best non-fossil fuel option for iron and steel smelting. But with respect to an RE heavy energy system, having gas plant that can transition to H2 offers another kind of storage and backup. I think that gas plant ought to be built to be H2 capable (a lot of it should be already) and thus able to utilise Solar and Wind during it's periods of abundance to make fuel for when it is not. On-site production and storage bypasses the need for economy wide H2 infrastructure and would not require the very high pressure storage (and related costs) that transporting - and transport fuel use - requires.

Demand response - curtailing loads by agreement when demand is more than supply should not be underestimate either. As should opportunistic industrial batch processing, that can be flexibly scheduled; periods of overabundance of electricity, ie very cheap, is a huge opportunity. I would be very surprised if ways to exploit it aren't developed. Presuming industry cannot adapt seems shortsighted. They won't if the don't have to - which is why seeing governments and leaders accommodating that desire to not have to is so dismaying.

If this all seems complicated compared to "just build lots of nuclear" - I think that underestimates how difficult "just build nuclear" actually is and overestimates our ability to manage complicated systems. Solar and wind and storage and efficiency and demand management and etc are forging ahead now because they are easier and cheaper.

I see a lot of this happening despite a continuing absence of comprehensive, overarching planning, let alone appropriate pricing of emissions. I can't see nuclear happening at the scales needed without carbon pricing as well as high level of government planning and intervention. Whereas RE proceeds with projects with short build times, with changing course always an option; even legislated 100% RE commitments are never going to be truly binding and can be changed relatively quickly in response to emerging problems and constraints. I think a big nuclear approach requires a level of planning and commitment that cannot yet be achieved - and must wait on the Wall of Denial to come down and let the largest bloc of support for it come out from behind it.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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19 minutes ago, Ken Fabian said:

I think a big nuclear approach requires a level of planning and commitment that cannot yet be achieved - and must wait on the Wall of Denial to come down and let the largest bloc of support for it come out from behind it.

Every country has access to the Sun, and wind, but not every country has access to Uranium ores, or other fissile material which can be used as fuel in nuclear plants. It might be used/misused for influencing country i.e. you will get/not get fuel if you do/don't do this or that..

 

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4 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

If this all seems complicated compared to "just build lots of nuclear" - I think that underestimates how difficult "just build nuclear" actually is and overestimates   underestimates our ability to manage complicated systems. Solar and wind and storage and efficiency and demand management and etc are forging ahead now because they are easier and cheaper.

Oops - got it backwards and did not notice before the edit time limit ran out.

4 hours ago, Sensei said:

Every country has access to the Sun, and wind, but not every country has access to Uranium ores, or other fissile material which can be used as fuel in nuclear plants. It might be used/misused for influencing country i.e. you will get/not get fuel if you do/don't do this or that..

 

I think nuclear is for nations with sustained histories of operating within the rule of law; there are nations and regions that probably cannot be trusted to operate them competently or abide by non-proliferation agreements. If a lot of the world can't be trusted with nuclear then a lot of the world does not have nuclear as a low emissions option. All the more reason to push ahead with other solutions.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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If countries were actually serious about eliminating carbon emissions, then nuclear is the only serious way to go. Wind and solar are trendy but pretty pointless, until they can provide 24 hour power. 

If you chose nuclear to provide the cover for wind and solar shortcomings, then you would be carbon free. But the point is that you wouldn't actually need the wind and solar at all. You could just keep the nuclear installations running 24 hours, which is actually how they operate best anyway. 

Modern nuclear is much cleaner and safer than old designs, but it's held back by the failure of a few old units. Fukushima was old and very outdated, Chernobyl was an old Soviet design run by Ukrainians, and yet they have been used to drastically hold back the entire industry. 

It's like grounding all commercial jets, because of a couple of crashes. But like jet planes, nuclear is incredibly safe compared to most of the competition. 

Anyway, there is the option of Thorium nuclear, which is fundamentally safer than current technologies, and also less useful for building weapons. 

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11 hours ago, mistermack said:

If countries were actually serious about eliminating carbon emissions, then nuclear is the only serious way to go. Wind and solar are trendy but pretty pointless, until they can provide 24 hour power. 

This is an anti-renewable talking point, but not based on facts. It's contradicted by the existence of countries that rely on renewables to generate a considerable fraction of their power. It ignores the fact that we consume more power during the daylight hours than at night, so solar actually fits the profile of the extra generation required, and electricity demand is higher in summer, when we have ample sunlight, than spring or fall. Distributed solar (i.e. rooftop) means power generation without requiring additional capacity from the power grid.

So even if solar is simply addressing peak demand, it's hardly pointless.

 

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3 hours ago, swansont said:

It's contradicted by the existence of countries that rely on renewables to generate a considerable fraction of their power.

I haven't said a word against Hydro as a renewable. It's in a totally different class and my comments don't apply to it because it's generally reliable, 24 hrs a  day, 365 days a year. Under very rare circumstances, it becomes unreliable, I believe New Zealand recently had a problem with a totally unexpected period of drought, ( I'm not going to check that, so it may be wrong ), but in general, Hydro is a special renewable, and I'm only addressing wind and solar.

The countries that that you refer to, that generate a high proportion of their electricity with renewables are nearly all the lucky ones blessed with a lot of Hydro. They are a special case, but there is no prospect of increasing Hydro, it's generally maxed out wherever it's viable. 

Countries that do have a lot of Hydro generation can afford to go a bit on wind and/or solar, because they have that backup that other less lucky countries have to provide using nuclear or fossil fuel. 

3 hours ago, swansont said:

It ignores the fact that we consume more power during the daylight hours than at night

If you have no hydro, then you still have to provide full cover for windless nights. That problem simply doesn't go away.

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1 hour ago, mistermack said:

I haven't said a word against Hydro as a renewable.

And I didn’t mention it either.

In the UK, they get 5x as much energy from other renewables as from hydro, and get a quarter of their electricity from renewables. They also can import electricity, because that’s fairly easy to do (technology-wise)

1 hour ago, mistermack said:

If you have no hydro, then you still have to provide full cover for windless nights. That problem simply doesn't go away.

This does not rebut the point I made.

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Well, I make that three quarters of our electricity that we don't get from renewables. And that means that in the UK, we have cover for windless nights, with fossil fuel and nuclear generation three time that of renewable. The UK illustrates the point I'm making. And importing power doesn't really address the question, you just export the problems abroad. France is 70% nuclear for electricity, so if we import some of their surplus, the chances are it's nuclear. 

If the UK governments keep their promises about electric vehicles, it's going to be hard to supply the juice, with people wanting to charge them up overnight, or on days and nights with little or no wind.  It would be a bit weird to have most cars electric, but powering them with electricity generated by fossil fuel.

I'm in favour of the current policy, from what I'm reading. Diversification is wise, a buffer against unforeseen problems. But nuclear is a great base-load provider, and it's only politics that is holding it back. Part of the politics is the extra costs that politicians are imposing to upgrade the systems so that a Fukushima type incident is covered. As if France and the UK stood the same risk as Japan of a major earthquake or sunami.  

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2 hours ago, swansont said:

and get a quarter of their electricity from renewables

 

16 minutes ago, mistermack said:

Well, I make that three quarters of our electricity that we don't get from renewables

 

The UK government announced last week that we get about 1/3 of our energy from renewables at this time.

However I disagree with the conclusions  re nuclear you have drawn from this for several reasons, including but not limited to

1) The money currently being wasted on nuclear could be far better employed elsewhere.

2) There are many other considerations such as measures to reduce need and therefore demand.

3) There are perfectly viable measures available to provide alternative storage at times of low or high wind or simply wind blowing the wrong way.

4) Alternative fuels to fossil could be employed in combustion based electricity plants.

Edited by studiot
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2 hours ago, mistermack said:

Well, I make that three quarters of our electricity that we don't get from renewables. And that means that in the UK, we have cover for windless nights, with fossil fuel and nuclear generation three time that of renewable. The UK illustrates the point I'm making. And importing power doesn't really address the question, you just export the problems abroad. France is 70% nuclear for electricity, so if we import some of their surplus, the chances are it's nuclear. 

If you can import nuclear, you can import anything else. The electricity doesn’t know. 

 

2 hours ago, mistermack said:

If the UK governments keep their promises about electric vehicles, it's going to be hard to supply the juice, with people wanting to charge them up overnight, or on days and nights with little or no wind.  It would be a bit weird to have most cars electric, but powering them with electricity generated by fossil fuel.

How often is that an actual problem?

 

1 hour ago, studiot said:

The UK government announced last week that we get about 1/3 of our energy from renewables at this time.

Thanks. The number I was using was from 2016 or perhaps earlier, so I’m not surprised it’s gone up.

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2 hours ago, studiot said:

3) There are perfectly viable measures available to provide alternative storage at times of low or high wind or simply wind blowing the wrong way.

Viable doesn't really mean much. 

In the real world, the word they are looking for is economic. Or competitive. If you invent something that's one of those, you could make yourself a billionaire. 

I would like to see it. I do like the idea of wind power and solar taking over. It's just frustrating that it's so limited. I'm just pointing to the real-world problems, I'm not happy that it's that way. 

By the way, wikipedia has the UK percentage renewable at 28 percent. All of the countries with a high percentage seem to have very high proportions of Hydro.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_production_from_renewable_sources  

The figures that they give for overall energy use show how far we have to go in the UK :

 

In 2017 renewable production generated:[4]

  • 27.9% of total electricity
  • 7.7% of total heat energy
  • 4.6% of total transport energy
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28 minutes ago, mistermack said:

Viable doesn't really mean much. 

That tells me you don't really want to hear what anyone else has to say.

On 9/19/2019 at 2:30 PM, mistermack said:

it's politics

I was about compliment you on that amazingly penetrating insight, but then I realised you were using it as an excuse to promote nuclear.

Since you can only countenance Mamon what would you do with £130 billion to spend on renewable probjects?

I outlined my manifesto in (1) and (2) of my previous post.

(3) and (4) comprise further icing on the cake.

 

Oh and I think that towards the end of 2019

Last week's official figures are more current than 2017.

Edited by studiot
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10 minutes ago, studiot said:

Last week's official figures are more current than 2017.

Since you give no link, I looked myself. I'm assuming that you mean this :  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/812626/Press_Notice_June_19.pdf  

And the relevant paragraph says

• Renewables’ share of electricity generation (wind, solar, hydro and other renewables) increased to 35.8 per cent in 2019 Q1, compared to 30.5 per cent in 2018 Q1, mostly due to increased capacity and higher wind speeds in March 2019. Wind and solar combined accounted for a record high of 23.6 per cent of electricity generation in 2019 Q1.

So the figure for wind and solar is below the 25%  

 

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In Denmark  more than 40% of the energy consumption was covered by wind alone for a few years. Hydro plays minor role (<1%) locally (though can be considered a backup battery of sorts). Though of course one might make the argument that other countries may feed it. Still, a significant proportion is gained by wind in either scenario.
Incidentally there are quite a few studies out there looking at feasibility of 100% renewable, with and without hydro or geothermal energy. While I do not think that there is a claim for clear feasibility everywhere, the major directions of these studies and models suggest that they quite broadly deployable and economically viable. Specific to the argument of lack of wind or sun, it has shown that in many scenarios only few hours of peak generation need to be covered, which can be done economically with minimal backup. For larger gaps in supply additional feeding is indeed needed, but even then the vast majority would come from renewables. In addition they show that nuclear is not the only or even best option to feed the system. Mostly because their production is less flexible and, again according to the respective studies the constant base-load is not needed. Major barriers to appear to be inertia and politics and much less feasibility and technology.

For further reading:

Diesendorf & Eliiston (2018) Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

Lund & Mathiesen (2009) Energy

Aghahosseini et al (2019) Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

 

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12 minutes ago, mistermack said:

• Renewables’ share of electricity generation (wind, solar, hydro and other renewables) increased to 35.8 per cent in 2019 Q1

Forgive me but 35.8% was quoted (my information came from a BBC news item last week which is in the same ballpark)

I did say renewables not just some of them.

So what if wind and solar are 23.6% ?

All that means is that half as much again is from other forms of renewables!

 

You haven't investigated my question

32 minutes ago, studiot said:

Since you can only countenance Mamon what would you do with £130 billion to spend on renewable probjects?

I can easily find that level of expenditure saving, to invest in something more useful.

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