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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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We are currently engaged in empirical testing of renewable energy in multiple locations and climates. It doesn't look like a failure to me - more like just emerging from it's early stages.

If massive growth of Nuclear were a well supported plan, with demonstrable recent successes then arguing that investments in wind and solar should be curtailed might make sense, but it is not. There is no such plan. To blame opposition to nuclear for that is oversimplistic -  given the refusal of large parts of mainstream politics (lots that like nuclear) to even concede the climate problem is real and as a consequence withhold their backing for things like carbon pricing - that the World Nuclear Association counts as the most significant single policy nuclear needs.

Storage, in most cases, is not even required until certain thresholds are passed and large scale investments in it won't happen until that need is impending. Or there is a clear plan that foresees and requires it. I see no serious problem with high levels of wind and solar reducing demand for high emissions energy periodically and intermittently. It requires a different way of looking at energy supply and use but does not look anything like the certain disaster the economic alarmist doomsayer opponents make it out to be. Nor is it somehow pointless to invest in enough solar and wind to relegate fossil fuels to backup - that is something renewables in their current iterations can do and should. That helps create the incentives for the solutions needed for displacing fossil fuels as backup - becoming an exercise in market economics.

That renewables are growing rapidly in the absence of any overarching plan is a good thing and the pressures that growing levels puts on energy systems to change are a necessary thing. But expecting renewables to exist entirely independent of fossil fuels from the word go is unreasonable - as long as there is no carbon pricing I think that would only enhance the unfair advantage fossil fuels get through not being accountable for their emissions. It isn't a case of fossil fuels subsidising renewables by being needed in the manufacturing chain or energy backup, it is a transition.

On 9/23/2019 at 9:02 AM, mistermack said:

If countries were actually serious about eliminating carbon emissions

If that were so then things would be very different. Let us all fervently wish for that.

Had that happened 2-3 decades ago I expect nuclear would have featured highly - and the absence of mainstream denial would have seen popular opposition to nuclear crumble in the face of demonstrated need. Lots of "green-left" voices were showing willingness to consider nuclear, because of that need - by no means a majority but not a small minority either. That was an opportunity that was lost when the political Right turned away from facing up to the issue and chose denial and obstruction in order to not face up to it - and happily pushed nuclear under a bus. That they chose hippie painted bus to push it under should not distract from the fact that it was those holding those positions of high office and responsibility who abrogated that responsibility - in the face of the greatest threat to enduring prosperity we have ever faced. It ought to be unforgivable - but, by relying on the broader inclination of all of us to reject our small share of responsibility they can get us to forgive their much bigger share.

Where countries getting serious happens now we get renewables - because they do work. Not because of the overwhelming power of Green politics. For all the focus on the extremists this issue is not primarily driven by green populism, but by decades of top level, science based expert advice.

Long running power companies now choose wind and solar - increasingly in the expectation of no subsidies. They are looking to storage - they aren't stupid - but they aren't going to invest heavily in it until the overall energy mix requires it. And we should not ignore the use of demand management - of reduced demand by agreement in place of expensive storage. Nor ignore the opportunities that >100% RE - even periodically and intermittently - will make.

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You often hear of people moaning about subsidies being given to this or that technology, but in the case of nuclear or fossil fuel, they are becoming essential. 

If you install large quantities of wind and solar, it makes sense to use them to the max, as they don't consume fuel, and they chalk up political brownie points by increasing the renewable statistics. But since backup is essential, it's obvious that the backup will supply less power as the wind and sun supply more.

The backups still have to be paid for, whether they are used or not. Nobody's going to build or run that plant, or finance it, without covering their costs and making a profit. So how do you pay for it ? If their generation figures are shrinking, then you have to raise the price that they get per unit. Or pay them in big chunks of grants. Either way, they can then be portrayed as being subsidised, when in fact, they are being paid to support the wind and solar. So as I've said numerous times, this subsidy is paid to support the shortcomings of wind and  solar, not to support expensive nuclear or fossil plants.

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10 hours ago, mistermack said:

The backups still have to be paid for, whether they are used or not.

Being paid to be on standby is not anything new - and is not usually seen as a subsidy. Backup supply should not need to be subsidised to support wind and solar; they will either be paid a premium price to supply power when wind and solar supply is constrained or be paid for being on standby as part of reliability obligations. Which could end up looking like financial support from wind and solar, rather than fossil fuels financially supporting wind and solar.

I see the matching of variable demand with variable supply problem as an issue with market mechanisms and pricing - it has and will always be an issue for energy supply networks; it is not unique to those with wind and solar, even if the extent of variability is going to be much larger. I think ideally, we should move to a variable, time of use pricing model - the higher price for power when other power is constrained makes a market based incentive to invest in various kinds of backup supply and, conversely, for consumers to reduce demand. We are partway there in Australia with the National Electricity Market and will move from suppliers bidding at 30 minute intervals to 5 minute intervals. We are also seeing more requirements on new solar and wind projects to include storage or other "firming". But that is not at levels for 100% 365 day a year supply, but sufficient to smooth supply so more expensive backup options are not called on unnecessarily at short time scales.

It would be unreasonable to expect backup/storage to be the specific obligation of wind and solar energy providers; every kind of generation spends time off-line. Increasingly in the (increasingly common) extreme heatwaves in Australia, it is coal and gas that is proving unreliable. I think backup/storage is going to be it's own market sector, that will have to argue for the regulatory arrangements that ensure they are economically viable should overarching foresight and planning that makes workable market frameworks remains politically elusive.

Meanwhile there are pumped hydro projects going ahead that should add a lot of on demand backup capacity in Australia - whilst others, already in existence are not yet being used to best effect, due to continuing political resistance to market rule changes that disadvantage coal and gas generators, as part of a climate science/climate responsibility denial political agenda.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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  • 3 weeks later...
On 9/23/2019 at 6:40 AM, swansont said:

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.


(emphasis added)

Here's an example of what I was talking about

"The Ouachita Electric Cooperative, having added enough solar capacity to reduce its peak load by 30%, plans to file a docket with the Arkansas Public Service Commission for a 4.6% rate reduction"


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Feasibility of moving to renewable energy


As with so many things in the world, comparisons can be made to fit many different and often opposing profiles.

Here are some examples:-

It depends who's buying.

Perhaps solar or other renewable energy is more expensive per unit than traditional mains power.
Especially if you buy a large amount.

But suppose you want to put in 500 miles of new illuminated notices to motorists along a rural motorway?

Do you include the cost of digging and backfilling the 500 mile trench to lay the cable when comparing the cost with pole mounted solar panels?
And what about the maintenance of this cable over the years v simply fitting a new panel, as you would a light bulb?
And who pays for the cable itself, since you are the only user?

Or suppose you want to keep the batteries in your sailing yacht topped up.
Is not a small wind turbine mounted on the mast an obvious solution?
These have been available for many years.


Both of these applications demonstrate a particular point.


Applications generally are low density power users at the point of use whether domestic or light industrial.
No one or two users combined can sink the output of a modern power station, that takes many tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands.

So you have a place of very high density power, which has to be scaled down for each user, as well as distributed.

Who pays for this very expensive system?

Now compare this with renewable.
Renewable tends to be low density power.

Yet we still try to collect it all back together to power station densities.
Surely it makes more sense to use it at low density.

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