The Disaster of Believing in 100% Renewable Energy

Solar panelsSenate Bill 584, the California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program, introduced by state Senator Kevin de Leon, would reformulate the calculations for how much energy California would receive from renewables while eliminating fossil fuels. Senator de Leon wants to amend Section 399.11 of the Public Utilities Code relating to energy that currently states by December 31, 2030, California would have retail sales of renewable energy at 50 percent. Under the senator’s bill, California would have 100 percent of energy only from renewables. Currently, the U.S. receives around 10-13 percent from renewables, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), and sees that figure only reaching 21-26 percent by 2050.

With California it’s more severe than in other parts of the country for how much renewable energy is required for consumers and business, because the California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program already states:

“The Public Utilities Commission to establish a renewables portfolio standard requiring all retail sellers, as defined, so that the total kilowatt hours of those products sold to their retail end-use customers achieves benchmarks of 25 percent, 33 percent, 45 percent, and 50 percent.”

California already has some of the highest electricity rates in the country, and passing this bill would only exacerbate the problem while sending more companies and jobs to other states or overseas. There is a direct correlation between higher business costs (electricity being a large cost) and business relocation. Why is Senator de Leon risking this happening by upping the cost of electricity when even the EIA says a large, fully-developed economy – that is California – will have a difficult time thriving and keeping middle class families and workers with skyrocketing energy costs? Not to mention we owe trillions in outstanding debts.

Believing renewable energy is scalable, and not downtrodden when intermittent weather occurs, while having excess energy storage issues follows the same misguided policies guiding electrical vehicles. Where even with generous tax credits and beautiful vehicles built by Tesla and all major car manufacturers has still only allowed EVs to capture roughly 1 percent of worldwide car sales.

But there are even bigger problems with renewables, and this bill that need to be ascertained by Senator De Leon, Governor Brown and other advocates for turning California into a 100 percent renewable energy state. Internationally, we are seeing that countries that attempt to do away with fossil fuel realize they can’t. A great example is the U.K., which in 2016 saw oil production gains for the second straight year. Not coincidentally the U.K. also saw the best economic growth in the world per these gains in 2016. There is direct causation between oil, natural gas, and coal production linked with economic prosperity for all sectors of society.

The facts about renewables are the issues that need to be overcome before proceeding forward with SB584. According to the BP 2016 Statistical Review of World Energy – the most popular forms of renewable energy – wind and solar accounted for less than 2 percent of world energy consumption. The U.S. electrical grid will have to be completely updated and overhauled, costly trillions of dollars, because The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. grid a D+ grade in every category of electrical use. Without a state-of-the-art grid that can handle spikes and fluctuations in energy that renewables create and cause (particularly wind and solar) then California will have blackouts and expenses worse than previously experienced in the early 2000s.

During the recent rain and snowstorms that were unprecedented that is when some of the biggest energy needs occur that renewables can’t handle. Natural gas is a flexible fuel, along with coal and oil (WTI & Brent), but all forms of renewables need a fossil fuel backing them up. In other words what SB584 doesn’t address is reliability and the costs to the grid compared to fossil fuels. Beijing, China recently switched from coal to just coal-based electricity and saw costs rise 100 percent from $200 a month to $300 a month. Renewables will be more expensive than what Beijing experienced.

Moreover, Senator de Leon and legislators agreeing with SB584 need to make sure they are using the correct calculations for Energy Return on Energy Invested or at least consider the overall levelized costs. Boundary issues are relevant to wind and solar but more accurate analysis needs to use “point of use,” because wind and solar need massive changes as described above for them to work on a scalable, statewide basis. Many publications touting renewables don’t calculate this properly, and in some cases could be less than 1:1 energy-to-energy ratio.

Storage isn’t discussed enough either. If you want heat in the winter and cool air in the summer then somehow wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric have to be stored. For now small amounts can be stored, but for extreme weather, even overbuilding solar farms and wind turbines doesn’t solve the intermittent weather and storage problems that would be caused by SB584.

Some countries such as Sweden, Norway, Finland and Switzerland have large shares of their electricity from all types of energy mixes, but even that is deceiving. The BP Statistical Review confirms these four countries have high proportions of their energy from multiple sources, but each country has low populations and significant hydroelectric supply. Currently, as an example, the Oroville Dam is old, decaying and giving away to torrential rains; therefore, would the legislature be willing to appropriate billions towards new dams and maintenance of old ones to up California’s percentage of hydroelectric? So far the answer seems to be no for environmental reasons. The EIA (source: Gail Tverberg, OurFiniteWorld.com) has also confirmed that hydroelectricity deals with the problems of intermittency, reliability, scalability and storage – the same as all other renewables.

What California needs to decide in their quest for a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio are how much consumers are willing to pay in their quest for energy parity? Californians can only purchase what wage growth predicates, and if the cost of a commodity increases (energy) then wages, though rising, aren’t keeping up with the cost of living or doing business. Peak energy is a myth, and there is more oil and gas than the world can fathom. Thus energy demand comes not from a lack of supply but from a lack of affordability, seen from the Beijing example.

Rising costs don’t translate necessarily into a more prosperous society. What SB584 doesn’t take into account are what happens to fossil fuel companies that still have to pay interest on loans, continuing retirement benefits for workers and pipelines that have to operate for 365 days a year. The question isn’t renewables versus fossil fuels or vice versa, but the question is whether California is willing to pay for two systems of electricity. There’s the rub, and more than likely, unless you can afford higher electricity costs, the state will see more businesses and middle class families along with their taxes, leave the state.

Todd Royal is an independent public policy consultant focusing on the geopolitical implications of energy based in Los Angeles, California.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Obama-Backed CA Solar Plant Literally Incinerates Itself

Ivanpah solar energyThe world’s largest solar energy plant known for incinerating birds just got a taste of its own medicine. A fire at the plant Thursday morning, which may have been caused by “misaligned” mirrors used to reflect sunlight at boiler towers, broke out in the facilities interior — literally scorching parts of the plant.

NRG Energy, the company operating the Ivanpah solar plant in southern California, was forced to shut down one of its generating towers and is investigating if mirrors, or heliostats, failed and torched a boiling tower. Now, the plant which got $1.6 billion from the Obama administration, will only be able to generate electricity from one of its three towers.

An NRG spokesman said it’s too early to say exactly what caused the failure, but it’s likely due to misaligned heliostats, according to Gizmodo. Whatever the cause, workers and firefighters literally went through hell to douse the flames.

Gizmodo reports:

A small fire was reported yesterday morning at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California, forcing a temporary shutdown of the facility. It’s now running at a third of its capacity (a second tower is down due to scheduled maintenance), and it’s not immediately clear when the damaged tower will restart. It’s also unclear how the incident will impact California’s electricity supply.

Putting out the blaze was not easy task, either. Firefighters were forced to climb 300 feet up a boiler tower to get to the scene. Officials said the fire was located about two-thirds up the tower. Workers at the plant actually managed to subdue the flames by the time firefighters reached the spot, and it was officially extinguished about 20 minutes after it started.

The scorched tower is currently shut down, according to the Associated Press, and it’s not clear when it will come online again. It’s also unclear if this setback will affect California’s electricity supply.

This only adds to Ivanpah’s troubles. The plant was nearly shut down by California regulators for not producing nearly as much power as it was supposed to. Regulators have given the plant until the end of July to meet its power quotas, but this fire may make it hard for the plant to meet its goals.

Ivanpah only generated 45 percent of expected power in 2014 and only 68 percent in 2015, according to government data. And it does all this at a cost of $200 per megawatt hour — nearly six times the cost of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. Interestingly enough, Ivanpah uses natural gas to supplement its solar production.

It wasn’t long after the plant opened, its operators asked the federal government for a $539 million federal grant to help pay off the $1.6 billion loan it got from the Energy Department.

Environmentalists quickly attacked the project for killing thousands of birds since it opened. Many birds were incinerated by the intense heat reflected off Ivanpah’s heliostats.

The Associated Press cited statistics presented by environmentalists in 2014 that “about a thousand… to 28,000” birds are incinerated by Ivanpah’s heliostats every year.

“Forensic Lab staff observed a falcon or falcon-like bird with a plume of smoke arising from the tail as it passed through the flux field,” according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report from 2014.

Ivanpah — which is owned by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google — uses more than 170,000 large mirrors, or heliostats, to reflect sunlight towards water boilers set atop 450-foot towers that create steam to turn giant turbines and generate electricity.

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This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Elon Musk May Have Even More Cash To Roll In Thanks To Solar Subsidies

Elon Musk has made millions from government solar panel subsidies, and may have found a way to make even more if rumors Tesla will soon introduce a whole-home battery are true.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and chairman of solar panel manufacturer SolarCity, set off a wave of anxious speculation Monday when he tweeted that “[a] major new Tesla product line—not a car” would be unveiled on April 30.

Neither Musk nor Tesla have confirmed any details about the new product, but according to The Motley Fool, many observers believe the new product will be a home battery capable of storing electricity produced by solar panels.

Musk told investors during a February conference call Tesla would begin production of a home battery within about six months, and further reinforced expectations with a second tweet, in which he said, “With all that solar power being generated, it almost feels like something is needed to complete the picture …”

Many experts, however, claim much of the reason for all that solar power being generated is that state and federal subsidies make rooftop solar panels affordable in the first place. (RELATED: Solar Industry Demands Extension of Subsidies)

In an op-ed for Townhall, for instance, Ken Blackwell asserts that, “Very few people would install these rooftop solar systems at all if not for the federal tax break that comes with it,” which takes the form of a 30 percent non-refundable tax credit known as the solar investment tax credit.

Even the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group, acknowledges as much on its website, noting that, “the residential and commercial solar ITC has helped annual solar installation grow by over 1,600 percent since the ITC was implemented in 2006.”

Another program that acts as an implicit subsidy for solar is net metering, which requires power companies to purchase excess solar from homeowners at the same price they charge their retail customers. Most states have their own net metering policies, and since 2005, federal law has required all public electric utilities to offer net metering to their solar customers on request.

Electric companies complain that net metering ignores the cost of operating and maintaining power grids, which they say accounts for about one-third of the price they charge for electricity. Because solar customers use the grid whenever they buy or sell power, the utilities argue net metering allows solar users to use the grid as a battery without contributing toward operating costs, forcing them to raise rates on other customers. (RELATED: Low-Income, Minority Households Bear Costs of Solar Subsidies)

According to a study from the University of Colorado at Boulder conducted by Chrystie Burr, “most of the investments in solar power systems wouldn’t have been made without the … upfront subsidy and the residential renewable energy tax credit.”

Similarly, a study by Kenneth Reddix II of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concludes that in California, “over 54 percent of all purchases would have not occurred … in the absence of government subsidies.” (RELATED: Europe’s Green Energy Industry Faces Collapse as Subsidies are Cut)

If Tesla’s new product does turn out to be a home battery, as is widely expected, Musk will stand to profit twice from those subsidies—once from SolarCity’s sales of the subsidized panels, and then again from Tesla’s sale of home batteries to the same customers.

“Elon Musk is making a big play for American solar and all the subsidies that go along with it,” an energy industry consultant told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If you’re getting millions from the federal government and a subsidized power grid, you might as well keep offering related products.”

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation