Wind energy, or solar energy, except for niche applications, are absolutely useless.
Wind and solar are erratic and unpredictable sources of electricity. They always have to be backed up by conventional plants that can carry the load when the wind dies or the sun sets. If the wind and solar plants were dynamited, the backup plants would smoothly assume the load.
We are deluged with propaganda that says that wind or solar is cheaper than conventional sources of electricity. The propaganda always neglects to reveal the true subsidies and the cost of the parallel backup system. The subsidies are a complex web of direct and indirect subsidies, including direct subsidies from the federal treasury, special tax breaks, and sweetheart power purchase contracts. A simpler way to compute the subsidy is to look that the cost and benefit to the electrical grid when wind or solar is added to the grid.
Wind or solar cannot displace existing plants unless new backup plants are added. For example, in Colorado, they are closing some coal plants and adding new natural gas plants and new wind plants. Presumably the new natural gas plants can back up the wind plants. In most cases existing plants, usually natural gas, are used to back up new wind or solar.
The benefit of adding wind and solar is to reduce fuel consumption in the backup plants when the wind or solar is actually generating electricity. The cost of the wind or solar electricity is mostly the capital cost of building the plant spread over the life of the plant with appropriate interest rates. The value of the fuel saved in the backup plant is about 2-cents per kilowatt hour. But the cost of the wind or solar electricity is about 7-cents per kilowatt hour when no subsidies are applied. The cost per kilowatt hour is similar for wind or solar. In other words, a 5-cent per kilowatt hour subsidy is given for each kilowatt hour of green electricity. The subsidy percentage is 5/7 or a bit more then 70%.
For residential rooftop solar, the subsidy percentage is much greater, over 90%. This is because the cost of a residential system is very high due to the lack of economies of scale and the limitations of the site. Without subsidies rooftop solar electricity costs about 30-cents per kilowatt hour. The benefit is still the 2 cent saving in fuel in the backup plant for each kilowatt hour of electricity generated. The paradox is that the homeowner may profit from adding rooftop solar due to subsidies and advantageous treatment from the utility. Everybody else is paying for his profit.
Neither are wind or solar efficient methods of reducing CO2 emissions. If we consider the 5-cent per kilowatt hour subsidy the cost of reducing CO2 emissions, it turns out that it costs $140 to reduce one metric ton of CO2 emissions from a natural gas backup plant. Reducing CO2 emissions by one metric ton is known as a carbon offset. But you can buy a carbon offset in the open market for about $10.
Advocates for wind or solar are incurable technological optimists, claiming that new technology will make wind or solar competitive. For example, if solar panel efficiency were increased from 20% to 30% and the cost of the panels was cut in half, then the cost of solar electricity would be reduced from 7-cents to 4-cents, still far above the 2-cent competitive level. If incredible improvement in the cost of wind or solar electricity materializes, then we can start building wind and solar plants.
Similar considerations apply to using batteries to smooth the flow of electricity and eliminate the need for backup plants. Batteries are currently 10-20 times too expensive for this use. When cheap batteries appear, we can build wind or solar plants backed by batteries.
Norman Rogers is the author of the book: "Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy."
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