1. Marcott: THE BIG STICK
2. NASA: Polar Warming
4. Energy curtailment
5. Total Costs in $Bn per GW delivered.
1. CAN RENEWABLES REALLY BE AN ECONOMIC SOLUTION
FOR GLOBAL WARMING?
This is the primary question to ask of advanced countries and is explored here.
2. WHO COULD BENEFIT MOST FROM RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS AND OTHER SUSTAINABLE TECHNOLOGIES?
This question has not yet been addressed but there are many places where renewables are by far the best option. We will address this soon.
Renewables economics is the central question for renewable energy for which we present a fairly definitive answer. The answer is confused by its many parts and is probably not what you think. This page gives a summary, illustrated by the active thumbnails on the left. A survey is given in the Overviews and a full analysis in the library, linked on the right.
Renewables must be backed up by more reliable sources. Discussion of Fossil duels is part of the Renewables story. Distributed sources provoke distributed argument, repeating the same litany of complaints. We hope the detailed discussions here can broaden the understanding of renewables and their problems, perhaps generating new approaches.
Make no mistake, Global Warming is real and is driven strongly by industrial emissions which are a significant fraction of the CO2 in the atmosphere. The efforts to curb emissions have been a political failure for 20 years. Emissions continue to increase as more coal and gas are rushed in to cover the failures of energy policy. US shale gas has reduced the use of coal but US coal is now being exported. In Europe, some 40GW of lower emissions gas powers stations have been closed in favour of this cheap US coal.
The Japanese demonstration of mining Methyl Hydrate from the ocean floor steps into a massive new source of fossil carbon.
We include further discussion of Global Warming with the prime culprit, Coal.
Average Global temperature (1) rises have been static for a decade or more. The climate modellers are seeking the reasons for their higher predictions. Anew paper by Marcott & Stephenson in Science shows a measure of temperature variations over 10,000 years. The 'hockey stick' rise of the last century is a clear change in the way warming varies. The details are being challenged but the broad picture is striking.
Despite the stalling of temperature rises over the last 15 years, the effects at the poles continue to melt the major ice sheets. The NASA temperature maps (2) show this clearly. The consequences for the oceans could be very large. Some authors have projected that shipping over the North Pole could be possible by 2050.
Can Renewables really provide most of our energy needs around the world? We are close to a good understanding of how this might work on a grand scale and the sacrifices needed.
The UK government has not grasped the fact that it's extravagant wind programme can only be a small part of a continent size array of renewable energy systems. The local windmills or rooftop solar panels we all see are not what our society is buying into.
US NREL: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
A new and very competent study by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (July 2012) reveals all the steps necessary to achieve an 80% renewables energy system by 2050. The full set of NREL reports is available in our library.
Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, EfN-UK, have used the NREL results to evaluate the equivalent, much larger, DESERTEC (3) scenario for the EU. This combines geothermal power from Iceland with Hydroelectrics in Norway, North Sea wind, onshore wind farms everywhere, and solar energy from North Africa and Saudi Arabia all linked by a vast, high voltage Super Grid, or Backup Grid for the system. This is not a dream, but a necessity as shown by the NREL. The Super, or Backup Grid is already being cobbled together as Germany, Denmark and UK grapple with the problems of intermittency and grid instability.
The Necessity for Back Up.
We all know that erratic wind power must be matched with gas power stations to supply electricity on demand, but this wind-gas hybrid can never meet the 2050 goals for emissions reductions. Instead, expensive heat storage and pumped hydroelectric storage must replace gas as the hybrid partner to reduce emissions by 80%.
The UK cannot achieve this alone.
National energy independence and Renewables Leadership are meaningless aspirations. The homespun regulatory system will become redundant and only the endless subsidy stream will survive. No other business on the planet has ever been guaranteed such a profitable future for 25 years.
In the much larger scheme it is entirely unnecessary that England, the most densely populated country in the EU, should sacrifice its landscapes, parks, or sites of natural beauty to low performance onshore windmill farms, using extreme legislation to override the wishes of the population. MPs and Councillors have been excluded in the sacrifice of our seaside resorts to inshore wind farms.
The NREL Optimal System
Much larger concerns emerge from the NREL study. In normal operation every wind farm, solar or hydroelectric plant, or other power station must be controlled, minute by minute, to keep the Backup Grid in balance. Even on this grand scale, large variations in wind and solar energy will still require 10% of excessive output to be thrown away or, at low periods 15-25% of demand may be curtailed across the EU from selected industries, electric vehicle charging, or even domestic appliances. Every country in the system must yield complete sovereignty and control of all electricity supply and user demand to the Backup Grid. This is a Renewables Dictatorship with tremendous political problems.
Carbon Capture & Storage Rejected.
This energy performance is based on plausible but optimistic assumptions by the NREL. They allow Nuclear power to die away, coal is heavily cut back, but Carbon Capture and Storage is dismissed as a significant option. Perversely, the EU is now using the CCS possibility as a fig leaf to justify new coal power stations, but CCS will certainly be too late to cut major emissions in time.
Wind Farm Performance
The average wind or solar farm does not match the promises of the vendors, so 25% more above the base plan will be needed. Performance of UK wind farms is actually declining for a service life of only 15 years. Weather can vary by 30% between wet and dry years, and higher variations are expected with increased global warming. The system needs large windmill reserves.
Scaling the NREL costs up to the EU needs, the complete 80% Renewables system for 2050 will cost at least 10 trillion euros. Renewables on this scale are not affordable in the rest of the world. It seems that this is not a global solution.
The costs for renewable systems must include the totals for Backup Grids, Backup Gas and Storage systems, We evaluate the total system costs in $Bn per Gigawatt of electricity supplied. Renewables are clearly the most expensive form of energy.
Simple estimates by EfN show that a significant 30-40% of Nuclear energy in the mix will restore national sovereignties and eliminate the need for continent wide control of energy supplies. The new generation of reactors are the safest ever and the technologies in hand could run the world for thousands of years. More advanced Fission and Fusion systems will complete the story, with no possibility of fires or meltdowns, wastes consumed, and spent fuel continuously recycled for total burn up. The story of energy in this century is far from over.