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Intermittent Renewables Can’t Favorably Transform Grid Electricity

Alternative Energy

Many people are hoping for wind and solar PV to transform grid electricity in a favorable way. Is this really possible? Is it really feasible for intermittent renewables to generate a large share of grid electricity? The answer increasingly looks as if it is, “No, the costs are too great, and the return on investment would be way too low.” We are already encountering major grid problems, even with low penetrations of intermittent renewable electricity: US, 5.4% of 2015 electricity consumption; China, 3.9%; Germany, 19.5%; Australia, 6.6%.

In fact, I have come to the rather astounding conclusion that even if wind turbines and solar PV could be built at zero cost, it would not make sense to continue to add them to the electric grid in the absence of very much better and cheaper electricity storage than we have today. There are too many costs outside building the devices themselves. It is these secondary costs that are problematic. Also, the presence of intermittent electricity disrupts competitive prices, leading to electricity prices that are far too low for other electricity providers, including those providing electricity using nuclear or natural gas. The tiny contribution of wind and solar to grid electricity cannot make up for the loss of more traditional electricity sources due to low prices.

Leaders around the world have demanded that their countries switch to renewable energy, without ever taking a very close look at what the costs and benefits were likely to be. A few simple calculations were made, such as “Life Cycle Assessment” and “Energy Returned on Energy Invested.” These calculations miss the fact that the intermittent energy being returned is of very much lower quality than is needed to operate the electric grid. They also miss the point that timing and the cost of capital are very important, as is the impact on the pricing of other energy products. This is basically another example of a problem I wrote about earlier, Overly Simple Energy-Economy Models Give Misleading Answers.

Let’s look at some of the issues that we are encountering, as we attempt to add intermittent renewable energy to the electric grid.

Issue 1. Grid issues become a problem at low levels of intermittent electricity penetration.

In 2015, wind and solar PV amounted to only 12.2% of total electricity consumed in Hawaii, based on EIA data. Even at this low level, Hawaii is encountering sufficiently serious grid problems that it has needed to stop net metering (giving homeowners credit for the retail cost of electricity, when electricity is sold to the grid) and phase out subsidies.

Figure 1. Hawaii Electricity Production, based on EIA data. Other Disp. electricity is the sum of various other non-intermittent electricity sources, including geothermal and biomass burned as fuel.

Figure 1. Hawaii Electricity Production, based on EIA data. Other Disp. electricity is the sum of various other non-intermittent electricity sources, including geothermal and biomass burned as fuel.

Hawaii consists of a chain of islands, so it cannot import electricity from elsewhere. This is what I mean by “Generation = Consumption.” There is, of course, some transmission line loss with all electrical generation, so generation and consumption are, in fact, slightly different.

The situation is not too different in California. The main difference is that California can import non-intermittent (also called “dispatchable”) electricity from elsewhere. It is really the ratio of intermittent electricity to total electricity that is important, when it comes to balancing. California is running into grid issues at a similar level of intermittent electricity penetration (wind + solar PV) as Hawaii–about 12.3% of electricity consumed in 2015, compared to 12.2% for Hawaii.

Figure 2. California electricity consumption, based on EIA data. Other Disp. is the sum of other non-intermittent sources, including geothermal and biomass burned for electricity generation.

Figure 2. California electricity consumption, based on EIA data. Other Disp. is the sum of other non-intermittent sources, including geothermal and biomass burned for electricity generation.

Even with growing wind and solar production, California is increasingly dependent on non-intermittent electricity imported from other states.

Issue 2. The apparent “lid” on intermittent electricity at 10% to 15% of total electricity consumption is caused by limits on operating reserves.

Electric grids are set up with “operating reserves” that allow the electric grid to maintain stability, even if a large unit, such as a nuclear power plant, goes offline. These operating reserves typically handle fluctuations of 10% to 15% in the electricity supply.

If additional adjustment is needed, it is possible to take some commercial facilities offline, based on agreements offering lower rates for interruptible supply. It is also possible for certain kinds of power plants, particularly hydroelectric and natural gas “peaker plants,” to ramp production up or down quickly. Combined cycle natural gas plants also provide reasonably fast response.

In theory, changes can be made to the system to allow the system to be more flexible. One such change is adding more long distance transmission, so that the variable electricity can be distributed over a wider area. This way the 10% to 15% operational reserve “cap” applies more broadly. Another approach is adding energy storage, so that excess electricity can be stored until needed later. A third approach is using a “smart grid” to make changes, such as turning off all air conditioners and hot water heaters when electricity supply is inadequate. All of these changes tend to be slow to implement and high in cost, relative to the amount of intermittent electricity that can be added because of their implementation.

Issue 3. When there is no other workaround for excess intermittent electricity, it must be curtailed–that is, dumped rather than added to the grid.

Overproduction without grid capacity was a significant problem in Texas in 2009, causing about 17% of wind energy to be curtailed in 2009. At that time, wind energy amounted to about 5.0% of Texas’s total electricity consumption. The problem has mostly been fixed, thanks to a series of grid upgrades allowing wind energy to flow better from western Texas to eastern Texas.

Figure 3. Texas electricity net generation based on EIA data. The Texas grid is separate, so there is no imported or exported electricity.

Figure 3. Texas electricity net generation based on EIA data. The Texas grid is separate, so there is no imported or exported electricity.

In 2015, total intermittent electricity from wind and solar amounted to only 10.1% of Texas electricity. Solar has never been large enough to be visible on the chart–only 0.1% of consumption in 2015. The total amount of intermittent electricity consumed in Texas is only now beginning to reach the likely 10% to 15% limit of operational reserves. Thus, it is “behind” Hawaii and California in reaching intermittent electricity limits.

Based on the modeling of the company that oversees the California electric grid, electricity curtailment in California is expected to be significant by 2024, if the 40% California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is followed, and changes are not made to fix the problem.

Figure 4. <a href=

Issue 4. When all costs are included, including grid costs and indirect costs, such as the need for additional storage, the cost of intermittent renewables tends to be very high.

In Europe, there is at least a reasonable attempt to charge electricity costs back to consumers. In the United States, renewable energy costs are mostly hidden, rather than charged back to consumers. This is easy to do, because their usage is still low.

Euan Mearns finds that in Europe, the greater the proportion of wind and solar electricity included in total generation, the higher electricity prices are for consumers.

Figure 5. Figure by Euan Mearns showing relationship between installed wind + solar capacity and European electricity rates. Source Energy Matters.

Figure 5. Figure by Euan Mearns showing relationship between installed wind + solar capacity and European electricity rates. Source Energy Matters.

The five countries shown in red have all had financial difficulties. High electricity prices may have contributed to their problems.

The United States is not shown on this chart, since it is not part of Europe. If it were, it would be a bit below, and to the right of, Czech Republic and Romania.

Issue 5. The amount that electrical utilities are willing to pay for intermittent electricity is very low. 

The big question is, “How much value does adding intermittent electricity add to the electrical grid?” Clearly, adding intermittent electricity allows a utility to reduce the amount of fossil fuel energy that it might otherwise purchase. In some cases, the addition of solar electricity slightly reduces the amount of new generation needed. This reduction occurs because of the tendency of solar to offer supply when the usage of air conditioners is high on summer afternoons. Of course, in advanced countries, the general tendency of electricity usage is down, thanks to more efficient light bulbs and less usage by computer screens and TV monitors.

At the same time, the addition of intermittent electricity adds a series of other costs:

  • Many more hook-ups to generation devices are needed. Homes now need two-way connections, instead of one-way connections. Someone needs to service these connections and check for problems.
  • Besides intermittency problems, the mix of active and reactive power may be wrong. The generation sources may cause frequency deviations larger than permitted by regulations.
  • More long-distance electricity transmission lines are needed, so that the new electricity can be distributed over a wide enough area that it doesn’t cause oversupply problems when little electricity is needed (such as weekends in the spring and fall).
  • As electricity is transported over longer distances, there is more loss in transport.
  • To mitigate some of these problems, there is a need for electricity storage. This adds two kinds of costs: (1) Cost for the storage device, and (2) Loss of electricity in the process.
  • As I will discuss later, intermittent energy tends to lead to very low wholesale electricity prices. Other electricity providers need to be compensated for the effects these low prices cause; otherwise they will leave the market.

To sum up, when intermittent electricity is added to the electric grid, the primary savings are fuel savings. At the same time, significant costs of many different types are added, acting to offset these savings. In fact, it is not even clear that when a comparison is made, the benefits of adding intermittent electricity are greater than the costs involved.

According to the EIA’s 2015 Wind Technologies Market Report, the major way intermittent electricity is sold to electric utilities is as part of long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), typically lasting for 20 years. Utilities buy PPAs as a way of hedging against the possibility that natural gas prices will rise in the future. The report indicates that the recent selling price for PPAs is about $25 to $28 per MWh (Figure 6). This is equivalent to 2.5  to 2.8 cents per kWh, which is very inexpensive.

Figure 6. EIA exhibit showing the median and mean cost of wind PPAs compared to EIA's forecast price of natural gas, from 2015 Wind Technologies Market Report.

Figure 6. EIA exhibit showing the median and mean cost of wind PPAs compared to EIA’s forecast price of natural gas, from 2015 Wind Technologies Market Report.

In effect, what utilities are trying to do is hedge against rising fuel prices of whatever kind they choose to purchase. They may even be able to afford to make other costly changes, such as more transmission lines and energy storage, so that more intermittent electricity can be accommodated.

Issue 6. When intermittent electricity is sold in competitive electricity markets (as it is in California, Texas, and Europe), it frequently leads to negative wholesale electricity prices. It also shaves the peaks off high prices at times of high demand.

In states and countries that use competitive pricing (rather than utility pricing, used in some states), the wholesale price of electricity price varies from minute to minute, depending on the balance between supply and demand. When there is an excess of intermittent electricity, wholesale prices often become negative. Figure 7 shows a chart by a representative of the company that oversees the California electric grid.

Figure 7. Exhibit showing problem of negative electricity prices in California, from EIA Convention Presentation.

Figure 7. Exhibit showing problem of negative electricity prices in California, from a presentation at the 2016 EIA Annual Conference.

Clearly, the number of negative price spikes increases, as the proportion of intermittent electricity increases. A similar problem with negative prices has been reported in Texas and in Europe.

When solar energy is included in the mix of intermittent fuels, it also tends to reduce peak afternoon prices. Of course, these minute-by-minute prices don’t really flow back to the ultimate consumers, so it doesn’t affect their demand. Instead, these low prices simply lead to lower funds available to other electricity producers, most of whom cannot quickly modify electricity generation.

To illustrate the problem that arises, Figure 8, prepared by consultant Paul-Frederik Bach, shows a comparison of Germany’s average wholesale electricity prices (dotted line) with residential electricity prices for a number of European countries. Clearly, wholesale electricity prices have been trending downward, while residential electricity prices have been rising. In fact, if prices for nuclear, natural gas, and coal-fired electricity had been fair prices for these other providers, residential electricity prices would have trended upward even more quickly than shown in the graph!

Figure 8. Residential Electricity Prices in Europe, together with Germany spot wholesale price, from http://pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

Figure 8. Residential Electricity Prices in Europe, together with Germany spot wholesale price, from http://pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

Note that the recent average wholesale electricity price is about 30 euros per MWh, which is equivalent to 3.0 cents per kWh. In US dollars this would equate to $36 per MWh, or 3.6 cents per kWh. These prices are higher than prices paid by PPAs for intermittent electricity ($25 to $28 per MWh), but not a whole lot higher.

The problem we encounter is that prices in the $36 MWh range are too low for almost every kind of energy generation. Figure 9 from Bloomberg is from 2013, so is not entirely up to date, but gives an idea of the basic problem.

Figure 9. Global leveled cost of energy production by Bloomberg.

Figure 9. Global leveled cost of energy production by Bloomberg.

A price of $36 per MWh is way down at the bottom of the chart, between 0 and 50. Pretty much no energy source can be profitable at such a level. Too much investment is required, relative to the amount of energy produced. We reach a situation where nearly every kind of electricity provider needs subsidies. If they cannot receive subsidies, many of them will close, leaving the market with only a small amount of unreliable intermittent electricity, and little back-up capability.

This same problem with falling wholesale prices, and a need for subsidies for other energy producers, has been noted in California and Texas. The Wall Street Journal ran an article earlier this week about low electricity prices in Texas, without realizing that this was a problem caused by wind energy, not a desirable result!

Issue 7. Other parts of the world are also having problems with intermittent electricity.

Germany is known as a world leader in intermittent electricity generation. Its intermittent generation hit 12.2% of total generation in 2012. As you will recall, this is the level where California and Hawaii started to reach grid problems. By 2015, its intermittent electricity amounted to 19.5% of total electricity generated.

Figure 10. German electricity generated, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2016.

Figure 10. German electricity generated, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2016.

Needless to say, such high intermittent electricity generation leads to frequent spikes in generation. Germany chose to solve this problem by dumping its excess electricity supply on the European Union electric grid. Poland, Czech Republic, and Netherlands complained to the European Union. As a result, the European Union mandated that from 2017 onward, all European Union countries (not just Germany) can no longer use feed-in tariffs. Doing so provides too much of an advantage to intermittent electricity providers. Instead, EU members must use market-responsive auctioning, known as “feed-in premiums.” Germany legislated changes that went even beyond the minimum changes required by the European Union. Dörte Fouquet, Director of the European Renewable Energy Federation, says that the German adjustments will “decimate the industry.”

In Australia, one recent headline was Australia Considers Banning Wind Power Because It’s Causing Blackouts. The problem seems to be in South Australia, where the last coal-fired power plants are closing because subsidized wind is leading to low wholesale electricity prices. Australia, as a whole, does not have a high intermittent electricity penetration ratio (6.6% of 2015 electricity consumption), but grid limitations mean that South Australia is disproportionately affected.

China has halted the approval of new wind turbine installations in North China because it does not have grid capacity to transport intermittent electricity to more populated areas. Also, most of China’s electricity production is from coal, and it is difficult to use coal to balance with wind and solar because coal-fired plants can only be ramped up slowly. China’s total use of wind and solar is not very high (3.9% of consumption in 2015), but it is already encountering major difficulties in grid integration.

Issue 8. The amount of subsidies provided to intermittent electricity is very high.

The renewable energy program in the United States consists of overlapping local, state, and federal programs. It includes mandates, feed-in tariffs, exemption from taxes, production tax credits, and other devices. This combination of approaches makes it virtually impossible to figure out the amount of the subsidy by adding up the pieces. We are pretty certain, however, that the amount is high. According to the National Wind Watch Organization,

At the federal level, the production or investment tax credit and double-declining accelerated depreciation can pay for two-thirds of a wind power project. Additional state incentives, such as guaranteed markets and exemption from property taxes, can pay for another 10%.

If we believe this statement, the developer only pays about 23% of the cost of a wind energy project.

The US Energy Information Administration prepared an estimate of certain types of subsidies (those provided by the federal government and targeted particularly at energy) for the year 2013. These amounted to a total of $11.3 billion for wind and solar combined. About 183.3 terawatts of wind and solar energy was sold during 2013, at a wholesale price of about 2.8 cents per kWh, leading to a total selling price of $5.1 billion dollars. If we add the wholesale price of $5.1 billion to the subsidy of $11.3 billion, we get a total of $16.4 billion paid to developers or used in special grid expansion programs. This subsidy amounts to 69% of the estimated total cost. Any subsidy from states, or from other government programs, would be in addition to the amount from this calculation.

Paul-Frederik Bach shows a calculation of wind energy subsidies in Denmark, comparing the prices paid under the Public Service Obligation (PSO) system to the market price for wind. His calculations show that both the percentage and dollar amount of subsidies have been rising. In 2015, subsidies amounted to 66% of the total PSO cost.

Figure 11. Amount of subsidy for wind energy in Netherlands, as calculated by comparing paid for wind under PSO with market value of wind energy. Exhibit from http://www.pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

Figure 11. Amount of subsidy for wind energy in Netherlands, as calculated by comparing paid for wind under PSO with market value of wind energy. Exhibit from http://www.pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/references/pfb_towards_50_pct_wind_in_denmark_2016_03_30.pdf

In a sense, these calculations do not show the full amount of subsidy. If renewables are to replace fossil fuels, they must pay taxes to governments, just as fossil fuel providers do now. Energy providers are supposed to provide “net energy” to the system. The way that they share this net energy with governments is by paying taxes of various kinds–income taxes, property taxes, and special taxes associated with extraction. If intermittent renewables are to replace fossil fuels, they need to provide tax revenue as well. Current subsidy calculations don’t consider the high taxes paid by fossil fuel providers, and the need to replace these taxes, if governments are to have adequate revenue.

Also, the amount and percentage of required subsidy for intermittent renewables can be expected to rise over time, as more areas exceed the limits of their operating reserves, and need to build long distance transmission to spread intermittent electricity over a larger area. This seems to be happening in Europe now. In 2015, the revenue generated by the wholesale price of intermittent electricity amounted to about 13.1 billion euros, according to my calculations. In order to expand further, policy advisor Daniel Genz with Vattenfall indicates that grids across Europe will need to be upgraded, at a cost of between 100 and 400 billion euros. In other words, grid expenditures will be needed that amount to between 7.6 and 30.5 times wholesale revenues received from intermittent electricity in 2015. Most of this will likely need to come from additional subsidies, because there is no possibility that the return on this investment can be very high.

There is also the problem of the low profit levels for all of the other electricity providers, when intermittent renewables are allowed to sell their electricity whenever it becomes available. One potential solution is huge subsidies for other providers. Another is buying a lot of energy storage, so that energy from peaks can be saved and used when supply is low. A third solution is requiring that renewable energy providers curtail their production when it is not needed. Any of these solutions is likely to require subsidies.

Conclusion

We already seem to be reaching limits with respect to intermittent electricity supply. The US Energy Information Administration may be reaching the same conclusion. It chose Steve Kean from Kinder Morgan (a pipeline company) as its keynote speaker at its July 2016 Annual Conference. He made the following statements about renewable energy.

Figure 1. Excerpt from Keynote Address slide at US Energy Administration Conference by Steve Kean of Kinder-Morgan.

Figure 12. Excerpt from Keynote Address slide at US Energy Administration Conference by Steve Kean of Kinder Morgan.

This view is very similar to mine. Few people have stopped to realize that intermittent electricity isn’t worth very much. It may even have negative value, when the cost of all of the adjustments needed to make it useful are considered.

Energy products are very different in “quality.” Intermittent electricity is of exceptionally low quality. The costs that intermittent electricity impose on the system need to be paid by someone else. This is a huge problem, especially as penetration levels start exceeding the 10% to 15% level that can be handled by operating reserves, and much more costly adjustments must be made to accommodate this energy. Even if wind turbines and solar panels could be produced for $0, it seems likely that the costs of working around the problems caused by intermittent electricity would be greater than the compensation that can be obtained to fix those problems.

The situation is a little like adding a large number of drunk drivers, or of self-driving cars that don’t really work as planned, to a highway system. In theory, other drivers can learn to accommodate them, if enough extra lanes are added, and the concentration of the poorly operating vehicles is kept low enough. But a person needs to understand exactly what the situation is, and understand the cost of all of the adjustments that need to be made, before agreeing to allow the highway system to add more poorly behaving vehicles.

In An Updated Version of the Peak Oil Story, I talked about the fact that instead of oil “running out,” it is becoming too expensive for our economy to accommodate. The economy does not perform well when the cost of energy products is very high. The situation with new electricity generation is similar. We need electricity products to be well-behaved (not act like drunk drivers) and low in cost, if they are to be successful in growing the economy. If we continue to add large amounts of intermittent electricity to the electric grid without paying attention to these problems, we run the risk of bringing the whole system down.

our finite world



77 Comments on "Intermittent Renewables Can’t Favorably Transform Grid Electricity"

  1. Apneaman on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 1:04 pm 

    speculawyer, “….productive!” is that what you have decided or believe is the purpose of your life? Productivity? Gee, I wonder where you got that idea? Innovation? Oh yeah the humans are real innovative alright. They have innovated their own doom. Innovation and productivity. Sounds like more neoliberal think tank propaganda to me. What exactly are you assuming the benefits of solar and EV are? There are a number of benefits but they are very limited and they are just one more industrial consumer goodie.

    I have looked or rather listened to ghung and not once did I get the impression that he was motivated by productivity. More like trying to distance himself from that mentality and I doubt most posses the constitution and discipline that he has. Ghung, Davy and other like them do more work living their lifestyle than working full time and paying for everything.

    Why is it that “fetal position” & “curl up and die” are the best and almost only arguments techno utopians can come up with? Essentially what you people are saying is that those who don’t agree with you are suicidal or should go kill themselves? Do you know how many times I heave heard that childish non argument directed at myself and others? It’s the same as the response from “patriots” when a fellow citizen criticizes the country and thus challenges their beliefs/identity – “if you don’t like it, why don’t you get the fuck out of the country”. There is a big difference in giving up on the false promises of a destructive system/ideology and laying down and dying. Also, if you have been paying attention to what we have done over the last 250 years you might understand the scale of it. It is unprecedented in the history of life on this planet. There is a great deal of inertia in the climate system and a mass extinction is underway. I do not think you understand the consequences of this. The humans crossed the Rubicon awhile ago. It is a physical and chemical and biological impossibility to innovate our way out of it. Even if the humans are lucky(?) enough to avoid extinction, the destruction of industrial civilization and a mass die back are unavoidable. AND the humans are not stopping, so that will just bring it on all that much faster. They won’t ever stop voluntarily because it’s not in their evolutionary programming to do so. The humans are like a permanently addicted smoker who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and their response is to keep smoking and try and smoke more. And the alt energy folks are like a terminal cancer smoker who switches to menthol and thinks it’s a cure.

    No, I am not giving up on my life – I still gots people and my duty to enlighten the internet masses. I’m not going anywhere and I’m only curling up in the fetal position when sleeping. I have accepted what we have done and that we are going to pay the price and that it is unstoppable. Acceptance based on evidence. Try it – you might like it.

  2. peakyeast on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 1:26 pm 

    We have had on several occasions here in Denmark windmill production in excess of 100% of the consumption without any stability problems. It just means we export something.

    Of course using old algoritms for administrating the grid has to be changed due to new factors. This much is obvious. Saying that it cannot be done is simply stupid.

    There are no real problems if society (read government and large manufacturers) decide to implement intelligent usage of overproduction.

    The old coal powered plants – and to a lesser degree gas fired plants cant go to zero output – and therefore there is a waste at this point in time.

    If government and industry USED the cheap excess electricity when it is available for production of say… hydrogen or producing aluminium or melting this and that and so forth – then the energy could be put to good use instead of needing to store it or waster it thus giving a gain.

    It seems that in order to use the intermittent power intelligently we need to shoot many holy cows for it to happen easily. It is like that with many things in our civilisation. Systems has become fossilized. The powerful industries and their lobbyists are an actual danger to society these days.

  3. ghung on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 1:34 pm 

    Trurt-challenged said; “…I’m sick of all the retards who think free solar
    is gonna make free solar combines to harvest our free crops…”
    blah, blah, blah…

    ….and I’m sick and tired of all-or-nothing binary thinkers who can’t see that we already have a variety of energy sources, and that will continue, even after things fall apart. Human ingenuity won’t cease along with industrialism.

  4. Cloggie on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 1:37 pm 

    “I have looked or rather listened to ghung and not once did I get the impression that he was motivated by productivity.”

    I hope his telecom employer at the time didn’t came to the same conclusion and that therefor ghung is now into pickles. Just kidding.

    “I still gots people and my duty to enlighten the internet masses.”

    There is apparently no limit to the self-aggrandizement of our local climate change Imam: “apey goes global”.

    If you are serious about the goal of “enlightening internet masses”, better start a blog in order to get a far wider reach. Before you know it you have 20k visitors per month.

  5. Apneaman on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 1:48 pm 

    Clog, isn’t that two different things? I thought the first one was a fantasy of undersea coal mining and this one is a fantasy about undersea gasification? I only say fantasy because I don’t think it’s economical, not because they don’t want to. Cancer monkeys can’t help themselves. If you had been around longer you would have read my predictions that we will burn it all and as the energy dwindles we will burn anything we can. Environmental regulation will be rolled back or ignored entirely. Anything to keep the lights on and all that. I never make any specific peak oil prediction dates – just that depletion is well underway and TPTB will pull out all the stops to help them keep going. Can’t run the empire without a steady supply of oil, so every option is or will be on the table, but it will just be one more can kick.

    If the Canadian north is ever a jungle it won’t happen anytime soon. What will happen/is happening is the continuation of the permafrost meltdown which is turning it into a swampy boggy mess that I doubt could support many humans. Alaska, N Canada & Siberia are having problems with their infrastructure from the permafrost melt and heave. Big time issues keeping the few roads the have drivable.

    I worked with a couple of Dutch fellows (twins) back in the 1980’s. I was the parts drive at a BMW dealership and they were the hotshot Euro auto mechanics. At least once a day they told me “if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much”…..assholes. Good guys and they trained me up a bit on mechanics when I had extra time.

    Climate Change Is Hell on Alaska’s Formerly Frozen Highways

    A critical artery is threatened by thawing permafrost.

    “It’s the single biggest geotechnical problem we have,” said Jeff Currey, materials engineer for the northern region of Alaska’s Department of Transportation. “The Romans built roads 2,000 years ago that people are still using. On the other hand, we have built roads that within a year or two, without any maintenance, look like a roller coaster because they are built over thaw-unstable permafrost.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-02/the-alaskan-highway-is-literally-melting

    The highway will collapse beyond repair soon and Planty will be forever cut off from the rest of civilization. Ahhh

  6. Boat on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 1:52 pm 

    2015 U.S. Wind Power Capacity Growth
    • Wind power was the No. 1 source of new electric generation
    capacity in 2015, capturing 41% of new power plant installations
    and leading solar (28.5%) and natural gas (28.1%).
    • Wind power delivered 30% of all new capacity installed over the
    past five years.
    • In the Pacific Northwest, Plains, and Midwest, wind energy was
    the primary new source of generating capacity, providing 59% or
    more of all new capacity installed in the past five years.
    • The 8,598 MW installed during 2015 represents a 77% increase
    over the 4,854 MW installed during 2014 and an almost sevenfold
    increase over the 1,087 MW installed during 2013

    http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/Annual%20Report%20Capacity%20and%20Generation%202015.pdf

  7. Cloggie on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 2:07 pm 

    “I thought the first one was a fantasy of undersea coal mining and this one is a fantasy about undersea gasification? I only say fantasy because I don’t think it’s economical”

    Should you not exercise a little more restraint in being judgmental? The article talks about no less than 19 + 10 licenses handed out to professionals, who are about to sink millions into drilling holes to gasify coal. They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t have a hint that it could be economical. Gasification is not a new technology (dates 180 years back).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasification

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_gasification

    In: coal + water
    Out: methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen (H2),
    Byproduct: carbon dioxide (CO2)

    “If the Canadian north is ever a jungle it won’t happen anytime soon.”

    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36130346

    Don’t think so either, nevertheless the increase of global vegetal biomass over the last 33 years is otherwise outright spectacular.

  8. rockman on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 2:43 pm 

    Peaky – “…and therefore there is a waste at this point in time. If government and industry USED the cheap excess electricity when it is available for production…”. We developed a solution to that problem: we give the excess electricity away for FREE. And not surprising folks use a lot more when it’s “free”. LOL. If you chose the right independent supplier it’s free at night after 10 pm or you get free duing the weekend. And sometimes both. But free in the sense you also pay at a higher rate during high demand times. But if there’s no one at home during the weekday and you cut back to minimum you make out great…especially with big summertime AC bills. You need to appreciate that during the summer in Texas many AC’s (which are huge electricity pigs) run nearly continuously for a couple of months…or longer.

    But regardless of how Texas wind powerr looks now think forward 10 to 20 years. Currently the majority of Texas e- comes from NG fired plants. Which fine today thanks to historically low NG prices and record production. But it will not last. And then add the projection of a huge increase in demand in the next few decades. How ever economically viable wind is today consider what it will look like when NG prices increase 400% or more…as they did back in ’08. And beyond price consider the economic loss when Texas businesses have to periodically shutdown due to lack of supply…as has happened in Texas’ past.

  9. peakyeast on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 2:53 pm 

    rockman – society has to realize that there are things that are way more important than price and profit.

    And that is making optimal use of all resources. Perhaps I wasnt clear about that being the point.

  10. Apneaman on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 3:01 pm 

    Clog, “licenses handed out to professionals” Big whoop. Don’t mean shit. Do you know how many companies have purchased leases to drill and mine and never did or only drilled a few holes and walked away? Big fucking number. As with anything – show me. If they get production up and running and keep it up, then I’ll say – oh look at that, they did it. Same as with fracking. They extracted more than I guessed they could. See, it’s one of those things you can talk about all damn day, like guys saying how many women they are “going” to fuck, but until you actually do it, it’s all talk. You are counting chickens not yet hatched.

    As for the greening and jungle you are either conflating or lack any knowledge of botany and ecosystems. Jungles have/need high heat and humidity. Do you ever read the links you post? Do you ever look for more information so as not to fall prey to your cognitive biases? Methinks not. Do you know what the albedo effect is? As in light colours reflect heat. Dark colors absorb heat/energy. That’s why most plants are green. It’s a great colour for absorbing energy from the sun for photosynthesis. The arctic and snow covered northern latitudes are like a big giant mirror reflecting solar radiation back into space, but that is now much impoverished due to it’s shrinking surface. Green biomass growing where that natural mirror once was is not a good thing like you think it is. It’s yet another positive self reinforcing feedback loop. You should use your internet time to learn some basic science first before weighing in and misinterpreting what the various changes going on mean. The Arctic going green is not “spectacular”. If you understand the implication of it combined with the thousands of other changes happening it’s horrifying…..unless you’re a misanthropic sadist.- then it’s all good.

    Albedo: definition.

    Albedo is the fraction of solar energy (shortwave radiation) reflected from the Earth back into space. It is a measure of the reflectivity of the earth’s surface. Ice, especially with snow on top of it, has a high albedo: most sunlight hitting the surface bounces back towards space. Water is much more absorbent and less reflective. So, if there is a lot of water, more solar radiation is absorbed by the ocean than when ice dominates.

    https://www.esr.org/outreach/glossary/albedo.html

    Why Are Leaves Green?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAQYpra4aUs

    Thanks to climate change, the Arctic is turning green

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/06/27/its-official-humans-are-making-the-earth-much-greener/?utm_term=.692fdd542e2a

    Albedo: definition.

    Albedo is the fraction of solar energy (shortwave radiation) reflected from the Earth back into space. It is a measure of the reflectivity of the earth’s surface. Ice, especially with snow on top of it, has a high albedo: most sunlight hitting the surface bounces back towards space. Water is much more absorbent and less reflective. So, if there is a lot of water, more solar radiation is absorbed by the ocean than when ice dominates.

    https://www.esr.org/outreach/glossary/albedo.html

  11. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 3:05 pm 

    So I guess anyone who doesn’t jizz all over the big windmill and solar panel is a binary thinker now. Speaking of binary thinkers… You’re a fucking retard.

  12. Cloggie on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 3:24 pm 

    ““licenses handed out to professionals” Big whoop. Don’t mean shit. Do you know how many companies have purchased leases to drill and mine and never did or only drilled a few holes and walked away? Big fucking number. As with anything – show me. If they get production up and running and keep it up, then I’ll say – oh look at that, they did it. Same as with fracking.”

    Patience, patience, they are definitely working on it. These things take time.

  13. rockman on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 4:03 pm 

    Peaky – “…society has to realize that there are things that are way more important than price and profit.” I do appreciate your general point. But with the farmers making a profit what would you eat? And without the fossil fuel making a profit how would your lifestyle change. And if thee alt energy builders can’t make a profit what would be their motivation.

    On a personal note: if you were working for a private company how long would you keep getting a paycheck. And price not important? Again what would your life be like if the price of everything you buy increased 4X?

    For the vast majority of folks on the planet profits (theirs or someone else’s) have critical to their survival. As I’ve asked many times: how many here have been able to feed their family with a paycheck written by a poor man or from a company that never turned a profit?

  14. peakyeast on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 5:51 pm 

    Rock: Yeah – I didnt say it was going to be easy – or using conventional methods.

    Actually I am pretty sure that the future is going to be pretty unconventional.

  15. Hawkcreek on Tue, 6th Sep 2016 7:26 pm 

    Looks like another article designed to kill alternative energy before it kills the big utility monopolies.
    I’m not going to listen until they tell me how I’ve had a good life style for over 12 years living completely off-grid.
    It isn’t difficult – run big loads during the day, and just use a fraction of your largest needs for lights and entertainment at night.
    Distributed solar is coming – the grid will be either tremendously downsized or killed entirely.
    The little guys will get tired of subsidizing big business and mall lights.

  16. rockman on Wed, 7th Sep 2016 8:12 am 

    Hawk – “Looks like another article designed to kill alternative energy before it kills the big utility monopolies.” Actually in Texas the utilities were big proponents of wind power expansion. With our growing demand for electricity they were being pushed to build more $billion plants. Also good to understand that the industry was deregulated years ago. IOW there are residential electricity providers that don’t own a single plant: the buy wholesale from the plants and sell retail…some delivering on the grid built by the same utility.

    ” As a result of deregulation, 85 of Texas power consumers (those served by a company not owned by a municipality or a utility cooperative) can choose their electricity service from a variety of retail electric providers (REPs), including the incumbent utility. The incumbent utility in the area still owns and maintains the local power lines (and is the company to call in the event of a power outage)”

    So again: all it really takes is cooperation among all the parties. Including the ones that have no choice. LOL. Notice that Texas wind power boomed right after deregulation kicked in.

  17. rockman on Wed, 7th Sep 2016 10:10 am 

    That’s “85% of Texas power consumers”

  18. moosedog86 on Wed, 7th Sep 2016 3:07 pm 

    Rockman!

    you are correct once again.
    here in New York state, when electric generation was deregulated from delivery, options flourished and solar is doimg quite well.

    I’m sure the same arguments were made when cars came out – “They will never replace horses!”
    And, where nwill yoi get all the gas you’ll need to drive millions of them?

    Forest for the trees.

  19. rockman on Wed, 7th Sep 2016 4:19 pm 

    JN – I’ve always supported alt development and the primary reason has been for national security: never have and never will support swapping blood for oil. As an aside always interesting to see folks who think the oil patch is opposed to alt energy. It has never competed against us to any meaningful degree. And given how slowly alts are progressing in the US I doubt it ever will. PO is a much, much greater problem for us.

    The point I keep making about the financial viability of the alts: they will NEVER be developed to a meaningful degree IMHO if they don’t make sense financially if they are going to be funded at least in part by investors. And it wasn’t just the Austin lefties that supported sending $7 BILLION of tax payer money to expand the the grid: all the right wing nut jobs were in favor of it. Some of them may be bat shit crazy but they ain’t stupid. LOL.

    The left and greenies can make all the emotion based arguments they want. But the great majority (including many of those lefties/greenies) are going to vote with their check books. Supporting any project that isn’t viable is simply selfserving and other the gaining some pseudo-celebrity status in the process does nothing to help society. In Texas we call such folks “limo liberals”. LOL.

    If you want someone to fund a wind farm and not make a profit write Greenpeace and see how much they’ll kick in. LOL. So from your question do I assume correctly that you would be more supportive of alt projects that lose money? Or at least break even and generate a zero ROR? And would you invest in such a project that only returned your capital…assuming it didn’t actually lose money as some have?

    So asked a different way: please point out the wind power production from the other 49 states where such projects have produced no profit. I’m sure it won’t take long to put that list together. LOL. Always interesting to see folks critisize any effort that benefits society as a whole if it makes a profit. In my 65 years I’ve run across very few folks who spent a lot of time working for free.

  20. ghung on Wed, 7th Sep 2016 4:51 pm 

    Rock; “As an aside always interesting to see folks who think the oil patch is opposed to alt energy.”

    Maybe I should show them my PV panels labelled “BP”, or my neighbor’s labelled “Shell”. Then, again, BP and Shell didn’t hang in there very long. Must have been the Chinese.

  21. peakyeast on Wed, 7th Sep 2016 6:01 pm 

    @rock: Yep – all that is takes is cooperation between all.

    But how is that going to happen in poor places? Texas yes. Denmark yes – other rich places yes.

    Poor places?

    And please mind – we have a rather strict schedule.

  22. PracticalMaina on Thu, 8th Sep 2016 9:40 am 

    My state is relatively poor, currently being run by an ignorant racist repub, and is succeeding in slowly growing its renewable percentage.

  23. Kenz300 on Thu, 8th Sep 2016 10:22 am 

    The world is changing and it is happening faster than deniers think…………

    Wind and solar are safer, cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels……….. Climate Change will be the defining issue of our lives.

    Solar Cost Hits World’s New Low, Half the Price of Coal

    http://www.ecowatch.com/solar-price-chile-1982242311.html

    Renewable Energy Generation Breaks Records Every Month in 2016 – EcoWatch

    http://www.ecowatch.com/renewable-energy-breaks-records-1987755555.html

    Scotland blows away the competition – 106% of electricity needs from wind – joins select club

    https://electrek.co/2016/08/14/scotland-electricity-needs-from-wind/

    The Netherlands’ ban on gas-powered cars ‘likely to become law’, all new cars electric by 2025

    https://electrek.co/2016/08/14/netherlands-ban-gas-powered-cars-likely-law-all-new-cars-electric-2025/

  24. Kenz300 on Thu, 8th Sep 2016 10:41 am 

    Wind, solar and geothermal continue to grow in use every year while fossil fuel use declines………..

    Climate Change will be the defining issue of our lives…

    23 States to Rely on Geothermal, Solar, or Wind Power as a Primary Source of Electric Generation in 2016

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2016/09/23-states-to-rely-on-geothermal-solar-or-wind-power-as-a-primary-source-of-electric-generation-in-2016.html

  25. Apneaman on Thu, 8th Sep 2016 10:44 am 

    Kenz, no worries. Your team’s girl, Hilary will put an end to the dominance of those evil fossil fuel doers.

    Hillary Clinton Is Raking In Fossil Fuel Money At An Alarming Rat

    “In speeches and press conferences, and occasionally in policy, the Democratic Party in the United States has always claimed the high ground on the issue of climate change and the need to move the country off oil, gas and coal towards renewable energy. As a result, the fossil fuel industry has heavily backed Republican politicians for decades.

    But the 2016 U.S. Presidential election has once again proven unique by every measure. A new report by The Wall Street Journal shows that Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pulling in far more money from the fossil fuel industry than her Republican opponent Donald Trump.

    The report shows that, through July, Hillary Clinton has received almost three times as much campaign cash from fossil fuel employees than Trump, to the tune of about $525,000 compared to Trump’s $149,000. Her joint account with the Democratic National Committee has also received an additional $650,000 from fossil fuel executives and employees.

    Given Clinton’s history with the fossil fuel industry, these contributions are less than surprising. During her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton’s staff was working with TransCanada to obtain approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.”

    http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/09/07/hillary-clinton-raking-fossil-fuel-money-alarming-rate

  26. PracticalMaina on Thu, 8th Sep 2016 1:48 pm 

    I am officially supporting Drumpf by not supporting Hillary,

    Jill Stein 2016! Apparently Gary Johnson doesn’t know any important Syrian citys, Hillary sure as shit does….wink wink wink

  27. Kenz300 on Thu, 8th Sep 2016 4:54 pm 

    The top 1% want it all….. and the RepubliCON party will give it to them………..
    What do RepubliCONS believe…….. depends who is paying….. follow the money……. fossil fuels….. oil, coal, natural gas…, nuclear, NRA………the top 1%
    Are RepubliCONS the real EVIL DOERS………..they want to end Social Security, Medicare and access to contraception…….

    RepubliCONS are the reason the middle class is shrinking…… in the past the top 1% wanted to import all the cheap labor they could get ……… ..They are no friend of the middle class

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