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Dr. Eugene Preston Explains Why 100% Renewable Energy Is Unlikely

Alternative Energy

“Is having 100% renewable energy for a country feasible?”

This question was recently posed on Thinkable.

Dr. Gene Preston, a man who has been professionally specializing in grid reliability studies since his 1997 dissertation on the subject, answers “Exceptionally unlikely.” He doesn’t stop there; his answer includes enough detail to persuade all but the most fervent believers in the fantasy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been reading Dr. Preston’s thoughts and professional investigations into grid reliability planning for a number of years. We communicate via the same closed email list that includes members with a variety of professional backgrounds who share technical interests in electricity production and distribution.

It’s obvious to members of the list that Gene really knows his stuff when it comes to accurately modeling the variables in grid reliability predictions.

It would be useful for more people should have access to his information, so I obtained his permission to republish his detailed answer explaining why it isn’t feasible to attempt to provide 100% of a modern society’s energy demand with power sources that have been branded as “renewable.”

The below is a slightly edited and reformatted version of Dr. Preston’s answer on Thinkable.

100% means all the time, every hour, through good weather years and bad ones.

I do reliability studies that simply ask the question, is there enough capacity every hour to meet the demand. I recently gave a talk to ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, that included scenarios pushing renewables to as high as 75% penetration.

I gave the same talk to some university students on the same day. That talk was recorded and archived, so it includes more details than the slide outline.

ERCOT has quite a lot of wind power and energy, 20,000 MW in a 70,000 MW peaking system with about a 40,000 MW average demand for the year. We are just now beginning to add a lot of solar to our system.

The simulations show that somewhere around 7000 to 14000 MW of solar we will have excess power. We will begin dumping excess energy at times, much as California is having to do right now.

This is wasted energy. And we begin to waste this renewable energy at an early point in the conversion to renewables, maybe around 20% to 30% penetration. I haven’t checked the exact value. In order to stop dumping this valuable energy we will need to store it.

So I add storage to the model and it works fine. There is a table at the end of the presentation showing scenarios of different penetrations and how much storage is needed. At first the storage is useful for just moving energy to peak shaving.

But as renewables pick up more and more of the load the peak shaving is satisfied and now renewables begin to pick up more hours. As you keep on adding more renewables and more storage pretty soon you are seeing renewables picking up nearly all the energy all the time.

But there is a problem. Every once in a while you see energy shortages in renewables production. This is because the wind and solar just have low production days in energy. You already have enough storage to distribute the energy to when its needed. That’s not the problem. The problem is that wind and solar and hydro unavoidably have times when they don’t produce much energy across the entire state.

If you miss a day of production in renewables you have to fire up the gas generators to fill in the demand. So when you run the reliability program I call RTS3, the program forces you to not retire all the gas. In fact you have to keep most of your fossil fuel capacity in standby to fill in when renewables fail to produce enough energy.

So this right here prevents 100% conversion to renewables.

What if we had really long term storage, like the equivalent of a grain silo? Suppose we could create some form of liquids, such as a flow battery, where we could store large amounts of energy in these liquids? We might even store them for years. We could ride through the low production years with enough storage.

But that technology is not yet invented. So until we invent long term storage for electric energy we are not going to be able to achieve 100% renewables. You can download my RTS3 model and run your own scenarios. I could even prepare for you the CAISO data from public sources.

I intend to do just that as soon as I finish my NERC study on the CAISO. They want to finish their report first before we go public. By the way the CAISO has a terrible reliability problem if there is an extended drought which reduces hydro production for years at a time.

Hydro is a blessing and a curse. Its a blessing during rainy years and a curse in dry years. California had the driest years in 2013 – 2015 in the past 1200 years. When is the next drought? What kind of resources do we need to keep working so we can insure the lights will stay on during severe droughts?

Having some nuclear in the mix would make the system more reliable both capacity wise and energy wise. It will also reduce CO2 emissions.

So those are my comments. Please contact me at any time for modeling how we get off fossil fuels. We all have the same goal of getting off fossil fuels. My web page is .

Gene Preston, PE PhD

The post Dr. Eugene Preston explains why 100% renewable energy is unlikely to the point of impossibility appeared first on Atomic Insights.

10 Comments on "Dr. Eugene Preston Explains Why 100% Renewable Energy Is Unlikely"

  1. dave thompson on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 11:19 am 

    OK Cloggie prove the Dr. wrong.

  2. Guistebal on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 12:08 pm 

    Nuclear is sensible to droughts too… remember?

  3. Cloggie on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 2:09 pm 

    You prove him right.

    This is a nuclear lobby

    Jeez are you naive.

  4. Cloggie on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 2:33 pm 

    “In fact you have to keep most of your fossil fuel capacity in standby to fill in when renewables fail to produce enough energy.

    So this right here prevents 100% conversion to renewables”

    Wrong. You should keep some fossil fuel power stations ready… and convert them into hydrogen fueled power stations, like in this example:

    “But that technology is not yet invented. So until we invent long term storage for electric energy we are not going to be able to achieve 100% renewables.”


  5. Davy on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 2:37 pm 

    Without an altered economy and human behavior I don’t see how a 100% renewable economy will work. For one thing the growth paradigm must end or be slowed considerably. Currently renewables are only supplementing energy growth. If you are going to 100% you must get over the growth hump and drastically scale up. So you need a down scaling of growth with an upscaling of a renewable buildout. You need demand management with an altered grid. This all seems to much for me. There are too many goals that are contradictory. The biggest contradiction is the need to reduce growth and the need for growth to scale up renewables. Personally I feel we need to shoot for a modest approach and try to educate people to demand management strategies. I feel we need to educate people to pain and suffering too. Maybe it will be the pain and suffering that does the educating. Otherwise it is always about Moar with less or more.

  6. Outcast_Searcher on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 5:20 pm 

    “In fact you have to keep most of your fossil fuel capacity in standby to fill in when renewables fail to produce enough energy.

    So this right here prevents 100% conversion to renewables”

    Wrong. There are battery configurations that can fall between one day of power and long term (i.e. months or years).

    Obviously, as time goes on, more batteries will become more affordable, given the related cost curves. (Seba, et al).

    So while the author is right that 100% renewables 100% of the time is challenging, and might not ever occur, as usual, why make the imperfect the enemy of the good?

    If we can get to 90% and then 99% using several renewable sources with different optimal production cycles, batteries which can provide days of power in the vast majority of cases (like for homes), and keep SOME of our conventional FF (or hydrogen, nuclear, etc.) power stations as standby, that should be just fine compared to today — at least for MANY years.

    Most shortages won’t come out of the blue with several renewable sources. There will be forecasts and news/data about weather or conditions causing renewables to lag behind. So the needed conventional power can be staged and planned for, generally when it is needed. So much of the stand-by power (say, the dirtiest) won’t even need to be powered up, except in the worst shortage conditions.

    So let’s move toward a 90%+ solution, and THEN worry about whether 95% or 99.9%, etc. is theoretically possible.

    After all, if we can mitigate a huge proportion of the fossil fuel burning, we’ve put a major dent in the GHG production problem, and bought ourselves a meaningful amount of time (vs doing nothing).

    In the long run if we have to do some sort of active removal/sequestration of the CO2 from the FF’s we still need to burn — at least that’s a MUCH smaller problem to solve.

  7. Sissyfuss on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 7:08 pm 

    Searching Outback says CO2 sequestration is a minor detail we can deal with later as we burn the beejeezus out of FFs. Hell, we have all the time in the world to keep on breeding, consuming, and destroying. Just don’t touch my cushy lifestyle.

  8. Apneaman on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 8:19 pm 

    Outcast_Searcher, here is a piece that address this fantasy carbon sequestration and exposes the IPCC for the farce that it is.

    Survivable IPCC Projections Are Based On Science Fiction

    IPCC ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ are based on fantasy technology, concealing a very bleak trajectory for humanity. Is this why policymakers are getting it so wrong?

    “Currently humanity is on the worst case scenario of RCP 8.5 which takes us to 2°C warming by mid century and 4°C warming by the end of the century. As Professor Schellnhuber, from Potsdam Institute for Climate Research (PIK) said, “the difference between two and four degrees is human civilisation”.

    “So how does the IPCC achieve these vast reductions in greenhouse gases?

    If we look at the vertical red lines, at around 2025 the steep decline in atmospheric greenhouse gases begins. Accumulated emissions not only are reduced to zero in 2070 but actually go negative. This chart shows that carbon is removed from the atmosphere in quantities of hundreds of billions of tonnes, for as far ahead as 2300 to sustain a temperature beneath 2°C.”

    “Dr Nutt’s conclusion points to very important factor that we can elaborate on with a rare case of certainty. There is no proposed CDR technology that can be scaled up to suck billions of tonnes out of the Earth’s atmosphere. It simply does not exist in the real world.”

    This is reiterated by Dr Hugh Hunt in the Department of Engineering, at the University of Cambridge, who points out,

    “10 billion tonnes a year of carbon sequestration? We don’t do anything on this planet on that scale. We don’t manufacture food on that scale, we don’t mine iron ore on that scale. We don’t even produce coal, oil or gas on that scale. Iron ore is below a billion tonnes a year! How are we going to create a technology, from scratch, a highly complicated technology, to the tune of 10 billion tonnes a year in the next 10 years?”

    Science Fiction

    “It is not just that there are currently no ideas being researched to such a degree where they are likely to be able to bring down atmospheric carbon to a safe level of around 300 parts per million. It is also that the level of funding available to the scientists doing the research is woefully inadequate. “

    I find it extremely amusing that myself and the denier tards are in agreement that the IPCC is bullshit, but for totally opposite reasons. Denier folks think they are bullshitting. They are, but it’s the opposite of what they think. They are not being truthful of just how bad it is. It’s a governmental organization and it was created to control the information. They have not addressed positive feedbacks enough and barely talk about them and build models with projections based on not yet invented technology. It is a farce. How many people know this? Not many, because you need to read the fine print. So the plan is we’ll be ok because some day some one will invent an efficient and economical carbon sequestration technology. Who? Oh we don’t know, just someone. Holy Christ, talk about a wing and a prayer. Hey, and these are among the sharpest people the West’s top university’s produce.

  9. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 14th Oct 2017 5:03 pm 

    Nukyalur Power will keep the lights on
    in suburbia.

    And don’t forget to pronounce it correctly.
    Nukyalur. That’s how Bush Jr. says it.

  10. Kenz300 on Sat, 14th Oct 2017 5:13 pm 

    Battery storage is a game changer making wind and solar base load power. 24 / 7

    Clean energy production with solar panels / tiles and battery storage.

    Clean energy consumption with electric vehicles. No emissions.

    A new solar roof, battery storage, an electric car charger and an electric vehicle.

    Solar panels are now being projected to have a much longer life than just a few years ago.

    Electric cars, electric trucks, electric lawn mowers, electric snow blowers, electric tools, no emissions.

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