Decarbonising the electric power sector

Since I’ve been trying to better understand some other aspects of the climate change topic, I recently read a paper by Jesse Jenkins, Max Luke, and Samuel Thernstrom. It’s about Getting to Zero Carbon Emissions in the Electric Power Sector, and is essentially a literature review. Unfortunately, it is paywalled. Jesse did send me a copy, but I don’t know if there is a freely available version elsewhere. If I find one, I will provide a link.

Since this isn’t a topic about which I have much knowledge, or expertise, I thought this might be an opportunity to have a bit of an open thread about how we could decarbonise. However, I will try to briefly summarise my understanding of this paper, and will probably fail to keep it brief.

Even though the paper focuses on the electric power sector, we would expect this to make up a bigger fraction of the final energy demand in future than it does now (going from ~20% to maybe 50%). It seems that there are many studies that show that it is possible to fully decarbonise using renewables, but that this becomes increasingly expensive as renewables start to make up more than about 50% of the energy market. This is because dealing with their variability requires the installed capacity being higher than the peak demand, a huge expansion of the transmission capacity, and the development of significant energy storage facilities.

The general view seems to be that if you want to decarbonise in a cost effective way, then this should also include firm low-carbon resources, such as nuclear, fossil fuel systems with CCS, bioenergy, and geo-thermal. However, these firm resources also have obstacles that need to be overcome. Some, for example, haven’t even been shown to work at scale, and there are societal/political reasons why it could end up being difficult to implement others. However, the paper points out that if we have a broad range options, then we can increase the chance of solving some of the poblems and over-coming some of the obstacles.

The basic picture seems quite reasonable to me. Renewables could make up a significant fraction of the energy mix, but if we want to minimise the costs then we also need to include some firm low-carbon sources. A key thing, in my view, is that we don’t have lots of time to develop the optimal solution before we go ahead and implement it. We really need emissions to peak soon and to then start reducing at a relatively rapid rate. Ultimately, if we wish to meet some of the targets, we need net emissions to get to ~zero within a period of decades. This paper seems to suggest that we’re already in a position to get started with this, even if ultimately getting to zero net emissions requires overcoming a number of challenges.

I hope I’ve provided a reasonable summary of the paper. I’ll stop here and I’d be interested in any comments from those who might have more understanding of this topic than I do.

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255 Responses to Decarbonising the electric power sector

  1. Michael Lloyd says:

    ATTP,

    You may find this article of interest as a summary of some of the issues.

    https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-11-21/the-limits-of-renewable-energy-and-the-case-for-degrowth/

  2. Ed Davies says:

    “This is because dealing with their variability requires the installed capacity being higher than the peak demand,…”

    This sentence reads like demand, particularly peak demand, is a given. There’s no other mention of managing demand in your summary; is there any in the original paper?

    There’s already some opportunity to manage demand better and as more energy use is electrified (cars, domestic space and water heating, etc) these opportunities will increase. However cack-handed the introduction of smart meters in the UK has been they do seem to have a place in matching demand to supply better.

    My feeling is that with a lot of renewable energy we’ll continue to be able to do most of the things we do now, we’ll just have to be a bit more careful about when we do them.

  3. Michael,
    Thanks, I’ll have a look at that.

    Ed,
    Yes, there was some discussion of demand management in the paper. I had intended to mention that as one possible way of reducing emissions, but then forgot.

    My feeling is that with a lot of renewable energy we’ll continue to be able to do most of the things we do now, we’ll just have to be a bit more careful about when we do them.

    Yes, probably. However, I suspect that the cost would still be an issue if we were aiming for 100% renewables.

  4. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    However, I suspect that the cost would still be an issue if we were aiming for 100% renewables.

    Cost is an issue now. I apologize for being a one-trick pony/peddling, etc., but I think it is sub-optimal to talk about “cost” as if we’ve accounted for externalities when we haven’t.

  5. Willard says:

    I would never suggest anyone to get the DOI of an article and click on this link.

  6. Joshua,
    Indeed, I was meaning compared to including some firm low-carbon sources. Ideally, we internalise all externalities.

  7. Ed Davies says:

    Another read in the same area might be the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report: http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org/en/

    I have to admit I haven’t read it myself, yet, though perhaps I ought to.

  8. verytallguy says:

    Zero carbon Britain is an excellent piece of work.

    It doesn’t pretend impossible technologies will magically appear and is very hard nosed about changed in lifestyle which are needed. I’d highly recommend it.

    Inadvertently, it really proves that nuclear is an essential part of the future energy mixture in the UK.

    (spoiler: “no nuclear” is a constraint in the work. But without nuclear you need a huge investment in biogas, just as a winter back up for low wind conditions. Also, a diet of spinach and turnips turns out to be essential)

  9. Jim Hunt says:

    You’re blogging about my specialist subject now Ken!

    How to electrify transport and heat whilst “de-carbonising” Great British electricity generation?
    Dare I invoke the name of the late, great David Mackay and mention “Nuclear”?

    Dare I also mention that the once Great British Government is currently paying us a pittance to help them deliver on their alleged “Road to Zero” strategy?

    http://www.v2g-evse.com/2018/12/14/uk-government-funded-ev-chargepoints-must-be-smart-by-july-2019/

  10. Andrew J Dodds says:

    The impression I always get with this is that in principle, it’s a solved problem – most countries could find a mix of hydro/nuclear/solar/wind/geothermal that meets their needs without many changes for individuals. The real issue is one of getting off our collective backsides and implementing it. Taking the UK as an example, it’s exasperating seeing the length of time it takes just to get one new nuclear plant approved.

  11. Ben McMillan says:

    I think it is important to make a distinction between a ‘firm’ power station and a ‘dispatchable’ one.

    For example, coal or nuclear power stations have high capital costs and fairly low operating costs, and are thus ‘firm’ but they don’t usually modulate to meet varying demand because they need to be run non-stop to make a profit. CCS normally makes this even more important because the CCS plant is even more capital-intensive. So none of these pair well with renewables.

    So mostly in the short term what we are seeing is relatively low capital cost, highly dispatchable gas plants combined with renewables: gas can ramp up and down economically to deal with fluctuating demand and supply.

    Probably demand management and making energy-intensive goods like steel, cement and liquid fuels when there is an abundance of wind/solar will play a major role. Electricity production is not that big a percentage of energy use.

  12. Jim Hunt says:

    @Ben – “Electricity production is not that big a percentage of energy use.”

    How about after you’ve electrified (much of) transport and heat though?

  13. Ben McMillan says:

    Electrifying road transport in the UK would increase electricity demand by 50%-100% depending on what you assume.

    You eventually electrify almost everything, but at least you can time-shift heating of buildings from one part of a day to another. If 300 mile-range electric cars end up being basically standard then that gives a lot of flexibility to wait a week or so for better charging weather.

  14. Willard says:

    Dare I mention that from greater power comes greater responsibility:

  15. Joe Burlington says:

    ATTP: “if we wish to meet some of the targets, we need net emissions to get to ~zero within a period of decades.”
    If??? Don’t you recommend commitment and urgency?
    Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, who in September went on ‘school strike’ in Sweden, told the UN delegates in Poland ‘You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. … We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity.’
    You and your bloggers know: the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was 280 + or – ? ppm for a long time and 405.0 + or – 0.1 ppm in 2017; that Greenland and most of the Antarctic are melting now and sea-levels are rising. “And then there’s chemistry and biology”: more acid seas and extinctions. And during the ‘decades’ it will all get worse and …
    Ed Davies wrote: “with a lot of renewable energy we’ll continue to be able to do most of the things we do now, we’ll just have to be a bit more careful about when we do them.”
    Of course, you’re right about demand management, Ed, and scientific detachment has its place, but what about the risk of positive feedbacks? ‘A *bit* more careful’? Do you have tickets to go to Mars with your loved ones if you need to?

  16. Ken Fabian says:

    Are we expecting comprehensive planning based on forethought and a deep commitment to avoiding those externalised costs? Australia’s leading business lobby, for example, has made it clear that if the price of reducing emissions is raised electricity prices they will oppose it – and want ambitions to be lowered. Even just the possibility of higher energy costs is enough for a consensus of Australian businesses to collectively oppose emissions reductions targets high enough to do even Australia’s share, let alone assist poorer nations by doing more. Frankly I’m not convinced their statements of supporting climate action and wanting carbon pricing are sincere – more like a cover for opposing both in practice whilst avoiding criticisms of being a hotbed of climate science denial.

    I think the growth of solar and wind are just about the only good news in all of this – inducing disruptive change in the electricity sector in spite of the lack of long term forethought, planning or commitment. Nuclear cannot do anything much at the scales needed without those and the largest bloc of popular/political support for nuclear in nations like Australia or USA is locked up behind a Wall of Denial within conservative politics, reduced to commitment-free rhetoric aimed at undermining support for renewable energy.

    I think renewable energy is what we can do, so we should. The issues around intermittency in the presence of lots of it will be faced only when volumes approach levels where it has to be faced. It isn’t a surprise and it isn’t being ignored and I see credible proposals for making a serious start (batteries, pumped hydro, demand management, transmission) but the investments in them won’t happen if politics holds back solar and wind to levels that don’t ever put stress on Fossil Fuel dominated electricity networks.

    Those efforts to integrate RE at large scale may ultimately fail, of course – but I’m not convinced there is anything inevitable about such failure, nor for such failure (to achieve desired 24/7 reliability) to induce policy default to nuclear. It comes down to that forethought and planning and commitment.

  17. Greg Robie says:

    If it helps, a November 2016 publication by the previous White House Administration titled “United States Mid-Century Strategy — For Deep Decarbonization” (https://unfccc.int/files/focus/long-term_strategies/application/pdf/mid_century_strategy_report-final_red.pdf). It spun an intriguing tale at the time, which, and with a review of the Executive Summary today, is [still] functionally, a fractured fairy tale. I note you assume more time than two years to go negative on emissions, but how is that not, as Greta observes, childish (& you’ve got kids!)? Regardless, perhaps its content is close to what you’ve read. It also includes the projected rise that electrification of energy usage involves if fossil carbon decarbonization is to be effected.

    Only tale it tells me is rebooting of debt slavery is underway via an offset market mechanism, which scientists will, as Greta’s called out pseudo-adults, vet. Equity? Forget about it. Trading fee and loans are now qualified as, respectively, Adaptation Fund, and Green Climate Fund contributions – if I understand the CMA1 [partial] Rulebook.

    With fossil carbon’s energy equivalent slaves declining, where is the lost credit coming from? Or, they aren’t going anywhere because geoengineering is the real plan … until everything fossil is burned and this whole offset thing has effected an even more efficient and insidious enslavement of the masses than debt alone has perfected.

    Did the UK folk here see the review of the new book detailing the £45 trillion sucked out of the peoples of the subcontinent by your empire? Just wait till you see what offsets will turn out to be as a transfer of ‘wealth’-without-responsibility! sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCeDkezgoyyZAlN7nW1tlfeA

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart

    >

  18. David B. Benson says:

    The problem with the intermittent generators is that they cannot be relied upon; scheduled in power engineering parlance. So some form of balancing agent, backup, has to be provided. Typically in the USA this is increasingly natural gas turbines; obviously not carbon neutral.

    One possibility is to use excess generation to split water. The hydrogen can be stored for future use. Rather than fuel cells an alternative is to make methane from the hydrogen; call it unnatural gas. 🙂

    Whatever, that provides a backup.

    But the same idea works with excess generation from any source, including nuclear power plants. Power planners prefer multiple generation types, thinking that using multiple types enhances reliability.

  19. Jim Hunt says:

    @Willard – Dare I suggest that you may wish to make some suggestions concerning what should be included (and excluded?) in SEWTHA 2.1?

    http://www.v2g.co.uk/2016/02/what-should-be-in-sewtha-2-0/

    One of things here, and it’s been much under-discussed in this area, is not only do we need to get our current electricity decarbonised, but we’re talking about decarbonising the transport industry to a large degree, and David MacKay’s good on this. You’ve got to almost double or triple your electricity generation, so not only do we have to replace the nuclear power and the coal that’s falling out of use over the next decade. You’ve got to replace that and add in plug-in cars.

    In the midst of the worst that the Great British winter can throw at us once Great Britons.

    My apologies that the plug was unceremoniously pulled on Storify.

  20. Willard says:

    > Dare I suggest that you may wish

    Not really.

  21. Ed Davies says:

    Joe Burlington: “Of course, you’re right about demand management, Ed, and scientific detachment has its place, but what about the risk of positive feedbacks? ‘A *bit* more careful’? Do you have tickets to go to Mars with your loved ones if you need to?”

    I think you misunderstand me. I’m quite clear that we need to get to zero net emissions quickly.

    My point is that once we’re there we can continue to live interesting, long and comfortable lives using only renewable energy though there would likely be some limitations on the flexibility with when we do various things. Probably also travelling less and eating less meat but that’d likely give most people a net improvement in their lives. This is in contrast to many who seem to think that being “green” is necessarily a miserable hair-shirt existence.

    Actually, I think the failure to understand that existing renewable energy technologies can provide most of the services we currently “enjoy” from fossil fuels is at the root of a lot of AGW denial.

  22. Fergus Brown says:

    You can’t separate the need to decarbonise electricity generation from the need to decarbonise society as a whole. In the end, no surprise, it mostly comes down to money.

    First we can question and challenge what we use electricity for now and what we expect to use it for. Then adopt ways of living which reduce demand. A lot of this can be done with design and engineering, along with the reduction of the vast amount of waste implicit in current habits (which, by the way, saves those who take up the tech a lot of money). This takes us some of the way.

    Then we can question the assumption of the necessity of a universal grid. In many cases an islanded hub distribution model is both more efficient and more manageable, and can operate on a scale (economic and social) which allows local or regional engagement or, as with trains and hydrogen, a purpose-specific zero carbon generation and storage system.

    Then we can remove the political obstacles to rapid uptake of existing, efficient generation, in particular, wind, solar and hydro, all proven tech, and replace FF subsidies with tech investment and capital management.

    Then we can look at the uses of energy for transport of people and goods, and take up (again, existing) technology which is low-to-zero carbon, change demand models to a more localised basis (for food, as an example), change working practices so commuting and travelling for work is increasingly replaced by work from home models…

    To decarbonise in a timely manner requires pathways of change on a scale which is hard to fathom, even for some of us here, who I count as intelligent and knowledgeable. But steps have already been taken, and much more can be done; all it requires is the will to upscale efforts at a new level.

    As things stand now, we don’t have the means to remove all carbon instantly. But we can accelerate the process which is already under way and take serious steps towards the avowed goal. There is no excuse not to do this, now.

  23. Greg Robie says:

    An AM coffee read of the comments seems to make the following bit of biography relevant. I lived [mostly] without electricity for a spell. As part of what might be called the ’70s back-to-the-land movement, my wife and I started subsistence homesteading in the mid-70’s in a belatedly suburbanizing town on the edge of the Greater New York Metropolitan area. Doing so without electricity was integral to the effort.

    My parents’ home had been destroyed by fire a few years earlier and this property was vacant. We were in our early 20s, newly married, and wanted to be the change we wanted to see in the world … or at least that I wanted to be. Living simply such that others might simple live was how we talked our adventure.

    We started out in a $300 used popup camper with a $100 Aladdin kerosene lamp for light, propane for cooking, hauling water from a spring, effecting refrigeration in the spring, and using an outhouse. (Oh, and with a VW camper van to effect mobility.) Just ahead of winter we moved out of the tent and into the wood heated “tiny house” we’d turned the one car garage on the property into. With each modern connivence life got, well, convenience-er.

    PV was imagined. But back then it could provide electricity for about $.20 a kWh (or ~four times the price of electricity available from the grid), and after a significant capital outlay. We had jumped into our adventure with a net worth of $3000 … and no employment besides our subsistence homesteading.

    I’ve tried to effect an anchor as my wife has effectively sailed us, albeit sluggishly, into a lifestyle that is, energy-wise, our/CapitalismFail’s suicidal ‘normal’ (yes, a woman is ALWAYS right … right?). 😉 Going back toward ‘the way we were’ is where we are going as what passes for civilization collapses. Without the resource of youth & dreams, this will not be pretty. For my wife, it is unimaginable (thanks to motivated reasoning) to do so voluntarily … and she defines “right”.

    Given that physics define knowledge as action, together we effect Greta’s called out childishness. The referenced “scientific detachment” mentored at ATTP is a traditionalized euphemism for the same irresponsible behavior. Isn’t de-[fossil]-carbonizing of our energy, including electricity, systemically, up to our [‘privileged’] ladies … at least in ‘progressive’ circles? Isn’t what called denialism just another side of this coin of deference to the demands of the gentler sex: the economy, right or wrong, must provide? Isn’t that why our progeny is screwed?!?

    Honor[, guys,] and gonads, is all we’ve got left to effectively change how we, our partners, and our children [inevitably] die. How violent or non-violently this is [yet] remains a choice.

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCeDkezgoyyZAlN7nW1tlfeA

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart

    >

  24. ATTP, you may have come across a paper by Shaner et al, “Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power in the United States”, which one of the co-authors, Ken Caldeira provides a brief outline of in his blog post:

    https://kencaldeira.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/geophysical-constraints-on-the-reliability-of-solar-and-wind-power-in-the-united-states/

    Whilst it is a ‘toy model’, it has the benefit of being able to clearly analyse the relationship between renewables penetration, geophysical variability and implied storage requirements.

    In summary, to get to 80% wind and solar for the contiguous US (CONUS) is relatively straightforward, but the last 20% is a big challenge. The conclusion of the paper includes this statement:

    “Achieving high reliability with solar and wind generation contributing >80% of total annual electricity demand will require a strategic combination of energy storage, long-distance transmission, overbuilding of capacity, flexible generation, and demand management. In particular, our results highlight the need for cheap energy storage and/or dispatchable electricity generation. Determination of the most cost-effective strategic combination depends on future costs that are not well-characterized at present.”

    The paper does give a nod to biogas as one option. In the Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB), they include a lot of biogas and synth-gas to bridge the gaps between supply and demand with 100% renewables penetration (and I’d strongly recommend having a look at that study for the UK). This use of chemical-based energy storage and despatchable power using this stored energy is I believe the way to go.

    ZCB talks about ‘power down’ (reducing demand, through big changes in transport, food supply, homes, diet, etc) coupled with renewables ‘power up’, to achieve the transition in the timescale demanded by the climate science. So ZCB is a complete blueprint for UK.

    Ken Caldeira’s blog post concludes:

    “Controversies about how to handle the end game should not overly influence our opening moves”

    Many people would say yes please to 80% penetration of renewables, while teams work on preferred methods of solving the 20% gap.

    Arguing over the 20% – as many are want to do – when we could be pushing hard on the 80% seems to me foolish and yet another form a delayism.

  25. Richard,
    Thanks for that link. It does seem that there is a general consensus (including amongst those who are quite pro-nuclear) that renewables can make up quite a large fraction of the energy sector. I thought this quote was excellent

    Controversies about how to handle the end game should not overly influence our opening moves

  26. Interestingly, this raises the need for a big ramp up in modelling of the kind needed to look at interactions between climate, renewables variability, and demand (e.g. hotter weather leading to increased use of air conditioning).

    It loosely links to your previous blog on the topic of what climate scientists should be doing and how they might work with social scientists. In reality, as we see with HELIX programme, climate scientists have been broadening the range of questions they are asking, including the change itself, impacts, and adaptations. We can add the energy transition to the modelling suite.

    Cynthia Rosenzweig gave an interesting talk on the background to the Agricultural Model integrated in the NASA climate model.

    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/cynthia-rosenzweig-what-if-and-so-what-climate-change-and-cornwheatricesoybeans-and-a-few

    The list of potential competencies involved could range quite widely … energy experts, geographers, agronomists, city planners, etc.

    Emily Shuckburgh gave an interesting CSaP Lecture a while back looking at another tack – ‘Data Anaytics for Climate Decision Making’, using a risk based approach can help to focus the questions being asked, and using this to help inform policy and planning decisions.

    So, interdisciplinarianism is often essential to broaden the range of questions being asked.

    It would be interesting to know what computing capacity is currently being exercised in each of the domains and methods used. My feeling is that we need a big ramp up in mitigation/adaptation solution modelling, and risk/impacts oriented, modelling.

    Coming back to Caldeira’s ‘toy model’, I guess we are going to need oodles more modelling on the nexus of energy transition/ land use/ demand/ climate change.

  27. Canman says:

    ATTP: “It does seem that there is a general consensus (including amongst those who are quite pro-nuclear) that renewables can make up quite a large fraction of the energy sector.”

    But is it desirable to have renewables can make up quite a large fraction of the energy sector?

  28. Jim Hunt referred to the: “late, great David Mackay “

    Indeed, we referred to his work as motivation for the math geoenergy project

  29. Willard says:

    David has been quoted and cited and discussed many times, e.g.:

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2017/11/29/going-nuclear/

  30. MacKay was particularly helpful to me on issues of scale. https://www.withouthotair.com/ A family friend sent me the book (which as to physics is above my skill level) years ago. Speaking of scale, the reason I’m here is this. It relates to several other items such as https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/aug/07/fossil-fuel-subsidies-are-a-staggering-5-tn-per-year & SkepticalScience (hope the image comes through, Rahmstorf 2017). I’d like to see us all get a handle on the habitual waste of our culture embedded in the daily lives of both the inattentive and those who would like to do better.

  31. OT for Greg Robie (from earlier discussion): I see today that my Senator Ed Markey has signed on to “no fossil fuels money” pledge.

  32. Ken Fabian says:

    Canman – re the linked video. I think trying to get activist environmentalists to turn against renewable energy, now, when it is being taken up at record rates, is an exercise in futility. You may drum up specific environmentalist efforts to oppose deforestation for specific wind farms but not evoke broad opposition. As a proportion of total land use or deforestation it is going to be small change.

    Firstly I don’t think what they say has all that much influence over energy policy – loud voices that draw media attention, sure, but a long, long way from being the most significant influences on actual energy policy and energy choices.

    Secondly the majority of people who are supporting RE are mostly doing so knowing full well it is not a silver bullet or magic fix – and at large scale will involve serious compromises with respect to things like mining and land use. We/they want it done responsibly, not prevented.

    Thirdly, I think the more fundamentalist style environmentalism that opposes wind and solar farms will default to promoting modest lifestyles and energy frugality, not turn it’s activism into advocacy for, say, nuclear.

    If there is a resurgence of effective support for nuclear it will be more likely to come from conservative right politics turning aside from it’s climate science denial and obstructionism – from that big bloc of support for nuclear coming out from behind the Wall of Denial and into play. After all, conservatives are not being asked to take what environmentalist say about climate seriously, but to take what the IPCC reports, the Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences and other not-environmentalist sources say about it; that the environmentalists are mostly getting the science parts right is not good reason to believe the science is wrong.

  33. David B. Benson says:

    I read the summary by Ken Caldeira kindly linked above by Richard Erskine. The claim for the contiguous USA is about 80% so-called renewables for electricity production is feasible.

    An understated point is that, I simplify, as so-called renewables are unreliable every unit of such requires backup by a corresponding unit of dispatchable generation. This latter is typically gas turbines sitting idle until needed.

    But the gas turbines must be paid for even if unused. So the total cost of power from the so-called renewables has to include a surcharge for the idle backup. My sense is that this will be more expensive than using, say, nuclear power plants in the traditional baseload role. I base this on the experience to date in Denmark and Germany versus the experience in France.

    Ken Caldeira mentions storage such as batteries and pumped hydro. He obviously didn’t stop to consider why such can only be boutique solutions unsuited to the general situation. That means enough backup for an entire winter of low wind, i.e., a fleet of gas turbines.

  34. David,
    I think Ken Caldeira does those points. My impression is that he was more trying to present an optimistic scenario and showed that even in such a scenario you’re limited to about 80% from renewables. So, as you indicate it does look as though we need more than renewables to fully decarbonise. However, we can get some of the way there with renewables, so we don’t need to know the final solution now in order to get started.

  35. David B. Benson says:

    aTTP,
    I don’t agree that Ken Caldeira addressed the points I raised, else I would not have bothered to raise the points. His work suggests an upper bound on so-called renewables but failed at the points I brought up.

    Separately, there is the question of cost. I think that is sufficiently important that I stressed the fact that every unit of, say, wind power must be duplicated by an often idle gas turbine. Ken Caldeira hardly mentioned this important matter.

    What is largely happening in the USA is as older thermal generators are retired the replacement is a gas turbine. Yes, there might be some wind turbines as well. As I mentioned, experience to date suggests this is an expensive way to provide electricity; for an alternative look to France.

  36. David,
    Sorry, I meant to say “does get those points”. I wasn’t suggesting that he had addressed them. I was more suggesting that his two model was intended as some kind of optimistic upper limit. My impression is that we could substantially decarbonise using renewables but that it becomes increasingly costly as it makes up a larger and larger fraction of the energy market.

  37. Ben McMillan says:

    I don’t think Ken Caldeira is really focusing on overall costs in the article. The question is how much renewables and storage you would need to meet certain reliability targets. So only in the tradeoff between storage and renewables is the question of costs raised.

    In short: I think Ken Caldeira is trying to make some simple points about what is possible, not do a full-blown costing for a power grid.

    You hear a lot of complaining from the nuclear crowd about how a mostly-renewable system would also need a lot of peaking backup power. But all the currently existing coal and nuclear dominated countries also have access to peaking generators (usually gas or hydro) that need to cover the majority of peak demand. This is because:

    1) Nuclear/Coal generation fleet is sized to cover baseload, not peak demand.

    2) Nuclear/Coal generators have scheduled and unscheduled downtime and don’t run at 100% capacity factor.

    So for example, average Australian electricity consumption is 22GW, but there is around 40GW of dispatchable generation capacity. Coal power plants are putting out around 15GW on average. Only about half of the dispatchable generation capacity is baseload coal, even though it is producing 70% of the power.

    The somewhat larger amount of peaking generation capacity needed in a mostly-renewables versus a mostly coal/nuclear scenario isn’t that big a fraction of costs: peaker plants have typical capital cost per GW 10-20% of a nuke plant.

  38. BBD says:

    You hear a lot of complaining from the nuclear crowd about how a mostly-renewable system would also need a lot of peaking backup power. But all the currently existing coal and nuclear dominated countries also have access to peaking generators (usually gas or hydro) that need to cover the majority of peak demand. This is because:

    No, the issue is not spinning reserve for peaking, it is backup capacity to take over during multi-day winter windspeed lulls when solar arrays are producing very little electricity. Under high W&S penetrations, this means a significant chunk of national capacity just drops out for days and there *must* be something available to replace it. Batteries do not provide thousands of GWh capacity so the only current technology available is very large scale PHES.

  39. BBD says:

    But the gas turbines must be paid for even if unused.

    Which is why gas is a bridge to nowhere.

  40. verytallguy says:

    the only current technology available is very large scale PHES.

    I’m not sure this is true. Indeed, I think it’s explicitly not “available”, as there is simply not sufficient volume of storage available at altitudes for multi-day windspeed lulls.

    So gas turbines (bio or fossil) or even more expensive mainly unused capacity like nuclear is needed. Perhaps mitigated by demand management, long distance HVDC grid etc.

  41. BBD says:

    Okay vtg, you got me there. I was being unduly optimistic.

  42. verytallguy says:

    Okay vtg, you got me there

    Weird. This is the internet. You’re meant to act outraged and change the subject to avoid admitting a mistake, not just say you’re wrong.

    Sheesh.

  43. BBD says:

    So gas turbines (bio or fossil) or even more expensive mainly unused capacity like nuclear is needed. Perhaps mitigated by demand management, long distance HVDC grid etc.

    I don’t think I’ve come across a scenario with biogas production and storage scaled up to provide a multiday backup for a national windfleet. As I understand it, it doesn’t have that potential, but if anybody knows of such a proposal please post up a link. Another troubling thing is the degree to which the potential of ‘demand management’ is left undefined (not aiming this at you, vtg, it is a general point). In fact it is relatively modest in scope, and operates over hours, not days. Best thought of as ‘peak smearing’, really.

  44. BBD says:

    Weird. This is the internet. You’re meant to act outraged and change the subject to avoid admitting a mistake, not just say you’re wrong.

    Sheesh.

    Sorry, was distracted for a moment there 🙂
    Look, there’s even a link that supports your point:

    https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/11/pump-up-the-storage/

  45. Ben McMillan says:

    BBD, by a ‘mostly renewable’ grid, I meant one which is 70-80% renewables and 30-20% gas. Much like the current ‘mostly nuclear’ grids of places like France.

    Obviously, the thing that picks up when renewables are low is probably gas: you would need more gas plant than most places currently have, but it wouldn’t be a vast amount more. Mostly it would be just repurposing existing thermal generation.

    I think you are talking about the extreme case where there is almost no use of gas. I think it makes more sense to get to 80% electricity sector decarbonisation and deal with land transport first, since this is going to take at least 25 years anyway.

  46. verytallguy says:

    Thanks BBD. I do like numbers.

  47. Ben McMillan says:

    Actually, for France, much of the peaking (non-Nuclear) supply is actually hydro, or met by imports: in a country with large amounts of normal (non-pumped) hydro it is somewhat simpler to get a high proportion of renewable electricity.

  48. izen says:

    Without generous subsidies and/or draconian taxes why would any economic enterprise that is based in selling as much as possible of its product at the highest possible price, engage, or even cooperate, with actions intended to control demand and reduce consumption ?

  49. Chubbs says:

    Susan:

    Yes, scale is critical in energy economics as large scale drives down per-unit costs. Solar panels seem to have the least scale of any energy source as they gather energy at very low rates per area deployed. This is misleading though because solar has a big upstream scale advantage that is only beginning to be realized.

    PV manufacturing plants are on a gigawatt scale currently, roughly the same as a nuclear power plant. Not only are these plants increasing in size they are highly automated with improving technology. As a result the economics of PV manufacturing plant ownership is poor as existing facilities rapidly fall behind in both scale and technology. Bottom-line fossil and nuclear, which really haven’t changed much in decades, are going to struggle to keep pace.

  50. BBD says:

    I think you are talking about the extreme case where there is almost no use of gas.

    Here’s what happens to German wind fleet output when there’s a widespread windspeed lull. This one was fully pan-European and also included the UK. The shift in the energy mix from wind to compensatory FFs is clear. This is what will need to be addressed to make a high W&S mix work, at least for the temperature mid-latitudes. That’s a lot of reserve gas capacity to keep supplied, maintained and staffed in readiness. It’s not clear that this level of operating cost is compatible with low levels of use and a small, intermittent revenue stream.

  51. izen says:

    @-BBD
    “It’s not clear that this level of operating cost is compatible with low levels of use and a small, intermittent revenue stream.”

    Hawaii may be an example that it is not.
    They have the original old oil and gas plants, that have been continued, all the fuel has to be shipped in. Later they also built some PV and Wind generation as population and demand increased. Most recently they have added large, efficient wind farms.

    Base-load can only just be met (?) by the FF generation, without some PV and wind, peak demand is a problem. Fortunately wind lull in the middle of the Pacific is rare and peak is often when solar is high.
    Frequently the newest, and cheapest electricity, from the big recent wind farms can supply all the demand, even at peak. Often the new wind farms plus the other older renewables and the most expensive FF generators could supply far more than the demand.

    I leave as an exercise to otters to guess/discover which forms of generation get shut down, in what order, when supply exceeds demand, and why.

  52. Ben McMillan says:

    BBD, I’m not sure why you think that it is such a big issue to keep gas generators in readiness.

    We already have sizable fleets of peaking generators in many countries.. there are large numbers of open cycle gas turbines running at extremely low capacity factors. They make money during rare shortage events when wholesale prices become very high. Or by being paid directly as part of the capacity market.

    The fixed costs (including staffing) of gas turbines are rather low in comparison to most other forms of generation. It takes a lot fewer staff to operate an OCGT than a nuclear power station.

    The need for substantial, infrequently used backup is an issue that current grids already face during high-demand events (like heatwaves), or when large thermal generators fail.

    If you need to have enough dispatchable plant to cover 90% of peak demand, rather than the 60% that is now typical, that just isn’t a world-ending problem.

  53. BBD says:

    BBD, I’m not sure why you think that it is such a big issue to keep gas generators in readiness.

    Because economics. A national-scale gas capacity as large or larger than that presently existing in the UK and or Germany has very large fixed operating costs. It cannot pay for itself on the basis of an aggregate total of a few weeks revenue a year.

  54. BBD says:

    If you need to have enough dispatchable plant to cover 90% of peak demand, rather than the 60% that is now typical, that just isn’t a world-ending problem.

    Take the coal out of the German energy mix and replace it with gas. Now scale electricity demand to ~2050 levels following an electrify everything policy. That’s how much gas capacity is going to be required to compensate for a sustained windspeed lull. Rather more than you suggest, I suspect.

  55. Canman says:

    Here’s a pertinent rant by Bill Gates:

  56. Ben McMillan says:

    OK, here’s a short explanation of the costs.

    Consider a country where peak demand is 60GW and average is 40GW. Offshore wind generates equal to 75% of average demand. OCGT gas is built to cover 90% of the peak demand.

    Using BEIS 2016 figures, capital cost of large OCGT gas is 300£/kW, and offshore wind is 2100£/kW. The capital costs dominate over operations+maintenance costs (if you don’t believe me, read the BEIS report). The capacity factor for wind is 43% (again, BEIS figures).

    The gas capital cost is 60e6*300*0.9 = £16e9
    The wind capital cost is 40e6*2100*0.75/0.43 = £146e9

    So the backup capital cost is just not that big. Also, you need most of this backup even in a coal/nuclear dominated grid anyway.

    Obviously, if you scale up demand, you scale up costs of both, but it still isn’t the capital cost of backup which is the major economic issue.

  57. BBD says:

    So the backup capital cost is just not that big. Also, you need most of this backup even in a coal/nuclear dominated grid anyway.

    No, you don’t, because the entire national coal / nuclear fleet doesn’t simultaneously drop >75% total output for days at a time.

    The capacity factor for wind is 43% (again, BEIS figures).

    That would be high for offshore, nevermind onshore, so I’m reluctant to accept the figure without more supporting references.

    Using BEIS 2016 figures, capital cost of large OCGT gas is 300£/kW

    Under current operating conditions but these will not pertain with a high W&S penetration in the energy mix. I’m sorry if I somehow failed to make this clear at the outset. Although I did say something to the effect of ‘It cannot pay for itself on the basis of an aggregate total of a few weeks revenue a year’, which it can’t.

  58. verytallguy says:

    Interesting figures Ben, thank you. That seems pretty convincing to me, at least.

    Some musings:

    I wonder what the cartoon emissions are for such a scenario?

    I wonder how the capital costs for gas change if CCS were employed?

    I wonder how capital costs for gas change in a biogas storage scenario as put forward by zero carbon Britain?

  59. BBD says:

    LCOE/gas is predicated on very substantial economies of scale: we burn a great deal of the stuff at the moment. But in future we are supposed to burn far less, which messes up the economics. The entire supply infrastructure (nevermind generating plant) is currently paid for by economies of scale. Volume revenues. Take them away and the cost of gas rockets, as does the LCOE, which undermines the argument that gas will be the cheap component of the future energy mix. It also underscores how difficult it will be for the entire gas industry, from wellhead via pipline to turbine, to afford to maintain itself at or above its current capacity on a fraction of current revenues. But this is what is required if it is to function as a backup to wind.

  60. re Bill Gates, I was fascinated to find him making sense on Fox Sunday’s weekly show (Chris Wallace is said to be a Democrat, and for whatever reason he’s quite good, they are not always monolithic (note also their weekend science programs, especially for kids)). But I digress.

    Here’s something on hydrogen, which is much overlooked in these discussions:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/19/time-to-consider-hydrogen-the-new-clean-energy-carrier-on-the-block

    Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and as a gas can be used in the same way natural gas is used. Hydrogen produces zero carbon emissions when used for energy.

    It is called an energy “carrier” because it can be generated using renewable energy, stored and used on demand either to generate electricity, which occurs when it is reacted with oxygen from air, or to provide heat in industrial processes or at home for cooking.

  61. Ben McMillan says:

    BBD, decreasing the capacity factor of offshore wind actually makes my argument stronger.

    I find your arguments about the gas industry etc somewhat confusing/odd. It all sounds a bit weak and unquantified.

    The amount of gas used wouldn’t change that much. Many gas peakers do currently pay for themselves on the basis of high electricity prices over a small number of hours per year. this is why wholesale prices (eg in Aus) can reach $10,000/MWh. Indeed the ~25% load factor these plants would run in this scenario is completely typical of an OCGT.

    In a nuclear dominated scenario where 75% of the (40GW) mean demand is generated by nuclear, assuming they generate a perfect straight line, that is 30GW. So you need 30GW of peaking plant to meet the 60GW peak demand.

    That is, you still need £9e9 of gas capacity in a comparable mostly-nuclear scenario, assuming utterly reliable nuke plants. A bit more than half of the wind scenario.

  62. Ben McMillan says:

    Cartoon emissions in the scenario are roughly a factor of three lower than the current UK grid: nuclear and wind both contribute strongly to the current mix (about equal), but there is still some coal ~10% and 40% gas. I think about 120g CO2 /kWh for 25% gas (with 50% CCGT).

    Probably it would be better to have 1/3 of the capacity and 50% of the generation as CCGT. The BEIS figures also estimate CCGT+CCS costs (£2100/kWh) but who knows since noone has actually built a real plant. Obviously, at that price it had better be run almost as a baseload plant.

    I’m not sure about biogas: usually the limit on that is just that you run out of feedstock rather than anything else. I don’t think much modification is required to run gas turbines on biogas.

  63. BBD says:

    The amount of gas used wouldn’t change that much. Many gas peakers do currently pay for themselves on the basis of high electricity prices over a small number of hours per year.

    You are missing my point, Ben:

    LCOE/gas is predicated on very substantial economies of scale: we burn a great deal of the stuff at the moment. But in future we are supposed to burn far less, which messes up the economics.

    Peakers work with current wholesale gas prices which are low because of general economies of scale. If you substantially reduce total global gas usage by displacing gas with W&S, then you change the basic economics and gas becomes significantly more expensive.

    I don’t really know how to make that any clearer.

  64. Ken Fabian says:

    I don’t think we have an imminent crisis because of high levels of solar and wind – and the prospect of a whole lot of gas generators costing money to sit idle is not a crisis at all compared to what we get if we fail to shift to low emissions.

    I suppose my focus is on how the politics will play out. These arguments against high levels of dependence on wind and solar are the same arguments opponents of climate action are using to prevent displacement of fossil fuels. Actual failure of combined transmission reach, demand management, efficiency improvements, energy storage and standby fossil fuel backup to manage high levels of solar and wind may well be the precursor to an emerging commitment to nuclear – but predictions of such failure this far out are not.

    I think such predictions, widely promoted and accepted, will not see popular opinion default to supporting nuclear – because the biggest promoters are opponents of strong climate action, not promoters of “better” climate action and the “better” message will be subsumed. I expect the real political result will be deferred emissions targets and extended dependence on fossil fuels.

    Maybe it’s a matter of timing, of addressing these things in order – and widespread criticisms and I think calls to hold back on wind and solar, now, are really bad timing. The incremental nature of growth of RE means the problems with backup and storage will become apparent along the way, before they become a crisis – people are clearly not ignoring the challenges and potential problems.

    RE’s ability to change public perceptions and undercut the alarmist economic fears of a transition to non-fossil fuel energy is something nothing else has been able to do – and that is more politically significant right now than what happens when we get 80% or more of it. Businesses investing in RE now are a wedge that can split what appears to be a rock solid opposition to strong climate policies by commerce and industry.

    There has never been a better opportunity to pull sticks from the house of climate denial and blow it down, whereupon the whole political landscape is changed. THEN we can deal with how to manage the transition more rationally and effectively.

    We may yet see that Wall of Denial come down and see the politicking that has been used to protecting fossil fuels get turned to advancing low emissions objectives, including by promoting nuclear – and that may be RE’s most important legacy.

  65. David B. Benson says:

    Biogas

    Biogas is a product of waste water operations. It is approximately half methane and half carbon dioxide. As such, it is a low heating value fuel. Some waste water operations burn it on site to power the activities.

    However, at least the San Diego treatment plant produces enough that they separate the two components. The carbon dioxide is sold to Linde corporation which they resell to industrial users. What methane is not burned locally is also sold to Linde.

    Interesting I hope but clearly just a boutique solution not readily expanded to the entire electrical power industry.

  66. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a way to determine the capital cost of wind turbines together with natural gas backup for periods when the wind isn’t blowing.

    I use $1500/kW for a fully equipped wind turbine together with the wiring to the substation for the wind farm, a share of the substation and its battery for frequency control and other ancillary services. I assume an availability factor of 0.3, typical for onshore wind. So 1500/0.3 = 5000; $5000/kW delivered on average.

    I use $1200/kW for the associated combined cycle gas turbine, assumed to be always available.

    Adding it all up, one needs $6500/kW in capital costs to be sure of delivering that kilowatt.

    But for that, or less, one can have a nuclear power plant, fully “carbon free”.

    Comments welcome.

  67. Jim Hunt says:

    @Susan – My apologies to one and all for my enforced leave of absence. I’m currently sat at my keyboard in the small hours of the Polish morning at Kasia’s youngest son’s residence.

    Dare I mention that once upon a time Bill Gates liked Vaclav Smil, David MacKay and “4th generation” nuclear power?

    http://www.v2g.co.uk/2012/07/renewable-energy-is-the-work-of-generations-of-engineers/

    It is impossible to displace [the world’s fossil-fuel-based energy system] in a decade or two—or five, for that matter. Replacing it with an equally extensive and reliable alternative based on renewable energy flows is a task that will require decades of expensive commitment. It is the work of generations of engineers.

    A very Merry Christmas to you, Willard and all at aTTP’s place!

    Jim

  68. Ben McMillan says:

    BBD: OK, that is clear. You are now claiming that gas prices are going to massively increase in a scenario where we use less (maybe a quarter of current) gas worldwide. The opposite seems much more likely to be the case. This also seems to be entirely unrelated to the original set of arguments you were making. And would be about as big a problem in a nuclear-dominated scenario.

    David Benson: Your estimate for the capital cost of firming wind says roughly the same thing as mine, which is that the cost of the wind turbines dominates. That is, building backup is not a huge deal. The point that I was making earlier was that existing grids have substantial fleets of flexible generation (like gas) even when they are nuclear or coal-dominated.

    Really I was just trying to explain why adding firming capacity to a renewables-dominated grid is not an extreme challenge.

  69. BBD says:

    Ben

    BBD: OK, that is clear. You are now claiming that gas prices are going to massively increase in a scenario where we use less (maybe a quarter of current) gas worldwide. The opposite seems much more likely to be the case.

    Can you explain why? I’m having difficulty seeing how greatly reduced demand vs the high and fixed costs for the extraction and distribution infrastructure would not force gas prices to increase, significantly.

    This also seems to be entirely unrelated to the original set of arguments you were making.

    Why?

    And would be about as big a problem in a nuclear-dominated scenario.

    But I’m *not* advocating for nuclear. I’m trying to explore the implications of using gas as the principle hedge against VRE.

    In case this is not clear, the underlying point is that gas will inevitably prevent deep decarbonisation of the electricity sector, not enable it. Hence my original quip that gas is a bridge to nowhere.

  70. verytallguy says:

    In case this is not clear, the underlying point is that gas will inevitably prevent deep decarbonisation of the electricity sector, not enable it.

    What would you advocate as the endgame for deep decarbonisation?

    The only alternative to gas I can see is fast response nuclear capacity. Are there other alternatives?

  71. Dave_Geologist says:

    Coldwater Creek looks like a bit of an oddity Willard. From Google satellite view, the cluster north of the river appears to be almost entirely farmers’ fields. just about every farmhouse must have a case. Wonder what sort of fertilisers and pesticides they use? I’m dubious about the map though. Unless they’re too small for the satellite resolution (and I can make out individual houses in the city), there don’t look to be enough farmhouses.

    I presume the superfund site is the scarred-looking ground in the meander north of the river. Bloody stupid place to put a landfill, if you ask me!. But surely most of the waste drains into the river, so why are there not clusters downstream? Do people bathe on the riverbanks? Next to a landfill? Anyway, don’t sites get superfund status because they’re known to be full of poisonous chemicals, heavy metals, etc., and are close to populations? Is there any need to look beyond the obvious?

    Civilian nuclear landfill is generally things like work clothes, protective suits, office furniture, surplus building material etc. Low level and much less harmful if it catches fire than old TV sets and electrical transformers. Maybe this one is different because it’s military. In which case, material dumped by the military is a poor example to argue against regulated disposal of civil material in peacetime.

    If I was a betting man, my money would be on PCBs, heavy metals or whatever earned the site its superfund status, with wind-blown agrichemicals an each-way bet, and Manhattan Project nuclear waste a 100:1 outsider.

  72. Dave_Geologist says:

    Without generous subsidies and/or draconian taxes why would any economic enterprise that is based in selling as much as possible of its product at the highest possible price, engage, or even cooperate, with actions intended to control demand and reduce consumption ?

    Because it’s been done before? It’s how the UK gas market was run for decades, before the Interconnector pipelines to Europe were built, and to some extent is still run. The standard supply contract had a swing of 1.3 (the swing is the ratio between the maximum daily supply contracted, and 1/365 of the annual contract volume). To balance out you need to run as many days at 70% of the nominal rate as you do at 130%. So you have 30% overcapacity (more, because there are severe penalties for shortfall, so you probably add 10% to cover well outages), and for much of the year, you’re running at not much more than 50% capacity. A group of fields I was involved in had a nominal swing of 1.4, but it varied by the month from 1.2 in summer to 1.7 in winter. So they had almost 100% overcapacity. A number of fields were contracted as peak-shavers. They were paid a fixed annual fee in the £10Ms, with gas bought at the normal rate, a very high gas price (five or six times normal) in return for being available only 60 days a year, or some combination of the two. They had more than 500% overcapacity. No generous subsidies, no draconian taxes, just dispatchable-responsive pricing.

  73. Dave_Geologist says:

    @Ben McMillan
    Very informative. I would add that the wholesale gas market in the UK was/is very peaky, like your electricity examples. The reason producers were very careful not to shortfall was not only that you paid a cash penalty to the buyer, but you had to buy gas at the spot price to make up the shortfall, and deliver it to your customer. On a very high-demand day, or when a major facility had an outage, the spot price could be ten or twenty times the annual-average price.

    One of the peak-shavers was contracted to go from having been shut down for weeks, potentially months, to 720 MMcfd in a matter of hours; with a best-endeavours clause that said if asked and they could do so safely, they would deliver up to 20% more, i.e 860 MMscfd. Some operators with similar high-deliverability fields (high dispatchability in this discussion) negotiated an early end to their contracts when the market was liberalised in the 1990s. The previous buyer knew it would soon have more gas contracted than it could sell, and the field operators thought they could make more money by being supplier-of-last-resort when prices went through the roof. Some fields were subject to water coning which made them well suited to intermittent use – produce for a few days then shut in for a week or two to let the water slump back down.There were other fields better suited to baseload: tight reservoirs which require a strong pressure drawdown to be maintained at the wellbore in order to draw in distant gas; fields with heavy investment in fraccing or offshore compression, where you want to get the capital outlay back asap; remote, unmanned facilities where you worry about mechanical, electrical or hydraulic failure, or condensate or water blocking, being more likely in stop-start operation. Often fields with different characteristics were grouped together into a common contract, to give a mix of baseload and peak-shaving. With internal pricing between fields which reflected the value of the peak-shaver and compensated for it being shut in much of the year.

    I’m with Ben: this stuff really isn’t as difficult as some people think, or want to think. It, or something like it, has been done before. People are unaware of it because it all happened behind the scenes and was rolled into the retail gas price. Nowadays, in the interests of transparency and because it’s a fragmented market, we see these load-balancing and green payments broken out, and people think they’re a new development.

  74. Greg Robie says:

    @ Ken re “Businesses investing in RE now are a wedge that can split what appears to be a rock solid opposition to strong climate policies by commerce and industry.”

    In NY a thing called “value stacks” are being worked on the replace net-metering regarding renewables. This is part of the REV2030 policy – an explicit goal of which is keeping electricity rates low as this state aims for 50% renewable by 2030. Current spreadsheet version is here: https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/NY-Sun/Contractors/Value-of-Distributed-Energy-Resources/Solar-Value-Stack-Calculator.

    I’m biased to see this as a not-so-covert means of preserving the economic viability of existing electrical generation capacity and doing the opposite of subsidizing renewables. It also suggest that futures markets will be able to hedge bets of the wholesale market price of electricity with algorithms that best guess the impact of weather on renewables’ output, further transferring ‘profit’ from investor to speculator. I’d be curious what others may see, but it looks like early adapters are going to bankrupted. Or, welcome to NY … and how the ‘rock solid’ opposition is ALSO the consumer and investor./?

    With this recently re-elected Ny governor pushing legalization of pot for 2019, the ‘liberal’ electorate won’t be paying much attention to the rollout of value stack determined RE payments as payback to fossil carbon companies, utilities, and Wall Street. And this ‘duplicity’ puts to shame a career politician, like Senator Markley, publishing a three paragraph greenwashed op-ed in the Boston Globe that effects little but grandstanding, or taking a pledge regarding fossil carbon contributions. Game theory calculations leverage motivated reasoning … and it is motivated reasoning that is rock solid. Blind faith and identity politics are, apparently, intractible.

    Doing without is the only rational way to address the last 20% – and/or hasten any arrival at 80% market penetration by renewables on a relevant timescale to Paris (& regardless of its efficacy!). In the ’70s I dreamed of PV, planned to do biogas, installed wood heat. Today, the only part of my energy plans that is economical is [still] wood heating! and my aging body is now making that expensive. Value stacks are pushing PV off the table and/or anticipating a carbon price that will pull them back onto the edge of the table. Doing without is not on the table. Such is the result of a socially trusted conspiracy among men and women and motivated reasoning … that projection of human foibles onto commerce and industry hides in plain sight.

  75. Chubbs says:

    I’d echo Ken’s comment. More important to get us on a pathway where sun+wind are cheap and plentiful vs trying to figure out the details of end-game implementation. I wouldn’t rule out CCS, nuclear or any other option either. The other important short-term policy is to minimize coal use, here natural gas can play an important role.

  76. Chubbs says:

    Just to add to my previous comment. With a carbon tax coal use would drop quickly. Why? The economic damage with any reasonable fee is larger than the value provided.

  77. Chubbs says:

    A final comment. This isn’t rocket science. We should be doing much better. Inexpensive solutions are readily available.

  78. Ed Davies says:

    vtg: “The only alternative to gas I can see is fast response nuclear capacity. Are there other alternatives?”

    I’m sceptical that nuclear is an alternative. All sorts of reasons, proliferation and safety, but mostly I’ve yet to see numbers that say there’s enough uranium available to provide 20 TW or so (say 2 kW for each of 10e9 people) for many centuries. Maybe with breeders and so on but then proliferation…

    In round numbers, with 400 nuclear power stations running for 50 years we’ve had two pop off in ways which significantly affect people in the area around them. With 10’000 reactors running that’d be an annual event.

    PV alone could provide sufficient energy. Combined with wind, batteries, stored hydrogen or methane made on windy sunny days (for dull lulls and for transport use), big HVDC grids, pumped storage where possible, geothermal where available, and so on it seems like the only actually workable alternative to me. As Ken points out, we can go a long way towards that before we have to work out the final details. Just knowing that the overall result is plausible is enough. Politics and technology change which is why a flexible mixed solution is attractive, at least to me, rather than betting on a single technology.

    Of course it’ll be more expensive than the existing technology which has evolved under pressure from a market for the cheapest energy, irrespective of externalized costs. But it’s also selling into a market whose technology has evolved around the assumption of cheap energy (poorly insulated homes, ICE cars which throw away 2/3rds of the energy in their fuel…). As the consuming technology evolves, too, the actual cost impact to end users of services provided (rather than simply joules) is likely to go up less.

  79. izen says:

    @-Dave_G
    “They had more than 500% overcapacity. No generous subsidies, no draconian taxes, just dispatchable-responsive pricing.”

    That is an interesting explanation of how business practise and regulatory capture maintained gas prices in the face of overcapacity.
    It also backs up BBD’s claim that if you reduce gas generation to cover intermittency and peaks, then as less gas is used less often only during extreme need the cost will increase because it will only be viable to supply small amounts on an uncertain schedule IF the spot-price is high.

    When the combined capacity of renewables and baseload/peak gas plants exceeds demand there are strong economic (an inertial) reasons to switch off the PV/Wind generation and maintain the gas, it retains investment and turnover for the producers/generators.
    Otherwise the cost of covering the ~20% shortage from renewables exceeds the cost of of adapting to the intermittency in other ways.

  80. verytallguy says:

    Ed,

    you don’t actually suggest any viable alternative for backup low wind capacity than gas (whether fossil fuel generated or through other sources such as biogas or hydrogen storage generated from wind).

    PV doesn’t work at night(!)
    Batteries and pumped hydro are totally incapable of the storage required (see links upthread)

  81. BBD says:

    What would you advocate as the endgame for deep decarbonisation?

    The only alternative to gas I can see is fast response nuclear capacity. Are there other alternatives?

    Apart from PHES (which we know can’t do the whole job), then not that I know of. This is what I mean when I suggest that the ‘just political will needed’ meme is misguided, even misleading. And we haven’t even mentioned TPE yet.

    And I disagree still with Dave and Ben that we can fundamentally change the nature of the gas market without fundamentally changing its underpinning economics – which will invalidate assumptions based on the current economics – like LCOE/gas and whether or not the entire industry can be run as a giant, rarely used peaker that somehow remains profitable or at least prop-uppable by goverment interventions.

    Shifting from a high volume gas market (average capfac high) to a low volume gas market (average capfac low) is only part of the transition. The other part is that the entire gas system infrastructure of extraction, distribution, storage capacity and generation capacity has to be able to substantially replace a national-scale windfleet for a number of consecutive days (ten, to be on the safe side). But for most of the year round, it must sit idle or very nearly so. It’s difficult to see how the economics of that system are feasible.

  82. Chubbs says:

    BBD — You could bring LNG by ship from anywhere in the world to a single site and then distribute as needed. But having a solution today is not important. What is critical is giving a strong stable signal to the energy market that decarbonization is valuable and will be even more valuable in the future. Then competition can determine the winners and losers.

  83. Canman says:

    Here’s a sobering pie chart of Texas electricity from 2017.

    It’s from Scientific American:

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/texas-got-18-percent-of-its-energy-from-wind-and-solar-last-year/

    One thing that’s not really emphasized in that piece is that Texas has a lot of rural areas that are already well wired, which helps wind. Note the tiny sliver of solar in sunny Texas!

  84. Dave_Geologist says:

    That is an interesting explanation of how business practise and regulatory capture maintained gas prices in the face of overcapacity.

    Not at all BBD. The gas price was competitively bid each day on the spot market, and each time a new contract was let. I know some fields which were newer but received half the price of older fields, just because there was surplus capacity coming onstream at the time of the bid. Consumer gas prices were low, about half the electricity equivalent. Hardly a signal of regulatory capture. Something like 50-100% overcapacity is required just to cover hourly and daily fluctuations in demand. There’s no way round that, gas or electricity, fossil fuel or renewables. Batteries and PHES are just another form of overcapacity. The whole industry didn’t run at 500% overcapacity. Just a few peak shavers. They were paid five or ten times the rate everyone else was getting paid, but they were only in use 10-20% of the year so it evened out. The fields which were chosen were ones that were well suited to fast ramp-up and long shutdowns. Some of them, like the water-coners, were like wind and PV in that they couldn’t be run year-round without killing them. In the same way, you wouldn’t build the same overcapacity or demand the same dispatchability in all electricity generation and storage options. You’d use the technology best suited to baseload for baseload, the best demand-responsive technology for demand-responsive load, and the weather-dependent technology to substitute for CO2-emitters wherever the weather allows. You probably can’t get to zero carbon, absent battery technology breakthroughs, but let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. You probably have to pay the CO2 emitters more to compensate them for their forced intermittency, which will make some people, grumble, but the objective should be to decarbonise the electricity system, not to take pot-shots at business you don’t like. The key thing to understand is that while you, as a consumer, may see a single gas or electricity price, the intermediaries (wholesalers and retailers, plus in regulated markets the National Grid or equivalent) pay a whole range of prices to producers, depending on the service they provide. Under a free market, uncontrollably intermittent (PV and wind) would get paid less than baseload (coal, nuclear, geothermal, perhaps conventional hydro), which would get paid less than controllably intermittent (OCGT, PHES, battery storage).

  85. Ben McMillan says:

    I’m a bit puzzled about why supplying a varying quantity of gas to turbines is meant to be very hard. Basically this looks like taking a problem that is already solved by the existing gas grid and claiming that it is uneconomical to solve.

    Gas transport and storage costs are just not that big. BBD is talking a big game about how expensive it will all be, but note that none of the arguments are quantified in any way.

    Many countries (not the UK though) store a month of gas.

    As an exercise for the reader, how big a tank do you need to store 10 days of liquid fuel for a 500MW power station? How long would an typical LNG tanker supply this power station?

  86. Canman says:

    This Climate Etc. post on grid storage, by Rud Istvan, ought to be considered a classic:

    https://judithcurry.com/2015/07/01/intermittent-grid-storage/

    I would particularly recommend reading what it has to say about hydrogen, which seems to have become the great white hope of renewables advocates:

    Hydrogen can certainly be hydrolyzed from water. And the necessary electricity can certainly come from intermittent renewables. The most efficient way to convert hydrogen back to electricity at grid scale would be a PEM fuel cell or an SOFC. The math can be done using Ballard’s 1MW PEM, since a few have actually been sold as demos. Ignore the technical difficulties of bulk hydrogen storage, which the following methane alternative ‘solves’.

    The theoretical efficiency of hydrolysis is ~88%. About 4% of commercial hydrogen is made this way today, with real efficiencies of ~75%. EERE says PEM fuel cells can be 60% efficient. But that is also theoretical. Ballard’s real 1 MW ClearGen® is 40±2% efficient, with a lifetime of ~15 years (similar to NaS). The round trip efficiency of a hydrogen electricity storage system would be about (0.75 * 0.4) 30%. For a utility, that is awful.

    The electricity to be stored comes mainly from otherwise flexed base load generation, with chemical storage buffering renewable intermittency no different than PHS buffers peaks. The energy cost alone would be about ($57/MWh baseload / 0.3 efficiency) $190/MWh. Ballard’s ClearGen® costs about $10 million/MW (including inverter, transformer, and installation).That calculates a capital LCOE of about $114/MWh. Adding hydrolysis and H2 storage, the system LCOE is >>$304/MWh. It is simply not commercially viable–by nearly an order of magnitude. Before solving the hydrogen storage problem.

    This is a few years old, but I don’t think there’s been any huge breakthroughs.

  87. BBD says:

    Gas transport and storage costs are just not that big. BBD is talking a big game about how expensive it will all be, but note that none of the arguments are quantified in any way.

    And nor is this 🙂

    You aren’t addressing any of my points; you are waving them away. Since this is a cordial, civil exchange (per ground rules here), that probably concludes it.

    * * *

    Dave G

    Not at all BBD.

    That was Izen…

  88. Ed Davies says:

    vtg: “you don’t actually suggest any viable alternative for backup low wind capacity than gas (whether fossil fuel generated or through other sources such as biogas or hydrogen storage generated from wind).”

    Biogas or hydrogen (or methane) from wind or solar are fundamentally different from fossil fuel gas of course.

    vtg: “PV doesn’t work at night(!)
    Batteries and pumped hydro are totally incapable of the storage required…”

    The average European’s final energy use is around 2.8 kW. That’s everything, not just personal or domestic and not just electricity: total EU-28 final energy use divided by the population of that area. 60 kWh batteries in cars are becoming common place so that means 21 hours storage is financially credible straight up. But most energy use is not as electricity, it’s for heat for space heating (home and work places), hot water, industrial processes, and so on. In the short term heat (or cold) is cheaper to store. And, even in a dull lull wind and solar don’t disappear completely, at least not everywhere.

    And we ought to be able to get that 2.8 kW figure down, probably quite a lot. E.g., though it’s called “final” energy I think it should be called “delivered” energy. I think it includes the total energy in fuels delivered to end users so including the 5 to 10% or so thrown away by domestic gas boilers and the 60% or more by ICE vehicles.

    The options, it seems to me, are:

    1) continue burning fossil fuels, reducing the amount a bit with some renewable energy but not so much as to mess up the existing status quo, and accept the AGW consequences,

    2) build many thousands more nuclear power plants and accept the political and environmental consequences or,

    3) switch to almost complete renewable energy accepting the high capital cost and small amounts of adaptation in the way we live.

    My vote’s for 3 because I don’t think the consequences of 1 or 2 are morally acceptable mainly because they tend to be loaded on people in times and places who don’t necessarily directly benefit from them.

  89. Windchaser says:

    All sorts of reasons, proliferation and safety, but mostly I’ve yet to see numbers that say there’s enough uranium available to provide 20 TW or so (say 2 kW for each of 10e9 people) for many centuries.

    Eh. The amount of uranium available depends quite strongly on the demand for it. Demand has been low, so, so has exploration.

    This is a good reason to just enact a carbon tax and let the market figure it out. Remove the obstacles to nuclear, and then, if there’s enough uranium for nuclear to still be the cheapest option for reliable power, then it will be used. We don’t need to be worried about whether there’s enough uranium or not; there are people who’s job it is to figure out that stuff.

  90. Andrew J Dodds says:

    Ok, a standard observation here..

    If you insist on matching supply to demand using sources that are not really suited for it – meaning intermittent renewables and nuclear – then you can either go for a sort of Heath Robinson approach – using all sorts of storage, trying to manage demand, that sort of thing – or try the approach of always over-producing and matching demand to supply.

    We can make liquid fuels – Ammonia and Methanol being relatively simple candidates – using electricity and fairly easily available feedstocks; the first step is the electrolytic production of hydrogen, which can easily be tuned to soak up excess electricity production.

    Using this approach means that we don’t have to think about storage or peaking plants, and we go a fair way to solving the liquid fuel problem at the same time.

  91. “My vote’s for 3 because I don’t think the consequences of 1 or 2 are morally acceptable mainly because they tend to be loaded on people in times and places who don’t necessarily directly benefit from them.”

    Who gets to define “small” in adaptation of the way we live and are we allowed to debate that without being accused of delayism? What are the “political and environmental consequences” of Yankee Point nuclear power plant? That’s the one that powers New York City and has prevented a few billion tons of CO2 emissions.
    Nobody has mentioned the land (sea) area needed for renewables. Watney is 56 square miles and at 100% capacity provides enough power to run about 600,000 homes according to boosters. Extrapolated for just the Washington DC – Boston corridor and dealing with the fact that Watney can be counted on to produce less than half it’s capacity, you’d need a wind farm seven miles wide and over 400 miles long. And in July and August the whole thing wouldn’t make a morning cup of coffee.
    Have you ever been in Washington DC in August? It’s miserable-unbearably hot and humid and windless.
    What environmentalist wants to turn more than 3,000 square miles of ocean into an industrial park? What politician wants to blow billions of tax dollars on it and then have to explain that no air conditioning in July/August (or heat in January/February when the gales shut down the windfarms) is just one of those “small amounts of adaptation” we have to live with to go renewable? Washington DC is powered by nuclear plants in Maryland and Virginia. In fact the whole corridor is nuclear-powered. The “political consequences” of that would be news to the 50 million residents of the corridor. If you’re serious about reducing emissions you need an alternative not in DC or New York, but in Indianapolis, Indiana and Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio- landlocked industrial locations currently powered by coal and without thousands of square miles to turn into intermittent power generators.

  92. Ed Davies says:

    Summer-time cooling is such an obvious match for PV that the thinking in some circles in the UK is moving towards deliberately designing houses to overheat a bit in order to reduce winter heating loads then use the PV to run the air-source heat pump in cooling mode.

    OK, in humid climates it needs more than a bit of cooling, you need to condition the air fully, but that’s still well within the capabilities of PV I’d think, if the house is properly insulated and airtight.

  93. izen says:

    @-W
    “Solar-Powered Windows Are Efficient Enough To Generate 80% Of U.S. Power”

    Classic example of snake-0il exploitation of Greenie enthusiasm.

    Suggest using less efficient and more expensive & complex PV panels in a vertical orientation that reduces the power they can collect by ~50% in most locations.
    Cheaper to collect more, with simple panels on the roof.

  94. David B. Benson says:

    Thanks to Canman for the pie chart of ERCOT generators proportions.

  95. Ed Davies says:

    Totally agree with Izen re the solar windows thing. You want to keep windows to a minimum needed for sufficient light, outside awareness, means of escape, etc, in order to keep heat loss and gain to a minimum. Windows are typically about 10x less insulating than the walls around them. Much better to let windows concentrate on being windows and put the PV elsewhere.

    But, there are good arguments for mounting PV panels at steeper angles than typical roofs, particularly in more poleward (north and south) locations. Though you might drop the annual production down a bit you significantly increase the winter production when it tends to be more important.

    E.g., on my house site in north-east Scotland (58.3°N) panels on a 35° slope, south-facing roof would have an annual production of 818 hours equivalent but only 612 hours when vertical. However, the December production, which is when energy is most valuable, would be 19.6 hours on the vertical vs 14.4 on the shallower slope. These numbers are from PVGIS: http://re.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pvg_tools/en/tools.html#PVP

    (Actually, for my house I’ve compromised on a roof slope of 60° which should give an annual production of 792 hours and 18.7 in December.)

    People point out the contrast between summer and winter PV production but to some extent that’s a result of the current optimization for total annual production. As the penetration of renewables increases, energy at other times becomes more valuable so steeper panels with lower summer/winter difference make more sense. Also, panels facing east and west to increase the production at different times of day thereby reducing storage requirements. E.g., west facing panels would help with the evening peak for a large chunk of the year though they don’t do a lot in the worst bit of the winter.

  96. Dave_Geologist says:

    “That was Izen…” Sorry BBD, my mistake. Posting in haste 😦 before going out for the evening 🙂 .

    More generally, I second Ben’s rebuttal of the claim that providing intermittent gas supply will be uneconomic because the pipelines and pumps will be oversized and you’ll have to drill more wells than you’d need for a constant baseload. Anyone who’s worked in the industry knows that this is a non-issue. Gas suppliers and transporters deal with intermittency and under-utilisation all the time. It’s their bread and butter. They’ve been doing it in lots of places, for decades, without generous subsidies and/or draconian taxes. And delivered low consumer prices without customer supply outages (other than pre-emptive ones to people who’ve paid less and accepted an interruptible supply contract). It doesn’t matter how it was done – regulation, rigged market, free market, muddling through – the fact that it was done disproves the claim that it can’t be done. If you’re designing one from scratch, you may need to know how it was done. But you don’t need to know how it was done, to know that it can be done.

    BTW 100% redundancy of GT power plants offshore is the norm, due the the revenue costs of field shutdowns and the expense and time required to make repairs offshore. My former employer went for 50% in one field (three instead of four) and has regretted it ever since. And that redundancy cost feeds in upstream of the load-balancing stuff I was discussing earlier.

    I see no reason why a similar arrangement could not be made for decarbonised electricity. In many ways it should be more flexible (faster switching, for example). The duty cycles I’ve seen quoted fall into the range which were commercially acceptable to North Sea gas operators. The key is to match price to dispatchability, and to have contracts which say, for example, that the OCGT plant gets a higher price, but is contracted to run only when called on so it can’t push out baseload or solar. I do accept that we won’t get to 100% decarbonised that way, but if you make the OCGT intermittent, 20% of the capacity may only equate to 5-10% of the annual production.

    I read a few weeks ago that the UK National Grid has awarded a Black Start contract to the decommissioned Peterhead power station (it closed when its supplying sour-gas field was decommissioned). They’ll be using diesel generators. Diesel is fine for that – chances are that they’ll not be used in anger, ever, but will only be fired up periodically for testing. The operator will get paid a standby fee for doing nothing but preventative maintenance. You don’t get a more extreme duty cycle than that, and yet the market provided. The Cruachan PHES scheme was (probably still is) another Black-Start unit. In addition to it’s main job, which was to pump water using nuclear electricity during periods of low demand and release it at periods of high demand, it’s contractually required to keep a minimum water reserve of a third of its capacity so it can perform a Black Start and light up the grid. That means it’s run for fifty years at 70% capacity, over and above its normal PHES duty cycle. No need for generous subsidies and/or draconian taxes. Just the right contract at the right price.

  97. BBD says:

    More generally, I second Ben’s rebuttal of the claim that providing intermittent gas supply will be uneconomic because the pipelines and pumps will be oversized and you’ll have to drill more wells than you’d need for a constant baseload. Anyone who’s worked in the industry knows that this is a non-issue. Gas suppliers and transporters deal with intermittency and under-utilisation all the time. It’s their bread and butter. They’ve been doing it in lots of places, for decades, without generous subsidies and/or draconian taxes. And delivered low consumer prices without customer supply outages (other than pre-emptive ones to people who’ve paid less and accepted an interruptible supply contract). It doesn’t matter how it was done – regulation, rigged market, free market, muddling through – the fact that it was done disproves the claim that it can’t be done. If you’re designing one from scratch, you may need to know how it was done. But you don’t need to know how it was done, to know that it can be done.

    That was then. But as I have already suggested, it will not hold in future because… I think you are missing my point:

    And I disagree still […] that we can fundamentally change the nature of the gas market without fundamentally changing its underpinning economics – which will invalidate assumptions based on the current economics.

    There are two stand-out worrying things here:

    1/ The lack of recognition that the old certainties won’t apply in a radically changed gas market

    2/ The apparent unconcern that starting off with gas as the primary hedge against VRE pretty much guarantees that not even the electricity sector will ever be deeply decarbonised. We haven’t even spoken of the rest of TPE.

  98. BBD says:

    And perhaps there should be a third point – what about divestment? If divestment continues apace for another couple of decades, it really will bite hard.

    Add that collapse in investment and asset value to the ~75% or greater drop in demand and revenues and where does that leave the viability of the total gas supply chain?

  99. Dave_Geologist says:

    BBD, the old certainties never existed. My gas sales guy had a motto: “certainty is value”. Not because certainty was the norm (otherwise it would have no value). Uncertainty was the norm, at all stages through the process from subsurface to gas hob. The cost of that uncertainty (redundancy, badly directed investment and occasional stranded assets) was already priced in. If there had been certainty, gas would have been much cheaper. If you could add a little bit of certainty (in practice, less uncertainty), anywhere in the value chain, there was a large profit to be made. Of course we tried our best to do that. But mostly, we lived with and managed the uncertainty, and it was built into the gas price because we anticipated it when bidding on the contract.

    Divestment ≠ a drop in asset value. The asset value lies in the steel and concrete, not the shares. Nor does a share price drop (assuming there was one) prevent investment. Other than special cases like Rights Issues, which in the case of supermajors is almost always to fund corporate acquisitions, so the money comes from shareholders and goes to other shareholders and is not spent on construction or operating costs, they don’t spend investors’ capital on projects. Projects are funded from free cashflow, and loans or bonds which are often tied to the future cash flow of a specific project, rather like mortgages. The lenders care 99% about the future gas price and the operator’s track record of delivering, and 1% about ethical disinvestment

    “where does that leave the viability of the total gas supply chain?” In a good place. Especially as it substitutes for coal and oil.

    1) As long as you can see it coming, you just taper off your investment. The investment is mostly up-front, and fields decline at 5-10% per year. As you get a clearer picture of the decarbonisation path, you run down your existing fields and build fewer new ones. There’s no problem running a pipeline or well down to 10% of its original throughput or less. That’s the nature of the beast. We’ve been doing it for more than a century. And no, corporations won’t be blindsided.

    2) It will vary by country, but Europe should be easy. There are gas pipelines going everywhere, which will lose throughput as homes and industry switch to decarbonised electricity. Plenty of idle capacity to get gas to your peak-shaver GTs.

    Returning to divestment, I’ve not seen any evidence it’s had a meaningful impact, other than making the divestors feel good. At least in the case of the supermajors, which are regarded as cash-cows and bough for their steady dividend payments, a slight weakening of the share price will increase the dividend yield, and make the shares more attractive to dividend-hunting investors. If the industry gets smaller because consumption gets smaller, the investment required will also get smaller. Huge size is not a prerequisite. Companies a hundred times smaller than ExxonMobil develop and deliver gas. ExxonMobil will just shrink a bit, produce less gas, employ fewer people and spend less money. No big deal.

  100. BBD says:

    2/ The apparent unconcern that starting off with gas as the primary hedge against VRE pretty much guarantees that not even the electricity sector will ever be deeply decarbonised. We haven’t even spoken of the rest of TPE.

  101. BBD says:

    Returning to divestment, I’ve not seen any evidence it’s had a meaningful impact, other than making the divestors feel good.

    From the linked article in my previous comment:

    The deeper question, though, is whether divestment is making a dent in the fossil fuel industry. And there the answer is even clearer: this has become the deepest challenge yet to the companies that have kept us on the path to climate destruction.

    At first we thought our biggest effect would be to rob fossil fuel companies of their social licence. Since their political lobbying power is above all what prevents governments taking serious action on global warming, that would have been worth the fight. And indeed academic research makes it clear that’s happened – one study concluded that “liberal policy ideas (such as a carbon tax), which had previously been marginalised in the US debate, gained increased attention and legitimacy”. That makes sense: most people don’t have a coal mine or gas pipeline in their backyard, but everyone has – through their alma mater, their church, their local government – some connection to a large pot of money.

    As time went on, though, it became clear that divestment was also squeezing the industry. Peabody, the world’s biggest coal company, announced plans for bankruptcy in 2016; on the list of reasons for its problems, it counted the divestment movement, which was making it hard to raise capital. Indeed, just a few weeks ago analysts at that radical collective Goldman Sachs said the “divestment movement has been a key driver of the coal sector’s 60% de-rating over the past five years”.

    Now the contagion seems to be spreading to the oil and gas sector, where Shell announced earlier this year that divestment should be considered a “material risk” to its business.

  102. BBD says:

    Nobody is going to convince me that shrinking the existing gas market by ~75% with existing fixed infrastructure costs in place, while also shrinking investment, is not going to cause it severe, even existential problems.

    We are going to have to agree to differ.

  103. > Cheaper to collect more, with simple panels on the roof.

    I see no dilemma.

  104. Ben McMillan says:

    Thanks Dave, for the interesting and clear explanations of how the economics of gas supply works in practice.

    Always nice to have someone with expertise in the subject contributing! I’ve dabbled a bit in economics of power systems but it’s not really my area of expertise.

  105. izen says:

    @-W
    “I see no dilemma.”

    The choice is between an option that gives the most power for the least cost, and window dressing.

    Having both is possible in a post-scarcity environment, but if there is any limit on the amount or rate of PV that can be deployed then virtue-signal window panels represent an opportunity cost.

  106. Why read when one can dismiss anything on the basis that it signals virtue:

    This work validates a photovoltaic window technology that circumvents the fundamental tradeoff between efficient solar conversion and high visible light transmittance that limits conventional semitransparent PV window designs.

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01842-4

    Vintage 2017.

  107. BBD says:

    Hearking back to the subject of the thread…

    There are two stand-out worrying things here:

    […]

    2/ The apparent unconcern that starting off with gas as the primary hedge against VRE pretty much guarantees that not even the electricity sector will ever be deeply decarbonised. We haven’t even spoken of the rest of TPE.

  108. In Germany, where everyone wants to decarbonize, the Volkswagen factory is spending over $500 million to switch from coal to natural gas to run the factory.

    https://www.volkswagenag.com/en/news/2018/03/Volkswagen_Group_realigns_energy_supplies.html

    Is Volkswagen crazy or evil for not switching to window PV and windmills? Maybe that half-billion dollar power plant should be fully staffed and ready to run at a moment’s notice, but only turned on a few times a month while they invest another half-billion dollars in renewables. That wouldn’t change the economics of an industry that has to compete globally, would it?

    Many of the popular models VW makes at Wolfsburg are also made at their plants in China and North America. Could it be possible that German autoworkers would object to raising the cost of manufacture in Germany and that they would be unimpressed by pledges that the Chinese plant will do the same some time after the year 2030? But… delayism!

  109. Dave_Geologist says:

    You beat me to it BBD. I was going to suggest we’d hit a dead end on the economics of GT peak-shavers

    One other point though: Google Peabody Chapter 11. Count how many articles quote divestment by ethical investors as the cause of their inability to raise cash. Versus how many who say they’d lost power station customers for their dirty coal, and blown billions on an Australian investment which went pear-shaped when Chinese growth slowed after 2008. Then ask yourself how much data-mining Bill McKibben had to to to get that juicy quote. And how many ill-fitting quotes ended up on the cutting-room floor.

    Some Australians got very rich at Peabody’s expense. And not the ones who bought Peabody shares cheap form ethical investors.

  110. BBD says:

    Count how many articles quote divestment by ethical investors as the cause of their inability to raise cash.

    As I keep suggesting, the present is not going to be a good guide to the future, Dave. Same mistake as with LCOE/gas and much else besides.The future is a different country.

  111. BBD says:

    So, back to the burning question (sorry): why is everybody so sanguine talking about gas as the main hedge against wind / solar variability? This would mean that ‘80% renewables’ comes with a baked-in dependence on fossil fuel. So even the 80% figure would be somewhat misleading.

    And total decarbonisation of the electricity sector would appear to be a pipe dream.

    Yet no pushback against the very notion of going down the gas route. Weird.

  112. izen says:

    @-W
    “This work validates…”

    Wise to read fully, this may be a nuanced use of ‘validates’.

    They made a material that is 68% clear in the cold and dark red when it heats up in sunlight above 35C.
    It also generates electricity at lowish efficiency when illuminated.
    At least it does the first few times…

    ” …reversible switching over 20 cycles…but physical changes to the film during switching leads to decreased PV device performance over time due to CH3NH2 loss and disruption of the film morphology. “

  113. verytallguy says:

    So, back to the burning question (sorry): why is everybody so sanguine talking about gas as the main hedge against wind / solar variability? This would mean that ‘80% renewables’ comes with a baked-in dependence on fossil fuel. So even the 80% figure would be somewhat misleading.

    For me, that would be because no-one, your good self included, can suggest any alternative.

    The only alternative to gas I can see is fast response nuclear capacity. Are there other alternatives?

    Apart from PHES (which we know can’t do the whole job), then not that I know of.

  114. BBD says:

    It’s enough to turn one into an advocate for nuclear.

  115. Ben McMillan says:

    I don’t see any reason why starting off with gas guarantees you never ‘deeply decarbonise’. The running costs of gas dominate over the capital costs, which means that it isn’t ‘locked in’ in the same way as a coal or nuclear plant is. If some better technology comes along (lower marginal cost), then it can replace gas turbines.

    With the current UK grid, emissions per mile of an electric car are about 3x lower than petrol. If you reduced the grid intensity by 3x, the emissions are 9x lower than the petrol car. That sounds like a good start to me for at least one ‘other sector’.

    But the key is that we have a finite carbon budget, so reducing it quickly is probably more important than finding some immediate perfect solution (not the first time this point has been made in the thread).

  116. BBD says:

    If some better technology comes along (lower marginal cost), then it can replace gas turbines.

    3 decades to invent the magic tech and counting. Bit of a gamble IMO. Or we are stuck with gas and no prospect of deep decarbonisation of electricity sector.

  117. izen says:

    @-Ben McMillan
    “The running costs of gas dominate over the capital costs, which means that it isn’t ‘locked in’ in the same way as a coal or nuclear plant is. If some better technology comes along (lower marginal cost), then it can replace gas turbines.”

    It would be helpful if there was a clear case of this happening within any power generating system; local or transnational.
    The suspicion is that gas is being sold as a (slightly) better FF source than coal and oil and replacement for them while actually competing with renewables for the future demand. And suppressing the development of storage.

    The barriers appear to be economic rather than technological. In the example of Hawaii I mentioned up-thread, given the choice between cheap wind and gas generation when supply exceeds demand they use the gas.
    To maintain investment.

  118. BBD says:

    With the current UK grid, emissions per mile of an electric car are about 3x lower than petrol. If you reduced the grid intensity by 3x, the emissions are 9x lower than the petrol car. That sounds like a good start to me for at least one ‘other sector’.

    I’m taking it as read that we follow the ‘electrify everything’ approach and that transport, heating, cooking etc all become part of a substantially increased demand for electricity by mid-century. This is what will need to be backed up against winter wind intermittency by gas, so I’m not really following your argument here.

  119. BBD says:

    @izen

    Agree. The gas industry can see the cliff edge over its shoulder and is very keen to position itself as an essential part of the energy transition. Irrespective of the way this would undermine the energy transition…

  120. BBD says:

    But the key is that we have a finite carbon budget, so reducing it quickly is probably more important than finding some immediate perfect solution (not the first time this point has been made in the thread).

    You could just as easily say that since there is a finite carbon budget, choosing a pathway locked into fossil fuel dependency through gas is extremely dangerous and should not be contemplated.

  121. Ben McMillan says:

    Well, as far as I can tell, the choice is:
    1) Build a lot of low carbon generation, and keep gas for backup and/or peaking. Then replace the gas later.
    or
    2) Do nothing.

    My scenario is a mostly renewables or nuclear grid with 25% gas. If you electrify everything, than means building more nuclear/renewables+gas. Yes, you need backup. My solution to that problem is to build backup.

  122. Dave_Geologist says:

    The suspicion is that gas is being sold as a (slightly) better FF source than coal and oil and replacement for them while actually competing with renewables for the future demand. And suppressing the development of storage.

    As per my load-sharing analogue from N Sea gas production. Pay peak-shaving GTs a premium, several times the market rate for baseload. To earn that premium price, they agree only to run on demand from the Grid. GTs are probably better suited for that than the offshore peak-shaver gas fields. The offshore fields are high CAPEX, low OPEX; an ideal peak-shaver is low CAPEX, high OPEX. An escalating carbon tax will look after the high OPEX side of it. They’re not competing with renewables then – gas provides voluntary, on-demand intermittency; PV and wind provide involuntary, unpredictable intermittency. A perfect match, now I come to think of it. Wind and PV would attract a lower price in a free market relative to baseload (nuclear once the coal is gone), due to their unreliability. Use proceeds from the carbon tax to subsidise them. An escalating carbon tax on gas will bid up the cost of electricity from peak-shaver GTs, making them increasingly expensive to use in practice and encouraging the development of batteries or other, greener peak-shaving options.

  123. BBD says:

    Then replace the gas later.

    Or maybe W&S and enough new nuclear to make PHES backup feasible (okay, now I’m only thinking about the UK, not the big picture). The problem (imho) is that the siren song of ease and cost will open the door to gas *instead* of the harder but fundamentally better choice of W&S plus nuclear and PHES.

    2) Do nothing.

    I think that’s a false dichotomy 🙂

  124. BBD says:

    encouraging the development of batteries or other, greener peak-shaving options.

    Which may well never come into existence. Big gamble.

  125. Ben McMillan says:

    Izen: mostly what is happening at the moment is that renewables are replacing coal, not gas. Agree that the availability of relatively cheap gas has largely prevented the development of storage facilities.

    But basically, the other thing that stops storage being built is that you don’t need it until you get to very high shares of nuclear, coal or renewable power. Now you are starting to see some battery storage being used to replace gas spinning reserve and supply frequency control in places like South Australia, where renewables can get up to 100% of local demand. This kind of smoothing service on the sub-hour level is probably going to rapidly become more common.

    I don’t see why PHES shouldn’t be part of the solution but at the moment it just wouldn’t be the cheapest way to reduce emissions. You may as well wait until there isn’t any thermal generation to turn off. The UK doesn’t have great geography for pumped hydro, but it is pretty close to places that do.

  126. > Wise to read fully, this may be a nuanced use of ‘validates’.

    And the best way to capture the scope of the validation is to stop short at “validates” without mentioning what it did validate, which is a way to create a photovoltaic window that remains transparent.

    The Sun won’t shine less for solar panels because we create more ways to capture its energy. Technologies compete with one another, but never to a point when one and only one wins every time. We will probably need more energy than we use right now, and we most probably need to reduce carbon intensity faster than we’d like. What we don’t need is to take too seriously agentless optimization speak, which we should leave to macroeconomists.

    Shying away from R&D because of some undefined opportunity costs carries risks.

  127. … The great uncertainties here are in the area of the future of human knowledge, know-how, and skill. There is a nonexistence theorem about prediction in this area, in the sense that if we could predict what we are going to know at some time in the future, we would not have to wait, for we would know it now. It is not surprising, therefore, that the great technical changes have never been anticipated, neither the development of oil and gas, nor the automobile, nor the computer.

    In preparing for the future, therefore, it is very important to have a wide range of options and to think in advance about how we are going to react to the worst cases as well as the best. The report does not quite do this. There is an underlying assumption throughout, for instance, that we will solve the problem of the development of large quantities of usable energy from constantly renewable sources, say, by 2010. Suppose, however, that in the next 50, 100, or 200 years we do not solve this problem; what then? It can hardly be doubted that there will be a deeply traumatic experience for the human race, which could well result in a catastrophe for which there is no historical parallel.

    It is a fundamental principle that we cannot discover what is not there. For nearly 100 years, for instance, there have been very high payoffs for the discovery of a cheap, light, and capacious battery for storing electricity on a large scale; we have completely failed to solve this problem. It is very hard to prove that something is impossible, but this failure at least suggests that the problem is difficult. The trouble with all permanent or long-lasting sources of energy, like the sun or the earth’s internal heat, is that they are extremely diffuse and the cost of concentrating their energy may therefore be very high. Or with a bit of luck, it may not; we cannot be sure…

    — Kenneth Boulding, 1982, “Energy in Transition 1985–2010: Final report of the Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems”. National Research Council

    Oddly, I have a weird predilection to jealously guard that particular quote for personal use, but the thread seems to deserve it.

    Later.

  128. BBD says:

    I don’t see why PHES shouldn’t be part of the solution but at the moment it just wouldn’t be the cheapest way to reduce emissions.

    Short- mid- or long-term cheap? The cost of not taking the optimal path may be larger than the short-term saving of doing it wrong.

    You may as well wait until there isn’t any thermal generation to turn off.

    PHES at scale is going to take decades to build, so doing nothing may not be an option…

    The UK doesn’t have great geography for pumped hydro, but it is pretty close to places that do.

    First, that’s not strictly true, and second, other places might have their own uses for their own PHES, especially if there’s only just enough because of cost and time constraints.

  129. Here’s another oldie but goldie that is eerily prescient.

    Martin Weitzman in 2008 (yikes!), surrounded by Nicholas Stern, Nobelists Thom Schelling and Robert Solow, and Tomas Sterner. The commentary on technology costs starts at 5;08,but I would recommend listening to the full 8:17 of spliced clips. Although, as the maker of the video, I am biased!

  130. Ben McMillan says:

    Well, gas turbines run day-round in the current UK grid, so there is obviously not much point having access to pumped-hydro now (absent some severe grid constraint). Normally you need to have a daily excess of power for at least 6 hours to make PHES cost-effective. That is probably at least 15 years if demand doesn’t change and if the current rollout of renewables continues.

    But it you ‘electrify everything’ then the need for storage moves further into the future, as the daily cycle is smoothed out by things like house heating and charging cars.

    Spending money on power stations that are of no use for a couple of decades is going to be a hard sell.

  131. Here’s something that a conservative tries to sell conservative-minded investors:

    As readers already know, I’m not ML’s most fervent admirator. But he’s putting his money where his mouth is, and he’s no dummy. He could be wrong, of course. He often is. But we’ll need to wrong many, many times again to pull this off.

    We might even need carbon. That’s for an incoming post. Stay tuned.

  132. Oh, and here’s a 11 trillion dollars declaration of interest:

  133. Oooh! It’s “NEW”! It’s “TECH”! Let’s casually port/extrapolate a Moore’s Law-like cost curve to solar (or wind, batteries, etc.),!!! Oooh! Oooh!

    Why don’t people do the same thing for super tankers? Pipelines? Steel? Cement? CCS? Fertilizers?

    I’mma gonna let you finish, but it has to do with the unyielding physics (mass, volume, thermodynamics) and “zero”…

  134. By the way, as Bob Seger said, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

    Decarbonizing power, even just power…

    But whoa! Anyone see the “revolutionary” idea of using “phase changes” for energy storage on phys.org today? Whoa!!! Whoa! (sad)

  135. Better clarify. I am an “RCP 2.6” – kinda guy…

  136. Ben McMillan says:

    I thought for a moment there that the idea of the video was to laugh at people from 2008 being spectacularly wrong about the future cost of solar. It’s getting to the point now that the cost of solar panels only makes up 1/3 of the cost of a solar power plant.

  137. Dave_Geologist says:

    Oh dear! It’s “NEW”! It’s “TECH”! Let’s casually quote some guy from 35 years ago and treat his words like those on the Stone Tablets!

  138. Dave_Geologist says:

    Better clarify. I am an “RCP 2.6” – kinda guy…

    Why? When you appear to be implicitly arguing that it’s impossible to get there?

  139. I thought for a moment there that the idea of the video was to laugh at people from 2008 being spectacularly wrong about the future cost of solar. It’s getting to the point now that the cost of solar panels only makes up 1/3 of the cost of a solar power plant.

    Paraphrasing Weitzman from recollection, he said that he did not see the costs in solar coming down to where they were going to be commercial at scale, and that engineers and others often confuse what is technically feasible for costs for what actually turns a profit.

    Ten years hence, you can’t walk 5 feet without being beat about the head with data that shows that the cost of solar has fallen un-be-WEEV-ably!, “far faster than anyone expected!”… And yet, and yet, wind and solar are still only about 1.5% of total primary energy, fossil fuel share of TPE has barely budged 1% (while growing enormously more than wind and solar absolutely). I could do similar in just the global power sector.

    It seems to me that Weitzman was far more clear-headed about prospects than most people at the time – or now, for that matter. He thinks there is moral hazard in propagating a misrepresented belief “that this is somehow easy, or this is somehow cheap… It’s not easy. It’s very expensive. That’s the core of the issue… It is better to level with the public… This. Is. Going. To. Be. Expensive…”

    Laugh if you choose to, but here we are in 2018, and even activists are still breathlessly anticipating the tsunami of super cheap renewables any day now. And we are viciously debating potential carbon taxes at farcically low rates of, say, $15/ton, rising $10/ton/year (aka “this is going to be cheap!).

    To get decarbonization deployed near-term at the scale required for, say, 2C – even in some of the heavy NET’s-later scenarios – it’s going to be expensive. (And even then, as Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows point out, has early lags, so probably needs help from deliberate consumption emissions from heavy individual emitters.)

    Again, laugh all you want, but who was more accurate in their assessment over the last decade? Weitzman? Or breathless renewable cheerleaders like Joe Romm or CleanTechnica, etc.?

    I wish it were otherwise. But it’s not.

  140. > He thinks there is moral hazard in propagating a misrepresented belief “that this is somehow easy, or this is somehow cheap… It’s not easy.

    If you check back the video, Martin clearly concedes that the good side of mobilizing people’s hearts and minds “probably predominates” the risk of promoting wishful thinking.

    11 trillion is far from being symbolic. We’re not in the “it’s going to be easy” anymore. We reached “if we do nothing we’ll lose even more money” scale,

    ***

    > Paraphrasing Weitzman from recollection, he said that he did not see the costs in solar coming down to where they were going to be commercial at scale, and that engineers and others often confuse what is technically feasible for costs for what actually turns a profit.

    And he was wrong. It’s OK to be wrong. How about covering it up with rhetorical questions?

  141. Oh dear! It’s “NEW”! It’s “TECH”! Let’s casually quote some guy from 35 years ago and treat his words like those on the Stone Tablets!

    Leaving aside Boulding’s uncomfortable observation that it is now 100+36=136 years and we are still* waiting for the “discovery of a cheap, light, and capacious battery for storing electricity on a large scale” – all the while as the high payoff got even higher…

    Leaving that aside and ignoring the Stone Tablet dismissive hand-wave, there are simply very stubborn physics at play that make technical progress in “energy” much more daunting than, say, ICT. There, we were manipulating electrons and photons at the quantum level to imaginatively represent something that we literally imagined – “zeros”. In some ways, there is no upper bound on how we can imagine doing this, and we are dealing with extremely small mass and volumes to manipulate (or essentially none in the case of photons).

    With energy, we aren’t in the world of “zeros”, but real Watts, Joules, kg, huge messy ions instead of electrons, etc. And particularly some thermodynamic (and other) efficiency limits. We have already essentially topped out the maximum efficiency of vertical wind turbines, so the only further gains can only come from going higher (more wind) or the costs of the turbine. But there is nothing Moore’s Law-like coming. Unfortunately. PV has similar limits on the horizon. The ultimate being the diffuseness of the sunlight, but I think the theoretical maximum conversion efficiency is 86% and we are already at about 50% at the bleeding edge PV technology. So, again, we can keep moving costs down along learning curves, but they are not likely to have the continued run that semiconductors had.

    Again, I wish it were otherwise. But it’s not.

    * By the way, one of the moonshots that ARPA-E funded was multiple initiatives to long-term grid-scale storage with the goal of “5-5-5” – “5 times energy density at 1/5th the cost within 5 years!”. That was about 10 years ago. So far, crickets. This is tough stuff and will likely stay very tough.

    Better clarify. I am an “RCP 2.6” – kinda guy…

    Why? When you appear to be implicitly arguing that it’s impossible to get there?

    I am an RCP 2.6-4.5 guy because my read of the science says we’d better achieve these or risk catastrophe. And I am not saying it’s impossible. But I am saying it is likely going to be be very EXPENSIVE.

  142. On a more constructive note, it’s important to realize that even if renewables end up being the loss leader to win the conservative hearts and minds, it’s still will be worth it. Here’s Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at TexasU, reminding that what is being said is not always what is being done:

    Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did push the development of wind power. But why do you say that?

    Look at the counties where the investment happens. They’re mostly rural red conservative counties. Anything that brings jobs and investment into your counties, you’re going to be in favor of it, just about. Iowa is a very Republican state. It is a distant No. 2 after Texas in terms of wind power. That governor is all for wind because he knows that the farmers who are getting royalty checks now have a secondary source of income. And they love it. They want it. Those ranchers that can make money above, on and below their land, if they own mineral rights, they’re happy to have that third income stream.

    It can be an odd bedfellow situation. In my opinion, most government programs are jobs programs. At the federal level, you can rant and rave all you want. Since all politics are local when it comes down to it, these ruby red districts are going to want to keep that investment coming. It’s possible we may see an extension of the tax credits. That’s what happened in 2015. That was kind of a last-minute grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans wanted to be able to export oil. The Democrats wanted to keep the renewable tax credits. So did the Republicans, but they acted like they didn’t.

    http://texasclimatenews.org/?p=15748

    It is also important to bear in mind that the final objective is not only to get the electric sector to zero, but the whole of the economy. In other words, the electric sector will more or less have to become our energy sector. Daunting challenge. Immense market.

  143. And he was wrong.

    How was Weitzman wrong? It’s not as if he was saying that solar would never be commercial – christ, there was tons of solar operating profitably long before he was speaking. He was saying that the costs were not coming down fast enough to get the kinds of penetration that Stern and others foresaw with very modest carbon pricing and subsidies. (Admittedly, that context is not in the clip.) Weitzman was largely right on that count.

    By the way, the “$11 trillion” you refer to is total assets owned by those pension funds “demanding action” by the power sector. Utilities are about 4% of those assets, so more like $400 billion of assets, and this is all secondary market investing, not actual capital investing.

    We need about an additional 2% of GDP invested annually (so, about $2 trillion/yr currently) in capital investment in decarbonization. We are failing miserably at this (which brings to mind the question of why this is if solar economics are so compelling, etc., but I digress) but it is also a truly staggeringly large number.

    Capital spending is about 20% of global GDP. If that is where we need to spend the extra 2%, either 2% has to shift away from consumer and government spending (pensions, health, etc.) and ALL of that would need to somehow(??) find that decarbonization investments were better than any others. And/Or 2% of current capital investment would need to suddenly find that investments in decarbonization were suddenly more compelling than a new semiconductor fabrication plant or textile mill. At these relative scales, these are HUGE shifts and almost certainly are going to need very large signals (carbon pricing, subsidies, etc.) to happen. Again, very EXPENSIVE.

    We need to level that with others and ourselves.

  144. Dave_Geologist says:

    I am an RCP 2.6-4.5 guy … But I am saying it is likely going to be be very EXPENSIVE. … the only further gains can only come from going higher (more wind) or the costs of the turbine.

    So it’s a cost limit, not a thermodynamic or materials limit. No sign (as of 2016) that wind costs have plateaued. Indeed this year in the UK they passed a significant (though subsidised) threshold: Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear. Remember, Moore’s Law did stall against a physical limit (transistor size below which they don’t work any more). Processor speed has been the same for about a decade, but they switched to cramming in more processors per chip. In a crowded island like the UK, you could see onshore to offshore as representing that step. Or maybe there’s another step. I seem to recall reading about switching to coils for rotor and stator, to reduce the need for expensive materials. Regardless, it would be imprudent to call time on wind or PV cost reduction until they actually plateau. If they do plateau we’ll have a bit of misallocated investment – or maybe not if they plateau cheap enough – but since I agree with you that decarbonising will be EXPENSIVE, it will be a drop in the bucket relative to the total cost. We’ll need to pull all the levers, so let’s not dismiss some of them on the basis of what someone said long ago. Prediction is hard, especially about the future.

  145. > How was Weitzman wrong?

    Here:

    this is what I am not seeing an awareness of how much this is going to cost an awareness of how none of these new technologies solar technologies are so forth are in anywhere near an off-the-shelf state they seemed to me very pie-in-the-sky […] I could produce at least a dozen examples engineers are prone toward that I don’t reading this literature see something significant happening in solar I don’t see these costs coming that you know I don’t see it moving toward commercialization it’s still very far from that […]

    https://www.diycaptions.com/php/get-automatic-captions-as-txt.php?id=5qHsPMMseCs&language=asr

    Even by 2008 this line of argument mostly had rhetorical currency, and Boulding’s idea that we can’t anticipate the future cuts both ways. We can’t say what will fail nor what will succeed. Heck, we can barely say what is actually failing or succeeding.

    ***

    > Utilities are about 4% of those assets, so more like $400 billion of assets, and this is all secondary market investing, not actual capital investing.

    That’s a good way to minimize what’s being done with this letter:

    The case for action is clear. The economics of energy are materially shifting in favour of clean energy. Early action will enable companies to manage the risks better and capitalise on opportunities that are already clear. Research has shown that bold action on climate change can deliver $26tn in economic benefits through to 2030, while also creating 65m jobs and avoiding 700,000 premature deaths linked to air pollution.

    As investors collectively representing $11.5tn, we require power companies, including power generators, grid operators and distributors, to plan for their future in a net-zero carbon economy. Specifically, we request companies to set out transition plans consistent with the goal of the Paris Agreement, including compatibility of capital expenditure plans. We expect explicit timelines and commitments for the rapid elimination of coal use by utilities in EU and OECD countries by no later than 2030, defining how companies will manage near-future writedowns from fossil fuel infrastructure. Finally, we call on companies to support the development of ambitious climate policy aligned with the Paris Agreement and to ensure that their trade associations are aligned with this objective.

    11 trillion is bigger than the GDP of UK, Brazil, Russia, and Italy taken together. When institutional investors step in, things are getting done. Confer with the last hundred years of diplomacy and wars, or search for “Washington Consensus.”

    Moreover, my the electric sector will more or less have to become our energy sector may not have been clear enough. So let’s expand. The energy market is interconnected with mining, industries, banking, insurance, technology, and futures. It’s even connected with discretionary money in countries like Canada. Our ability to produce energy is why we grew since the industrial revolution. That’s the main reason why AGW will be EXPENSIVE whether we like it or not.

    Now, who’s going to pay for it? I don’t think it will be institutional investors:

    There’s a reason why Winny the Pooh isn’t called Eeyore or Piglet. The main character of our story, i.e. the bloody human race, is both obsessive and compulsive from an economic perspective. CAPS LOCK won’t diminish these traits.

    I don’t wish to play Tigger here, and leave that role to honest brokers. I know it will probably be EXPENSIVE. But to keep saying “it will be EXPENSIVE” has never solved anything.

  146. No, there are real physical limits to the theoretical amount of energy/power you can extract from wind and solar. And the practical maximum efficiency is less yet.

    For wind turbines, for example, the theoretical maximum conversion is about 59%. Practically, we top out at around 48%. Probably nothing left there. So you are left trying to wring costs out of steel and carbon and bearings and cranes and labour.

    Sure, still probably lots to do there, but if someone showed you an extrapolated cost curve for, say, pipelines or super tankers or razor blades like they do for wind and solar, you would rightly be skeptical. Automobiles would be almost costless to manufacture today if only we’d stayed on the curve! And the big efficiency gains at the core of the wind and solar PV technologies are behind us. Doesn’t mean they still won’t get cheaper, but they don’t have a Moore’s Law analog working for them at their core anymore.

    To take your “cramming” description for microprocessors analogy forward, yes, you can cram more wind turbines into the country (but you can’t actually cram them closer together without losing efficiency) but you don’t get cost savings by doing this. This is actually an example of my larger point.

  147. I would say you are the one trying to make the $11trillion seem larger/more impactful on power companies than it is. Again, I wish it was, but it’s not. People arguing for renewables do this all the time. Quoting installed *capacity* versus production, it goes on and on.

    This feeds into the prevalent narrative that that once we put our minds to it that, as Weitzman says “that this is going to be somehow easy, or this is going to be somehow cheap.” Which tends to minimize the problem as well.

    People often state that we need to “get on a wartime footing” in terms of our decarbonization efforts. Like the analogy or not, one thing you probably wouldn’t be doing is trying to sell people on the need for war by telling them that it would be so cheap and easy (although I suppose that Cheney and Rumsfeld did… hence, perhaps, public skepticism about similar siren calls…)

    I know it will probly be EXPENSIVE. But to keep saying “it will be EXPENSIVE” has never solved anything.

    Indeed, but the message from the “urgent need for action!” has largely been about how cheap and easy and wonderful it’s going to be. “Equivalent to a donut and coffee a day”, etc. They get attacked by the delayists with the “expensive” charge, and instead of levelling with people, they try to obfuscate and minimize costs. How is that going for us?

  148. By the way, this 2018 paper from the people at the Trancik Lab at MIT is good.

    Evaluating the causes of cost reduction in photovoltaic modules

    I’ll note:

    We find that increased module efficiency was the leading low-level cause of cost reduction in 1980–2012, contributing almost 25% of the decline…

    … 1980–2001 and 2001–2012, and the entire period, 1980–2012. Improving efficiency was the largest contributor in the first period, responsible for 24% of the cost reduction. In the second period, module efficiency was only the fourth most significant factor, and its contribution dropped to 12%…

    This is as expected, and will fall further as module efficiency asymptotes towards the theoretical thermodynamic maximum.

    Still lots of room for PV cost improvements, as the paper highlights, but the technology no longer has module efficiency as the wind at its back, so to say…

  149. BBD says:

    Ben

    But it you ‘electrify everything’ then the need for storage moves further into the future, as the daily cycle is smoothed out by things like house heating and charging cars.

    The discussion was about backup for multi-day windspeed lulls which will require multi-thousand GWh capacity storage that can run for days. Not cars. Not house heating. I’m amazed we are on completely different pages here. Perhaps Dave G’s persistent but confusing references to peak shaving have derailed things?

    Here’s what a proper multiday windspeed lull does to wind generation: basically nothing from the German wind fleet for ten consecutive days.

    Spending money on power stations that are of no use for a couple of decades is going to be a hard sell.

    I wrote “PHES at scale is going to take decades to build, so doing nothing may not be an option…”

    Either we want to decarbonise, or we don’t.

  150. Ben McMillan says:

    In fact 2008 predictions (from ‘neutral’ observers like the international energy agency) hilariously underpredicted solar PV. So the predictions of the solar doom-mongers were even more wrong.

    https://steinbuch.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/photovoltaic-growth-reality-versus-projections-of-the-international-energy-agency/

    Basically, claiming in 2018 that solar has not seen massive progress over the last decade just makes it clear that you haven’t been paying attention.

  151. Ben, thanks, I am previously aware of these presentations (by the way, I will still pick the nit that this is presented as “capacity” instead of “generation”…).

    That wasn’t my claim, if you go back and check. I was saying that solar (and the only reason I am speaking specifically about solar is because Weitzman happened to touch on solar when speaking about decarbonization technology and costs, and you and Willard zoomed in on that) has not *displaced* any carbon emissions. And that has occurred *in the face of* unexpected cost declines.

    Solar is a tiny, tiny sliver of “other renewables” in that chart, as I am sure you are aware. But the larger point is that absolute renewable energy growth since 2008 has been massively dwarved by absolute fossil fuel energy growth over the same time.

    Again, I wish that was different, but it is simply a depressing fact. And this was over a period – as you seem to want to point out, and I agree with – things went unexpectedly well for solar (and wind, for that matter.)

    I can grab more nuanced stats for global electricity generation only, but it is not much better of a story.

    Lastly, “actual PV capacity installs versus IEA predicted PV capacity installs” is not really the metric that matters. Weitzman was not saying that solar (and other renewables) wouldn’t progress. He was saying that on foreseeable cost curves, it wasn’t going to be up to the task of denting emissions – which is the only metric that matters, if you are actually trying to decarbonize instead of get breathless page views at CleanTechnica, etc.

    I was massively optimistic and encouraged and hopeful for a renewables “revolution” in 2008. I am completely aware of how the installs have gone. I am also aware of how the emissions have gone.

    And so here we are. We need emissions – emissions! – to start falling at about 7% a year, and renewables and EV’s and batteries are simply not up to the task for the foreseeable future (let alone the progress (hah!) on steel, concrete, shipping, aviation, fertilizers, agriculture, etc.) so we are going to have to massively incentivize what we have on the shelf to speed this up.

    And I am back to saying, This. Is. Going. To. Be. Expensive.

  152. Willard says:

    > Indeed, but the message from the “urgent need for action!” has largely been about how cheap and easy and wonderful it’s going to be. “

    That’s not what I hear when I read projects such as this one:

    The Investor Agenda has been developed for the global investor community to accelerate and scale up the actions that are critical to tackling climate change and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

    https://theinvestoragenda.org/

    What I hear is “you better get your feet moving or we’ll divest from you.” This group of 450 investors sits on 35 trillion. Think of that number as a Poker stack. It means that when you raise, you mean it. In other words, 350’s approach to pressure powerful players may win.

    Granted, that may not be enough to tackle AGW. I don’t think asking “but does it suffice” is always useful, as I don’t see any viable alternative. Not that I can’t imagine something more drastic, e.g.:

  153. @willard, you are talking to the wrong person when you are trying to persuade with “big!” investment numbers…

    Again, here, you claim:

    This group of 450 investors sits on 35 trillion. Think of that number as a Poker stack. It means that when you raise, you mean it.

    Except there is no “group of 450 investors sitting on 35 trillion”. The link goes to a collaboration amongst CDP, CERES, UNEPFI, PRI and some others (by the way, I am intimately familiar with who all those acronyms are) who have settled on some “areas of agenda”. They manage/own/invest (effectivley) NO money. But they then observe that there are “Nearly 400 investors representing US$32 trillion in $AUM are taking action on one or more areas of the Investor Agenda”.

    I completely support these initiatives, and particularly the leadership of the TCFD (interestingly, they are not part of this, who knows why…) but this is more about moral suasion, rather than “think of a poker stack”… that is decidedly not an analogy for what is going on here, nor what even could go on…

    The good thing here – as opposed to the “$11 trillion versus the electricity sector” non sequitur – is that they are asking the ultimate asset owners to engage *ACROSS* their portfolios. Yes.

  154. Willard says:

    > you are talking to the wrong person when you are trying to persuade with “big!” investment numbers…

    And you’re talking to someone who can recognize that your “as opposed to the “$11 trillion versus the electricity sector” non sequitur” both misrepresents what is being said and what is a non sequitur.

  155. Ben McMillan says:

    BBD: if you needed to 100% decarbonise the electricity sector in the next 30 years (which I don’t think is likely or sensible), and the way you wanted to do that was to build lots of solar and wind and PHES as backup, then yes, you would have to start with the PHES now. They only take 10 years to build each but you would need to build an industry up.

    But by most accounts it isn’t possible to build PHES on that scale, in the UK, especially with weeks-long storage, and given that people might not be totally happy with large dams all over the hills.

    It also would probably be more expensive than other methods to 100% decarbonise, that involve using biogas or something similar to get the last 5%. Here, roughly half the PHES is used to get the last 5%, so the marginal cost is huge.

  156. BBD says:

    But by most accounts it isn’t possible to build PHES on that scale, in the UK

    I totally agree that the damage to upland wilderness is awful to contemplate for PHES at the necessary scale, but I’m interested to see where the argument that it isn’t possible comes from?

  157. BBD says:

    It also would probably be more expensive than other methods to 100% decarbonise, that involve using biogas or something similar to get the last 5%.

    But you can’t decarbonise if you go down a pathway that locks in gas. So there’s no point even in talking about that last 5%. We’ll never even get close.

  158. Ben McMillan says:

    I actually think PHES on the required scale probably is physically possible if you are willing to do enough ecological damage. But basically at this point it becomes clear that we are talking about a straw-man, because it is never going to happen. I’m not so interested in discussing things that are very clearly not possible solutions.

    If you are interested in 100% renewable scenarios for the UK that are a bit more realistic then you have several well-known plans.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say you can’t decarbonise if you lock in gas. I mean, this is trivially true if you mean that 100% decarbonisation means not burning any fossil fuels (absent CCS ). But you must mean something slightly less trivial. I’m still not sure what this ‘locking in’ business is either.

    Ken Caldeira’s article mentioned upthread gives a pretty good explanation of how close you can get to 100% with various amounts of renewables and storage. Actually you can do surprisingly well without going nuts and building 10 days of storage.

  159. Dave_Geologist says:

    BBD, delete my every mention of peak-shaving (except the ones where I was quoting a specific gas-production example) and replace them with something like “on-demand intermittent supply” or “trough-filling”. It’s the same thing, but instead of dealing with peaks in demand, you’d be dealing with troughs in (renewable) supply.

    My reference to the gas market decades ago was to prove that companies will invest billions (in today’s money) in plant that only runs for 10-20% of the year, and accept supply contracts for “baseload” that requires them to have 30-50% overcapacity. You just have to offer the right price. And it needn’t be a ruinous price. Retail gas cost about half as much per energy unit as electricity, despite those inefficiencies.

    Ballpark, UK gas consumption through the 1990s averaged about 10 Bcf/day. Based on the swing factors of the “baseload” fields, total deliverability must have been just short of 15 BCF/day. The peak-shaver field I mentioned represented about 5% of the installed capacity, but was only used for 15% of the year. It got paid a premium price, but it didn’t jack up the retail price much because it only ran for part of the year. There was one other big peak-shaver and a pumped gas-storage field, but they were owned by the wholesaler so their operations and costs are less transparent.

    To provide 30% backup for renewables on the same basis, you’d probably be investing about double in trough-filling capacity as the UK industry invested in peak-shaving capacity. It would be more expensive, but not ruinously so. In order for doubling the gas peak-shaving capacity to double the average retail price, you’d have to assume the baseload came for free. Or the peak-shaver used different, more expensive technology. In gas production, they didn’t; they used the same kit. Electricity may have an advantage here, in that GTs are cheaper than new nuclear baseload, and probably than renewables. So you can build more surplus capacity for the same investment. Yes that part of the system is not decarbonised, but if everything else is, 30% of capacity for 15% of the time = 5% of capacity, so you’re 95% decarbonised. That looks like a good deal to me.

  160. Dave_Geologist says:

    5% of annual generation (kWh), not capacity.

  161. BBD says:

    Actually you can do surprisingly well without going nuts and building 10 days of storage.

    So what happens when a <a href="https://www.energy-charts.de/power.htm?week=3&year=2017&source=conventionalten day windspeed lull comes along in winter? Where does the power come from?

  162. BBD says:

    To provide 30% backup for renewables on the same basis

    Okay, what you write is quite encouraging, although it would be more like 60% backup requirement. Also, it keeps us locked into fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, which *everybody* says is a bad idea. This isn’t a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good (or whatever that irritating expression is); it’s a case of deliberately choosing to stick with FFs in the energy mix in the face of pretty stern advice to do the opposite.

  163. BBD says:

    Sorry – link bork in my last reply to Ben. Ten day windspeed lull (15 – 25 October 2017). Hopefully that will work.

  164. BBD says:

    The peak-shaver field I mentioned represented about 5% of the installed capacity, but was only used for 15% of the year. It got paid a premium price, but it didn’t jack up the retail price much because it only ran for part of the year.

    What I’m sceptical about is the ability of the gas industry to operate and maintain its extraction, its refineries and its pipleline network without the present level of volume revenue to meet the cost. At the moment the industry pays for itself and some players can survive running at 20% efficiency, but what I’ve been suggesting is that this won’t work if the entire industry is subject to a permanent 75% drop in demand.

  165. For those in the back, PHES is Pump Hydro-Electric Storage:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity

    It’s quite common around here:

    In 2016, Quebec generated 207.2 terawatt hours (TW.h) of electricity (Figure 1), which is approximately one-third of total Canadian generation. Quebec is the largest producer of electricity in Canada and has a generating capacity of 45 402 megawatts (MW).

    With over 40 400 MW of installed capacity, hydroelectric stations generate about 95% of Quebec’s electricity. This includes Canada’s largest power plant, the 5 616 MW Robert-Bourassa facility in northern Quebec. Another major hydroelectric station is currently under construction on the La Romaine River in Côte-Nord. When completed, it will have a capacity of 1 550 MW.

    Wind is the 2nd largest source of electricity generation in Quebec. In 2016, wind capacity reached 3 549 MW and accounted for 4% of generation. Other sources of electricity generation include natural gas (mainly for peak winter demand), diesel (for power in remote communities), and biomass.

    Hydro-Québec generates most of the electricity in the province. Independent power producers operate several smaller hydroelectric plants as well as all the biomass and wind facilities.

    https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/nrgsstmprfls/qc-eng.html

  166. BBD says:

    Eh, I made a mess of this comment:

    “(15 – 25 October 2017)”. Nope, that was 15 – 25 Jan 2017. There was a pan-European windspeed lull between 15 – 21 Oct this year but that’s not the one linked. Sorry, again…

  167. Ken Fabian says:

    Is it a case of proponents of RE choosing, falsely, to promote it on the basis that it will not involve rising energy costs or that the opponents of strong climate actions have made any option that raises energy costs something unacceptable? It think the most important reason for carbon pricing is making the true costs of emissions and high emitting options, including gas, more explicit.

    I don’t know that opposing RE on that “will cost more” basis helps nuclear – because it becomes unacceptable on that basis also. That solar and wind now is, within existing mixed energy systems, low costs is still an extraordinary circumstance, inducing change at large scale. An opportunity not to be wasted. A mistake maybe to expect this to take us all the way to zero emissions but it is a powerful disrupter of something that needs to be powerfully disrupted.

    Organised denial and obstructionist politicking is still, I think, the most significant blockage, to commitments to pumped hydro and large scale batteries as well as to nuclear. I disagree with the view that environmentalism or even Big Corporate Renewables promoting RE growth over nuclear is the most significant problem. I still don’t think we can turn that disruption into enduring solutions unless the obstructionist agenda and it’s populist credibilty is derailed.

  168. Ben McMillan says:

    The paper upthread which looks at how what proportion of demand you can meet with wind+solar and various amounts of storage was:
    https://kencaldeira.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/geophysical-constraints-on-the-reliability-of-solar-and-wind-power-in-the-united-states/

    I’m just summarising here for those who haven’t read it.

    So what it is suggesting is you can meet 90% of power demand with 50/50 wind/solar mix spread out across the contiguous US with 12 hours of storage, and with mean VRE generation equal to mean demand (see figure 3). Without any storage, you get up to about 75%. If you increase the mean renewable generation by 50%, you can meet 99% of mean demand (with 12 hours storage).

    If each year there was one ten-day long event (but nothing else) with essentially no renewable energy being generated, that would be roughly 2% of demand not satisfied. So this would not be consistent with this paper’s data. I think that wind+solar integrated on a continental scale is probably just much less variable than wind concentrated in a region of Germany. The introduction to this paper explains why in detail.

  169. BBD says:

    If each year there was one ten-day long event (but nothing else) with essentially no renewable energy being generated, that would be roughly 2% of demand not satisfied.

    True, but a tough sell on the days when ~60% of national demand is unmet 🙂

    I think that wind+solar integrated on a continental scale is probably just much less variable than wind concentrated in a region of Germany.

    It’s pan-German data, no cherry picking. The windspeed lulls can be pan-European. It’s just a thing. But it is a thing.

  170. sidd says:

    Re: “Yes that part of the system is not decarbonised, but if everything else is, 30% of capacity for 15% of the time = 5% of capacity, so you’re 95% decarbonised. That looks like a good deal to me.”

    What would it take to do that last 5% with biogas ?

    sidd

  171. Ben McMillan says:

    My issue with using German wind data is not that I think you are cherry-picking, just really pointing out that the variability does reduce substantially once you have a mix of wind and solar and a continent-scale grid.

    So again, going to the Caldeira article, the worst days have ~40% of daily demand not met by renewables (no storage and 1x generation).

    Basically I think that if you want to think about the feasibility of renewables, the data in articles like this one is much more useful than eyeballing German power production.

  172. BBD says:

    Basically I think that if you want to think about the feasibility of renewables, the data in articles like this one is much more useful than eyeballing German power production.

    Couldn’t disagree more 🙂 Inconvenient though they may be, the real-world production data are much more informative than modelled assumptions. And solar is producing very little in the winter months, so cannot offset wind variability. That requires either storage or a large alternative capacity – gas. Also, the last sustained drop in German wind output (15 – 21 Oct) was part of a pan-European windspeed lull which extended out into coastal waters, so it would have hit everything.

    I actually posted about it in comments here, complete with a link to the Earth data viewer, which, at the time, showed an entirely deep blue Europe. It was quite something to see, actually. What I didn’t do, and regret, is take some screen grabs which I could show you now. The old ‘wind always blowing somewhere’ argument didn’t apply to Europe that week.

  173. Ben McMillan says:

    I agree that actual data is better than a model, if available, but the data you presented doesn’t tell you the things you want to know. Because nobody is talking about just using German wind resources.

    The model Caldeira used produces a data series about 30 years long, and covering the whole of the US, which would be hard to do with data from current-day generating facilities.

    If you wanted then you could combine and scale data from various real generation data to produce a synthetic generation data set. I did something similar for Australia: the match to modelling from weather data was surprisingly good.

    At this point you are effectively arguing that Caldeira’s analysis is wrong, or should not be taken seriously, compared to your eyeballing of German power data, and some screenshot of wind intensity over Europe.

  174. BBD says:

    At this point you are effectively arguing that Caldeira’s analysis is wrong

    I’m pointing out matters of meteorological fact, which you are trying to pretend are unimportant despite the obvious effects on pan-German wind output. Perhaps the US is less prone to winter anticyclonic conditions leading to wide-area windspeed lulls than continental Europe, but that doesn’t make either me or Caldeira wrong.

  175. Dave_Geologist says:

    Dipping in again … the gas industry would be smaller (and it will happen naturally if they don’t build new fields because of the inbuilt 5-10% p.a. decline) … and the price will have to reflect its over-capacity and under-utilisation. If utilities see that price rising faster than inflation, they’ll be incentivised to invest in batteries, PHES, molten salt or whatever. Or biogas – the GT’s aren’t fussy. Of course the biogas producers will face the same intermittency challenge. Prices will be higher because of that inefficiently used investment – be it GTs or batteries. So we’re kidding ourselves if we think that we can benchmark future grid-scale prices as cost-of-wind-plus-10% or whatever. We’d have to pay the trough-fillers a premium in the hundreds of percent, not the tens of percent. But that can be spread across the year by the wholesalers, so domestic consumers see a fixed price. Maybe the price they pay will have doubled in real terms by 2050. But maybe that would have happened anyway if grrrowth had continued at its pre-2008 rate, and oil prices had soared to many hundreds of dollars per barrel. And you can sell interruptible contracts to industry, so maybe you need less than 60% spare capacity. If that’s the right number and we can only get to 90% decarbonised not 95%, on an kWh-weighted annual-average basis, that’s still a lot better than the status quo. And you have to think about what else you could have done with the money it took to get you that last 10%. Build new homes for millions of Bangladeshis? Roll out more PV and wind so they can do some trough-filling? Re-engine millions of trucks, trains and ships? Build district heating systems in cities? Subsidise the poor who can’t handle the real-terms doubling?

  176. BBD says:

    Again, all pretty much fair enough, Dave. It does look as though the likely future is substantial growth in W&S with a fair bit of gas plant maintained in reserve and pricey gas when we use it. But nobody ever said it was going to be cheap (except when they did, wittering on about cheap renewables, but never mind that 🙂 )

  177. BBD says:

    I agree that actual data is better than a model, if available, but the data you presented doesn’t tell you the things you want to know. Because nobody is talking about just using German wind resources.

    I think the assumption that there will always be an export surplus available sufficient to compensate for a large-scale national supply shortfall is nothing short of dangerous. Why should there be? Middle of winter, in Europe, solar is down to ~10% of peak, all regions are heavily reliant on their wind resource… and there’s a pan-European windspeed lull. So no export surplus available, irrespective of how many grid interconnectors there may be.

    This is why I am so insistent on the need for large-scale storage. Although if it turns out that expediency and lack of clarity about what we are doing leads to a large-scale gas reserve, well something has to be present to take over from wind when production tanks for days at a time.

  178. Dave_Geologist says:

    On the “cheap renewables” point, BBD, I agree. it’s the total package that has to be looked at, unless your’e prepared to go deep into demand-responsive pricing (which the UK could do with the Smart Meter rollout, and phone or Home/Nest/Alexa apps). Is the consumer ready though to see her per-kWh price triple at teatime? I still think we’re talking doubling or maybe tripling the average real-terms price over a period of decades, not an unacceptable ten-fold increase over years. A steady real-terms price rise is a good thing anyway, as it encourages efficiency savings, insulation, taking off your jumper rather than turning on the a/c etc. And one thing that will be hard to message is “look, that polluting GT generator is getting paid five times solar, no fair!”. It is fair, it’s in return for keeping the plant idle the rest of the year and not displacing renewables. and note, It’s not the gas supplier that’s getting paid extra (or if the economics of the business are indeed impacted it is as well – but for the same reason, to maintain redundancy of supply so the lights don’t go out).

  179. BBD says:

    Interestingly, it seems that Los Angeles has decided that it cannot do without its gas. Three plants to be renovated rather than decommissioned, despite the state-level push for 100% clean energy. Estimated cost about $3.4bn.

  180. Ken Fabian says:

    The “must not raise energy prices” line – that must never be crossed – is not originating from Environmentalists. It looks to have been drawn by opponents of strong climate action, no doubt with the certain expectation that no means of decarbonising would ever be able to get across it.

    The Business Council of Australia for example has made it clear that if ambitious emissions reductions targets are likely to raise electricity prices, they will oppose them. They prefer to frame this as “good” prevention of “bad” economic harm but it probably does reflect the true consensus position of Australian business owners and operators – that if saving the world from extreme climate change means higher electricity prices they are not only not willing to participate, they will actively oppose it! I suppose that is why I think having wind and solar getting over that line at all, even periodically and intermittently is very significant to the stance commerce and industry takes to emissions reductions. Worth making a fuss about in my opinion, perhaps especially if it is a window of opportunity that won’t last.

    That entrenched anti-ambition is a deep and serious problem – more problematic IMO than committing to lots of wind and solar before building HVDC transmission linking Europe with Africa and Asia or building lots and lots of PHES or expecting high energy industry to pay a premium for absolute 365 day a year electricity supply instead of paying lower prices than anyone else. I think climate science denial has been mere justification for this deeper, more fundamental, self interested opposition to strong and effective emissions policy.

    The restrictive existence of The Line and it’s widespread acceptance as the minimum standard for commitment to decarbonisation is itself worth making a fuss about. Given that everything about this gets blamed on Environmentalists I have no doubt they will be blamed for creating The Line by promoting RE as low cost, without looking to that last 20% – forcing others to deal with the complications; forgetting that they are the one group willing to pay higher prices. Like blaming them for conservatives being unwilling to fight for emissions reductions based on nuclear or for a UN conspiracy to use climate change to bring about global communist government, or for the existence of climate science itself.

  181. BBD says:

    I think climate science denial has been mere justification for this deeper, more fundamental, self interested opposition to strong and effective emissions policy.

    That’s certainly my impression.

    Given that everything about this gets blamed on Environmentalists I have no doubt they will be blamed for creating The Line by promoting RE as low cost

    Which is a good reason not to use the ‘cheap renewables’ meme. Never give the buggers an open goal.

  182. Willard says:

    > Never give the buggers an open goal.

    Everything conspires to invite contrarian talking points. Our own communication objectives needs to be independent from that kind of concern. That energy will get more expensive doesn’t change the fact that we’re tying our right hand behind our back if we expect that regulation will solve everything:

    Sometimes, the law cannot solve a problem or, when it comes to climate change, arguably the biggest problem our country faces. Michael, an environmental lawyer, and Jonathan, a climate scientist, join the show today to talk about a book they recently co-authored called, Beyond Politics: The Private Governance Response to Climate Change. In their book, they argue that the private sector, not the government, provides the biggest potential for making a significant difference in climate change in the short term. Michael and Jonathan discuss the background of the climate crisis we face and why, they argue, we cannot afford to wait for the federal government to take action to address the crisis. Fortunately, some major American businesses are already making significant progress in reducing their carbon footprint to help limit the effects of climate change.

    https://www.goodlawbadlawpodcast.com/podcasepisodes/2018/12/21/good-law-bad-law-112-lawmakers-may-not-hold-the-key-to-climate-change-w-michael-vandenbergh-amp-jonathan-gilligan

    I should interview Jonathan on his book.

  183. Steven Mosher says:

    “Everything conspires to invite contrarian talking points. Our own communication objectives needs to be independent from that kind of concern. That energy will get more expensive doesn’t change the fact that we’re tying our right hand behind our back if we expect that regulation will solve everything:”

    Business might help ya’ll. try not to demonize future needed partners.

  184. Ken Fabian says:

    BBD – “Which is a good reason not to use the ‘cheap renewables’ meme. Never give the buggers an open goal.”

    Yet making a point of emphasising that the renewables end-game will not be cheap gives the obstructionists an open goal. I do think this message simply gets subsumed by pro-fossil fuels alarmist rhetoric surrounding energy costs. W – “Everything conspires to invite contrarian talking points”. Energy cost alamism is perhaps the No.1 obstructionist meme, surpassing climate science denial.

    I also think we can’t really know how that end game will play out – less idea on that than on how a high emissions end game will play out. In comparison, idle gas plants look quite cheap. As does PHES or HVDC links to Nth Africa and the Middle East. That may seem like dodging the issues with a lashing of liberally applied doubt but I see the obstructionist politics as the major impediment, not the limitations of any particular technologies.

    Maybe climate advocacy can give up on the ‘cheap renewables’ meme when the ‘cheap fossil fuels’ meme – relying as it does on the far more egregious completely ignoring externalities – stops being effective.

    Social Cost of Carbon may not be the right level of pricing to induce a transition to low emissions but it is closer to the full and true costs we seek to avoid; pricing sufficient to induce change should be a refection, if at a lower albedo, of that SCC. I think it worthwhile to have knowledge of those full costs made explicit even if carbon pricing is lower.

  185. Ben McMillan says:

    sidd: You asked a question about biogas potential in the UK. There are claims it could produce quite a lot of energy.

    https://cadentgas.com/getattachment/About-us/The-future-role-of-gas/Renewable-gas-potential/Promo-Downloads/Cadent-Bioenergy-Market-Review-TECHNICAL-Report-FINAL-amended.pdf

    I don’t know how realistic the high and figures are, but in the more conservative scenarios in the report it amounts to 60TWh annually, or 3.5GW continual production if converted to electricity at 50% efficiency. For comparison UK mean electricity demand is more like 40GW.

    The UK is currently generating a lot of energy by directly burning biomass in a converted coal power station. I think most of this is imported North American forest, and not terribly sustainable.

  186. sidd says:

    Thanks for the pointer, Mr. McMillan.

    sidd

  187. BBD says:

    Yet making a point of emphasising that the renewables end-game will not be cheap gives the obstructionists an open goal. I do think this message simply gets subsumed by pro-fossil fuels alarmist rhetoric surrounding energy costs.

    Lying about the cost of a project at the outset is never a good idea, Ken. People have long memories for that sort of thing. It’s best to level with the public that this is going to be expensive. They won’t like it, but if you mislead the public into believing that it will be cheap then hit them with escalating bills, there will be severe electoral blowback. Perhaps enough to derail the transition.

  188. Ken Fabian says:

    BBD – but I truly believe that 100% renewable energy WILL be cheaper than fossil fuels; externalising the climate and health costs then not counting them does not mean they do not exist. Fossil fuels are already a lot more expensive than what it’s pricing says. Even given the uncertainties around that Social Cost of Carbon I am confident of that. The most significant lie in play is not that RE is cheaper than fossil fuels, it is that huge lie of omission – the omitting of the externalised costs of emissions.

    I’m less concerned with advocacy accentuating the positive and passing over the negative than with policy makers not having the facts straight – including the facts around externalities. Near term growth of RE can and probably will be done cheaper than fossil fuels or nuclear – even leaving out those externalities. Promoting them as cheaper is fine by me. Especially when I expect a full pricing that includes externalities will show that near term RE to be a LOT cheaper.

  189. Jim Hunt says:

    Following my festive perambulations, a Happy New Year to all at aTTP’s place.

    Re: Ben McMillan says: December 20, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    “The other thing that stops storage being built……”

    Actually storage is being built, in the form of the battery packs in the allegedly exponentially increasing numbers of battery electric vehicles (BEVs for short) on the planet’s roads.

  190. BBD says:

    And HNY to you, Jim.

    As I understand it, V-t-G isn’t a fix for multi-day windspeed lulls, as every EV in the nation would soon have a flat battery. It’s potential is for short-term smoothing (in the end, when there’s enough of it).

  191. Jim Hunt says:

    @BBD – V2G is the usual TLA for vehicle-to-grid technology. Demand smoothing is indeed the most commonly quoted V2G use case. However here’s some graphics from a recent Innovate UK V2G presentation: http://www.v2g.co.uk/resources/v2g-resources/v2g-forecasts/

    If all those idle EVs had 100 kWh battery packs that’s a whole lotta luvverly energy storage?

    Plus the Sono Sion, “The Most Important Car You Might Not Have Heard Of”?:

    Inbuilt solar PV provides 1 and a bit kW when the sun is shining brightly, but not a whole lot on a Great British winter’s evening!

  192. BBD says:

    @BBD – V2G is the usual TLA for vehicle-to-grid technology.

    It’s the drink. That and Very Tall 🙂 Sorry.

    If all those idle EVs had 100 kWh battery packs that’s a whole lotta luvverly energy storage?

    It would. Large-scale V2G clearly has the potential to provide a degree of longer-term storage capacity in future.

  193. BBD says:

    Right, now I’m a bit less fried… 🙂

    I’m cautious about the potential of V2G because of the way things tend to pan out. Think about the time driven vs time parked. At present, EV owners are early adopters because they are a good fit: low-mileage drivers or using an EV as a second vehicle for local journeys. In future, as EVs displace ICEs, the average drive vs park ratio will increase. This may reduce the available capacity from V2G.

    Of course typical EV battery capacity will increase, but even if they get to 100 kWh, LiION batteries still get tired in proportion to charge/recharge and will probably still be a fairly expensive maintenance item for a car. I can see a hard-worked national fleet of nominally 100 kWh batteries delivering a lot less capacity because a good proportion of them aren’t brand new.

    And it remains to be seen how rapidly the EV market grows. Cost, range and charging infrastructure are still problematic for the mass market, and that’s the nut that must be cracked.

    So yes, potential, but caution. It’s all a bit provisional at this point. While I’m guilty of slightly overlooking the potential of V2G, I suspect that it may not deliver on the more optimistic expectations.

  194. sidd says:

    Vanadium redox flow battey storage:

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/fuel-cells/its-big-and-longlived-and-it-wont-catch-fire-the-vanadium-redoxflow-battery

    https://www.engineering.com/DesignerEdge/DesignerEdgeArticles/ArticleID/12312/Massive-800-MegaWatt-hour-Battery-to-Be-Deployed-in-China.aspx

    20MW 80 MWH in a cargo container. Not too shabby. I know a couple midwestern towns of a million souls or so that a hundred of these would power for a few hours. About a football stadium, not too big a footprint. Probably best to colocate near big consumers where you step down to distribution voltages, would b much cheaper. Most big consumers have enuf room to park a buncha tractor trailers.

    https://www.engineering.com/ElectronicsDesign/ElectronicsDesignArticles/ArticleID/8536/Turning-Toxic-Waste-into-Batteries.aspx

    sidd

  195. Jim Hunt says:

    sidd – There’s even one of those in North Cornwall!

    http://www.V2G.co.uk/2017/11/redt-flow-machine-connects-to-centrica-local-energy-market/

    This is the largest operating containerised vanadium redox flow machine system in the UK and the first commercial energy storage system to sign up to Centrica’s Local Energy Market trial. The LEM is a £19m project designed to demonstrate the role that flexible generation and storage can play in relieving pressure on the grid and driving down energy prices in the UK.

    Note that redT insist on calling it a “containerised vanadium redox flow machine“!

  196. Jim Hunt says:

    BBD – “LiION batteries still get tired in proportion to charge/recharge”

    There are those that would disagree with that assertion:

    http://www.V2G.co.uk/2017/06/can-v2g-improve-ev-battery-life/

    In conclusion, we show that an EV connected to this smart-grid system can accommodate the demand of the power network with an increased share of clean renewable energy, but more profoundly that the smart grid is able to extend the life of the EV battery beyond the case in which there is no V2G.

    Dr. Uddin now works for OVO Energy:

  197. BBD says:

    A few percent off here vs a few percent on there depending on which of two academics you talk too. And this only one aspect of the challenge facing V2G as a potential large-scale backup resource. There’s a long way to go and not very much time to cover the miles, and like just about every other aspect of the proposed energy transition, it does not inspire much confidence.

    Much though I dislike the idea, I’m beginning to come around to the necessity for maintaining a large gas reserve. At least it will definitely work.

  198. Ben McMillan says:

    OK, on the feasibility of large scale PHES in the UK. I ended up trying to figure out how hard it would be:

    Let’s take a system with a large upper dam in the Cairngorms, with top height at 680m above sea level, with a 25km^2 area, average depth of 80m (dam wall about 240m high), so it contains 2km^3 of water. Looks like there are a few places that would be possible (only considering terrain shape) around Ben Macdui.

    The lower dam, to maximise height difference, and avoid flooding anyone’s house, could be at sea level by damming a freshwater lagoon in a shallow bit of ocean, say 8 miles off the Spey estuary, where the water is about 30m deep. This is also far enough that it wouldn’t be visually obvious to those ashore. You would need a circular lagoon of radius 6km or so to have the same volume as the upper dam.

    Energy storage is about 12 PJ. So about 14GW for 10 days. This would be nearly half the UK’s mean electrical generation.

    The dams are separated by about 70km. The head and length of tunnels would be similar to the Kárahnjúkar scheme in Iceland. Probably a few tunnels of diameter >10m.

    This would be a big single project. Maybe twice the cost of Crossrail assuming the usual cost for PHES. Single large dams are favourable in reducing the area submerged (because they are deeper), but would be a big risk for a private company.

    So the issue is not so much whether you could technically do large-scale PHES in the UK, but whether it would be cost-effective and not too ecologically damaging (or too offensive in general to voters). At the moment it is hard to make an economic case for storage because it isn’t needed yet (or anytime soon, with current trends).

  199. BBD says:

    Just for fun, really, have you come across the Strathdearn pumped hydro proposal? I’m not endorsing it, as such, just using it as an exercise in defining what might be possible.

  200. BBD says:

    Also, while casting around for something positive to say, I noticed that perovskite solar panels have inched closer to commercial product.

  201. Ben McMillan says:

    I think I had actually seen that Strathdearn proposal at some point then forgotten about it. The engineering aspects are different from typical PHES (canals rather than tubes and screws vs centrifugal turbines and it seems to be using sea water which might be tricky).

    The dam is about twice as big as the one I was suggesting, but the main difference is 1.5 days of storage rather than 15, which makes it power-heavy rather than storage heavy. That author has concluded that around 1.5 days is economically optimal.. They also show some graphs (elsewhere on the same site) explaining how much backup capacity in these scenarios once there is some storage.

    I think it would be poor design to (in the Strathdearn scheme) build something that has 3 times as much power as the UK needs (ie, only useful if UK electricity usage massively increases). Most other large countries could build something similar so it would be easier to build several smaller dams to avoid having to transmit the power so far (ie avoid building 180GW transmission lines).

    It seems like most people who’ve looked into it have concluded that PHES is pretty attractive on paper, and technical geographical capacity is very large. Like nuclear, timescales, risks and political issues are large, so only tends to be done with government support. Wouldn’t count on very much forward planning though, and the initial economic rewards are mostly for short-term storage to replace peaking generators. So in the short/medium term batteries are attractive (on the assumption they get to near $100/kWh). I wouldn’t be surprised if finally we end up with a mix of batterries/demand management for smoothing out days, and some PHES as well.

  202. Chubbs says:

    If you are saving money when the sun is shining you can afford expensive mitigation for intermittency. Solar likely to be disruptive in the not too distant future.

  203. Chubbs says:

  204. BBD says:

    Yes, but as previously pointed out, batteries don’t have the capacity to provide backup for large-scale multi-day windspeed lulls, so a fall in battery costs is irrelevant to the core issue of high-capacity energy storage. It’s a scale thing, not a cost thing.

  205. Willard says:

    > It’s a scale thing, not a cost thing.

    Cost matters to get the scale right, and “but batteries” shouldn’t deflect from the more general problem, i.e. storage;

    In November 2016 the European Commission proposed a new definition of electricity storage to include “deferring an amount of the electricity that was generated to the moment of use, either as final energy or converted into another energy carrier” such as gas. This brought power-to-gas (P2G) concepts within the regulatory definition of energy storage so that excess power from intermittent renewables can by electrolysis be turned into hydrogen which can be added to the normal gas distribution network (up to 20%, though much less allowed in most countries), or sold directly. Electrolysers could thus be providing ancillary grid services for which they are paid. The redefinition of P2G from simply a load to storage has implications for both electricity grids and reducing CO2 arising from gas. P2G electrolysers can be seen as part of the grid, not simply end users.

    http://world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/electricity-and-energy-storage.aspx

    Nuclear enthusiasts should compare with the top dogs like oil and gas, not renewables like wind and solar.

  206. Chubbs says:

    Cost and scale go together. As long as costs drop on a learning curve, scale can increase rapidly as new markets develop. Transportation alone would provide more than enough scale for batteries to ensure spillover into electric power. Of course, if learning stops before scale is reached; then another technology will be needed.

  207. BBD says:

    The problem is that the logical solution to winter windspeed lulls is large-scale PHES but nobody will build it because the current energy economic model would deny it any ready source of funding. So instead, we get gas, and ultimately a cul de sac which prevents deep decarbonisation of the electricity supply.

  208. BBD says:

    Cost and scale go together. As long as costs drop on a learning curve, scale can increase rapidly as new markets develop.

    LiION batteries are not and are unlikely ever to be a cost / capacity effective solution to a multi-thousand GWh reserve. Nor does anyone seriously propose that this will happen, afaik.

  209. Ken Fabian says:

    BBD – I share some of the incredulity, yet I expect storage of various sorts to still surprise us with what they will be able to achieve. I for one fully expect that whatever we do will be at unprecedented scales. Achieving unprecedented scales for successful technologies is not even something that requires comprehensive forethought and planning at this point in human history; it is the default condition for a world of 7 billion plus people. I hesitate to declare batteries at very large scale a foregone failure.

    I will say that if we are still seeing Prime Ministers and Presidents leading climate science denying political parties and governments as we approach high levels of wind and solar across major industrial economies then it will be far more difficult; a manageable problem will remain unmanageable because solutions will not be properly supported. A collapse of international climate efforts is still possible; US Republicans and Australia’s Liberal National Party, just as two examples, would appear to welcome that. Yet a collapse of climate science denial and organised opposition to strong climate policies is also possible – more possible now than ever before.

    Some form of carbon pricing can still make the unacceptably high costs of fossil fuels – including that of gas backup – more apparent. It may not be possible to get low to below zero emissions capable of restoring some degree of climate stability without that – certainly the illusion that post 80% RE would be prohibitively expensive would struggle to persist if a Social Cost of Carbon were applied – or even the lesser Pigovian version that doesn’t apply the full costs, just what is needed to change purchase and investment choices. One way or another we face the climate problem head on – or we fail, with all the potential for making a bad situation much worse through mismanagement and conflict.

  210. Steven Mosher says:

    PHES.

    Nice target.

  211. BBD says:

    I for one fully expect that whatever we do will be at unprecedented scales.

    So it seems. Jenkins & Thernstrom (2017):

    For comparison, the total storage capacity envisioned by Jacobson et al. is equivalent to 37.8 billion Tesla Power Wall 2.0 home energy storage systems — 320 Power Walls per U.S. household.

  212. As I see it, it’s either storage or grid.

    Since there are gridless places, storage will be needed.

  213. Chubbs says:

    In EV world, the typical US household could easily have 20 Power Walls in their vehicles (model S @ 75KWh has 5-6 Power Walls, SUVs+Trucks would have more). Presumably commercial vehicles, transit and other non-plug energy use would also be electrified. So transportation could provide the battery manufacturing scale (and cost) to build out the 320.

  214. To understand wind variability on regional scales you need to apply probability and statistics. It’s not well known but wind speeds follow a BesselK probability distribution (which models the right mix of lull periods). In radar clutter processing this is referred to as K-distributed clutter, arising from similar variability in sea surface waves when measured from ships.

  215. Ben McMillan says:

    It is worth keeping in mind that most schemes for near 100% renewables involve:

    1) Using a roughly 50-50 wind and solar mix.
    2) Substantial continent-scale transmission.
    3) Large backup capacity using chemical energy storage, operating infrequently and producing a small fraction of overall energy.
    4) Storage to smooth over the daily cycle.

    So looking at wind generation of individual countries is not really that helpful by itself if you are interested in critiquing real proposals. For example, you would often find that it is sunny in parts of Europe in the middle of June (for the UK, see https://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/).

    The question of exactly how much of the energy is provided by ‘backup’ (probably gas-turbine power plants) is key: if you only need 10% or less, then things like biogas and hydrogen storage look feasible.

    You can try to do both 3+4 with just very large pumped-hydro systems, but they need to simultaneously be able to provide most of peak demand and have weeks of storage (which is almost never used) and this tends to look quite expensive and possibly unfeasible (finding large areas of landscape which it is OK to submerge).

  216. Ben McMillan says:

    Also, worth keeping in mind that many countries already have large amounts of non-pumped hydro (in the EU about 10% of electricity is hydro) which is also very helpful in filling gaps and reducing the amount of ‘backup’ thermal capacity/energy required.

  217. JCH says:

    I would like to match your no wind with a dry hole.

  218. Ben McMillan says:

    Is the Samuel Thernstrom in the article in the original post the same one who wrote this (American Enterprise Institute)?

    http://www.aei.org/publication/censorship-and-the-uncertain-science-of-climate-change/

  219. BBD says:

    No idea, Ben. But please point out any and all factual errors in the paper before playing the man rather than the ball.

  220. BBD says:

    The question of exactly how much of the energy is provided by ‘backup’ (probably gas-turbine power plants) is key: if you only need 10% or less, then things like biogas and hydrogen storage look feasible.

    Ben, please. Long-duration, wide-scale winter wind lulls will knock down wind output significantly when solar is already way down around 10% of summer peak. Just look at the German data again. What replaces W&S for days at a time?

    10% capacity won’t cut it. I thought this was clear at this point. Dealing in averages is very misleading at this point.

  221. BBD says:

    And thank you, Steven, for this:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-07/u-k-wind-drought-heads-into-9th-day-with-no-relief-for-weeks

    That one was in the summer, but they are more common in winter. And since they are real meteorological events, they require consideration when planning a high VRE energy mix.

  222. Steven Mosher says:

    “That one was in the summer, but they are more common in winter. And since they are real meteorological events, they require consideration when planning a high VRE energy mix.”

    PHES is rather cool, I like mega projects. concern would be

    A) its a target needs hardening and redundency
    B) how many days of reserve do you want? think strategic petroleum reserve levels

  223. Ken Fabian says:

    I don’t think we will walk blindly into an untenable situation in a (modestly well) managed grid – nor face grave risks of being locked into something sub-optimal that will mess things up later. Opposing growth of Wind and Solar NOW doesn’t look like well applied forethought and planning – more like a way to help ensure fossil fuels dominant sub-optimality persists; any good intentions will be subsumed by climate obstructionist politics which uses the same arguments against RE but to greater effect. It looks a lot like a variant of the “let’s wait until the climate science is settled before taking precipitous actions” rhetoric – which in reality is actually the continuation of precipitous actions without constraint, ie the dumping Gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    I don’t think we can even get to 80% in industrialised economies with high levels of climate science denial and obstructionist politics of the sort we are familiar with. And if that impediment is gone a lot that presently looks intractable becomes possible, including government backing for investments in long distance transmission, pumped hydro, batteries at large scale. Hydrogen infrastructure. Nuclear.

    I expect wide scale wind and sun lulls will be manageable because the problems will be foreseen and will get faced one way by a diverse and widely linked network – and it is likely load shedding is going to be a significant element; if heavy industrial users of energy don’t adapt – as much to take advantage of periods of RE oversupply as cope with periods of energy constraint – then they will fail. Or else pay a high premium to maintain constant power supply through those periods. Or site where there is enough Hydro or Nuclear. The people running these industries have been amongst the most influential opponents of strong climate action – and almost certainly include many who would strongly support nuclear if political parties stop giving them free tickets on emissions. When political parties and governments stop offering them the much cheaper option of NOT fixing the climate problem they will look to solutions and probably find them – and it is not going to be an economic disaster. If they have to they will find ways to work around the extreme energy costs for weeks at a time – but as long as they don’t have to they won’t.

    I think it is borrowing trouble to insist we know exactly how the final stages play out before committing to the early stages.

  224. BBD says:

    A) its a target needs hardening and redundency

    Ah, now I see what you meant by your previous comment about PHES as a target. True, but thousands of kilometers of HVDC lines would be my energy security concern number one. Long interconnectors are a tempting and probably indefensible target.

  225. Ben McMillan says:

    Claiming that extended low-wind periods are more common in winter than summer seems at odds with the data, at least in the UK: taking the gridwatch data for UK wind in 2018, the mean generation over a 7-day period never drops below 2.8GW in winter, whereas annual mean generation is 4.5GW (in the gridwatch data, which differs slightly from say wikipedia figures).

    In summer on the other hand, there are 7-day periods with mean power around 0.8GW. Mean wind generation in winter is quite low, so this is not at all surprising: essentially the whole of summer is a ‘wind drought’ in the UK.

    This pattern is roughly consistent for the last 3 years, but there is some year-to-year variation.

    If you plot UK wind and solar smoothed over 7-days, it is actually quite astonishing how well they complement each other. If they had the same mean generation, there wouldn’t be a single week in 2018 with solar+wind power production less than 50% of average solar+wind.

    What replaces wind+solar generation during extended lulls is backup power generation. Obviously, the capacity of backup needs to be some large fraction of peak generation. But the total energy generated annually is not necessarily large (low load factor). This ‘average’ is precisely what matters for the question of how much of the demand can be met by renewables.

    Unfortunately looking at weekly graphs of wind lulls tells you little about what proportion of energy can be produced by renewables: at best it tells you that you are going to need a lot of backup capacity and/or storage. Which is part of the reason I’m not so impressed with your German wind speed graphs.

    The other issue is that looking at a small region, and wind alone, over-emphasises variability. Which is why systematic studies like the Shaner et. al. paper (among many others) are useful.

  226. BBD says:

    Unfortunately looking at weekly graphs of wind lulls tells you little about what proportion of energy can be produced by renewables: at best it tells you that you are going to need a lot of backup capacity and/or storage. Which is part of the reason I’m not so impressed with your German wind speed graphs.

    The (not ‘my’) German energy data show that there are extended periods of very low wind output during winter, when solar is also very low. They give an idea of the necessary reserve capacity to compensate for these events. It will clearly be a significant fraction of total demand.

    The other issue is that looking at a small region, and wind alone, over-emphasises variability.

    The sun doesn’t just shine less in Germany during winter, and as I have explained, the windspeed lulls are pan-European. Here’s 15/10/18, at the start of the last generalised European windspeed lull 15 – 21 Oct. You can see the anticyclone (clockwise flow) just about on the border between Russia and Ukraine (approx 52N 34E).

    When – not if – winter anticyclonic conditions next cause a UK-wide windspeed lull, UK wind output will collapse just as German wind output did. Just as pan-European wind output must have done, based on the windspeed lull.

    You might wish to deny these matters of fact, but they won’t go away.

  227. BBD says:

    This should have been a quote, above:

    The other issue is that looking at a small region, and wind alone, over-emphasises variability.

  228. Chubbs says:

    Agree with Ken’s point. Past policy has given solar, wind and batteries the leg up. They are going to go to large scale no matter what the policy. Policy is needed for the other low-carbon technologies, however and most importantly to move the transition timing forward.

  229. BBD says:

    Opposing growth of Wind and Solar NOW

    I’m not opposing it. I fully endorse the rapid scaling of W&S as necessary components of decarbonisation. I oppose the line of thinking that it will be either cheap or easy, and that political will is all that is lacking. Because these things are not true.

  230. Ben McMillan says:

    Well, I think the actual UK wind and solar generation during the last the last few years is pretty definitive data, frankly, and a lot more relevant than the same 10-day period of German wind data that you keep posting again and again without any attempt at quantitative analysis.

    Looking at the actual UK wind and solar data is much more satisfying that talking about ‘anticyclonic conditions’ and making a poorly-supported argument about solar. The UK data alone will tend to over-emphasise variability in a continent-scale grid.

    But the weird thing is that I absolutely agree that you need reserve capacity that is a substantial fraction of demand because, obviously, there really are significant lulls in expected Europe-wide wind and solar output on week-long periods. I disagree somewhat about how big these are (more like 50% than 90%).

    To emphasise: I am not denying that there are significant prolonged Europe-wide lulls in wind and solar output. I’m just pointing out that your data and analysis are pretty weak. (as an example, the main thing your wind map shows is that it is almost always a lot more windy over the sea).

    But this is just not that important because building backup/reserve capacity is not very expensive. I think you were arguing earlier that transporting and storing chemical fuels would be unfeasibly expensive in a future where we use less of them, but that argument seems like a non-starter: if there is anything that history since the industrial revolution should have taught us, it is that fossil fuels are remarkably easy to transport and store.

  231. Ben McMillan says:

    Take the 2018 UK wind, solar and demand data from gridwatch, and assume a future 50% wind / 50% solar generation fleet with average generation equal to average demand, and ignore transmission constraints. So basically all I’m doing is ‘scaling up’ the actual UK solar and wind output graphs.

    You can meet 71% of demand that way.

    If you add the 13GW, 10-day storage pumped-hydro system (ignoring round-trip losses for simplicity), you can meet 83% of demand.

    There are a bunch of other low-cost options to improve this (e.g. existing/additional connections to the continent and shifting demand to reduce the day-night cycle). Also, ignoring the useful contribution of nuclear power.

  232. BBD says:

    To emphasise: I am not denying that there are significant prolonged Europe-wide lulls in wind and solar output. I’m just pointing out that your data and analysis are pretty weak. (as an example, the main thing your wind map shows is that it is almost always a lot more windy over the sea).

    Out to sea, yes. Out beyond the range of offshore wind installations. So another non-weakness not pointed out. Thanks.

    But this is just not that important because building backup/reserve capacity is not very expensive.

    Which is simply not true. Backup on the required scale is hugely expensive, unless we are shilling for the gas industry of course, in which case it’s all just dandy.

    Also, you are making a sequence of references to data which you neither link nor show.

    What are we supposed to think?

  233. BBD says:

    But the weird thing is that I absolutely agree that you need reserve capacity that is a substantial fraction of demand because, obviously, there really are significant lulls in expected Europe-wide wind and solar output on week-long periods. I disagree somewhat about how big these are (more like 50% than 90%).

    I said that solar drops to around 10% of peak through DJF, not that the total supply shortfall was 90%. I’d estimate it around 60% or a little over, and this can go on for two weeks, not just one.

  234. Ben McMillan says:

    First time I’ve been accused of being a shill for the gas industry. Think I’ll just luxuriate in that feeling for a while. Mmmmhhhh.

    Raw data are at:
    https://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

    Running basic numbers like I did shouldn’t be beyond anyone with a basic grasp of excel/python or similar. I don’t expect you to trust me: I expect you to verify.

    I can provide more details if you need them.

  235. Willard says:

    > please point out any and all factual errors in the paper before playing the man rather than the ball.

    I don’t see why. Playing the ball then the man is not really symmetric to playing the man then the ball. In the first case, one plays the man to try to understand why someone says something silly. In the second case, one plays the man not to waste too much time on the possible silliness of what he would read. The first is explanatory, while the second is precautionary.

    Paying due diligence to the social network of a man may help put what he says into perspective. That Samuel has served as director of communications for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in 2001 and 2002 sounds relevant to me. That he quotes Senior’s favorite document, i.e. NAP 2001, along with Hayward and Soon & Baliunas is also noteworthy.

    This doesn’t undermine JLT 2018, but it still indicates we might be dealing with very conservative estimates and fact selections. The Harvard Kennedy School is not known for his progressivism. NERA Economic Consulting may have a dog in this fight:

    NERA has been applying economic principles on behalf of clients around the world for more than half a century, providing analysis, expert testimony, and regulatory insight in complex litigation, regulation, and business situations. Our reputation for innovation and insight rooted in fundamental economics has made NERA the firm of choice for clients seeking solutions to their most serious legal, regulatory, and market challenges.

    https://www.nera.com/content/dam/nera/publications/2018/BRO_Global_Capabilities_1018.pdf

    (The concept of regulatory challenge should provide a tell.)

    As for Samuel’s new affiliation, Energy Innovation Reform Project, it’s his new pet project, and it includes StevenH:

    Hayward holds a Ph.D. in American Studies, an M.A. in Government from Claremont Graduate School and a B.S. in Business and Administrative Studies from Lewis and Clark College.

    https://www.innovationreform.org/our-team/steven-f-hayward/

    As I see it, two lobbyists found a post-doc to piggyback on his publication needs.

  236. BBD says:

    First time I’ve been accused of being a shill for the gas industry. Think I’ll just luxuriate in that feeling for a while. Mmmmhhhh.

    Sorry you missed the irony.

    As for ‘running the numbers’, what you did went a few assumptions beyond that:

    Take the 2018 UK wind, solar and demand data from gridwatch, and assume a future 50% wind / 50% solar generation fleet with average generation equal to average demand, and ignore transmission constraints. So basically all I’m doing is ‘scaling up’ the actual UK solar and wind output graphs.

    What if we assume that solar doesn’t scale in the UK because of the maritime climate and NH winter and perhaps economics? Your assumptions may not prove reliable, so they don’t carry much weight as persuasion.

    * * *

    Willard, no doubt that Thernstrom has questionable affiliations and at least in 2003 was peddling nonsense about climate. However, Jenkins & Thernstrom 2017 is a literature review, which as far as I can tell did not misrepresent the studies it examines. So while I agree with the need for caution, even for long tongs here, I don’t see any evidence that J&T17 is problematic. And to be fair, I used it only as an attempt to illustrate the scale of the storage capacity used by often-quoted studies of deep decarbonisation.

  237. Steven Mosher says:

    “Ah, now I see what you meant by your previous comment about PHES as a target. True, but thousands of kilometers of HVDC lines would be my energy security concern number one. Long interconnectors are a tempting and probably indefensible target.”

    Old habit of mine and I love the story of 617 Squadron

  238. Ken Fabian says:

    BBD – But I do think Political Will changes everything – that for example, I think it makes planning and backing for things like those long interconnectors possible, whereas without it, those will be a lot harder. I think it is THE key piece of an enduring solution, much more significant than figuring out what technologies will deal with wind and solar lulls in a hypothetical future 100% Wind and Solar Europe.

    Of all the egregious falsehoods going around, promotion of 100% as low cost hardly makes it onto my list. The very existence of that “must not make energy more expensive” line – is much more a problem than some promoters of 100% RE claiming we can stay to the right side of it. Obsessing over the harms that Line does makes more sense to me. The continuing amnesty on the externalised costs of emissions, that maintains the false appearance of Fossil Fuels being low cost – and defining where that Line actually is – is a huge problem. Alarmist fear of economic ruination from committing to 100% renewables – or to a low emissions energy sector at all, it inhibits Nuclear too – is a huge problem. Any such 100% RE commitment made now in places where RE is not already at high levels is mostly symbolic.

    In any case I don’t see much potential for a major backlash against climate action from RE failures in the near term; for that the Doubt, Deny, Delay politicking will need to have to really work overtime at it to make it so. They are trying hard of course – and I find cause for optimism in their failure to convince the world that high(er) RE targets will be ruinous. If we do hit 80% RE and we are still dealing with obstructionist crap – with Presidents and Prime Ministers still leading climate obstructionist governments – then we really are going to be in deep trouble and it won’t matter what technologies we have or don’t have.

  239. BBD says:

    BBD – But I do think Political Will changes everything – that for example, I think it makes planning and backing for things like those long interconnectors possible, whereas without it, those will be a lot harder.

    I’ve long argued that only central government is capable of the necessary large-scale actions you suggest. I have been told – forcefully – that this is the height of economic naivety (governments don’t have money, they take it in the form of taxes, so they can’t act etc) and that it is even unConstitutional in the US.

    So frankly, I don’t really see where we go from here except expediency, which means gas, botched decarbonisation of the electricity sector and generalised, creeping failure. All to a background chorus of optimistic blather and half-truths. As for ever decarbonising TPE, forget it.

  240. BBD says:

    Steven

    Old habit of mine and I love the story of 617 Squadron

    Thousands and thousands of miles of infrastructurally vital, indefensible HVDC. What could possibly go wrong?

  241. Ben McMillan says:

    In case anyone wants to play around with the 2018 UK wind and solar generation data: you can do analyses like the Shaner et. al. paper and see how much demand you can meet using various mixes of generation and storage.

    https://mybinder.org/v2/gh/ben-mcmillan/energybalance/master?filepath=windandsolar.ipynb

  242. It’s weird. If you are reading things like CleanTechnica.com or Bloomberg New Energy Finance, etc., you get the feeling that a miracle in solar is occurring in China.

    But in context, and from their National Bureau of Statistics it is more sobering. A lot more sobering.

    Fortunately, solar costs fell far faster than anyone ever imagined or else we would not have even had this performance. Sigh.

  243. Actually, the graph is a bit sloppily done, as he has drawn lines from the final data points for hydro, nuclear, wind and solar to their respective legend names, but in the same colour as the data plots, so it gives the initial impression of odd jumps up or down in the last year. Not so. But the main point stands.

  244. BBD says:

    Interesting watching the UK’s nuclear program collapse while the Brexit chaos continues. It looks as though there will be less total capacity in 2030 than we thought and so no doubt we will need more gas – much more – to fill the gaping hole.

  245. Global spending on new solar fell by another 24% in 2018, continuing the trend from 2017.

    This from the sector where “unexpectedly dramatic!” cost decreases are supposed to making this a no-brainer winner for new power.

    The excuse that is being made is that because the capital costs are falling so fast that the same amount of PV capacity (again, they should be measuring generation, but whatever) can be built for less.

    That was the same excuse last year. But if the capital costs are falling unexpectedly rapidly, and it was such a compelling economic case anyway, investment should be soaring. Which it clearly is not. Maybe it’s just me, but something about the “inevitable renewables revolution!” seems to be going off the rails.

    In any event – from an emissions/carbon budget point of view – this, and the stagnating growth in wind, is just very, very grim news.

    If we are serious about Paris – or even 2.5C or pick’em – we are going to have to face up to the fact that (1) This. Is. Going. To. Be. Expensive. We are going to have to bring solar and wind on much faster than they are coming, and that almost certainly means in situations that they are currently clearly uneconomic. Yes, a carbon price will help, but it is going to have to be quite stiff. (2) In the meantime. We. Need. To. Deal. With. Curtailing. Demand. This seems to be an even more third-rail issue, but we need to buy time as these (expensive) solutions come on line by deliberately curtailing current global (mostly fossil-fuel based) energy consumption.

    By the way, the one commenter on Glen’s tweet who suggests that capacity is still growing at 30% p.a. … I am not as convinced of that. The data I am looking at indicates a growth curve, but more like a logistic curve that is starting to slow… And plotted against early historical nuclear and even hydro at similar generation and “years in” stages, nuclear and hydro were both growing faster and for longer than solar and wind… And – ooops – then they seemed to stall out.

    This. Is. Going. To. Be. Expensive. …. wish it were otherwise…

  246. from the BNEF article Glen links to:

    Looking at the 2018 clean energy investment numbers by country, China was again the clear leader, but its total of $100.1 billion was down 32%
    […]
    The U.S. was the second-biggest investing country, at $64.2 billion, up 12%.
    […]
    Europe saw clean energy investment leap 27% to $74.5 billion
    […]
    Other countries and territories investing in excess of $2 billion in clean energy in 2018 were:

    Japan at $27.2 billion, down 16%
    India at $11.1 billion, down 21%
    Germany at $10.5 billion, down 32%
    etc.

    Thank goodness we are treating this seriously! Imagine if we weren’t!

  247. And, of course, this – electrical power – is one of the areas that we are apparently having the most success in decarbonizing… unlike,, say, cement, steel, agriculture, aviation, long-haul transport, shipping, diet, personal automobile emissions, buildings, did I forget any?

  248. BBD says:

    If the current energy finance model is effectively obsolete, as seems to be the case, then even the supposedly ‘easy’ decarbonisation of at least the first 70% – 80% of the electricity supply will be very difficult.

    (2) In the meantime. We. Need. To. Deal. With. Curtailing. Demand.

    But how, if the necessary strategy is electrify everything? Demand must rise, significantly, over the next few decades.

  249. I was meaning there more curtailing about demand for “emissions” rather than “electricity”.

    E.g. demand for aviation, meat, etc. Little to do with electrification for decades, anyway. Which we “could” do literally overnight and buy a lot of time for low-carbon power to arrive.

    Still, a huge third-rail and as you say

    But how

    but if the goal is, say, < 1 trillion tonnes C cumulative, how not?

  250. BBD says:

    I was meaning there more curtailing about demand for “emissions” rather than “electricity”.

    Ah, sorry, I misread.

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