Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2019
Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant and was a public servant for 27 years, a diplomat for 10 years prior to that service.
The United States Democratic Party leadership appears to be enamored with the proposal for a “Green New Deal”, the idea of eliminating all fossil fuels from the US economy by 2030 and converting the economy into a fully socialized one. Several analysts have produced excellent reports explaining the implications of the energy part of the deal. I thought I might add a short comment that will make the issue more understandable for the average person.
Over eighty per cent of U.S. energy use is now supplied by fossil fuels – oil, natural gas, and coal. Eliminating all these uses would mean eliminating oil use in transportation (i.e. cars, trucks, railways, aircraft and marine vessels, as well as off-road vehicles like tractors and construction equipment), power generation, and industrial, commercial and residential uses. It would shut down most petrochemicals production, including products ranging from plastics to roofing material. It would force the elimination of all coal, oil and natural gas-fired electricity generation and its replacement by renewable energy generation, meaning mostly wind and solar energy. Perhaps most important, it would mean electrifying the parts of the economy that now run on fossil fuels. That would more than quadruple current electricity demand.
One of the first questions people should consider is whether it is possible to convert all current electricity generation to wind and solar energy. Both of these sources are “intermittent”, meaning that they only produce when the conditions allow it – when the sun shines in the case of solar and when the wind blows in the case of wind turbines. Electricity is difficult and expensive to store; how much would it cost to store electricity so that it is available when the renewables are not generating?
In November, 2018, Roger Andrews, a retired engineer, performed an analysis of this issue, examining the specific cases of Germany and California. His analysis can be read here:
He deliberately used assumptions that would tend to bias the outcome of his analysis in favour of renewable energy. For example, he assumed that:
- Annual electricity demand in the two jurisdictions stays constant, and does not increase to allow for increased electrification of the economy;
- Transmission system upgrades are ignored (i.e. there are no costs to moving the electricity from where it is generated by often remote renewables plants to urban areas);
- The generators operate at a capacity factor of 25%; and
- The cost of battery storage would be U.S. $200 per kilowatt hour, about half the current cost of utility-scale Li-ion batteries according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (a source always optimistic about the economics of renewables).
The electricity demand patterns in Germany and California are quite different. In Germany, wind generation is highly erratic and peaks in the winter, while solar production is low but smooth. The result is periodic surpluses of generation over demand of up to 80,000 megawatts (MW) and deficits of up to 50,000 MW. The storage capacity requirement peaks in May at slightly over 25,000 gigawatt-hours. In California, both wind and solar generation peak in the summer. Although demand is only about half that of Germany, the result is that the storage requirement also approaches 25,000 gigawatt hours.
Using his optimistic assumptions, Andrews calculated the combined wind plus solar levelized cost of energy (LCOE) to be U.S. $50 per megawatt hour. With storage and related capital costs included, the combined LCOE of a 100% wind and solar generation system was US $699 per megawatt hour for Germany and US $1,096 per megawatt hour for California. The total cost in each case was US $5 trillion.
Within the United States, California represents about seven per cent of the total electricity demand, meaning that total U.S. demand is about 14 times larger. Germany’s electricity demand is 13.6 per cent of U.S. demand, so total U.S. demand is about seven times larger. That suggests that the costs of a 100% renewables electricity generation in the U.S. would be somewhere between US $35 trillion and US $70 trillion.
If it were possible to transition to an all-renewable electricity generation system within eleven years, the cost would be somewhere between US $3.2 trillion and US $6.4 trillion per year. This does not include the costs of adding electricity services to meet the needs of electrifying the whole economy or the costs of adding generation to permit economic growth.
By comparison, the total U.S. federal government budget for 2019 is US $4.4 trillion.
You may judge for yourself how realistic or desirable this is.
Albertans will find similar ‘shocking’ information in this LinkedIn Post: “Wind’s Winter of Discontent” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/winds-winter-discontent-curtis-sheptycki/