Part A of this report was previously published and addressed solar. This report includes Part A and the new section, Part B on baseload.
Introduction and Overview
In August 2020, the Pembina Institute published a report titled Renewable energy—what you need to know. The report opens with the claim that “There are significant opportunities to supply the majority of Alberta households and industries with reliable, cheap, and clean electricity,” and it goes on to say that, “With the falling costs of solar and wind energy, our electricity sector has entered a new reality where renewable generation is the most economical source of new electricity generation for the province.” Pembina’s so-called “new reality” is a fantasy, and a dangerous one at that. Jurisdictions that have shut down reliable fossil-fueled and/or nuclear generation in favour of wind and solar have seen skyrocketing electricity prices and have faced (or at the time of this writing are facing) severe energy shortages along with consequential economic losses and, sadly, loss of life.
The authors of Pembina’s report prove the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Most of their statements contain a modicum of truth, so many Pembina readers may have become convinced that the authors understand the physical and market operations of Alberta’s electric power system. Based on Renewable energy and a Pembina document referenced therein titled Baseload myths and why we need to change how we look at our grid, they clearly do not: their analyses ignore critical details, use cherry-picked data, fail to acknowledge the massive and ever-increasing implicit subsidies that Albertans are providing to wind and solar generators, and ignore the crucial role played by fossil-fueled generators—the very generators that many green-energy advocates love to hate—in allowing wind and solar generators to operate in the first place.
This rebuttal of Renewable energy and Baseload myths is considerably longer than those two documents. The reason is that refuting false or misleading statements often takes more time and ink than it takes to make the statements in the first place, and that is certainly the case here. The effort is necessary, however, because Pembina receives a large amount of taxpayer and private funding, it uses that funding to produce grossly misleading reports, and then it pushes for government policies based thereon. While Pembina proclaims on its website that “We provide our expertise to industry and government leaders, and we advocate for a strong, science-based approach to policy, regulation, environmental protection and energy development,” science and expertise are nowhere to be found in Renewable energy or Baseload myths. Perhaps competent and objective analysis was too much to expect, given that the funders of Pembina’s work were the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre, Energy Efficiency Alberta, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. These entities are almost certainly biased in favour of “climate action,” and they probably have little or no understanding of what it takes to operate a safe and reliable electric power system.
In addition to being somewhat lengthy, this document makes extensive use of quantitative analysis. We are well aware that math was not everyone’s favourite subject in school, but real-world data and sometimes-complex quantitative analyses are essential elements in the design, construction, and operation of modern energy systems. They are also critical inputs to public policy discussions, at least if we want those policies to be rational and to serve the public interest.
It is imperative that we not base public policy decisions on the sort of hand-waving arguments and inept analyses contained in Renewable energy and Baseload myths. We cannot run a modern society on energy systems that depend to a large extent on the whims of the wind and the sun, no matter how much green-energy zealots would like it to be otherwise. The economic and social well-being of our children and grandchildren, and maybe even their lives, depend on us getting this right.
This report consists of several parts. It will be updated when new parts become available. Please note that the final content of future parts may change a bit from what is set out here.
• In Part A, we discuss the serious flaws in Pembina’s evaluation of solar energy. We explain why the number of Alberta homes that can be reliably served by solar energy alone is zero, we show that southern Alberta solar resources are not equivalent to those in Miami or Rio de Janeiro by any useful measure, and we show that paying for the energy storage needed to turn solar generation into a reliable electricity source using today’s technology would put the purchase of electricity beyond the financial reach of most Alberta families.
• In Part B, we discuss Pembina’s inept analysis of the simple but critical concepts of “base load” and “baseload generation,” and we show that renewable generation is the cause of—not the solution to—the increasing need for more flexible (and more expensive) generation in Alberta. We explain why Pembina’s views on these topics are in direct conflict with sound engineering and economic principles. We briefly introduce Pembina’s seriously flawed analysis of the roles of baseload generation and renewable generation in an energy emergency event that occurred in 2017.
• In Part C (to come), we will examine Pembina’s analysis of the energy emergency event in more detail. We will also review the reliability-related characteristics of various types of generation. Finally, we will discuss how the energy market, the ancillary services market, various automatic control systems, and the system controller work together to ensure system reliability. Not surprisingly, Pembina gets this wrong, too.
• In Part D (also to come), we will examine how wind and solar generation negatively affect other generators and drive up costs for consumers. Contrary to Pembina’s claims, wind and solar are not the most economic sources of new generation for Alberta, at least if we want the lights to come on when we flip the switch.
The overall conclusion of our analysis of Renewable energy and Baseload myths is that Pembina’s reports are wholly unfit for educating readers on power-system operations and reliability. Basing significant public policy decisions on Pembina’s so-called expertise will almost certainly have dire social, economic, and perhaps even life consequences for Alberta families and businesses.