Analysis: Adding More Solar, Wind Power Increases Dependence On Fossil Fuels, ‘Doubles’ CO2 Emissions

As the reputed world leader in green energy policy, Germany plans to eliminate nuclear power as an energy source in the next 5 years.

2011 decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022  has meant that renewables like wind and solar power are expected to swiftly take the place of nuclear energy on the German power grid.  The portion of Germany’s power generation from wind and solar (renewables) has indeed risen dramatically in the last 10 years:

germany-power-generation-source-2015-copy
                                           Image  source  (cleanenergywire.org)

Germany’s vociferous allegiance to renewables as a power generation source has elicited controversy.   Wind and solar are very labor- and material-intensive (expensive) energy sources, and the dramatic rise in solar and wind power capacity has come with great financial expense to German citizens.  Poorer households have long been the most adversely affected.  Dating back to 2000, electricity prices have risen by 80% in Germany, leaving 7 million citizens “energy poor” (meaning that more than 10% of their income has to be spent on heating and electrifying their homes).

Analysis by the European Commission indicates that “nearly 11% of the EU’s population [encompassing 54 million people] are in a situation where they live in  households in which they find themselves unable to heat their homes at an affordable cost,” which may effectively put their lives at risk.   This latter point is not an exaggeration.  In the UK, where heating costs rose 63% between 2009 and 2014, 25% of citizens over 60 are classified as “energy poor”, leaving the elderly population especially vulnerable.  During the frigid winter of 2014, the number of “excess winter deaths” reached 49,260, of which about 14,780  were due to people living in cold homes that they couldn’t afford to heat.

And despite the steep, expensive rise in power generated by renewables since about 2000, Germany still obtained about 44% of its power from coal as of 2014, which is a higher share than in the United States (33% as of 2015).  Hundreds of U.S. coal plants have been shuttered in recent years largely because of a monumental nation-wide shift to natural gas power generation, a cleaner fuel that emits much less CO2 upon combustion than does coal.

(In the U.S., in fact, there has been a 12% decline in overall CO2 emissions since 2005 despite the fact that the U.S population has risen by 30 million during those 10 years.  As mentioned above, much of the decline in emissions is directly connected to the rapid displacement of coal with natural gas power generation.  While the rise in U.S. solar power has also been substantial in the last decade, “for every ton of carbon dioxide cut by solar power, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas cut 13 tons.”)

Germany’s heavy reliance on coal — the highest in the EU —  is very likely to continue indefinitely despite the nation’s stated commitments to the Paris Agreement and CO2 emissions reductions.  The much lower power-generating capabilities of renewables due to their intermittent output (the Sun has to shine and the wind must blow) has meant that reliable backup capacity — fossil fuels or nuclear — must remain on the grid.  Since nuclear power is set to be phased out of Germany by 2022, coal necessarily has to stay, even expand.  The natural consequence is that Germany’s CO2 emissions have not declined since 2009, and instead there has been a slight emissions uptick in recent years, as the dramatic increase in renewables has not come close to offsetting the greater CO2 emissions generated from the renewed German emphasis on coal.

Adding More Wind And Solar Power Ultimately Raises CO2 Emissions, As More Fossil Fuel Backup Capacity Must Be Built

What’s happening in Germany is, unfortunately, a bellwether for what is to come in other large wealthy countries attempting to make renewables the kingpin of their power grids.  The unspoken truth about renewables was succinctly summarized in a 2012 Los Angeles Times analysis :

“As more solar and wind generators come online, … the demand will rise for more backup power from fossil fuel plants.”

The full article, entitled “Rise in renewable energy will require more use of fossil fuels”  also points out that wind turbines often produce a tiny fraction (1 percent?) of their claimed potential, meaning the gap must be filled by fossil fuels:

Wind provided just 33 megawatts of power statewide in the midafternoon, less than 1% of the potential from wind farms capable of producing 4,000 megawatts of electricity.
As is true on many days in California when multibillion-dollar investments in wind and solar energy plants are thwarted by the weather, the void was filled by gas-fired plants like the Delta Energy Center.
One of the hidden costs of solar and wind power — and a problem the state is not yet prepared to meet — is that wind and solar energy must be backed up by other sources, typically gas-fired generators. As more solar and wind energy generators come online, fulfilling a legal mandate to produce one-third of California’s electricity by 2020, the demand will rise for more backup power from fossil fuel plants.

Another observational analysis suggests that much of the power generation thought to be attributed to wind actually came from backup sources, or fossil fuels:

“More than half the electric generation nominally credited to wind power is actually produced by fossil fuels, mostly natural gas.”

Analysis from a recently published resource management paper suggests that overall CO2 emissions will actually double in the next 16 years (by 2032) in Canada (Ontario) as more wind and solar capacity is added.  Wind and solar require reliable backup when the Sun isn’t shining and/or the wind isn’t blowing…and fossil fuel energies (natural gas, coal) are the reliable backup(s) of choice.

Why Will Emissions Double as We Add Wind and Solar Plants?  [pg. 15]

Wind and Solar require flexible backup generation.  Nuclear is too inflexible to backup renewables without expensive engineering changes to the reactors.  Flexible electric storage is too expensive at the moment. Consequently natural gas provides the backup for wind and solar in North AmericaWhen you add wind and solar you are actually forced to reduce nuclear generation to make room for more natural gas generation to provide flexible backup.
Ontario currently produces electricity at less than 40 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh. Wind and solar with natural gas backup produces electricity at about 200 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh. Therefore adding wind and solar to Ontario’s grid drives CO2 emissions higher.
From 2016 to 2032 as Ontario phases out nuclear capacity to make room for wind and solar, CO2 emissions will double (2013 LTEP data).  In Ontario, with limited economic hydro and expensive storage, it is mathematically impossible to achieve low CO2 emissions at reasonable electricity prices without nuclear generation.

Scientists Increasingly Conclude Global-Scale Renewables-Driven Power Supply Will Never Happen

Scientists have increasingly weighed in on the vacuousness of the current emphasis on renewable energy generation.  For example…

Solar power is a “non-sustainable energy sink” and “will not help in any way to replace the fossil fuel” even though “many people believe renewable energy sources to be capable of substituting fossil or nuclear energy.”

Ferroni and Hopkirk, 2016

Abstract: Many people believe renewable energy sources to be capable of substituting fossil or nuclear energy. However there exist very few scientifically sound studies, which apply due diligence to substantiating this impression. … The main reasons are due to the fact that on one hand, solar electricity is very material-intensive, labour-intensive and capital-intensive and on the other hand the solar radiation exhibits a rather low power density.
Conclusion: [A]n electrical supply system based on today’s PV [photovoltaic] technologies cannot be termed an energy source, but rather a non-sustainable energy sink … [I]t has become clear that photovoltaic energy at least will not help in any way to replace the fossil fuel.

For wind and solar, the “energy return on energy invested falls, and environmental costs rise” as more wind and solar power capacity is added.

Moriarty and Honnery, 2016

Highlights: We argue it is unlikely that RE [renewable energy] can meet existing global energy use.
The most important RE [renewable energy] sources, wind and solar energy, are also intermittent, necessitating major energy storage as these sources increase their share of total energy supply. We show that estimates for the technical potential of RE [renewable energy] vary by two orders of magnitude, and argue that values at the lower end of the range must be seriously considered, both because their energy return on energy invested falls, and environmental costs rise, with cumulative output.

The “numbers just don’t add up” to curtail world temperatures with wind and solar, and thus our current efforts “will almost surely fail.”

Jones and Warner, 2016

Efforts to curtail world temps will almost surely fail
The Texas A&M researchers modelled the projected growth in global population and per capita energy consumption, as well as the size of known reserves of oil, coal and natural gas, and greenhouse gas emissions to determine just how difficult it will be to achieve the less-than-2 degree Celsius warming goal.  “It would require rates of change in our energy infrastructure and energy mix that have never happened in world history and that are extremely unlikely to be achieved,” explains Jones.   “Just considering wind power, we found that it would take an annual installation of 485,000 5-megawatt wind turbines by 2028. The equivalent of about 13,000 were installed in 2015. That’s a 37-fold increase in the annual installation rate in only 13 years to achieve just the wind power goal,” adds Jones.  Similar expansion rates are needed for other renewable energy sources.  “To even come close to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, 50 percent of our energy will need to come from renewable sources by 2028, and today it is only 9 percent, including hydropower. For a world that wants to fight climate change, the numbers just don’t add up to do it.”

Considering the inevitable increases in CO2 emissions (due to the need for fossil fuel backup),  the potential health hazards and exponentially-growing financial burden shouldered by the world’s (mostly poor) citizens, the impossibility of supplanting fossil fuels in power generation…associated with an intentioned global-scale increase in renewable energy in the coming decades, one needs to ask: Are renewables like wind and solar even worth it?

30 responses to “Analysis: Adding More Solar, Wind Power Increases Dependence On Fossil Fuels, ‘Doubles’ CO2 Emissions”

  1. Ron Clutz

    In practice clearly any value from added energy is exceeded by added costs to the grid.

    https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/climateers-tilting-at-windmills-updated/

    Yet, as William Briggs has said: “The love of theory is the root of all evil.”

    1. sod

      “In practice clearly any value from added energy is exceeded by added costs to the grid.”

      No it is not. Just look at wind power in Texas 8unless you assume that some communists confuse them into going into wind power).

      1. yonason

        “…some communists crony capitalists confuse them into going into wind power” – sod
        There, I fixed it for you, though they amount to the same thing, by forcing useless overpriced junk on consumers against their will. (the essence of Socialism)

        Human produced CO2 is less than 4% of total emissions. Wind and solar power production for 2015 account about 2% of all sources. So, ignoring the not insignificant CO2 generated in the production of wind and solar generation, they can only theoretically reduce CO2 output by about 1/10 of 1%.

        Trillions wasted. A few parasites enriched. The world is poorer for it.

        And yet sod faithfully defends those who probably wouldn’t even feed him if he were starving. (the essence of folly)

      2. Analitik

        Hey sod, there’s a new post at Energy Matters by Roger Andrews you should read before you comment further. Try taking on the engineers and scientists at that site again so we can enjoy more hilarity

        The European Blackout Risk

    2. Ron Clutz

      Texas wind is all about subsidies, sod.

      Texas is the biggest net taker of federal wind subsidies nationwide, raking in $394.5 million more in wind subsidies than its share of the federal wind subsidy-related tax burden.In fact, federal tax subsidies for wind power are so large, that Texas wind generators have begun to pay people to take their electricity, just so they can be eligible for the subsidy. Yet while this may be a good deal for wind generators, it poses a serious long term problem for Texas’ electrical grid.

    3. Shooter

      That was Einstein who originally said that.

  2. sod

    This article is spreading misinformation. it is a random assortment of outdated, partial information collected from other blogs on the internet.

    It is difficult to look at energy costs. claiming a random number like “80% increase” does not make any sense.

    https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/what-german-households-pay-power

    If you look at real data, you will have to factor in that germans use LESS electricity than people in other countries. so at the end they spend LESS on power than for example americans.

    wind and solar are also NOT increasing CO2 output. Germany is just phasing out nuclear at the same time as it is reducing coal. And Germany is exporting more (coal) electricity.

    1. DirkH

      sod 24. November 2016 at 9:57 PM | Permalink | Reply
      “It is difficult to look at energy costs. claiming a random number like “80% increase” does not make any sense. ”

      It might be difficult for some.
      But do not despair. We are here to help.
      https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prozent#Berechnung

    2. ClimateOtter

      Has it ever occurred to you sod that they might be using LESS energy because they CAN’T AFFORD to pay for what little they do use?

    3. tom0mason

      sod,

      Looking at linked blog page I see that German (along with Denmark) have the most expensive electricity for the consumer in the listing.
      Industry gets out free!
      ˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘˘
      However they fail to tell the whole story as to protect Germany’s economy and prevent the migration of domestic industries to Energiewende-free pastures in say Asia, or India, or elsewhere, energy-intensive industries have had to be exempt to a very large extent from paying Energiewende fees.
      These exemptions result in an increased burden for all the small and middle-sized consumers, who have to shoulder them instead. Given that German companies are in business to make profits to shareholders and owners, they’ve exploited every legal gray area in the legislation to the upmost extent allowed for by the letter of the law, thereby increasing the burden for others to shoulder even more.
      This ridiculously flawed legislation and exemptions, to the Energiewende scheme, created what economists have called a “free rider” situation, whereby those who benefit do not pay, which helps to explain why Germany’s economy hasn’t yet collapsed.

  3. Curious George

    The analysis of solar is “in regions of moderate insolation” – like Germany or UK. I always wondered why there was so much solar investment in famously sunny Germany.

    Economics of solar is different in Spain, Algeria, Morocco, or California.

  4. John F. Hultquist

    Sort of hidden in all of the above is the concept of power density. Like gravity, the the nuclear option has a lot going for it.
    E=mc2

    1. John F. Hultquist

      That did not work, so I’ll do this: E = mc^2

      1. AndyG55

        Or try this

        E = mc²

        Cheers

        1. Graeme No.3

          sod = 🍉 🦄

  5. AndyG55

    Europe’s forest DEVASTATION thanks to not so renewable biomass.

    Courtesy Guardian.. one of sops, faves.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/24/protected-forests-in-europe-felled-to-meet-eu-renewable-targets-report

    Up to 65% of Europe’s renewable output currently comes from bioenergy, involving fuels such as wood pellets and chips, rather than wind and solar power.

    Chirp away little birdies.. if you can survive the slashers, and still have any trees left to nest in

    This fake-renewable FARCE has to stop. !

    1. Shooter

      Just remember: it was horrible and evil when loggers did it. It is OK and saving the planet when environmentalists do it. They don’t seem to realize dead and felled trees emit CO2, as does ‘clean’ wood chips. The irony.

      1. Analitik

        They needed to clear the forests for the wind farms and interconnectors anyway so why not burn the wood?

    2. Mike Restin

      Stop worrying.
      The bird slashers are taking them out so fast they still have plenty of trees for their reduced number.
      Another progressive problem created and fixed.

  6. tom0mason

    The basic problem is that as you go over something like a third of the generators being unreliable wind, the conventional generators spend increasing amount of time stabilizing the grid and not supplying customers. As you go over half the generating stock being wind, for all practical purposes, that is the only job for the convention generators.
    Wind is inefficient, unreliable, maintenance hazard for the industry, and a big extra cost to the customer.

    Cue sod and another dull rant!

    1. Ron Clutz

      Tom, read my link above. Once intermittent power sources go over 12%, the grid has problems, requiring extra costs to prevent shutdowns. Additionally, when wind is blowing enough but not too much, the prices are driven too low, destroying the economic viability of the base load producers.

      1. tom0mason

        I have read through it and am cogitating on it and what is said at https://climanrecon.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/keeping-the-lights-on-in-gb/
        Here he points out the reserve is teetering on the brink if the winter is cold. Note his very real point that very cold weather and thus high demand occurs when the wind is usually not blowing!
        Together the UK is gambling on warm winters.

  7. Adding More Solar And Wind Power ‘Doubles’ CO2 Emissions | Climatism

    […] NoTricksZone […]

  8. David H. Eccles

    The problem of intermittent production of solar and wind-powered energy lies in the difficulty of integrating these into a stabilised grid. The only source that can provide rapid response is hydro-power. The infrastruture for this is expensive, but can be reduced if existing water supply or irrigation reservoirs are augmented by the construction of relatively small reservoirs below them. This would allow excess renewable energy (when available] to be stored by pumping the water back to the upper storage. The greatest problem over this is that there is lack of co-operation between the Departments controlling water and power appear to consider their own interests before those of the nation. The need to reduce carbon dioxide, while given Gospel status by Gore, Flannery and The Greens, is still a theory. The FACT of climate change has been recognised for over two centuries, first by geologists who recognised the effects of the Ice Ages, then by Darwin who, in the 1840s attributed the formation of atolls to rising sea levels. In South Australia, the Sufveyor-General recognised the effect of climatic variation an the northern limit of sustainable cropping which is still known as the Goyder Line.
    The role of human CO2 production in the present warming remains questionable, as does its deleterous effects. For instance, South Australia is looking towards a record harvest this season, including good harvests north of the Goyder Line.