In a surprise move, an article in the Guardian today tells us about the problems stopping “green” energy. In a no-holds-barred opening paragraph, one of the greatest problems with renewable energy – namely, its unreliability and unpredictability, often providing inadequate amounts of energy, sometimes too much – is laid bare:
So plentiful was the wind power [on 25th May 2022] that National Grid was forced to ask some turbines in the west of Scotland to shut down [for which, of course, they received constraints payments], as the network was unable to store such a large amount of electricity.
The network was unable to cope with the surge of power, despite wind power generation on that day being “enough to cover more than half of Britain’s electricity needs, or boil 3.5m kettles.” Goodness knows what will happen if we ever have enough wind energy to cover all of Britain’s electricity needs, which is apparently when one household in four puts the kettle on.
[S]topgap measures such as keeping coal-fired power stations active to get through the winter threaten to undermine and slow the energy transition.
No explanation is offered as to why this undermines and slows the energy transition. No doubt this is because the answer is so obvious even the good folk at the Guardian can see it – reliable and cheap fuel that keeps the lights on when they are most needed is a good thing. Unreliable and expensive energy just can’t hack it by comparison.
Still, not everyone sees it that way:
Casimir Lorenz of the consultancy Aurora Energy Research says: “Most people are aware now that if we had invested much more and much quicker into renewables we would not have been as exposed to Russian gas.”
Which is a rather odd thing to say, given that (as the Guardian pointed out in its blockbuster opening paragraph) when we have too much wind, the National Grid can’t cope. When we don’t have enough wind, we need something else. In each case, given that coal-fired power stations have been blown up with glee by politicians of all stripes, that other thing is gas. Not that much of it ever was Russian, unlike the situation in much of mainland Europe.
The next part of the newly-converted Guardian’s demolition of the evils of renewables, comes with a reminder that much solar power depends on Chinese suppliers, amid allegations of forced labour. And of course, all that Chinese kit is built using energy created by coal-fired power stations. Tricky, that.
Sadly, next up is the awful reality that some renewables companies have had to face the same political uncertainty that fossil fuel companies have been dealing with for years:
In the UK, the renewables industry has been dragged into the political drama in Westminster. The former prime minister Liz Truss set her sights on blocking solar farms being built on agricultural land, while indicating that restrictions on onshore windfarms would be lifted. The fate of both initiatives remains uncertain under her successor, Rishi Sunak.
Truly, one’s heart bleeds. All those foreign energy companies not knowing from one day to the next just how many £billions they can screw out of UK taxpayers and energy users. It’s a tough old world.
The Guardian also tells us – unlike its narrative for years to the effect that renewables are popular – that public resistance to renewables is also causing problems for developers. Those wretched populists on the European mainland have been stirring up trouble, apparently, and the result is that “European wind turbine orders were down 36% in the three months up to October on the same period a year earlier.”
Almost as shocking is the discovery – despite numerous claims regarding the “cheapness” of renewable energy – that it isn’t really cheap after all, and that renewable energy companies have been making windfall profits. Some governments are even looking at taxing those profits, which of course is a terrible thing, because “revenue caps can act as a “negative investment signal” – making the cost of borrowing funds higher.”
It gets worse. Renewables are also hampered by pesky planning laws. It’s truly awful that these civic-minded foreign energy companies have to abide by the same planning laws as the rest of us (notwithstanding the incredibly easy ride the planning regime gives them north of the border).
Then there’s the revelation that associated infrastructure is also exceedingly expensive:
National Grid announced this summer it was making a £54bn upgrade to the electricity network, the biggest since the 1960s, to help connect offshore windfarms more easily and enable battery storage facilities to connect up to store renewable power, a crucial issue in the industry.
That’s £2,000 per household, just to cope with some of the problems caused to the National Grid by unreliable renewables.
Those hard-pressed households are also perturbed by the fact that claims of cheap renewables don’t seem to match reality:
Lorenz, who is based in Berlin, says that in Europe the public have been perturbed by “the fact that local people are not profiting from the fall in costs for renewables – and they can even pay more for higher grid fees in some cases”.
Really, what chance do renewables have?
And it’s great that the Guardian has joined us sceptics…
If only. Read the article, and the rest of the coverage in the Guardian, and be in no doubts. Despite well understanding the problems and costs associated with renewable energy, the Guardian is really as enthusiastic as ever. Oh well.
Speaking of possible windfall taxes on renewable energy companies:
“Jeremy Hunt ‘lining up new 40% windfall tax on electricity generators’
Chancellor plans levy on companies’ ‘excess returns’ to ease cost of living crisis, according to report”
A wise person once said that the stone age didn’t end due to a lack of stones.
We are living through a corollary of that bit if wisdom: Enlightened Ages don’t end for a lack of enlightenment. They end when magical thinking destroys the pillars of enlightenment.
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Mark: I interpreted the opening paragraph quite differently. Rather than an admission of unreliability and unpredictability I read it as a boast. Look at us! We have so much windpower that sometimes we even have to shut off some turbines while we boil 3.5 m kettles and recharge 20 m electric toothbrushes. As often mentioned on these pages, the apparent low cost of renewables is because they don’t include the cost of necessary enhancements to the grid including backup power. The £54bn upgrade is a huge amount of money but likely an indication of only some of what is required.
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Potentilla, you are right, of course. I was being deliberately tongue-in-cheek throughout. My point was that the article unwittingly made a strong case against renewables, but nobody writing at the Guardian would ever work that out.