Top 11 problems for wind and solar

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Despite President Barack Obama’s pocket veto Saturday of attempts to repeal the Clean Power Plan and Daily Caller  New Foundationrecent increases in taxpayer support, solar and wind energy are in a tough spot, requiring an estimated $90 trillion of investment to meet carbon dioxide reduction goals.

The fundamental issues of solar and wind power are numerous, so let’s review the top 11.

1: Power Storage Is Incredibly Expensive On A Large Scale 

It is currently impossible to economically store power for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Purchasing enough batteries to provide just three days of storage for an average American household costs about $15,000, and those batteries only last for about five years and are very difficult to recycle.

This is true for home power storage as well, even with the latest batteries. A Tesla power-wall capable of powering a home costs $7,340 to buy. A conservative analysis estimates that a power-wall can save its owner a maximum of $1.06 a day. Such a system would take approximately 25 years to pay for itself, according to the same analysis.

One of the world’s largest and most powerful batteries, located in Fairbanks, Ala., weighs 1,300-metric tons and is larger than a football field. It can only provide enough electricity for about 12,000 residents, or 38 percent of Fairbanks’ population, for seven minutes. That’s useful for short outages, which happen a lot in Alaska, but isn’t effective enough to act as a reserve for solar and wind.

The best way we have of “storing” power is pumping water up a hill, which actually accounts for 99 percent of all global energy storage.

2: The U.S. Power Grid Is Older, And Has Trouble Handling Solar And Wind

“Our power grid works well today. Some complain, but blackouts are rare and large-scale blackout are really rare. The power grid was set up for the [electrical] generation we have. Building a lot of new wind and solar requires much greater expenditure on the grid,” Vice President for Policy of the Institute for Energy Research Daniel Simmons told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

According to the Department of Energy, 70 percent of the transmission lines and power transformers in the country are at least 25 years old.

In order for the power grid to function, demand for energy must exactly match supply. Power demand is relatively predictable and conventional power plans, like nuclear plants and natural gas, can adjust output accordingly. Solar and wind power, however, cannot easily adjust output. They also provide power unpredictably relative to conventional power sources.

On an especially cloudy or windless day, the electrical grid can’t supply enough power from solar or wind alone. Wind and solar also run the risk of producing too much power which can overload and fry the power grid. This is why electrical companies will occasionally pay consumers to take electricity.

3: Rebuilding The Power Grid To Handle Solar And Wind Is Absurdly Expensive

The three power grids that supply the United States with energy are massive and expensive pieces of infrastructure. The power grids are valued at trillions of dollars and can’t be replaced in a timely manner. It takes more than a year to manufacture a new transformer, and transformers aren’t interchangeable, as each one must be individually built specifically for its location. At a time when the U.S. government is more than $18 trillion in debt, building power grids that can handle solar and wind may not be feasible.

Merely building a 3,000-mile network of transmission lines capable of moving power from wind-rich West Texas to market in East Texas proved to be a $6.8 billion effort that began in 2008 and still isn’t entirely finished. Building the infrastructure to move large amounts of solar or wind power from the best places to generate it to the places where power is needed would be incredibly expensive and could cost many times the price of generating the power.

4: Solar and Wind Don’t Provide Power At Useful Times

“Solar is better than wind for providing electricity when electricity is used,” says Simmons. “But during much of the year in, for example, peak electricity demand comes after dark. For example, [on December 17] in California peak electricity demand was at 6pm. But peak solar was at 12:36 and by 6pm, solar production was a zero.”

Power demand is relatively predictable. The output of a solar or wind power plant is quite variable over time and generally doesn’t coincide with the times when power is most needed. Peak power demand also occurs in the evenings, when solar power is going offline. Adding power plants which only provide power at intermittent and unpredictable times makes the power grid more fragile.

5: Solar And Wind Can’t Keep the Lights On By Themselves

Solar and wind power systems require conventional backups to provide power when they cannot. Since the output of solar and wind plants cannot be predicted with high accuracy by forecasts, grid operators have to keep excess reserve running just in case.

But natural gas, coal-fired, or nuclear plants are not simple machines. They can require days to fully turn on from a dead stop. This means that solar and wind power require conventional sources in “stand-by” mode, which means they’re still generating electricity.

Despite this, environmental groups like The Sierra Club still call for “100 percent” solar and wind power.

6: The Best Places For Solar And Wind Are Usually Far Away From Consumers

The places with the highest potential for generating solar or wind power are typically relatively far away from the people who will consume power, according to the Department of Energy. The government agency even maintains maps of how unfeasible long-range transmission can become.

The vast majority of people who use power do not live in deserts or consistently windy areas. The kind of high voltage power lines needed to transport even relatively small amounts of power cost $1.9 to 3.1 million per mile built. Additionally, the kind of “smarter” power systems which can be adjusted to varying energy production created by wind and solar power can cost up to 50 percent more.

7: Solar And Wind Are A Very Small Percent Of The Power Grid Despite Years of Subsidies

“The first 8 months of 2015 wind and solar combined to produce 2.3% of the energy the U.S. consumed. Also wind production is down this year compared to last year,” says Simmons.

Solar and wind have been heavily subsidized since at least the 1970s. In 2010, wind power alone received $5 billion in subsidies, swamping the $654 million oil and gas received in subsides. One in four wind suppliers have gone out of business in the past two years.

In 2014, solar and wind power accounted for only 0.4 and 4.4 percent of electricity generated in the United States, respectively, according to the Energy Information Administration. The total amount of energy created by solar and wind is relatively small even though both systems are heavily subsidized.

8: The Solar And Wind “Low-Hanging Fruit” Have Already Been Taken

The locations where solar and wind power make the most economic sense generally already have a solar or wind power system. Since solar and wind power are only effective in a limited number of locations, “green” power sources are difficult to expand and are simply not practical in some areas.

9: Natural Gas Prices Are Very Low In The United States

Natural gas prices are currently incredibly low in the United States, making it much more difficult for solar and wind power to become cost competitive. Natural gas is already passing coal power as the most used source of electricity. Additionally, natural gas is quite environmentally friendly.

The Department of Energy agrees with research organization Berkeley Earth that “the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation has probably been the single largest contributor to the … largely unexpected decline in US CO2 emissions.”

10: Nuclear Energy Has Enormous Potential

The United States just approved its first new nuclear reactor in 20 yearsNew nuclear reactor designs are much safer and emit less radiation than the coal plants they replace. Nuclear plants take up far less space than wind or solar and do not emit any carbon dioxide.

Recent breakthroughs in fusion could also potentially restart the atomic age when nuclear progress was lauded as a pinnacle of human achievement. Operational fusion power will put most other forms of electricity generation permanently out of business and could occur very soon. Fusion power could easily be “too cheap to meter,” meaning that the cost of generating new power would be below the cost of determining how much power an individual was using, effectively making electricity generation nearly free.

11: Encouraging Wind And Solar Creates Incentives For Massive Corruption

Attempts by governments to encourage solar and wind power have created incentives for corruption even environmentalists acknowledge. The recent Volkswagen scandal illustrates that regulatory attempts to force a specific technology, in this case the adoption of cleaner diesel engines, create incentives that lead to sophisticated cheating by companies. The main incentive of the regulatory agencies is to make rules while avoiding bad publicity, not to actually solve the problem.

The push to encourage “green” systems has already led to serious corruption, such as the Solyndra scandal. Such corruption “crowds out” investment dollars that could be better spent on more workable solutions.

Follow Andrew on Twitter

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This article originally appeared at the Daily Caller and appears here by permission.

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About the Author: Andrew Follett

Andrew Follett covers energy and the environment for the Daily Caller.

  • Boogeyman

    You could also add the giant lake of toxic sludge in China. China has no EPA, and so when they make solar panels – and they make the majority of them for the Earth – they make them in a very unfriendly way for the environment. Our desire for clean energy often devolves into a meaningless virtue signaling contest as we ruin anothers environment so we can feel proud about how nice ours is.

    • rltmlt

      Ask the people of Flint, Michigan what they think about our EPA ! Just another government agency selling out it’s citizens for the benefit of moneyed interests !

  • Dezember 6, 2014 German Renewable Energy Keeps Blacking Out! Supply Often Less Than 2% Of Wintertime Demand

    Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt, who forcefully conveyed the folly of Germany’s mad rush into renewable energy, and the country’s hysterical obsession with its suicidal fast-track shutdown of its stable base-electric-power generation.

    http://notrickszone.com/2014/12/06/german-renewable-energy-keeps-blacking-out-supply-often-less-than-2-of-wintertime-demand/

    Nov 30, 2015 IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2015

    The CSIS Energy and National Security Program is pleased to host Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director at the International Energy Agency to present the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2015.

    https://youtu.be/1e1iQEFflLA

    • rltmlt

      Merkle has condemned her country, once a massive engineering and manufacturing colossus, to become a drifting darilect similar to what the U.S. has become with all it’s manufacturing and supporting professions exported to low wage foreign shores. Collapse of a mighty superpower is all but guaranteed when the government looks the other way for a quarter of a century !

      • All going as planned for the new servant class, and good bye middle class!

  • Dr. A. Cannara

    Very good points. The reality is simple — power density. A pinky-sized piece of fissile Uranioum runs an American’s life for a decade. One windmill consumes more raw materials than needed to build a nuclear reactor vessel that can power ~1,000,000 homes. 10-20 windmills’ materials builds an entire nuclear plant that runs 24/7 for decades, using a million or so ‘pinkies’, and leaving ~2 pinkies/decade/person of waste.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc7rRPrA7rg

    The French have known this for decades…
    http://tinyurl.com/kkmyhze (p7 & p20 on)

    We even started on the right foot: http://tinyurl.com/6xgpkfa

    And we’d better get back on it… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzoW_cVg2hE

    • ScottDrysdale

      You are correct…. Anyone who does not understand the relevance of energy density will not come to grips with the fact that hundreds of rail cars full of coal are needed to produce the same amount of electricity as a few ounces of refined uranium reactor fuel. And then there is the tons of burnt coal ash, coke etc. laced with toxic heavy metals that has to be stored somewhere. US BIG Coal even barged much of it to the south side of the Dominican Republic to dump into the Caribbean until Doctors without Borders traced the root caused of a peak in human abortions and birth of mutated babies to this root cause….

      “Some people will do anything to save the earth except take a science course.” P.J. O’Rourke, author and journalist.

  • dougproctor

    I get so ticked when I see a business in Calgary (Alberta, Canada) touting its Green credentials by saying all its energy is Frog Power or other, meaning wind and solar. First, whatever energy service company you use provides you 24/7 regardless of the wind-solar availability, so at night and in the calm you are using fossil fuel power, and second, the fossil fuel power you dislike you are paying to be there when you don’t have sunlight or wind.

    Solar and windpower have their place, but being “Green” because you buy it from one of the “Green” suppliers is a farce. You might be SOMETIMES Green, but not always, and you are still asking that the non-Green equivalent is on standby.

  • Bird Man

    Let’s not forget that in the US alone 1,000,000 birds of all kinds are killed every year by windmills.

    What say you now wildlife lovers?

  • rltmlt

    While working on my engineering degree in the mid 1950s, one professor regaled us with the fantasy of Wind and solar power. This technology was discussed in introductory presentations as a way to inspire young engineering want-a-bees but it’s many short comings were quickly made known by knowledgeable engineering professors. Given the current fifteen year time frame to fully convert an existing eighty five year old electrical grid to Wind and Solar will quickly become an exercise in futility further complicated by massive unanticipated cost overruns that, as the author of this piece mention, could not be absorbed by our floundering economy that teeters on the verge of collapse. This movement has rapidly gained cult status over the last twenty five years and, as is always the case with cults, most members have been indoctrinated to accept a specific system of belief that dominates the group’s actions ! Considering the fact that we have literally abandoned all former national programs that involved real scientific research over the past thirty years to support the quick buck mentality of the private sector, we can’t be too surprised that we have fallen behind countries like India and China who have picked up the gauntlet of scientific research in the areas of space travel and power generation using new fuels that can be found in large quantities on our nearby Moon. Maybe, just maybe, we deserve the Third World Status that the moneyed interests in this country are pushing us toward, that’s what happens when a society loses the ability to dream !

  • ScottDrysdale

    Andrew…. I just returned from 3 week trip to Germany…. vacation, fact finding etc. and am now a member of FOS. I uncovered a number of issues, as yet, not reported and/or reported poorly within North America. From the Munich Deutsche Science Museum……. problems with high wind power turbines abound in the form of more frequent lightning strikes as well as near misses. Some of the damage remains hidden for periods of time. Evidence of damage often manifests itself in the form of generator bearings, winding and related electrical component damage. All to often this damage leads to further damage including electrical fires. Fire fighters abhor electrical fires as one of the worst type to put out. Not too long ago two technicians atop a Vesta Wind turbine in the Netherlands lost their lives in a wind turbine electrical fire. One tried to run through the flames towards the ladder exit and was burnt to death. The other was forced off the top of the wind turbine by the intense heat and fell to his death. Possibility of a lightning strike over a 20 year design life for a wind turbine is over 80%.

    As a former contributor with editing capabilities to Wikipedia articles and entries I noticed some error which I attempted to correct. There is a known gatekeeper for environmental topics and attempts to correct erroneous information by myself and other has been quickly overwritten.

  • Jeff

    Thorium Energy in 4 Minutes https://youtu.be/k6BXvw6mxtw

  • Jeff

    Stephen Boyd – Molten Salt Reactors in Five Years? https://youtu.be/_ojJpwg6ZRU

  • Jeff

    Jiang Mianheng – Why Nuclear Power in China? Thorium & the Energy Outlook of China https://youtu.be/iLX8jCKL9I4

  • Jeff

    “NASA” – THORIUM REMIX 2016 https://youtu.be/0BybPPIMuQQ

  • Jeff

    USA: What Place in the Thorium Race? https://youtu.be/Jq8-_RziOoQ

  • Jeff

    Thorium to light up the world | Srikumar Banerjee | TEDxCERN https://youtu.be/yGhEdcwXxdE

  • Alice Friedemann

    Dozens of Reasons Why Wind power Will Not Outlast Fossil Fuels

    I have a list of reasons as well, some of them not included in this article at

    http://energyskeptic.com/2015/wind/

  • moanloa

    A long term problem will be the disposal of the toxic batteries and panels.