Shortcomings of Wind And Solar
Variable and intermittent wind and solar electricity cannot exist on any electric grid without the traditional, dispatchable generators performing the peaking, filling-in and balancing. Battery systems could be used, but the cost would be well in excess of $400 per kilowatt-hour delivered as AC to the high voltage grid. See Note.
NOTE: Wind and solar (before and after the meter) were 2.7 and 1.97 percent of all electricity on the NE grid in 2017, per ISO-NE. Total RE electricity was 10.17 percent (including before and after the meter solar), after about 20 years of subsidies. It should be obvious, past RE development was very slow, and future development likely will be just as slow. See URL.
Wind and Solar as Dominant Electricity Sources Would be Too Expensive
Very High Capital Costs for Wind and Solar: New Englanders will need traditional generators for at least several decades while RE would become the major energy source of the NE grid.
The current plan is to increase solar from 2390.5 MW to 5832.9 MW by 2027, which would costabout (5832.9 - 2390.5) x $3.5 million/MW + 10% for transmission = $13.2 billion.
The current plant is to increase wind from 1279 MW to 8493 by about 2035, which would cost about $36.2 billion.
Very High Electricity Costs for Wind and Solar: Renewable energy proponents want to close down existing coal, gas, oil and nuclear plants, all produce electricity at less than 5 cent per kilowatt-hour, and they continue to obstruct increased, domestic, low-cost natural gas supply via pipelines.
NOTE: According to her press release: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey concluded in 2016 that “no new pipelines are needed” and that we “can maintain electric reliability through 2030 even without additional new natural gas pipelines”. See Appendix.
The prices of wind and solar paid by NE utilities to producers are much higher than in the rest of the US, because of New England’s mediocre wind and solar conditions.
Onshore/ridge line wind about 9.5 cent per kilowatt-hour
Offshore wind at least 18 cent
Large-scale, field-mounted, competitively auctioned solar about 13 cent
Residential, rooftop solar about 15.1 cent
The above prices would be about 30 to 50% higher without the subsidies, and even higher without cost shifting to ratepayers and taxpayers, such as for:
1) The filling-in, peaking and balancing, due to wind and solar variability/intermittency;
2) Grid-related, such as grid extensions and augmentations to connect and deal with wind and solar;
3) Utility-scale energy storage, which is presently provided by the world’s fuel supply system.
Mediocre Wind and Solar Conditions in New England
Here is a summary of wind and solar conditions in New England, which apply to most of northern Europe as well.
Wind and Solar Conditions in New England: New England has highly variable weather and low-medium quality wind and solar conditions. See NREL wind map and NREL solar map.
- Wind electricity is zero about 30% of the hours of the year (it takes a wind speed of about 7 mph to start the rotors)
- It is minimal most early mornings and most late afternoons/early evenings (peak demand hours), especially during summer
- About 60% is generated at night, when demand is much less than during the late afternoons/early evenings
- About 60% is generated in winter.
- During winter, the best wind month is up to 2.5 times the worst summer month
- New England has the lowest capacity factor (about 0.262) of any US region, except the US South. See URL.
- Solar electricity is strictly a midday affair.
- It is zero about 65% of the hours of the year, mostly at night.
- It is minimal early mornings and late afternoons/early evenings
- It is minimal much of the winter months
- It is minimal for several days with snow and ice on most of the panels.
- It varies with variable cloudiness, which would excessively disturb distribution grids with many solar systems, as happens in southern California and southern Germany on a daily basis.
- During summer, the best solar month is up to 4 times the worst winter month; that ratio is 6 in Germany.
- New England has the lowest capacity factor (about 0.145, under ideal conditions) of any region in the US, except some parts of the US Northwest.
Wind Plus Solar:
- Wind plus solar production could be near zero, if a multi-day wind lull were to occur, with snow and ice on most of the panels, as frequently happens during December, January and February.
If we were to rely on wind and solar for most of our electricity, massive energy storage systems (GWh-scale in case of Vermont, TWh-scale in case of New England) would be required to cover multi-day wind lulls, multi-day overcast/snowy periods, and seasonal variations. See URLs.
LNG Deliveries to Boston:The Christophe de Margerie, a RUSSIAN-OWNED icebreaking tanker named after the deceased former CEO of Total, motored into Isle de Grain, UK, on Dec. 28, according to market information provider ICIS. It unloaded LNG from the new Yamal gas/oil plant in Russia*.
The Gaselys, a FRENCH-OWNED tanker, arrived at Isle de Grain, UK.
It took on a cargo of commingledLNG, including LNG from the Christophe de Margerie.*
It left the port on Jan. 7
It arrived at the ENGIE terminal (owned by a FRENCH company) in Everett, Mass., three weeks later and delivered its payload.
* A large LNG storage facility in the UK that receives gas from many sources, including the Netherlands, Norway, Middle East, Russia, etc.
* Shipments of Russian oil and gas are not subject to sanctions, but “US persons and those in the US” are prohibited from financing Novatek, the lead company in the construction of Yamal LNG. TOTAL, a French company, owns 20% of Yamal.
* Whereas, there is no way of knowing the Russian percentage, the US media quickly labeled it Russian LNG.
* Both LNG tankers were built in South Korea. It is amazing how much of the LNG infrastructure, and LNG storage plants, and LNG fleets are built and owned by foreigners! See URL.
The taxpayer-funded energy study, commissioned by Attorney General Maura Healey, concluded that “no new pipelines are needed” and that we “can maintain electric reliability through 2030 even without additional new natural gas pipelines” — those phrases are never actually used in the study, but only appear in press releases from Maura Healey.
But in fairness to Ms. Healey, a thoughtful reader might reach those conclusions, as the study did present a couple of options for meeting our energy demands that did not require construction of new gas pipelines. So let us look at all the options outlined in the study.
The study states shortages of electricity will start to show up in the winter of 2022, and will become significant by 2027. The authors go on to outline three basic approaches to eliminating the resultant problem of brownouts or blackouts.
Solution 1 would be to continue as is: buying gas supplies at peak rates during cold spells and then covering the small but growing shortfall by burning oil in converted dual-fuel gas turbine plants, or have utilities purchase an expensive seasonal LNG contract.
Solution 1 yields consumers the lowest energy costs but either increases greenhouse gas emissions to what the authors saw as unacceptable levels or requires seasonal contracts that the report itself notes are not viable: “Current market incentives are not sufficient to cause many power generators to enter into major advanced commitments for firm natural gas pipeline transportation to cover winter peak operations at full output.”
Solution 2 would be to increase pipeline and storage capacity so that less expensive gas could be used year-round.
Solution 2 — building additional pipelines — incurs the second lowest consumer costs and also incurs low increases in greenhouse gas emissions due to increasing demand.
Solution 3 would be to require:
- Significant annual energy efficiency investments to reduce electrical demand combined with other programs such as “Demand Response” (a program that offers monetary incentives to those consumers who are able to curtail electricity usage during high demand periods).
- New transmission lines, or modification of existing transmission lines, to enable additional electricity from New York and Canada.
The alternatives of Solution 3 are all 2 to 10 times more expensive for consumers as Solution 2, though they do reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
None of the scenarios posits a significant role for solar electricity: “Solar PhotoVoltaic cannot contribute to a deficiency that occurs when it is dark (as is generally the case with winter peak period deficiencies).”
None of the scenarios posits a significant role for wind electricity: “Wind resource output is an unpredictable function of weather.”
It is true we do not need more gas pipelines and storage facilities. But if we want to minimize our energy costs and have a reliable electricity supply, we certainly do want more gas pipelines and storage facilities.