Monday, July 28, 2014

Renewables Are "Winning" A Rigged Race

"Green energy" panacea-pushers at The Energy Collective (at least the name clues one in to their collectivist leanings) are hyperventilating again over the seemingly large percentage of new U.S. energy capacity being added by so-called renewables, which mostly means wind and solar. Here's the situation in one handy-dandy chart.

But these gains are only impressive when taken out of context.

Renewables only appear to be gaining so much ground because two of their primary (and most potent) energy sector rivals, coal and nuclear power, are effectively dead in the water, thanks to the unfavorable (nay, hostile) political and regulatory climate created by the Obama White House and its Big Green allies. Note the long string of zeros to the right of coal and nuclear power. Renewables are "winning" the Daytona 500 because their rivals are stuck in the pits.  

The long-rumored U.S. nuclear energy revival is nowhere in sight, despite President Obama's "all-of-the-above" campaign rhetoric. And while the shale gas revolution can't be ignored as a contributing factor, knee-jerk opposition from extremists, and the daunting regulatory climate such resistance creates, very likely trumps market conditions as a primary cause. And building new coal-fired power plants isn't any easier, given a wave of EPA carbon mandates (backed up my court rulings) that seem designed to outlaw America's most abundant domestic energy source. Add in all the direct and indirect support and subsidies renewables receive, including mandates that guarantee them a market share, and it's not easy to see why these niche energy technologies appear to be on such a roll.

Force them to compete in an honest and free energy market, in which politicians aren't rigging the game in favor of politically-popular "pets," and the new capacity added by wind and solar would be what it's been for decades -- relatively insignificant, in the grand scheme of things. All these trend lines show is that America's foolish rush down the "green energy" rabbit hole is accelerating, as it abandons tried-and-true for pie-in-the- sky.      

Nor does this gloating by "green energy" proponents take into account the quality of the energy being added, though that matters a great deal because not every megawatt is created equal. What counts most in this modern industrial society, which requires and expects on-demand energy, is dispatchability -- the ability of a generating entity to increase or decrease power (at the flip of a switch, ideally, or faster) in response to the ebbs and flows of demand on the grid. This kind of power, sometimes called "base load" or "peaking power," just isn't something intermittent energy generators like wind and solar can dependably provide, making them of marginal utility in the grand scheme of things.

Mild concerns about grid stability and reliability, in light of the looming carbon mandates, have recently been voiced by some members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which thankfully isn't chaired by shot-down Colorado nominee Ron Binz. But such worries are predictably pooh-poohed by Democrats on the board, who would rather risk rolling brownouts than inject a little realism into the debate. They might look to Germany as a case study in what can happen, in terms of grid instability, when you stumble dangerously far down this particular path.      

One day, perhaps, the grid won't function as it does today. One day, perhaps, we'll have the ability to store-up intermittent energy and dispatch it on-demand, addressing this deficiency. But until that someday arrives we're stuck with the reality of the grid as it works now, which limits renewables to a niche roll. Simply touting added capacity, without also examining what kind of capacity is being added, seems like just another effort to lead energy illiterates down the primrose path.     

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