Unreliable solar energy hits a wall

Norman Rogers:
Solar power and wind power are the dominant methods of generating electricity that are acceptable to the extreme left. The left calls its acceptable methods of generating electricity “renewable energy.” The definition of renewable energy, enshrined in renewable portfolio laws in many states, tells us what the left likes and doesn’t like. It is very arbitrary. The general idea of renewable energy is that it doesn’t use fuel that could run out and it doesn’t emit CO2. But the left breaks its own rules as is convenient.

For example, nuclear power doesn’t emit CO2 and running out of fuel is strictly theoretical. Nuclear is also reliable with steady delivery of electricity. The prospects for new technology in the nuclear universe are very bright. Yet, nuclear is arbitrarily banned in renewable portfolio laws. Incredibly, most renewable portfolio laws effectively ban hydroelectric power too, because the environmental left does not like dams.

Geothermal power, utilizing hot rocks underground as a source of energy, is accepted as renewable, even though the “fuel” can and does run out as the rocks cool under the pressure of removing the heat to make electricity. Geothermal only works if rare good sites are found.

Solar power and wind power are loved by the left, but have the serious problem of erratic delivery of power. Wind dominates solar except in places with poor wind and good sunshine, such as Nevada, where I live. In states where a lot of solar has been installed, such as California and Nevada, solar is running into a wall that is related to the time delivery of solar power versus when the electrical grid’s need for power.

Nevada has a renewable portfolio law that demands that by 2030 half the electricity come from renewable sources. The promoters of green power are even trying to put the renewable power quota into the Nevada Constitution. As a practical matter that quota requires greatly increasing solar electricity. Nevada does have fairly good geothermal resources, but those are expensive and slow to develop.

As more solar is added to the electrical grid a point is reached when midday generation is too high, particularly in the spring when sun is strong, but air conditioning load is not yet peaking. As a practical matter solar can’t go beyond 50% of the electricity generated at any time because it creates instability in the grid and complicates the transition to fossil fuel power as the solar quits for the night. This problem has been given the name the “duck curve” problem because the graph of the daily accessory fossil fuel power looks like the back of a duck.

The solar industry is facing the problem that at a certain point, in some places, it will be running into a wall and no more solar installations can be built. They have a solution. They want to add batteries to solar installations. The batteries will store excess power at midday and release the stored electricity in the early evening when the power is needed. The problem is that batteries to do this are very expensive. The cost of a solar installation with batteries would nearlydouble the cost and the batteries will probably wear out periodically. The promoters of solar have a solution for that -- have the federal government subsidize the cost of the batteries.
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The solar industry is already heavily subsidized because it is so inefficient.  Besides being inefficient both solar and wind are vulnerable to extreme weather.

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