Climate Crusaders Weigh In On The Cost Of Energy From Renewables

If you’ve been keeping up here, you know that my previous two posts have been “How Much Do The Climate Crusaders Plan To Increase Your Costs Of Electricity? -- Part III,” and “How Much Do The Climate Crusaders Plan To Increase Your Costs Of Electricity -- Part IV.” The basic issue is that the promoters of electricity from wind and solar sources don’t seem to have any idea of how big a problem intermittency poses. If you hypothesize an electricity system powered only by wind and solar sources, with batteries to store energy from times of excess generation and release it in times of low generation, how much will the costs of the necessary batteries increase your costs of electricity? It turns out that enormous amounts of energy must be stored, and the batteries become by far the driving cost of the overall system. Reasonable calculations based on currently-available battery technology, even with assumed cost declines from ongoing improvements, lead to results indicating that the cost of the batteries will increase your price of electricity by a factor of perhaps 15 or 20 or more — and that’s before solving a collection of additional engineering problems that may drive the cost up still further.

So surely the climate crusaders are on top of this issue, and are ready with an answer. Let’s tune in to a few of them and see what they have to say.

For example, the number one climate crusader of all is Tom Steyer, hedge fund genius and self-made multi-billionaire, who puts hundreds of millions of his personal wealth into political campaigns promoting “renewable” energy sources. Steyer loves to issue tweets promoting his pet renewable energy sources. Here’s one that he issued on November 27:

With natural gas prices all over the map, I break down the drawbacks of continuing to invest in this finite resource and its infrastructure. There is a better way, and it’s called renewable energy.

The tweet is accompanied by a video of Steyer “breaking down” the drawbacks of natural gas, particularly its price fluctuations over the past several months. And why, Tom, are wind and solar superior? Steyer:

Over the least year, natural gas prices have spiked up really dramatically. . . . And what that means is that Americans are going to be spending more to heat their houses this winter if they generate their electricity from natural gas. I think the other point we’re seeing is that the benefits of solar and wind, which are free, become even greater compared to natural gas when natural gas prices go up. . . .

So there you have the deep, deep Steyer analysis: solar and wind “are free.” But that’s OK, because he also doesn’t seem to know that to heat your house with natural gas you just burn the gas, rather than first converting the energy into electricity. All of which just goes to prove that you can be a hedge fund multi-billionaire and still be as dumb as a rock.

Also deep in the climate crusader camp we have the Economist magazine. The current issue contains a special section called the Technology Quarterly, the headline of which is “Conquering CO2.” Much of what’s in the print edition appears to be behind pay wall. Eight full pages of fine print without ads, all about the desperate need for immediate and total de-carbonization of the world economy, and yet they never discuss the costs of any of the de-carbonizing proposals in any meaningful way. We’ll get oodles of hydrogen from seawater! How much will that cost? Not mentioned. Electricity is the least of the problems. How are we going to heat houses, fly airplanes, or make steel or cement for buildings? Nothing but pie in the sky. We are taken to Sweden to examine a prototype zero-carbon-emission steel plant:

HYBRIT Development, the zero-carbon-steel joint venture between SSAB, LKAB, a state iron-ore producer, and Vattenfall, a state-owned power company, aims to eliminate almost all of these [carbon] emissions by curbing the use of coking coal. Instead it will take advantage of Sweden’s abundant renewable energy to generate hydrogen via electrolysis. . . . The process is likely to add 20-30% to the price of crude steel, assuming electricity prices remain at current levels. The amount of additional electricity needed will be staggering. . . . [A]t full production HYBRIT would use about 15 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, or 10% of the country’s current power supply.

Basically, to make this one prototype they are dedicating a massive chunk of their way-below-market hydroelectric resources to make hydrogen from seawater in order to have a carbon-free steel plant, and it still is totally uncompetitive in the world steel market. This could only possibly work at this one place in Sweden — there aren’t remotely enough hydroelectric resources in the world to make all the steel the world consumes. I can’t wait for somebody to try to make steel using only power from the wind and the sun.

The Economist breathlessly points us to the work of one Steven Davis of the University of California at Irvine, as leading the way to the future:

Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine, has led a team of researchers in mapping out what a net-zero-emissions energy system would look like, using a set of already available technologies that he describes as “fairly simple and finite”. Besides electricity and batteries, they include hydrogen and ammonia, biofuels, synthetic fuels, ccs, and removal of carbon from the atmosphere. They can have many end uses. Hydrogen could have a role in light and heavy transport, heating, steelmaking and synthetic fuels for jet aircraft. ccs could be used in heating and cement-making.

It’s all “fairly simple and finite.” OK, Steve, can you give us some specifics? Perhaps this post from June 28 at Carnegie Science:

Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities must approach zero within several decades to avoid risking grave damage from the effects of climate change.  This will require creativity and innovation, because some types of industrial sources of atmospheric carbon lack affordable emissions-free substitutes, according to a new paper in Science from team of experts led by University of California Irvine’s Steven Davis and Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira. In addition to heating, cooling, lighting, and powering individual vehicles—subjects that are often the focus of the emissions discussion—there are other major contributors to atmospheric carbon that are much more challenging to address. These tough nuts to crack include air travel; long-distance freight by truck, train, or ship; and the manufacture of steel and cement. . . . But the costs of implementing and scaling up these technologies to overhaul the transportation, construction, and energy storage industries will present hurdles, they warn.

This will require “creativity and innovation” and will “present hurdles.” OK, guys, thanks for weighing in!

Let’s face it, these guys don’t have a clue. It’s a good thing that CO2 is not a real problem.