Eulogy For Roger Andrews

The Energy Matters web site reports today that Roger Andrews has died. This is a tremendous, almost immeasurable loss. He was 77 year old.

Although I have relied repeatedly on Mr. Andrews’s work since I first discovered it a couple of years ago, you may not recognize his name. He was by far the major contributor to the Energy Matters site. In the field of energy and the environment, he covered a particular niche, namely, analyzing data in order to evaluate the practical problems of trying to power an electrical grid with intermittent energy from the wind and/or sun. Although he was a trained engineer, his most important posts did not rely on any sort of arcane engineering knowledge inaccessible to the layman. Most of the time, what he did was simply to collect publicly available data and perform analysis of it based on simple arithmetic. The most important thing was that he thought like an engineer. Always he was asking, “What problems would you need to solve in order to actually make this system work?” The problems that he uncovered and exposed were generally blindingly obvious once you looked at his analysis — but, in a field currently dominated by quasi-religious zealotry, somehow people can’t see such things.

Today, I will remind you of a few of Mr. Andrews’s important contributions. First, consider this question: If you want to have an electricity system powered 100% by wind and solar sources, with batteries or some other storage mechanism to provide the back-up when the wind and sun go out, how much storage capacity will you need? You would think that that might be an important question to get an answer to, say, if you were New York City and you announced (as Mayor de Blasio did back in 2014) that you would be reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by switching to wind and solar generation and buying batteries. As I reported in that October 2016 post, de Blasio had just declared a goal for the City of buying 100 MWH of battery storage capacity by the year 2020. Is 100 MWH a relevant amount of storage capacity for this purpose? How would you know?

To figure out how much storage capacity you would need for some jurisdiction to get through a year with nothing but wind and solar power sources, it takes quite a bit of data accumulation and detailed work. But it does not take any advanced math — just simple arithmetic of the type you learned in elementary school. You need to find data on the total electricity used in that jurisdiction over the course of a year; data on the capacity factor over the course of a year of existing wind and solar sources; and data on a day-by-day history of generation and consumption, so that you can run cumulative surpluses and deficits for different times of the year. Just this past November, Andrews did exactly this detailed work for the two cases of Germany and California. The conclusion in the cases of both Germany and California was that it would take approximately 25 TWH (that’s “terawatt hours” — trillions of watt hours) of storage to get through a year. Using optimistic battery prices of about half the current market, Andrews was then able to put a cost on this endeavor: about $5 trillion for one set of batteries for either Germany or California. I reported on this work in the post titled “How Much Do The Climate Crusaders Plan To Increase Your Costs Of Electricity — Part III” on November 29, 2018.

The great thing about Andrews’s work on this issue was that, because it relied only on readily-accessible arithmetic, you could basically check it for yourself. (Although Andrews did not do comparable calculations for New York City, it is readily apparent from his work that Mayor de Blasio’s 100 MWH of batteries would be short by about a factor of some 10,000 or more from what the City might need as back-up for a fully wind/solar system.)

Another subject of Andrews’s work has been tracking the success (or failure) of the project to create a functioning wind/storage electricity system on the small Spanish island of El Hierro (one of the Canary Islands). On this island with a population of only about 10,000, they have built a large “pumped storage” reservoir and massive over-capacity of wind turbines, with the idea of using the reservoir to store the wind power by pumping water uphill in times of excess, and then releasing the water downhill to provide the power in times of calm wind. El Hierro has optimal conditions for trying such a system: strong and relatively steady winds, a good location for the reservoir, and a small population for a pilot project. The project opened in 2015. How has it been going? Andrews’s most recent post is from January 6, 2019:

In 4Q 2018 Gorona del Viento (GdV) [the wind farm] supplied only 27.7 % of El Hierro’s electricity and 6.4% of its total energy consumption, down by a factor of almost three from the 74.2% and 17.1% recorded in 3Q 2018. Since project startup in June 2015 GdV has supplied 45.2.% of El Hierro’s electricity and 10.4% of its energy. During 2018 it supplied 56.6% of El Hierro’s electricity and 13.0% of its energy, up from 46.3% and 10.6% in 2017. 

Go to Andrews’s post for reams of data and analysis on the problems of this ambitious project that, at great cost, still can’t get much past about 50% generation from wind over the course of a year.

Here are a few more subjects of recent Andrews posts: A fact check of the recent U.S. Climate Assessment Report, an analysis of Spain’s plans to go 100% renewable by 2050 (and total impracticality thereof), and a review of the attempt to provide the tiny community of Buckland, Alaska with most of its electricity from the sun (it’s mostly dark there for about a third of the year!).

I don’t know if it would even be fair to characterize Andrews as a “climate skeptic,” since none of his work that I have ever read even addressed the issues of greenhouse gas theory or whether CO2 emissions might cause dangerous climate warming. Rather, he focused on the absurdity of the principal proposed “solutions” to man-made climate change. But in doing so, he repeatedly exposed the total lack of critical thinking that is the hallmark of the climate movement.

Whether or not he was a climate skeptic, he did fit the profile of one: retired; self-funded; and willing to devote endless hours of his own time to try to bring some rationality to the consideration of important issues in the public debate. One old guy sitting at a computer screen in Mexico was again and again able to make the leading lights of the climate alarm movement, and the politicians following their lead, look ridiculous, at least to anyone paying attention.

I don’t know of anyone else who operates in the particular niche that Andrews filled. Who will now track things like the failure of El Hierro, or of Buckland, Alaska, or for that matter, of the grandiose schemes of Germany or Spain or California?