The Myth of Glorious Renewables
by Vijay Jayaraj
We all love energy solutions that make life better. It is an undeniable fact that coal propelled the Industrial Revolution and led to the alleviation of poverty in the West. More recently, the oil reserves in the Middle East have made it one of the most economically developed regions in the world.
Despite their continuous support to the global economy, these fossil fuel sources have now become unpopular among the climate-sensitive, anti-fossil fuel, green lobbyists and environmental enthusiasts. They’ve branded fossil fuel as “evil,” and the reason for the on-going “climate emergency.”
As an alternative, the mainstream media, celebrities, and a section of scientists ask us to embrace energy solutions like wind and solar, because they will make our future better. They ask us to accept renewables as the miracle energy solution that can meet global energy demands in a clean and green way. Interesting stories from poor countries—where stand-alone renewable systems power very small households—are often presented as evidence for renewables’ life-changing role among people who are not connected to the electricity grid.
The issue of replacing fossil fuels with renewables is important to the American presidential election. Democratic challenger Joe Biden has proposed a Clean Energy Plan that aims at spending trillions of dollars on developing renewable energy technology and ending fossil fuel use completely.
However, anti-fossil activists do not promote these new and popular renewable energy sources based on their proven effectiveness. Instead, they ask us to blindly trust the hypothetical benefits they claim renewables will bring in future.
The ground reality has been contrary to the glory that the mainstream media attribute to renewables.
Intermittent and Unreliable
The biggest problem with renewables is that they are unreliable. In energy terms, they are intermittent, owing to their nature of energy generation. Wind turbines are completely dependent on wind flow, can be very volatile when wind is inconsistent, and cease producing electricity during windless days and seasons.
Likewise, output from solar is also highly variable when there isn’t sufficient sunlight, and it stops completely after sunset.
Data on the annual change in energy generation reveal the overall volatility of renewable energy output—hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal, wave and tidal, and bioenergy—at a macro-scale in the recent few decades. This volatility also increases the unpredictability with renewable energy output forecasts, resulting in overall uncertainty to power companies and consumers.
Annual change in energy generation from Renewables
Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy Image: Our World in Data
Besides, both wind and solar require adequate energy backup in the form of batteries. But currently available battery technology is not capable of supporting large renewable systems. Hence, major renewable generation units depend on backup support from other energy sources (like fossil fuel and nuclear) to make up for the loss in the energy grid.
The recent wildfires in California exposed the inefficiency of renewables, where widespread blackouts brought life to a standstill for thousands of customers. Governor Newsom said that gaps in renewable energy systems led to the blackout of millions of Californians.
More states are beginning to understand this inescapable intermittency problem with renewables. In the Pacific Northwest, Benton Public Utility District (PUD)—which serves 55,000 consumers—is now requesting the state authorities to refrain from installing more wind farms.
“We are continuing to sound the alarm regarding the unacceptably high risk of power grid blackouts in the Pacific Northwest being precipitated by overly aggressive clean energy policies and deepening dependence on wind power to replace retiring coal plants,” read a statement by Benton PUD.
They also stressed the need for critical evaluation in the midst of a renewable craze that is sweeping the states: “While development of wind farms may be politically fashionable and appeal to many in the general public as a harmonization of nature with electricity production, the science and economics indicate powering modern civilization with intermittent generation resources like wind and solar power comes at a high financial and environmental cost.”
Renewables Drain Your Bank
Analysis of power markets in a few European countries have shown that renewables played a major part in increasing electricity prices for domestic households. The same is true in the U.S.
California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York are not only the leading states for renewable energy in the U.S., they also boast some of the highest residential electricity prices in the country. There could be other factors that influence these high prices, but it is certain that renewable energy has played its part in raising the electricity prices in these states.
In the UK, renewables drove electricity prices higher and made energy access a luxury for many. Even the UK government acknowledges this, and millions of children and elderly Britons suffer regularly from unavailability of cheap power to heat their homes.
Dr. Alan Moran—a respected economist from Australia—evaluated the impact of Australia’s climate and renewable policy on the economy. The pro-renewable climate policy cost each household around 933 USD annually, accounted for 39 percent of household electricity bills, and
caused a net loss of jobs in the economy.
It is also important to note that the cost of operating windmills has not come down in the last two decades despite the contrary claims. A study done on 350 onshore and offshore wind farms in the UK revealed that the operating costs have increased, not decreased, significantly in the last two decades.
Renewables Are Dirty
Renewables are dirty, but the mainstream media usually don’t admit it. They seldom address the proven toxicity of raw materials used in manufacturing of wind and solar energy generation units.
Besides, the end-of-life recycle factor is extremely poor for wind and solar. Decommissioned wind turbines are buried in mass landfills as they cannot be recycled. Wind turbines are also notorious for killing thousands of birds each year, including endangered raptor species.
The notion that renewables are “clean and green” has been nothing but a myth. So are the claims concerning their ability to produce reliable electricity for energy intensive commercial energy units and households in cities. The belief that they can somehow miraculously replace fossil fuels in the next decade and a half is a myth, too.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), is a Research Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and resides in New Delhi, India.