What Solution Do Renewable Energy Advocates Offer For The Problem Of Storage?

What Solution Do Renewable Energy Advocates Offer For The Problem Of Storage?

Francis Menton

Most comments at this site tend to have a perspective generally consistent with my own. But sometimes a post will attract comments from people with a very different point of view. That occurred on a post earlier this week titled “Two More Contributions On The impossibility Of Electrifying Everything Using Only Wind, Solar, And Batteries.”

That post and the one immediately preceding it (“Calculating The Full Costs Of Electrifying Everything Using Only Wind, Solar, And Batteries”) had both focused on a particular issue inherent in the project of replacing dispatchable carbon-based sources of energy (coal, oil, natural gas) with intermittent “renewables” (wind, solar). That issue is that, as the intermittent renewables come to provide a greater percentage of electrical generation and as dispatchable fossil fuels get phased out, there is an accelerating need for enormously expensive energy storage to provide the electricity at times when the renewables go quiet. The two posts linked to detailed studies written by four different authors, each of whom had provided a detailed description of their methodology. Two of the four authors even provided spreadsheets, so that a reader who believes the assumptions of the author are wrong can change those assumptions and derive a new cost estimate from the altered assumptions.

The import of all of these studies is that as renewables come to dominate the mix of electricity generation, and particularly as their share of generation goes above 50% and on towards 100%, and fossil fuel backup gets phased out, then the cost of necessary storage becomes far and away the dominant cost of the overall system. Therefore, any meaningful proposal to replace fossil fuel generation with renewables must grapple with this issue.

So what is the solution that the dissenting commenters offer for the problem of increasing need for expensive storage? They don’t offer any at all. Instead, they appear to think that the whole problem can be assumed away or ignored.

The dissenting commenters were three in number, and posted under the pseudonyms “Johnathan Galt,” “GKam,” and “reneawbleguy.” Galt and GKam each posted only one comment, but “reneawbleguy” posted over forty.

The gist of all these comments really comes down to the same thing, namely that the renewables are rapidly becoming cheaper than fossil fuels to generate electricity, if they are not so already, and therefore fossil fuels are a dying industry. Mixed in with this point is a good deal of snide and accusatory language, essentially asserting that anyone who may disagree as to the relative full cost of renewables must necessarily be both ignorant and politically motivated. (e.g., GKam: “More science nonsense from this group of political hacks. . . . Give it up You have already lost.”). Meanwhile, all three fail to deal in any real way with the storage problem inherent in expansion of generation from the renewables.

Here is “reneawbleguy” on the relative cost of fossil fuel electricity generation versus renewables:

Energy costs savings. RE will be cheaper that FF business as usual. 10.43 cents per kw-hr FF 7.81 cents per kw-hr RE. Dollars into our pockets is a clear difference favoring RE. Clear difference.
Money cost savings per person.

No source is cited, but I would agree that approximately these numbers can be found in some studies of relative costs of the renewables versus fossil fuels. But the studies that get these numbers do so by ignoring the entire storage problem completely.

Similarly, from Galt:

[T]he only consideration to consumers is, was, and always will be “what is the delivered cost to me?” That is neatly quantified in Lazard’s excellent publication providing LCOE.

As I have pointed out on this blog numerous times, the Lazard numbers for “LCOE” (Levelized Cost of Energy) specifically omit any inherent costs of necessary storage. Since the cost of storage is the dominant cost of the all-renewable system, LCOE is the opposite of a “neat quantification” of comparative electricity generation costs, and rapidly becomes completely misleading as the percentage generated from renewables increases beyond 50%.

GKam is even less sophisticated, simply relying on his own personal experience with a home getting its power from rooftop solar panels:

My entire household and both electric cars are powered by the PV system on our roof, as “Galt” can tell you, and it gives us free power having paid back in three years.

GKam does not enlighten us as to how he gets his electricity at night, or overcast days in the winter, or whether he has purchased batteries sufficient to store up power from the summer for use during those long winter nights. If he lives in the United States, it is almost certain that he relies on his local grid — in other words, on fossil fuel backup, with perhaps some nuclear thrown in — for power during those times.

Of the three dissenting commenters, the only one who addresses the storage issue at all is Galt. He asserts, with great confidence, that new battery technologies are coming to make the storage problem go away:

At least two separate technologies, Ambri and Form Energy, will almost certainly have their first large factories up and running within 5 years. Both use common materials (antimony and calcium, iron), both are environmentally safe. Ambri’s battery is 100% recyclable, and in theory may last more than 100 years. Form Energy’s product is likewise 100% recyclable, should cost only 20% that of Lithium Ion, and although the lifespan is not yet advertised it has the potential for similar lifetime of use (simply a “reversible rusting” process).

So the proposal is that a government-mandated total transformation of the entire energy system of our economy should depend on one or another of two not-yet-invented-or demonstrated-at-scale technologies, which may or may not work, and the cost projections of which may be wildly off. Galt does not do any actual numerical calculations. But at a cost of “20% that of Lithium ion” the storage systems he is talking about would still imply a cost of around $100 trillion in Ken Gregory’s spreadsheet, some 5 times current U.S. GDP. Shouldn’t this be acknowledged as a problem? And how can you advocate use of Lazard’s “LCOE” numbers for relative costs of energy sources when those calculations omit a $100 trillion item applicable to wind and solar but not to fossil fuels?

So I say to these three commenters: it’s time to step up your game. Don’t just make unsupported assertions that wind and solar are cheaper. Give us a spreadsheet with a numerical demonstration of how much storage a fully wind/solar/storage electricity system for the U.S. will need, what technology will be used to provide it, and how much that will cost. Without that, you are just dealing in fantasy. I for one will be happy to have the all-renewable system if someone can demonstrate that it can be built and will work at reasonable cost.47 CommentsEnergy And The Environment12 Likes SharePosted by Francis Menton.


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John Rattray 2 minutes ago · 0 Likes  

As an electrical engineer (now retired) who designed 11kV distribution systems in South Australia my professional opinion is that both 100% and near 0% R.E. generation claims are wrong.

Looking at solar, the energy being captured is both diffuse and widespread and therefore suits widespread, low intensity, local generation; especially where loads are mostly present during daylight hours. A good example is a large supermarket or office park. In SA, most (not all) malls now have large areas of covered car parks the roofs of which are covered in solar panels. Typical loads are in the order of 2 MW with P.V. peak capacity of around the same amount, peaking in the afternoon to match the A.C. load. This avoids distribution and transmission losses and comes in significantly cheaper than centralised gas generation. Night time solar “drought” issues do not apply as the load is very small at this time. Similar comments apply for your typical two story office building with flat roofs. This does not mean disconnection from the grid which is still required for load balancing and for services such as frequency control.

Another obvious application is remote area power systems such as mines, large stations (farms), road houses where generation has traditionally been by standalone diesel generators. (expensive fuel and maintenance as they must follow the load exactly) Adding solar and load balancing batteries to the mix significantly reduces overall costs by both reducing fuel consumption and allowing the generators to run at an optimum nameplate load.

However when you move away from a distributed model to a traditional central generation model for solar a lot of the drawbacks become apparent – significant land use requiring long transmission lines, high variability in output due to limited geographical diversity, issues with frequency control and system strength etc. Also what works at 40 S in Australia will not work at 50 N in Scotland or New York, due to the obvious seasonal effects and heavy cloud cover.

Its a case of horses for courses

Daffy 58 minutes ago · 0 Likes  

An article from the Australian Financial Review about the Snowy 2.0 project: a large pumped hydro scheme for the eastern Australian grid.

When he announced Snowy 2.0 in 2017, on Snowy Hydro’s advice then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said it would cost $2 billion and be completed in four years (that is, by 2021). We said at the time that it would cost at least $10 billion (and take at least eight years to build). On the pumped storage plant alone, Snowy Hydro’s latest update is that the main works component will now cost “about” $6 billion.

In its assessment of the costs and benefits of HumeLink, TransGrid excludes the costs of Snowy 2.0 on the basis that the government through its agent, Snowy Hydro, has committed to build Snowy 2.0. But this is not correct. HumeLink is a necessary complement to Snowy 2.0. Excluding Snowy 2.0 from the cost/benefit of HumeLink is like doing a cost/benefit analysis of a railway extension that only counts the cost of the track because a commitment had already been made to build the stations.

When we add Snowy 2.0 into the analysis it is clear that the net economic detriment of HumeLink is more than $4 billion. In all likelihood, the actual outcome will be higher still.

It is clear that the public interest would be best served by immediately ceasing expenditure on Snowy 2.0 and starting the rehabilitation of those parts of Kosciuszko National Park that have already been dug up. TransGrid should then review the HumeLink design options and re-run its models to see if there is benefit nonetheless in expanding transmission in southwestern NSW to meet other needs.

We do not expect Snowy Hydro or the Commonwealth government will listen to this. Sadly, we expect that good money will be thrown after bad and HumeLink will likely be rammed through the pliant regulatory approvals process.

With such large economic losses about to be foisted on the people of NSW, the NSW government must insist that Snowy Hydro should pay for HumeLink. This will not diminish the economic detriment embodied in HumeLink and Snowy 2.0, but it will ensure that the burden does not sit so squarely on the shoulders of the NSW electricity consumer.

Kevin Terrell 4 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I came across this article today that attempts to show pumped storage is a viable alternative for “batteries” at scale. I have not examined the assumptions and analysis, but I have been familiar with the technology since I encountered it hiking in the Austrian alps in 1981 (not sure, but likely the Galgenbichi plant in Carinthia).

It is at least a feeble attempt to answer your question.


E Olson 4 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Cost issues aside, pumped storage is very terrain limited as there are only so many places where large reservoirs can be found or created, and even fewer that renewable loving environmentalists will allow nature and the natural flow of rivers to be desecrated by dams and reservoirs.

Jim Mulligan 5 hours ago · 0 Likes  

We had 10mws of batteries at my plant. On the positive side it was excellent for load regulation as the batteries instantly responded upon a signal from dispatch, and were able to assist in correcting area operating error. The main issue was that when the batteries were dispatched at 100%, they fully discharged after 15-20 minutes of operations. The batteries then required the balance of the hour to recharge —- so, they were net consumers of power. Batteries were created for load regulation, not load generation

Rafe Champion 6 hours ago · 0 Likes  

This is an elaborate time-series study including a review of the literature which demonstrates that storage requirements are routinely underestimated by a large factor even by people who make an effort to take account of wind droughts.


I think the core of the argument is that people only look at the storage required to get through a single bad spell and don’t pay enough attention to the problem of serial events where the storage does not get fully recharged between events. This means that you need several times as much storage as you thought (which costs the earth anyway). The real test is the worst case scenario that you might get over a period of (say) a hundred years (is it ok to know that the grid is going to fail within a hundred years? or would you like to take a 200 year period?)

Ignatius J Reilly 7 hours ago · 0 Likes  

OK, stepping up the game here. Before I get into this, I want to start by asserting that transition to 100% RE is farcical and only promotable by liars and the innumerate. That having been said, I do not think the debate here has been fair. Although the stated goals of the 100% RE miscreants is eponymously 100% RE, the real question is if we believe AGW is a significant or existential threat (which I do not), what is the optimal and practical mix of RE? The 100% RE is a straw man which is easily dispatched. But perhaps advocates see it as a way to get to a better mix which will not completely bankrupt us and drive us back to the Dark Ages and slow the AGW apocalypse.
Irrespective of the cost of storage, there may be an optimal mix of RE which is greater than 0% and is economic. Perhaps it involves no storage and tamps down the peaks in sunny, hot areas when demand is high for AC on summer middays? I can also concede it may be cheaper (at least on a limited scale) to generate some RE when excluding storage costs. Conversely, it is almost self-evident that 100% RE is impractical and prohibitively expensive when considering necessary storage. So maybe the real question is, based on today’s technology, what is the optimum amount of RE?
This optimal economic mix is very dependent on what you think the “cost” of marginal carbon in the atmosphere is. I believe it is almost zero. I am skeptical of the climate models, and I believe even if we cut back on fossil fuels by 100%, the contributions of the Chinese and Indians will bring us our AGW apocalypse if carbon is such a threat. Proponents of AGW believe the cost is almost infinite. Without agreement on this number, you could not find the optimal mix of RE. If I thought the cost of carbon was infinite, even with prohibitive storage costs, I could still justify 100% RE (and any reductions is lifestyle implicit in energy limitations) based on economics. Even though I believe this cost is close to zero, to be fair you cannot exclude it anymore than you can exclude the cost of storage.
Finally, of course we cannot store enough electricity in batteries to go 100% RE. Whether it is the amount of rare earth elements in the entire crust or the footprint required of solar panels or the amount of steel and cement required for wind turbines, this is demonstrably impossible. And while the hope for better technologies is pitiful and insufficient, what about other existing technologies? I have read that pumped hydro-electric energy storage may be possible on a much larger scale. I do not have the technical capacity to run the numbers, but if this is as impossible as batteries that would be interesting to see for the sake of completeness.
In summary, arguing against the 100% RE case is easy, but it is not dispositive. Proponents are trying to drive us to the highest mix of RE they can get because they sense that AGW is an existential threat and their view of the cost of carbon is infinite. This debate is designed to make us feel more comfortable at 50% RE, which would also be an irresponsibly expensive and impractical goal but could seem like a godsend vs the alternative of 100% RE.

I believe hacks like Galt (why use that name when you are the anti-Galt!?) and others miss the main points.

Shuckluk 5 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I personally do not believe there is any optimal mix of RE (without storage) which is greater than 0% and is economic. Any mix of RE w/o storage will have to be 100% backed-up (a good portion of that fossil as that is the only source that is quickly scalable). That means the cost of whatever mix of RE generation is on top of the cost of what essentially is a full system (capable of delivering 100% of demand). It’s very debatable as to whether that could even be considered economic (and certainly not if the economic baseline is the cost of that 100% system). At best, whether it is economic will always be subjective and a moving target. What we know is that it will invariably cost us more. It therefore becomes arguable as to whether it would ever be “economic”.

In terms of LCOE, even that is misguided. As I understand it, the LCOE of gas or coal includes the cost of idling, despite it is idling solely for the purpose of backing up the RE. If the cost of idling was allocated to the LCOE of RE and removed from the respective LCOE(as it should be), I’m certain the true LCOE of RE would be significantly greater than even coal or gas.

Same goes for emissions. The emissions for coal and gas idling are allocated to the coal and gas, whereas they ought be allocated to the RE they are backing up.

E Olson 6 hours ago · 0 Likes  

The problems is the optimal level of RE is almost certainly near zero. Peak temperatures and the need for A/C is often late afternoon and early evening when solar power is rapidly waning, and of course solar panels generate virtually no juice during winter when the sun is often clouded over, the days are very short, and panels can be covered in snow and ice, which means no solar generated juice during the long cold nights and most of the rest of winter. Wind is also problematic, because it rarely blows with much gusto when it is very hot or very cold and power needs are greatest. Thus without storage, there is no ability to count on renewables when power needs are greatest, which means 100% conventional back-up is always going to be needed and hence with renewables you are almost always paying for unreliable and unneeded redundancy.

Of course if we go by free markets as in what sources of power are purchased when no subsidies and mandates are involved, the ideal amount of renewables is also about zero.

John Newcomb 6 hours ago · 0 Likes  

It appears that the AGW/100% RE crowd can be broadly described as a Confederacy of Dunces. Somewhere John Kennedy Toole is smiling…

winston 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

“Arguments” that saving technology is “just around the corner” are always a con, and sometimes a cult.
How many lithium batteries, pv panels, wind turbines, or water wheels have ever been built using only non fossil fuels energy and materials? How many miles have been driven in electric vehicles without fossil fuel charging? For either question, if you only look at the number that have occurred in your back yard, your answer is going to be wrong. There is no replacement available now, or soon, for fossil fuels. All of the promised saving technologies require the same.
Nimby cultists must be regarded as the damaged and/or malevolent humans they are, and treated accordingly: assumed to be armed and dangerous.

Rick C 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I am a mechanical engineer and I did an estimate of what it would take to make my own house 100% renewable and still assure power 24/7/365. My cost estimate is $300,000 for solar with LiIon battery storage sufficient for 2 weeks of negligible renewable generation which typically occurs in my location 2-3 times a year. I considered wind, but solar was clearly cheaper for the capacity required. That’s based on fully electric heating, hot water and cooking, but not EV’s. There are about 85 million single family homes in the US. Using my estimate it would take over $25 trillion to make them all 100% renewable. No idea how much more it would take to convert all the other buildings, transportation and industry to renewables, but hundreds of trillions would clearly be required.

It should also be recognized that renewable energy equipment may last 20 years or less and battery storage has about a 10 year life expectancy. So the entire investment in renewable electrification will need to be repeated in less than 20 years.

I think it’s pointless to quibble about the details of 100% renewable energy – it isn’t going to happen.

E Olson 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

$25 trillion here, $25 trillion there, and pretty soon we have almost as much money as has been printed, borrowed, and misspent to pay for Covid relief.

Mike O’Cerin 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I am Australian and being an analyst/programmer have devoted much time to analyzing the data I have which is very relevant to the subject. I have 11 years of data for all electricity generators on the eastern grid of Australia. It has 416 generators across 40,000 km of grid. The data has a resolution of five minutes. It is not possible to get this amount of data onto the web since it is governed by my limited budget. But I do have it accessible on the web with an hourly resolution.

As a preliminary for firming of a 100 MW wind station 830 megawatt hours is needed or a more accurate figure is 350 GW hours to firm 8 GW of wind. My website http://www.spasmodicenergy.com which I am currently developing explains more fully.

My data indicates that it is not possible to create enough energy storage in Australia to firm adequate renewable energy. We here do not have anything to rely on when our coal stations go and during the next 10 years I am expecting major blackouts across more than one state.

Mike O’Cerin 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Do I have access to make a comment here?

g wolf 9 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Looked at the Ambri storage system. Heated to 500C, maintains temperature and likes to be completely charged and discharged every 2-3 days. Hmmmm…….

It maintains its own temperature – I think this is a pretty inefficient system – there has to to be a bunch of heat loss, meaning energy loss. I addition, maintaining that 500C in January when it is 10F out is going to be a problem. I gotta believe, based on the splashy website, that this could be another Theranos.

E Olson 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Does Ambri also have a nice looking blonde who dresses like a female Steve Jobs, and uses here sexy good looks and a world saving narrative to get some former secretary of defenses and states to be on their board?

David Bennett 9 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I think the climate cultists know that the supply of renewables can never satisfy the demand. The other shoe that will drop in the near future is a quasi religious suppression of demand. Time to buy some blankets.

J Crain 10 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I’m not at all surprised by the tenor of MC’s commenters regarding storage.

I’ve had similar discussions with commenters at the WSJ site. If you mention storage costs, it generally goes right over most people’s heads. One nitwit WSJ commenter even told me that it was worth it to have solar even despite my claim that we’d still need fossil fuel generation to make it feasible. Why not pay higher costs for the same energy capacity, I guess?

Most folks I interact with don’t get the concept that renewables are both the MINING (energy capture) step and the GENERATION (energy conversion) step – they’re combined.

That’s not true for fossil fuels, of course. First you mine them and store their potential energy. Then you use them to generate electricity. Each of those ugly coal piles is a huge pile of kWh waiting to happen. 🙂

Meredith Angwin 10 hours ago · 0 Likes  

In this blog post, Donn Dears also points out that Lazard assumes combined cycle power have a twenty year life expectancy, and nuclear plants have a forty year life expectancy. Actual lifetimes for such plants are significantly longer.

Dan Davies 10 hours ago · 0 Likes  

General Rule of Thumb

If you have to hide behind a pseudonym to post your comments they aren’t worth my time to read.

E Olson 10 hours ago · 0 Likes  

There are some exceptions Dan, because posting comments without using a pseudonym can get you fired, cancelled, demonetized, expelled, or physically assaulted (and perhaps arrested) if you dare use “hate” facts that make Leftists feel bad.

JohnK 10 hours ago · 0 Likes  

As someone with 40 years of experience in the mining industry, I can tell Mr Galt that antimony is not common and it is not completely safe, even though it is in common use. And its just another metal dominated by China, with about 90% of the world’s antimony produced there.

Kevin Kilty 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

GKam is a well-known troll active in the comments section of the WSJ from long ago. He always posted ridiculous and highly partisan nonsense. Had a nice avatar of himself, presumably, in his Viet Nam era fatigues out on a tarmac. Unfortunately his vote counts as much as yours or mine.

The true believers in the coming energy transformation are like any cult. They do not have any useful knowledge themselves, but come to believe that someone else does, and this means they do too. Their fantasies will therefore become a reality. What they demonstrate more than anything else is that the minds of “modern” humans are, for a majority of people, an unrecognized jumble of cognitive problems and contradictions.

It is patently obvious from MC’s excellent essays that renewable energy is unaffordable — actually worse than unaffordable as it threatens to bankrupt us in many ways. But it is too expensive to contemplate in intangible ways also. Right now I am involved in trying to coax our local/state agencies and politicians into a reasonable view of what renewable energy is going to cost in environmental terms. So far my efforts at providing public input are not gaining much ground. However, between a recently approved wind project, and another currently heading toward final approval in probably the next 45 days, we are setting aside something like 118 square miles — nearly 3% of the county and six times the combined surface area of all cities and towns in the county — for a measly 800 MW of nameplate rated power. The larger project is situated next to a National Wildlife Refuge — actually not right next to, but within about 12 miles and all the ground in between is winter range for game animals and wetlands for birds. You cannot distinguish between the wildlife refuge and the surrounding terrain which goes right into the project. Yet, the State Game and Fish people are being pressured, from above, not to raise any objections to these projects over concerns outside the project footprint itself. A cursory examination of the situation from satellite imagery or from the ground shows the foolishness of such a demand.

I have pointed out here previously, but its always worthwhile to reiterate, that while fossil-fueled power plants, or modular nuclear reactors can produce a kilowatt using about one kilogram of materials (steel, concrete, etc), wind turbines and solar produce about a watt with a kilogram, and the kilogram comprises more advanced materials that may require processing far more ore and raw materials. Then if storage is required, depending on how that storage is accomplished, we may be looking at needing ten, or one-hundred, or perhaps even a thousand kilograms of additional material per watt delivered. In terms of reducing material usage we are going a thousand to a million times in the wrong direction.

E Olson 10 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Amazing all the anguish and anger that is generated when an oil spill gums up a bird, fish, or sea lion, and the media descends to take pictures of activists carefully cleaning oil from their feathers and skin that is on all the news shows and front pages, but the absolute silence when a wind farm is put in the middle of a bird sanctuary or migratory pathway and starts chopping up hundreds of eagles, hawks, condors, and thousands of other smaller birds and bats. Has anyone ever seen a front page story or CNN/MSNBC feature with pictures/video of the chopped up remains of an eagle after getting hit by wind farm blade, or a bat with its guts sucked out by the vortexes created by the moving blades?

david nelson 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Really great post. My two contributions, based on my career as a financial analyst and portfolio manager are 1)forecasts, including costs, 5 to 10 years out are essentially unreliable. They are good guesses and one would be not use them to make infrastructure investments in the tens and hundreds of billions, and 2) the Lazard analysis seems to be treated very reverently. I don’t have much experience with it, and perhaps its long series of forecasts is helpful. Without discrediting the analysis in any way, it is fair to say that Lazard is an investment bank and the authors and firm are not disinterested, neutral observers. Their analysis is a financial analysis, not an engineering analysis and however good or bad, is not much different than the rest of the advocacy pretending to be backed by evidence. Again, thank you for the post!

Michael J Critelli 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

There may be partial solutions to the storage issue. One is the use of mechanical energy from motor vehicles on roads to generate the electricity that can recharge cars. The concept of a road as a power plant is described in this article.

Kevin Kilty 9 hours ago · 0 Likes  

With all due regard to Rutgers, what the article you linked to shows is that poorly thought out solutions can even come from highly educated people in the university system. The loading of a roadway, and its subsequent displacement as the figure in the reference shows (some displacement is needed for the piezoelectric materials to work), is part of the reason for “rolling resistance”. That is, it is a part of the reason cars and trucks have to expend energy to travel at constant speed on a level road. To expect to get net energy from this source is akin to hoping for useful net energy from friction. Moreover, the scheme will likely require a lot of advanced materials, which is to say materials far more expensive than current pavement. The same is true for placing photovoltaics, or thermoelectric materials on the roadway as well.

The loading scheme will be limited severely by the second law of thermodynamics if it is not an outright second law perpetual motion machine in the first place. Schemes that involve the second law are very difficult for people to recognize. I have found that my colleagues in the civil and even the electrical engineering departments often get tripped up by these proposals because they no longer take a rigorous course in thermodynamics as a part of their curriculum.

E Olson 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

So if we rebuild all the major roads in the country with this fancy energy absorbing material, we will net out equal or more energy from the kinetic energy of cars driving on the road than is spent from the powering the vehicles and road building? If so, Rutgers will have invented the first successful perpetual motion machine.

Kevin Kilty 9 hours ago · 0 Likes  

As usual, Mr. E, you are on top of this…

Richard Ilfeld 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I not only agree that the complications of storage and costs preclude renewables; I Think you understate the problems; As (if?) we electrify, there will we niches left behind, from small aircraft to isolated mining operations to God knows what tapping into a diminishing and therefore much more expensive fossil fuel base. The costs and dislocations in these niches can, due to unintended consequences, easily become choke points for the economy…”for want of a nail..”. And there is the geopolitical risk…one or more potential adversaries might note the relative weakness or a transitioning economy, paying for everything twice, vs. a balls-to-the-wall exploiter of existing tech and decide to, emulating Albrecht. make a magic ring out of the stuff and rule the world. And I don’t even know where to start with those who tout a Hindenberg economy. All this does not discount the potential for a breakthrough in storage; which does not imply an implementation rate faster than a normal industrial creative destruction cycle, say 30-40 years. Think horses being replaced by IC vehicles, and there are still many beasts of burden in the world. But pols the world over have the same blind spot, if manifested in slightly different ways; China has Ghost Cities, the US has Ghost Windfarms, and the Germans seem to be fighting their Ghosts.

Kevin Kilty 9 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Excellent description of the unregognized (by most anyway) complexities of economies and technology.

Wayne Lusvardi 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

  1. Rooftop solar requires a 70% subsidy to produce electricity for 25% of the day (8 hours). So, not cheaper in reality. And that 70% subsidy has to be shifted onto other electric ratepayers with higher rates.
  2. In the grid, all electrons are fungible – meaning substitutable. It is not the cheap cost of one houses electricity but the blended cost of all the electrons in the grid. But the rooftop solar power home does not have to pay that higher blended cost. So, they are a Rent Seeker – seeking an advantage for themselves at the cost of everyone else
  3. According to even Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison (which is tilted in favor of green power), residential rooftop solar power cost 14.7 to 22.1 cents per kilowatt hour while combined cycle natural gas runs 4.5 to 7.4 cents per kilowatt hour.
  4. Rooftop solar net metering subsidies to homeowners (where the homeowner’s electricity bill is offset by the amount of the energy produced back into the grid) are being phased out in California because it is the main cause of power blackouts in heat waves and cold snaps.
  5. According to Lazard’s, battery storage for rooftop solar systems runs 54.5 to 78.5 cents per kilowatt hour and probably can only deliver backup power for, say, 2 to 4 hours.

E Olson 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Good points, but it is worse than you point out in terms of rent seeking. Other than Elon Musk paying taxes on the capital gains of his Tesla stock, the entire green industry sector (i.e. renewables, hydrogen, EVs) don’t earn any income from operations and hence don’t pay any taxes. Furthermore, EV owners don’t pay normal fuel taxes that are used to build/upkeep roads and fund public transit. Meanwhile renewable advocates like to point out that fossil fuels received far more subsidies than renewables, but they never mention the subsidy per KWh or the fact that most fossil fuel “subsidies” are normal depreciation of assets, fuel tax exemptions for the military and farmers, and energy cost subsidies for low income households so they don’t freeze to death because they can’t afford to turn on the heat. They also fail to mention that the fossil fuel industry even with its “subsidies” pays huge amounts of taxes because they actually make a profit from operations, not to mention all the taxes that gasoline/diesel motorists pay on motor fuel, sales taxes on vehicle purchases, etc. that EV owners are exempted from.

When you consider the demographics of households that put solar panels on their roofs, or have a Tesla in their garage, or invest in “clean energy” companies such as Solyndra, they are usually in the top 1% or at least top 10% wealth/income earners in the country, which means US taxpayers are subsidizing the richest people in the world so that they can have a fancy luxury car and cheap source of electricity on their roofs. I guess the Democrats forgot they were supposed to be the party of the working man.

TomCQ 13 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I think the description here is the most succinct that you can make “ fossil fuel backup gets phased out, then the cost of necessary storage becomes far and away the dominant cost of the overall system” under all scenarios. When people talk about talk about renewables they just don’t take into account the profound cost of intermittency.
It is clear that the Biden politburo wants to drive up the cost of domestic fossil fuel as a non legislative way of imposing a carbon tax in effect, and make renewables more “attractive.” Of course having done that they need to plead with foreign suppliers to increase oil output as they “tax” increase was politically too abrupt and steep.
What a bunch of clowns.

MiloCrabtree 14 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Renewableguy is a well known troll on the CFACT website. His MO is to flood the comment section with cut and paste rubbish and stupid remarks. He’s a nobody.

E Olson 14 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Rather than waste his time trolling his rubbish among people who actually have real knowledge and don’t live in Leftist bubbles, perhaps Renewableguy should apply his talents among the idiots who have lots of money and no technical or economic knowledge. For example, he should be a perfect fit for a nicely paid government job in the EPA or Department of Energy to hand out renewable subsidies and research grants, and/or put new burdens and restrictions on fossil fuel and nuclear power. Or perhaps he could earn millions managing the money of billionaires by starting a new hedge fund that promises to invest in renewable power projects (perhaps do another Crescent Dunes Solar project), or renewable hardware producers (perhaps revive Solyndra, or fund one of those new battery projects that is “just around the corner”). Or perhaps he could find work as a well paid lobbyist for some environmental group where he could hobnob with Democrats in DC and help them enact more Green New Deals. Heck, he probably has more than enough talent to be a lead environmental editor or paid talking head energy “expert” for the NYT, CNN, WP, Mother Jones, or other Leftist propaganda outlet.

Wayne Lusvardi 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Many of such trolls are paid operatives of the solar industry.

E Olson 11 hours ago · 0 Likes  

In other words, your tax dollars at work.

E Olson 18 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Leftist dreams are always built on assumptions that are fantasy. Thus they believe that raising taxes on the rich will not change the money making behavior of the rich, or that mentally ill people can change their biological gender just by thinking, or that building $500,000 apartments next to the beach for the homeless will reduce homelessness. So it should be no surprise that Leftists can believe that if they shut down fossil fuel drilling permits and pipelines, and force coal and nuclear plants to close, that cheap and reliable renewable solutions will magically appear that defy the laws of physics/chemistry/economics.

It should therefore also not be surprising that people like GKam, who believe a solar panel on the roof, and a Tesla in the garage is the solution for the entire power grid and transportation network, are delusional. If I was a betting man, I would bet that GKam lives in coastal California in a single family home where the temperatures are moderate (i.e. perfect for batteries, and minimal needs for home/vehicle A/C and heating), and his rooftop solar panels and Tesla were heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and the grid connection he is not paying for because of the feed-in tariff rates he is receiving can provide back-up on cloudy days. He also hasn’t considered that his solar panels, storage batteries, and Tesla car batteries will need to be disposed of at the end of their useful life (somewhere between 10 and 20 years) and that there are no processes yet invented to do that in an environmentally friendly and economically viable way on a mass scale.

Sure it is cheap to have solar when taxpayers pay for 40+% of the system cost and then are forced to pay retail+ rates on any “excess” electricity the solar panel feeds into the grid on sunny days, and when your Tesla gets “fueled” with electricity that is exempt from the road taxes and other local and federal taxes that are put on gasoline and diesel. But of course delusional people such as GKam (and Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, AOC) don’t consider that not everyone lives in coastal California in a single family home with a substantially sized roof and a private garage or driveway where an electric car can be safely charged. Nor do they consider that any system that never earns profits and requires constant and ever increasing subsidies is why socialism never “scales up” beyond the family unit and always results in political prisons, secret police, and eventual total collapse. What Leftist tree huggers never understand is that everyone (even Republicans and Big Oil) wants a clean sustainable environment, which means everyone would use renewables and drive EVs without needing to be bribed with subsidies or forced by mandates if they were truly economical and environmentally friendly, but the fact that most people don’t adopt them even with subsidies and mandates means that they aren’t actually viable.

StevenF 20 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I have been around long enough to have seen many different types of technologies hyped that then completely disappeared. I remember a helicopter/flying car that would incorporate eight 200 hp propellers that would provide lift and stability. It was discussed at length in Popular Mechanics. That was before I realized that Popular Mechanics was the Enquirer for the technology set.

I read the comments by the three quoted with real interest. I kept thinking to myself. If I knew that these breakthroughs in energy and storage were coming and would be here in just a few short years, I wouldn’t be on some random website promoting how great they were and how they were going to completely upend the fossil fuel industry. No I wouldn’t. I would be doing everything I could to invest in those technologies and doing everything I could to be part of the coming revolution. I especially wouldn’t be promoting the technology thereby diluting my investment until the breakthroughs were ready to hit the street. That is how millions, if not billions, are made.

E Olson 17 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Good points, but have you considered that those commenters might be from the large group of Leftists such as Nancy Pelosi, Gavin Newsom, Joe and Hunter Biden, Gretchen Whitmer, Bernie Sanders, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Kim Jong-un who don’t care about their own personal wealth and profits, and just want to do what is best for the people?

Yancey Ward 21 hours ago · 0 Likes  

I am familiar with both battery ideas- neither has been demonstrated on the scale actually needed, and the Ambri batteries won’t be lasting 100 years- that is complete nonsense in the real world- the batteries use liquid metal alloys that must be heated continuously and prevented from ever contacting the air. In the real world, seals on containment vessels always break down, and these seals will be under extreme duress.

Additionally, everything I read about these batteries completely glosses over an inconvenient fact- when you are using heavier metals to deliver the electron transfers, you add great mass to the batteries. One of the reasons that lithium ion batteries are so good is that lithium’s cation is only 3 atomic mass units. If, for example, you are using calcium as the electron donor metal, you need over 3 times the mass (it’s oxidation state is II). It is telling that Ambri doesn’t use magnesium instead- this tells me that the energy imputs into keeping the metals liquified are the main issues. You have to keep the the Ambri batteries at at least 200-300 C, and this is if you really believe their claims, which I don’t. Calcium only melts at 842 C, so to lower that will require an alloy of some kind, but then that alloy can only really be with a similarly dense metal- something that is never described in any of their literature- in short, I smell a big con.

sch 3 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Brief perusal of the Ambri site suggests the discharged battery is Ca metal separated from Antimony metal by CaCl2 electrolyte and the charged battery is
CaSb alloy or compound. An melts at 630°C, and most alloys melt at lower temps than their constituent metals which correlates with the 500°C operating temp. Suspect that availability of Ambri batteries is 5-10 yrs in future. Current world production of antimony is ~300,000 tons/yr valued at $6k/ton with Ca metal at $4k/ton both largely produced in China (and Russia). If Ambri is a viable tech in the future it will be interesting to see what utility level costs would be for their batteries and how rampable production would be.

Yancey Ward 12 hours ago · 0 Likes  

One small edit- lithium’s atomic mass is about 7- what I get for writing a comment in the middle of the night.

E Olson 18 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Wouldn’t a battery that needs to be kept at 200-300 C need a lot of energy to achieve that high temperature? Doesn’t an energy storage system (aka battery) that needs constant inputs of energy to keep warm kind of defeat the purpose of the battery (i.e. storage)? This reminds me of electric cars, most of which have extensive climate control systems to keep the batteries at optimal temperatures, which means that during cold weather they use power to keep themselves from freezing, and during hot conditions they power the vehicle’s A/C system to keep themselves from getting too hot. Thus while driving in very hot or cold temperatures the battery will use a substantial portion of its stored energy to keep itself comfortable and hence not to move the car down the road, which is a major reason that cold weather reduces driving range by up to 40% (hot weather reductions are usually no more than 20%). This is also why you are supposed to keep your EV plugged in when not in use so the grid rather than power from the battery can be used to keep the battery comfortable. As a consequence this means that if you don’t keep your full battery plugged to the grid during very hot or moderately cold (or very cold) weather your “full” battery will be substantially discharged when you start your journey with a corresponding reduction in range. I’ve seen very few calculations of EV efficiency that take into account the juice required to keep batteries comfortable, but if you replace most current cars with EVs, especially in hot places such as Arizona and Florida or cold places such as Minnesota and New England, you are going to have to build a lot of electricity generating capacity just to keep many millions of EV batteries from overheating or freezing. Do we really want energy storage systems that requires substantial amounts of energy to keep comfortable (and useable)?

Yancey Ward 12 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Rereading their literature this morning (it had been a while), I see that their “commercial product” is to be kept at 500 C. They claim that the normal charging, discharging cycle daily will keep the batteries at a high enough temperature. However, here is the problem- what if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine for, let’s say, a week? The batteries discharge completely and then solidify, unless you heat them up by charging them with some other power source.

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