Incapable of increasing their output to match an increase in demand, wind and solar will never amount to meaningful power generation sources. No, for every single MW of wind and solar capacity there has to be another MW of reliable, dispatchable power generation somewhere else, connected to the grid, and ready to deliver the goods, on demand, whatever the weather.
The cost of what used to be called ‘back up’ (these days rent seekers use the euphemism ‘firming’) is astronomical, rising and you are paying every last cent charged by the owners of the plants that can deliver power on demand.
Here’s a short sharp piece from the Financial Times that makes the point.
Renewables: the more you have, the more you pay for backups
12 March 2023
Intermittent supply from a variety of power generation adds to the challenge of balancing the grid.
Cold, still weather in the UK this week triggered high demand for electricity at a time when wind turbines were idling. That forced National Grid to use a back-up coal-generation plant for the first time this winter.
Depending on Mother Nature for electricity means accepting her inconsistencies. Back-up is required, and keeping it available has a cost.
In the US, electricity demand is on average 15 per cent higher during July than January according to the US Energy Information Agency. In the much cooler UK, a government study during 2012-2013 revealed that demand rose 36 per cent in the winter.
Intermittent supply adds to the challenge of balancing the grid. Wind and solar power made up 31 per cent of the Texas grid’s capacity last year, up from 9 per cent ten years prior. That intermittency is a vulnerability.
Indeed, an unusually cold snap in early 2021 forced a system increasingly dependent on intermittent power into blackouts. That prompted calls for more nuclear and gas-fired power plants. Consumers would pay, though it could add just $2 on a typical $100 power bill, say power researchers E3.
In contrast, UK power needs are reasonably well anticipated via capacity auctions. Run by government, these aim to provide generation for expected demand. A recent auction for capacity in 2026/27 cost £5.7bn over the 15-year period of the longest contracts, according to analysis by Aurora Energy Research. Consumers also pay for this, partly through the environmental levies which can make up a quarter of bills.
Power capacity differs from “firm” power capacity, Lambert Energy Advisory points out, depending on reliability and intermittency. In winter months, the UK government gives the accolade of “firm” to gas-fired turbine power plants at 90 per cent of capacity, wind at 9 per cent and solar at under 3 per cent.
Consumers end up paying to build little-used firm power capacity. The conundrum is that the greater the overall share of renewables in the energy mix, the more customers will have to spend on these largely redundant backups.
2 thoughts on “Ever Escalating Price of Wind & Solar: The More You Have, The More You Pay”
For the record, this is the full list of notes issued by the Energy Realists of Australia.
Note 21.7 RE CAN DISPLACE COAL POWER BUT NOT REPLACE IT
Increasing the penetration of unreliable energy from the wind and the sun into the electricity supply can make coal power stations uneconomic but cannot replace them.
The rate of exit from coal is not accelerated by increasing penetration on good days, it is limited by the lowest level of output on nights with little or no wind, as a convoy travels at the speed of the slowest vessel, the water penetrates the levee at the lowest point, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link and stock get out of the yard through gaps even if the rest of the fence is built to the sky.
As long as periods with effectively zero solar and wind power persist, 100% backup from conventional power will still be required, assuming that we want security of supply. This means that we will have to keep burning coal until nuclear power is on deck.