Solar and Wind Power Won't Work Without Natural Gas as a Back-Up, Says New Study

To be against fracking is to be against renewable energy.



Anti-fracking pro-renewable energy activists are walking contradictions, according to a new study at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Three economists find that natural gas electricity generation complements and enables the deployment of renewable energy generation. To be against fracking is to be against renewable energy.

In their survey of 26 Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries, the economists find that natural gas and renewable power generation increase in nearly a one-to-one ratio. Why is that? Because intermittent solar and wind energy cannot be stably integrated into the power grid unless there is a back-up source of electricity when the sun does not shine and the wind fails to blow. The researchers note that 8 megawatts of back-up capacity are required for any 10 megawatts of wind capacity added to the grid. They cite other research that suggests that the ability to store solar electricity for 20 hours is necessary for photovoltaic power to work as a base-load resource. Since no such massive storage technology currently exists, only fast reacting fossil fuel power generation can fill in this gap.

The researchers also point out that projections of falling renewable technologies costs fail to take into account the costs of constructing and maintaining fast reacting fossil fuel (chiefly natural gas) back-up power. From the study …

… the estimated indirect costs of renewables are at least an order of magnitude greater than those associated with dispatchable fossil-fuel technologies. For the latter, system costs are relatively modest, generally estimated below USD 3 per MWh (megawatt-hour) in OECD countries. For the formers, such costs are as high as USD 40 per MWh for onshore wind, USD 45 per MWh for offshore wind and USD 80 per MWh for solar. These high estimates are the direct results of the need for additional system reserves and back-up generation to ensure system reliability. Renewable energy system costs will also increase over-proportionally with the amount of variable electricity in the system, with far-fetching [reaching] implications for the energy markets and security of supply. Ignoring them can thus lead to a severe underestimation of the social and private costs of any energy transition.

In the Washington Post, one of the researchers, Elena Verdolini from the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, observes:

"If you have an electric car, you don't need a diesel car in your garage sitting there. But in the case of renewables, it's different, because if you have renewable electricity and that fails, then you need the fast acting gas sitting in your garage, so to speak."

Basically, the study makes the point that evironmental activists had better come to grips with the fact that natural gas is indeed a "bridge fuel" to any renewable energy technology future. In addition, they should recognize that deploying renewable energy technologies will cost a lot more than many of their rosy projections of falling wind and solar power technology prices suggest that it will.

Maybe activists should reconsider the advantages of no-carbon nuclear power?

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  1. I guess you have to have an outfit with a fancy name blow a big budget confirming the obvious like this, but fer cryin’ out loud, hasn’t this been known for decades?

    1. Yes and no. Wind and solar are known to be intermittent. The argument has been that “the wind is always blowing

      1. always blowing somewhere.

        Studies show that about 40% of the time wind is less than 50% of capacity, and about 16% of the time wind is zero IIRC. So 100% backup is needed.

        Solar of course is only available 50% of the time.

  2. Um, duh? We needed a study to tell us that when unreliable energy sources aren’t producing when demand is high, that we need a reliable source of energy production? Where’s my check for my conclusion?

    Can’t we just build the reliable energy sources and say we built the unreliable ones?

  3. “then you need the fast acting gas sitting in your garage, so to speak”

    Another point in favor of free-range tamales?

  4. Did the study complete the obviousness trifecta by also noting that things will change when new battery technology is developed?

    1. $: Yes. But when will that be?

      1. Ron: you may have misunderstood that my question was snark.

        To answer your question though, I don’t know but at least there are companies working on it. Portability of energy generated by renewable sources is a bigger issue than the unreliability of those sources.

        1. Portability of energy generated by renewable sources is a bigger issue than the unreliability of those sources.

          Exactly. I still don’t understand what the big deal is about Tesla’s coal/nat gas powered cars.

        2. Portability of energy generated by renewable sources is a bigger issue than the unreliability of those sources.

          I’d have to think about that. The vast majority of our energy use isn’t from batteries, and it has to be generated (reliably>?) before it can be stored.

          1. It doesn’t have to be reliably generated, that’s the point. If you can hook a battery to a windmill, it will collect any time the mill is producing. When the battery is full, you take it to where it’s needed. If you can make a good battery that doesn’t bleed energy when it’s not being charged, you’ll then have a way to overcome the unreliability of the generator.

            1. In addition, you can control the release of electricity into the grid to keep prices from fluctuating too wildly.

            2. +1 diesel trucks driving batteries around.

              1. Yup. And once the portability problem is solved all of those trucks will be driving around with targets on them.

            3. Or just build a bunch of standardized design nuclear power plants ad forget about playing with solar panels and windmills.

              1. Crazy talk! Nobody wants to be a mutant living in a radioactive wasteland.

                1. If Lockheed Martin succeeds in perfecting their fusion reactor design, the greatest benefit won’t be the economic gains from the cheap energy.

                  It will be the benefit of watching the watermelon green’s heads explode as the “renewable” energy sources they worship like the golden calf in the Old Testament story are rendered instantly obsolete.

                2. We should all be so lucky to transform into Incredible hulks.

            4. Such a wonderful idea. Think of all the good-paying unionized (the Teamsters, no less) jobs this will generate! And then we will be able to stop all that horrendous mining for copper and aluminum for transmission wires, which just allows energy to be transmitted so cheaply that people waste too much of it.

              And the planning process to determine when people will be able to wash their clothes, or cook their food, or look at their TVs and computers, will generate even more higher-paying jobs for SJWs who don’t have any other alternative employment prospects besides telling people how to live their lives.

          2. Oil and coal are nature’s batteries.

            1. Indeed. Unfortunately, some big pack of jerks is saying we can’t use them anymore.

              1. Progressives don’t like the industrial revolution. Because ‘corporashunz’.

            2. And thorium and uranium and plutonium.

  5. “You are required to buy this car to get around, but it breaks down frequently. As a solution, we have this very reliable car to use as a spare for the other.”

    1. Ah, frak…RTFA….

  6. Radiophobia is something hippies seem unable to get over.

  7. Unreliable renewable energy sources aren’t just unreliable, they’re also way the fuck away from where the people who need the energy are.

    1. The obvious solution is to move everyone closer to the renewable energy sources.

      1. Westward, Ho!

      2. Or get a whole bunch of really long extension cords.

  8. The researchers also point out that projections of falling renewable technologies costs fail to take into account the costs of constructing and maintaining fast reacting fossil fuel (chiefly natural gas) back-up power.

    Do they also take into account the massive gubmint subsidies, which is the only thing that makes these sources even marginally price competitive?

  9. Does anyone else recall the massive brownout in the UK last year, as a result of renewables without traditional backups failing to produce enough power? I’ve done some searches, but it seems to have gone down the memory hole.


      The Daily Fail to the rescue.

      1. Honest to God, the Daily Fail is better journalistic outlet than the NYT.

        1. That was it. Danke.

      2. There is beauty in this passage:

        This is because older power stations that were closed to meet EU emissions targets have not been replaced, leaving the country more dependent on unreliable wind farms and power imported from nations such as France and the Netherlands via undersea cables.

        1. I wonder if the Brexit crew thought to make use of that.

        2. The Europeans are also beholden to Putin for their natural gas.

  10. “If you have an electric car, you don’t need a diesel car in your garage sitting there”

    You do if you need to get somewhere in a hurry due to an unexpected emergency and your electric toy car’s battery will be in recharge mode for 5 more hours before you can get anywhere with it.

    1. Just have a backup hospital emergency room in your garage. Duh!

  11. It might be a wee bit of a warning flag about the viability of your technology if you have to build an 80% scale replica of it using someone else’s technology in order to actually use it.

    I feel like this would be rightfully mocked in other sectors, but because green is righteous it won’t get the deserved scorn.

    “We’re building a bike path for the city that can serve fifty thousand people a day! Also, it randomly becomes impassable at times so we’re also adding a six-lane highway so that we can keep green transportation available!”

    “Buy the new iPhone, with email, internet, music, and camera capabilities! Your old electronics are obsolete! Also, the iPhone takes rainy days off so we’re also charging you for a Mac, a digital camera, a flashlight, a land line, and this tub of board games we’re shipping you to tide you over.”

  12. Damn – sure am glad I’m not the only one who had to check to see if this article was from like 1992. Are there really that many people who don’t know wind and solar power plants rely on having normal back-up plants on stand-by? And it’s not quite like having a gas-powered car parked in your garage in case the electric one has dead batteries – power plants work by generating massive amounts of steam so it’s not like you can wait for the lights to start flickering to fire up the boilers and then wait hours and hours to start generating steam. Those stand-by power plants have to actually be running all the time, just not full blast. So it’s more like you have to have a gas-powered car idling in the garage, not just parked there.

  13. Well, I never! You could knock me over with Tim Egan’s feather boa.

  14. You have this fascination, Ronald, with what environmentalists think.

    Natural gas IS a bridge fuel right now. Did anyone stop fracking? No. It’s happening right now. If it gets stopped, it’s stopped by local property owners who don’t think it’s safe. Are they environmentalists? No, just property owners, or local governments who don’t want it.

    And nuclear? It’s not stopped by environmentalists. It’s stopped by missed scheduling dates, huge cost overruns, large capital costs AND indirect costs, and real safety concerns.

    You want environmentalists to fight the fight for you for fracking and nuclear. They’re fighting for energy sources they believe in. You do it if you think climate change is a problem worth solving. The marketplace is keeping nuclear on the sidelines, not environmentalists.

    1. All the nuclear problems, except over regulation of course, are solved by the molten salt reactor.

      1. And most of the problems for all of other type reactors have also been over regulation and other forms of government instigated or allowed meddling – not “the marketplace”.

    2. And in the meantime, renewable energy sources keep making improvement toward the one area that forces us to use natural gas as a bridge fuel…energy storage.

      Here is another study by a financial group saying renewable costs will keep coming down over the next decade which will drive storage innovation even further.

      ” Economies of scale will drive down costs, thus enabling the deployment of more renewables, in turn creating greater demand for storage and innovation within the space.

      In the meantime, as noted by a number of other commentators as diverse as the Rocky Mountain Institute and credit rating agency Moody’s, it appears to be energy storage applications that benefit the grid that are closest to competing with fossil fuels on a cost basis ? or are already competitive. Moody’s also found in its report that commercial and industrial storage, including peak demand shaving, could be viable within five years.”

        1. Pie in the sky speculation, jackass….but you know that.

        2. Hahaha! Wrong, as always, jackass.

          You continue to believe and naively quote propaganda pieces from quacks and charlatans.

          There are lots of articles promoting cupping, acupuncture, and phrenology you might find convincing. And keep an eye out for Sasquatch in your backyard.

    3. Re: Jackass Ass,

      You have this fascination, Ronald, with what environmentalists think.

      I agree with you that it is a huge waste of time because they don’t. Think, that is.

      They’re fighting for energy sources they believe in.

      In lieu of actual physical capability, we have mysticism.

      1. They’re fighting for energy easy money sources they believe in.


  15. If you’re not talking about moving to a thorium based economy you’re not serious. Thorium burned in a molten salt reactor is THE solution. Until batteries become way better we just use MSTRs to make liquid fuels from atmospheric CO2 and hydrogen from cracked seawater. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

    1. But the watermelons don’t actually want cheap energy.

      Cheap energy would allow people to build and consume more stuff – which of course is bad.

      We must suffer and reflect on our sins like the people who whipped themselves for their sins in the middle ages.

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