Right On: 100 percent renewable energy and other pipe dreams

Stock images, St. George News

OPINION — What’s not to love about renewable energy? There’s never too much of a good thing, right?

By playing on obvious sympathies, environmental activists create political stampedes that lead down blind alleys, wasting tax dollars and business investment and costing consumers billions.

Take a look at the latest enviro-political folly: 100 percent renewable energy. Mayors in over 500 cities from Orlando, Florida, to Georgetown, Texas, and Los Angeles, have committed to generate or buy as much power from renewable sources as their cities use.

But these commitments are nothing more than feel-good marketing gimmicks. Why? On calm nights and cloudy days when solar panels and wind turbines are idle, all these cities will be using fossil fuels or nuclear reactors to supply their electricity.

Nonetheless, these mayors will claim that they’ve achieved 100 percent nirvana by generating or buying excess power when the sun shines and the wind blows and selling that excess to others. They will, that is, if they can find buyers.

Today, California gets about 12 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. But California can’t find enough buyers for its daytime excess. In 2016, 305,241 megawatt hours of power – enough to power 45,000 homes for a year – was “curtailed,” a polite word for shunted to ground.

Ignoring this “inconvenient truth,” California is pushing ahead to get 50 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030. Officials hope to sell all this excess daytime power to neighboring states. But what happens if those states succumb to environmental foolishness and push for 100 percent renewable energy themselves?

Can California store all that excess electricity in batteries during the day for use at night? No, it can’t. Today’s battery technology can’t come anywhere close to storing enough power for a city at anywhere close to a reasonable cost.

Battery technology is among the hottest areas of research today and press releases abound touting “breakthrough” technologies. None of them have borne fruit.

The federal Energy Department announced a new battery technology last year that has since disappeared. Bill Gates has committed almost $2 billion of his own money into battery research without success. One of his ventures, Aquion, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. Elon Musk would love to have better batteries for his Tesla automobiles but remains skeptical of the parade of “breakthrough” announcements.

The environmental holy grail of 100 percent renewable energy will have to wait for a real breakthrough that isn’t in anyone’s lab today or even on the horizon.

In the meantime, solar companies are making lots of money with massive government subsidies for power we can’t always use.

Solar power customers complain when they can’t sell excess electricity back to their suppliers at retail rates. But even a so-called 100 percent renewable energy customer still needs energy at night.

Homeowners with rooftop solar power need to recognize their dependence on fossil fuels and the electrical grid. The rest of us have every reason to expect them to pay their fair, albeit difficult-to-determine, share of these costs.

Misleading claims about 100 percent renewable energy are only the most recent hoax perpetrated by environmental activists and their political enablers.

Corn-based ethanol was touted as renewable motor vehicle fuel, reducing demand for fossil fuels. Environmental activists convinced Congress to enact Renewable Fuel Standards requiring ethanol in almost every gallon of gasoline we buy.

Ethanol’s claimed benefits are demonstrably false. As reported by CNN, it takes about seven barrels of oil to produce eight barrels of ethanol. Worse yet, there is less energy in those eight ethanol barrels than there was in the seven barrels of oil.

Environmental activists whacked us twice: Dependence on oil is essentially unchanged while greenhouse gas emissions are doubled.

Attempts to undo this wasteful use of resources have failed repeatedly under pressure from the farm lobby and ethanol refiners like Archer Daniels Midland, special interests that benefit at the expense of consumers.

Meanwhile the environmental activists and legislators who foisted ethanol on us have gone on to other crusades.

At least Americans avoided Europe’s diesel-fuel follies.

European environmental activists, waving the global warming banner in the 1990s, convinced politicians to enact laws favoring diesel engines over gasoline engines. They argued that diesel’s higher fuel economy would outweigh its slightly higher greenhouse gas emissions per gallon.

Whether Europe is generating less carbon dioxide today is uncertain. What is certain is deadly air pollution due to diesel particulates and nitrogen oxides. Environmental activists and their fellow traveling politicians degraded the environment and wasted resources.

Germany is a cautionary tale of environmentalist pipe dreams gone wrong. The country went all in for renewable energy in 1997, hoping to reduce its dependence on nuclear power. With much favorable press from environmentalists, it is close to reaching its targets for wind, solar, hydro and biomass.

The problem: Germany’s residential electricity costs three times what we pay in the U.S. and 800,000 Germans have had their power cut off because they could not pay. All that despite multi-trillion-dollar government subsidies paid for by taxpayers.

Admitting the program’s failure in 2016, Germany is sharply reducing subsidies.

The bottom line: beware environmental activists who want to remake our economy to fit their latest pipe dream.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: hsierer@stgeorgeutah.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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16 Comments

  • Pheo September 7, 2017 at 7:12 am

    The idea that everyone is out to trick Americans is destroying this country. Sure there are bad actors out there, but most people in labs and in government agencies are just trying to do their best for their communities and country. The idea that scientists are this united cabal of mustache-twirling villains that are somehow able to keep their conspiracy secret is laughable. Unless you have hard evidence of a conspiracy to mislead, do everyone a favor and talk about something else. Otherwise you are the crackpot conspiracy theorist.

    Second, both sides already know that ethanol is a boondoggle to appease Midwest states, who have outsized power in our national politics. Ethanol was never about environmentally sound energy policy.

    Though battery technology may not be ready today, there is no reason that it couldn’t improve to the point where every home in 20 years couldn’t have enough solar panels and battery capacity to provide reliable energy 24 hours a day. Even though I am not a fan of mass solar projects like the one in Ivanpah, I can still recognize that it continues to produce power well after sundown because of heat stored in the towers. Daytime solar energy could be used to store energy in elevated reservoirs that are filled while the sun is out and drained to create power after sunset. There are countless other similar schemes.

    Setting ambitious goals that seem unattainable is often the first step to making quantum advancements in our technology. What is the harm of making goals like that? It’s not like we are trying to break the laws of physics by making a goal of building a faster-than-light spacecraft. When the world eventually finds itself completely independent of oil that bankrolls terrorists and despots, we will be grateful we made this “moon shot”. The easy choice is to just ride out the unsustainable status quo and screw over our children and grandchildren in the process.

  • knobe September 7, 2017 at 7:55 am

    Sorry but this piece is the largest load of cow dung I’ve seen in quite awhile .
    Just because something isn’t 100% it’s Not valid ? Seriously ?
    Mr HS’s obsession with the 100% number is one of his Major Failings .

    Alternative sources DO supply the grid helping many utilities meet the extra demand especially during our Increasingly hotter summer days .
    But HS just talks about alternatives not supplying during the night ? So what ?
    I’ll lay odds his employer saw Little productivity from him at night . . . so He was then irrelevant ?
    He also complains about some utilities not paying the homeowners cash for extra generation while AGAIN ignoring
    many utilities Do give future credits to be used when the homeowner is generating less & needs to draw on the grid , thus saving $$$$$ .
    HS Never discusses any of the homeowners who even it St George pay
    as little as $40 a month in the Summer while their Air Conditioner keeps the house at 72 degrees .

    HS also picks out single day events where power was not needed & shunted while
    Ignoring all the times it kept the grid up far longer during excessive demand .
    His flawed analysis might be due to his narrow career work in high frequency signaling and
    LACK of education in power generation from multiple sources .

    HS also Failed to acknowledge radical increases in population as a factor in continued fossil fuel use ,
    & then made the inductive leap to conclude that alternative fuels are a failure .

    As someone with 30 years of electrical work Including Power ,
    I find his reasoning severely flawed and his conclusions Lacking in Credibility .

    • Howard Sierer September 7, 2017 at 9:18 am

      I respect your 30 years of experience but please respond to what I said.

      I do not have an obsession with 100 percent renewable power. Over 500 mayors have that obsession, responding to political pressure from environmental activists. I point out that the phrase, 100 percent renewable, is a marketing gimmick, not reality.

      I don’t complain that rooftop solar homeowners get paid for their excess power. I point out that some complain that they get paid at a rate less than retail in order to compensate for utilities’ costs in providing night time power to these same folks.

      Rooftop solar homeowners benefit from tax breaks paid for by the rest of us. Without these tax breaks, many fewer would choose to install solar panels.

      Please read the hyperlink explaining California’s problems reselling excess power. Then ask yourself who would buy any excess power if every state and city went 100 percent renewable. In other words, eventually the 100 percent renewable power Ponzi scheme would collapse. That doesn’t make solar power bad per se, but 100 percent is a pipe dream.

      I never said renewable power was a failure. I said 100 percent renewable power is a pipe dream. There’s a big difference.

      Thanks for reading but please read what I said, not what you assume I said.

    • desertgirl September 7, 2017 at 10:13 am

      knobe, you sound like the typical socialist environmentalist; all opinion, no new ideas that don’t punish the populace. Blah, blah.

  • theone September 7, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Yo Howard, I believe you have zero credibility on this subject. The first thing I suggest is to refrain from plagiarizing articles from the late 70s to early 80s when all this became a thing.
    By the way, Germany is leading the way in renewable energy as of 2015, and their reduction in subsidies reflects the shrinking cost in the technology.
    Renewable energy has been with us for over 100 years as we make breakthroughs every year working in three generation renewable’s.
    You sir are a paranoid crackpot who can’t adjust to the reality of true science and technology.
    One last note, renewable energy has created more jobs than coal and oil in the United States.
    Try reading updated material for a change.

    • bikeandfish September 8, 2017 at 12:33 am

      Hey theone,

      I haven’t been able to keep up with renewable energy developments the last 5 years or so and I want to catch up. Any reading lists or cites you recommend? Sincere request as the area is a blindspot.

  • Andrew September 7, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    There is sooo much wrong with this article.

    1) The idea that 100% means 100% right now and without transition is completely false. All the targets are for decades down the line.

    2) The idea that it can’t happen because of nights and no wind is incredibly flawed, for a couple reasons
    a) Battery Tech is increasing at a rapid rate (it has doubled in the last 5 years)
    b) Battery Tech is the obvious solution for the nighttime problem of power generation

    3) California currently has 20% of its grid on Wind/Solar (if you are going to make a bad claim at least use the correct information) and over 25% total renewable, and that doesn’t even include an additional 10% in large hydro (which was down in years past because of the drought)

    http://www.energy.ca.gov/almanac/electricity_data/total_system_power.html

    4) There is absolutely ZERO evidence that converting from Fossil Fuels to renewables hurt the economy. California has been leading the country in this transition and since 2006 leads the nation in many economic categories, while Texas has suffered while Fossil Fuel prices have tanked.

    http://grist.org/article/california-defies-trump-claim-that-environmental-regulation-kills-economic-growth/

    In conclusion, you are essentially parroting false talking points all while not even referencing correct information. In all, you have zero credibility on this subject and should just stop

  • jaybird September 7, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    When China gets the market share of renewable energy, you naysayers will stand up and shout why arent WE there yet? Oh yeah, Obama did it. Complaints dont mean much when you and yours choke on your own pollution.

  • Go Solar Program September 7, 2017 at 11:26 pm

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  • Jeffery September 8, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Environmentalists? How cheap. Try getting a real technical piece rather than a political puff piece. Utilities always make plans to keep the lights on and running. There will be always levers and actions to take as the variability of renewable energy scales up and down.

    https://climatecrocks.com/2017/07/05/baseload-when-wind-is-the-firmest-energy-source/#more-46822

    Germany’s power grid, with much greater Renewable energy penetration, is 10x as stable as the US.

    Maybe they know something Rick Perry doesn’t. (doesn’t everybody?)

    EENews:

    The peak season for electricity at the Rim Rock Wind Farm in northern Montana is in the winter, when a steady wind blows from the Rockies and gets 126 turbines spinning. Then the wind flags for a moment, and an unusual chain of events begins.

    In San Francisco, at the headquarters of the wind farm’s owner, NaturEner USA, a technician in front of a giant screen observes the downtick. A computer in a locked closet sends an alert to a trader in Vancouver, British Columbia, who immediately buys a small block of electricity from a dam somewhere in Washington state, just enough to make up for the shortfall.

    The data about that watery block is routed back to San Francisco, blended with the wind power and delivered on a pre-agreed contract to a utility somewhere on the West Coast, resulting in firm power, the premium stuff, as reliable as any coal plant but with zero carbon emissions.

  • Jeffery September 9, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Over time the people of science have actually detected and verified an increase of infrared energy returning to earth from our ghg’s we have emitted over 150 years.Utilities already respond to variable load and can easily respond to variable power supplies. Man Made Global Warming means we must change our energy supplies. Renewable energy is the only way out to keep our modern society flourishing. With renewable energy we will have cheaper energy and lower health costs that fossil fuels cause. A brighter future is ahead of us with renewable energy. Can’t say that for fossil fuels that will bring us a darker future.

  • riccie September 9, 2017 at 10:41 am

    So since I have a wood burning stove and burn wood; Is that considered me of using renewable energy? I am I adding to the greenhouse pollution problem?

  • bikeandfish September 9, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Studies I have read don’t consider wood fuel to be a contributor to global warming. The carbon in the dead trees was going to be released as it decomposed, just slower than burning for heat. So technically no gain. Fossil fuels are “sequestered” and aren’t naturally released. So extraction and burning of those increases atmospheric carbon.

    Wood is technically renewable assuming the region harvested is replacing at roughly the same rate as harvest.

    The worst part of wood burning is the significant release.of noxious byproducts into the local atmosphere that have other environmental effects. The stuff is horrible for locals health.

  • Redbud September 9, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    If you install rooftop solar panels right now on say a 1500sq ft home in St George, what is the payback period? The reason I ask is because I want to know people’s opinions on whether its worth it financially? I actually don’t care about the environmental aspect at the moment, just interested in whether its a financially sound investment. When I go to websites like Solar Legend and other sites like it, of coarse they want to present solar in the best light possible, but what is the truth?

    • comments September 10, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      The truth is it’s only a good deal if you can get the big gov’t rebates. for details on that i’ve no idea

  • comments September 10, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    Howard, can’t really argue the meat of the article, but throwing around a blanket term like “environmental activist” is a cheap shot and you know it. You know damn well the folks profiting from the industry and pushing it politically are not “environmental activists”. They are corporatists and profiteers, which we know you personally love since you are a neo-con and globalist supporter yourself. You might as well keep it even simpler for the dullard right-wingers and just say “them libruls done it!”

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