Renewable meltdown: here’s the true logic of renewable energy

In a recent interview, Rod Adams, publisher of the excellent Atomic Insights, discusses nuclear and renewable energy with Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. It’s a bit lengthy, and you will need something that can play iTunes. But it is an excellent example of the logic underpinning the arguments in favour of renewable energy.

Makhijani’s arguments in favour of renewable energy are exactly those used by all advocates of renewables, including those in Canada and especially Ontario. Not a single one of them can coherently or credibly answer the question of how to cover intermittency. They all know it will be some sort of fossil that covers nighttime or when the wind isn’t blowing.

Hear it in his own words. Toward the end, Rod asks a natural and perfectly reasonable question about solar energy: how will solar energy provide electricity from six p.m. to six a.m.?

7 comments for “Renewable meltdown: here’s the true logic of renewable energy

  1. donb
    May 17, 2012 at 15:32

    No need for iTunes. If you click on the first link (‘recent interview’)in the first paragraph of the above story, it will take you to The Atomic Show podcast page. Once there, you can listen to the interview using the pop-up player, or download the mp3 file.

    • set
      May 17, 2012 at 17:48

      I hate these damn things I have to devote an hour to something I could read in 5 minutes if there was a transcript.

  2. crf
    May 17, 2012 at 21:19

    The answer is storage. Like pumped hydro, or heat sinks, or compressed air.
    Of course, storage makes the total cost of electricity much more expensive, for the capital cost and the thermodynamic losses. Demand management and massive grid interconnections might also be part of the answer. Just keep adding up the costs.

    Renewables, even though they are often more expensive than their alternatives (coal, gas, nuclear, hydro), are actually relatively cheap compared to what they would be if they were more prevalent, precisely because they are usually a small proportion of the electricity grids, and don’t have too worry much about the myriad issues entwined with their intermittancy.

    The renewables industry might grow faster if they were applied efficiently: towards novel applications that can efficiently use the discontinuous and highly variable electricity or mechanical power they provide. Right now, renewables industries, if not digging their own graves, then are selling their technological potential short, by near-exclusively pushing the industry towards electrical grid connectivity; an application towards they are less well-suited than nuclear and much of the current competition (coal, gas or hydro).

    Too little research is done towards novel uses of the power and electricity provided by renewables. Too much effort is spent trying to push renewables onto the grid.

    And this is understandable too: the economic incentives provided by governments are ever-more steering the renewables industry into this less effective direction of grid power generation.

    • Steve Aplin
      May 17, 2012 at 22:26

      crf, I don’t see the value of wind-powered electricity if it can’t be economically put into the grid, which is the most efficient vehicle for distributing electricity. I mean, it’s not even economical or efficient to have wind in remote communities that are off the grid — they need diesel anyway so why waste time and money on a superfluous and unreliable power source.

      I think you are saying that there could be a niche market for “renewable” mechanical and electric power. Perhaps. But that might bring us back to conflict over public resources. Water power was great if you were running a mill. But not so great if you lived near the same river and wanted electricity. Those in the latter category were more numerous; hence the electric grid.

      • Markus g
        May 17, 2012 at 23:49

        I think what he’s saying is this:

        If wind energy is relatively cheap, but providing reliable power with wind is crushingly expensive, then don’t compete against reliable grid power. Instead, come up with a novel use of unreliable power.

        The problem with this approach is that the capital cost of whatever equipment you need has to be really low and the value of what you make has to be almost as high as products of reliable energy. I’m drawing a blank on possible applications.

        • May 18, 2012 at 15:53

          If wind energy is relatively cheap, but providing reliable power with wind is crushingly expensive, then don’t compete against reliable grid power. Instead, come up with a novel use of unreliable power.

          How about propelling an icebreaker?

          One would not want to ride a sail-propelled icebreaker, but a modern wind turbine could have a pretty good chance of keeping the passengers comfortable, with a ballast of lead-acid batteries, even in prolonged calms. And if a gale blew up — not too hard — the thrusters could be powered, and through the ice we go.

          The outfit named on that page’s masthead — hey, “mast” — did go to another power source, but it was, of course, not wind.

  3. Maury Markowitz
    May 28, 2012 at 13:19

    The Americans can solve their own problems their own ways, but simply put this problem doesn’t exist in Canada.

    As I write this, Hydro Quebec has enough water in their feeds to power the entire country for six months. That’s right, *six months*.

    If the amount of renewables were increased, flow would be reduced, and this number would increase even further.

    What we have in Canada is a distribution issue, not a storage issue, and definitely not a renewables issue.

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