Buffalo NY: where green energy fantasies go to die, and reality dawns

There’s a thread on Reddit about Tesla’s Solar Roof announcements that is pretty funny if your job isn’t at stake, and pretty unfunny if it is. Here’s what Tesla has said about the alleged product since purchasing solar financing company SolarCity in late 2016:

2016Q4 Letter: We also revealed our solar roof, which we plan to begin selling and installing later this year.

2017Q1 Letter: We plan to start pilot manufacturing of Solar Roof tiles in Q2 at our Fremont facility. Shortly thereafter, production will transition to Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York.

2017Q2 Letter: Having…installed the first Solar Roofs, our teams are now focused on ramping the production rate of these products to support our mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

2017Q3 Letter: We expect to ramp Solar Roof production considerably in 2018.

2017Q4 Letter: Initial production of Solar Roof at the Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo started in Q4, and we are ahead of schedule with the hiring targets

2018Q1 Letter: Production of Solar Roofs should accelerate significantly in the second half of this year.

2018Q2 Letter: We plan to ramp production more toward the end of 2018.

2018Q3 Letter: Accordingly, we expect to ramp production more quickly during the first half of 2019.

2018Q4 Letter: We plan to ramp up the production of Solar Roof with significantly improved manufacturing capabilities during 2019.

In spite of this nine-item litany of promises spanning nearly three years, Tesla as you can see did not roll out the Solar Roof. It did however obtain three quarters of a billion dollars from the State of New York toward making the so-called Gigafactory 2 (mentioned in the 2017 Q1 letter) a generator of the green energy jobs of the future.

Gigafactory 2 is a manufacturing complex outside Buffalo where SolarCity, prior to its panic sale to Tesla in late 2016, had planned to make conventional solar photovoltaic panels. Immediately after Tesla’s board approved the SolarCity purchase, Tesla decided that instead of making those clunky looking PV panels Gigafactory 2 would make the Solar Roof, an entire roofing system comprised of novel PV shingles.

In spite of early estimates that a typical Solar Roof installation would cost in the neighborhood of $US75,000, i.e. about $10k less than a Tesla Model S—obviously putting it financially well out of reach for most homehowners—the New York state government bought in big time. New York is shutting down the Indian Point nuclear plant well before the end of its useful life. Apparently state lawmakers want us to believe that Gigafactory 2, and tens of thousands of Solar Roofs on the homes of well-heeled New Yorkers, are what will replace Indian Point’s 24/7 output of over 2,000 zero-emission megawatts.

Yes, it really does appear that elected state politicians who supported the Gigafactory 2 subsidy actually believed Tesla frontman Elon Musk’s asinine prophesies about solar powering the future. Not just that, but they were confident enough in Tesla’s serial assurances that the Solar Roof would be rolling out of Gigafactory 2 any day now—shown in the Reddit thread that led off this article—that they committed three quarters of a billion taxpayer dollars so that they could be in on the ground floor.

What explains this level of gullibility? I mean, three quarters of a billion dollars on the say-so of a celebrity e-commerce zillionaire whose claims to energy guru-dom rest on zingers like “The Earth is almost entirely solar-powered today, in the sense that the sun is the only thing that keeps us from being at the temperature of cosmic background radiation, which is 3 degrees above absolute-zero.” Is Musk aware that that statement also explains why humans all over the globe meet their heating requirements with coal, oil, gas, wood, peat, and dung—all of which contribute to the CO2 emissions problem we have collectively caused? Is he aware of how laughable it is to suggest that solar—a source that produces electricity only during daylight hours and best on cloudless days—can meet heating demand, let alone all electricity demand? Are his cheerleaders aware?

The chart below is a counterfactual showing one 93-hour period in late March 2018 in which Ontario’s wind and solar generation “fleets” were sized beforehand to meet all annual Ontario electricity demand (which in 2018 was around 140 billion kilowatt-hours). During this particular period near the end of March, wind and solar generation exceeded Ontario demand. This is precisely the type of scenario where the people who believe in 100-percent-renewable-energy say energy storage—in lithium-ion batteries of the type Tesla sells—would come into play. So the sky-blue area plot shows the surplus wind and solar electricity generation that needs to be stored.

Several things about this:

  1. The sky-blue area plot represents over 1 billion kilowatt-hours of electrical energy that require storage. I emphasize, electricity only.
  2. The cost of storage in litium-ion batteries, according to a very optimistic report by Deloitte, has fallen to US$209 (CA$280) per kilowatt-hour, which puts the overnight cost of the battery array to hold the billion-plus kWh to around CA$280 billion.
  3. The sky-blue area plot represents electricity storage only; as you can see, demand for heating over the same period outstripped electricity demand by tens of millions of kilowatts. And transportation power demand was a further ten million kilowatts above that.

In short, to meet one roughly four-day electricity storage scenario in 2018 would have required an investment that amounts to four-fifths of Ontario’s provincial debt. And this does not address two other significant segments of energy demand: residential space heating and light duty transportation.

Earlier in this blog I talked about Green Kavorka, the lure of the politically correct celebrity-turned-eco-activist. I mentioned that it seems some politicians simply cannot resist the media spotlight, even if they have to play second fiddle to celebrities whose stellar luminosity far ouitstrips their own.

There’s no celebrity who has more of a green shine than Elon Musk, and it may be finally dawning on New York politicians just how damaging it is to their state’s economy, and potentially their own political careers, to have so carelessly believed what he says. Tesla has gigantic revenue and debt problems. It cannot be a successful car business with a solar albatross hanging around its neck. I predicted in my previous article (“Blather and risk”) that Tesla would soon be forced to abandon its solar business if it wants to avoid bankruptcy. I’m still pretty confident that’s the case. I’m pretty sure that Buffalo, the site of a three-quarter-billion-dollar false promise, now knows this–after having learned it the hard way.

Indian Point, a proven zero carbon bulk electricity generator, will not be replaced with solar panels. It is irresponsible to say it will be replaced with anything other than natural gas, a carbon-heavy fossil fuel. Unless nuclear is front and centre, the Green New Deal everybody’s talking about will turn out to be nothing more than a lame and embarrassing example of kicking alcoholism by switching from wine to beer and claiming, after the fact, that your problem was wine and not alcohol.

2 comments for “Buffalo NY: where green energy fantasies go to die, and reality dawns

  1. March 17, 2019 at 07:01

    You almost have to smile at Musk’s gambit there.  New York is infamous for its ridiculous taxes and regulations, soaking the productive to pay for both the elite and vote-farmed classes of freeloaders.  Pulling a scam on them can be viewed as just deserts.

    • March 18, 2019 at 09:14

      hadn’t looked at it that way, but okay. Pretty short sighted scam though, if it pans out as I expect.

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