Much of North America was in a deep freeze as 2017 waned and turned into 2018. Across Ontario temperatures two hours from midnight on New Year’s Eve in the relatively populated “south” part of the province ranged from minus 31 (Kirkland Lake) to minus 13 (Sault Ste. Marie, which was actually warmer—by one-tenth of a Celsius degree—than Windsor). The residential heat demand across the “relatively populated” part of the province at that time was in the neighbourhood of 25 million kilowatts; the electricity demand was roughly 17.2 million on top of that.1 Please bear in mind that the heating demand is a quantity that is (mostly) in addition to electricity demand. Both have to do with energy, and though they are related and integrated they are distinct. This distinction carries global billion dollar implications. Many people are unaware of this distinction.
Can renewable energy based mostly on wind and solar meet 100 percent of our energy needs? Bearing in mind the data presented in this article, the answer is an obvious and emphatic NO.
Among those who are unaware, either honestly or dishonestly, are mainstream environmental groups and the political groups that have tied their fortunes to the environmentalist mindset. From this crowd you often hear confident predictions that in some few decades all of our energy will come from renewable sources; wind and solar are the most touted. You sometimes even hear such predictions coming straight from high levels of government.
How credible are such predictions? They clearly lack any and all credibility, and not only for the simple reason that the sun goes down every night, raising the vexing question of what non-fossil-fuel energy source is going to power homes, hospitals, schools, and the Internet between seven p.m. and seven a.m.
Have a look at the figure below. It shows the output of Ontario’s wind and solar generators against provincial electrical and (most) residential heating demand over the 96 hours from December 30 through January 2.
Note that at the time that combined electricity plus residential heat demand were highest, wind and solar production were at their lowest. This is typical for Ontario in the winter, and a big part of the reason is that nighttime temperatures tend to be lower than daytime, and at nighttime there is no solar power at all.
For the professional renewable energy salesman, the solution to this is easy: just expand the amount of wind and solar capacity so that the probability of achieving enough generation to meet demand becomes greater—i.e., “buy more of my inferior product.” Leaving aside the obvious issues implied by the operative word probability in the preceding sentence, here’s how the situation from December 30 through January 2 could have been different had the wind and solar generation fleets each been ten times its current capacity:
As you can see, in almost all hours (86 out of 96) wind and solar generation fleets ten times their current capacities would still have failed to collectively produce enough power to meet the demand for electricity and residential heat.
Not only that, but when you look at the summary stats, notice that the minimum value of Wind+Solar times ten does not even come to one-third of the minimum value of Electricity Demand.
i.e., had Ontario had ten times its current wind and ten times its current solar, there were a significant number of hours when the combined generation of that tenfold-expanded fleet could not have even served the electricity component of the electricity-plus-heat energy demand. In fact, the entire bottom quartile of Wind+Solar generation featured output values that were less than the minimum value of Electricity Demand.
Can renewable energy based mostly on wind and solar meet 100 percent of our energy needs? Bearing in mind the above, together with the fact that I didn’t even include industrial, commercial, and institutional heat demand, nor even residential hot water—let alone transportation demand (planes, trains, automobiles)—the answer is an obvious and emphatic NO. Not only that, it is obvious that it would be foolish to even try.
In light of this, another monster-size question is begged. Why do governments all across the world regularly and routinely regurgitate the 100 percent renewables myth?
And why do the media types who interview the government types who regurgitate this nonsense not call them on it?
- Contrary to the highly misleading impression given out by our electricity system operator, heating and electricity describe two (mostly) separate energy systems. The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator), which along with managing the day to day operation of our grid oversees contracts for power generation and conservation, publishes a web page that confuses energy with electricity.