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founding

Where to begin?

Cost estimates on Solar and Wind rarely include all the costs:

a. Subsidies in the form of rate guaranteed contracts above market rates.

b. The large amount of land required and the environmental harm that results

c. Solar requires significant water to keep the panels or mirrors clean as dust reduces their efficiency

d. Replacing natural gas use in homes and electrifying transportation would require doubling the current miles of transmission lines in the US to bring the widely dispersed energy to populated areas. Some energy is lost in transmission. The costs of that infrastructure are ignored, but consumers see it hidden in their electric bills.

Significant upgrades to local grids would also be required.

e. The sun and wind are renewing, but windmills and solar panels are not. They need to be replaced every 15 to 25 years. That cost is rarely penciled in.

f. Decommissioning costs are not accounted for. I know the cost of removing the Alaska Pipeline, whenever it is decommissioned, was built into the original cost estimates. Removal was required in the original agreements. There are currently several decommissioned wind farms that are in the process of decomposing in place because removal, clean up, and restoration were not required in the contracts. All those future costs are ignored when estimating the costs of KWhs for most renewables.

g. The cost of maintaining the precise alternating frequency required as loads vary is more expense with solar and wind because they lack the angular momentum of large turbines. Large steam and hydro turbines will resist the frequency changes driven by increasing or decreasing load long enough for the grid operators to adjust generation to match the load. The less angular momentum in a grid, the more frequently and more quickly the adjustments must be made. This added cost will be hidden in the consumer’s bill.

h. Back up costs are rarely included. Wind generation can be next to nothing for days at a time over wide areas. Ask the Australians. Long periods of cloudy skies can seriously reduce solar output, which is only at peak 6 hours a day in most places anyway.

i. I have seen an estimate that to acquire the minerals to provide adequate battery backup for the USA grid and to electrify transportation would require strip mining and area approximately the size of the Louisiana Purchase.

The chemicals and acids required to separate the pounds minerals from the tons of earth convert the remaining material into toxic sludge. The Chinese are currently willing to dump that sludge in unpopulated areas. Would western countries be willing to do that?

j. 15 to 20 years later, when the batteries wear out, we may be able to recycle some of the material, but another large area of the earth will need to be mined.

k. There are also hidden costs associated with the increased power failures in systems with high wind and solar components. Ask the Texans, Californians, and South Australians. The cost of all the frozen food that melts and is thrown away are not include in the cost estimates of renewables. Neither are the industrial losses.

Theories are wonderful but to quote eminent scientist Richard P. Feynman

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong”. – Richard P. Feynman

The theory proposed in this article is that solar is cheaper than other forms of generation.

Yet in every country or area with high penetration of wind and solar, the price of electricity to consumers and industry is more expensive when compared to countries with less wind and solar or to the same countries before they had the renewables. That data conflicts with the theory, so the theory is wrong.

Ken Snider

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"Optimism and stupidity are nearly synonymous." (Admiral Hyman G. Rickover)

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By all means, let’s impoverish tens of thousands of formerly well paid American workers in the energy sector so we can ship their jobs to China where low wage workers produce upwards of 70 percent of the world’s solar panels.

After all, why should solar advocates give a damn that the energy sector remains one of few where American workers without college degrees can make a great living.

The contempt that solar-loving environmental advocates have for these workers is remarkable. As pipeliners and other workers who once supported their families by producing and helping distribute energy watch their wages plummet and as they move into new jobs flipping burgers, why should solar advocates count amongst the costs the broken families and drug addiction that naturally results from the inevitable economic decline?

Why not spend tens of billions rebuilding the grid to accommodate the solar miracle? Surely there’s no way to put that money to better use. Surely, when calculating the costs of a switch to solar there’s no reason to reflect on the opportunity costs associated with this transition.

The cavalier attitude of the latte-loving crowd obsessing about the environmental impact of fossil fuels while ignoring the consequences for tens of millions of people who buy their coffee at Dunkin Doughnuts is truly staggering.

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Apr 29, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Actually, the way I read it, Casey Handmer's argument is not so much about government policy, but about economics. The gist of his argument is that solar power is already out-competing other sources of producing electricity just on the basis of economics alone. We've already seen one transition driven largely by economics: from coal-fired power generation to natural-gas-fired generation. That will not be the end of it.

I have not myself witnessed contempt being expressed by "solar-loving environmental advocates" towards workers in the traditional energy sector. What environmental activists (which I distinguish from "environmental advocates" which I think describes a large part of humanity, if the environment includes clean air and water) have contempt for is the coal, oil, and natural gas producing companies, and the financial institutions that back them.

Many if not most environmental groups are calling for a "just transition" for workers in the fossil-fuel industry. That's actually an important change in a sort of "wokeness" on their part from even a decade ago.

The simplistic end of the proposals I've seen on how to pursue a just transition envisage re-employing workers displaced in the fossil-fuel industry in the renewable-energy industry itself. I think that is impractical and ill-advised, for reasons of geography and skills matching. However, governments can help train and re-employ fossil-industry workers in other sectors. And, if Casey Handmer's vision of the future comes to pass, isn't it a good idea for young people at the stage of deciding what they are going to do for a living to think twice about becoming specialists in an industry if it makes them hard to employ later if that industry starts shrinking?

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I think you’re right. Casey’s argument is based almost exclusively on the economic factors comparing solar to nuclear and fossil fuel. His analysis may or may not be right. But the fix is in; solar will be expanding its footprint because the Government is mandating it, not because it is economically advantageous. By all means, let’s enrich our Chinese competitors while destroying American jobs. What could possibly go wrong?

Perhaps solar can out compete natural gas in the same way that natural gas is currently out competing coal. But for the most part, electricity produced by natural gas and coal rely on the same distribution system. Casey mentioned all of the available desert land where solar panels might be placed. As far as I know many of these desert areas are not chock full of transmission lines, so I’m not sure that your comparison with gas and coal is entirely accurate.

It goes beyond Casey’s essay, so perhaps this is not the segment in the series to bring it up, but the destruction wrought by environmental activists goes well beyond job loss in the energy sector. For the first time in generations, California is in demographic decline (the census data released earlier in the week proved it). A major reason for the exodus is that housing costs in California are so high that it’s becoming too expensive for middle and working class people to live there. California housing costs are through the roof because supply isn’t keeping up with demand. Everyone knows there are many reasons for this but the environmental policies associated with renewable energy mandates are part of the problem.

Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where we are all relying on electric cars to escape wildfires only to discover that our cars won’t start because of the rolling blackouts caused by an over reliance on renewable sources of energy?

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Apr 29, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Ronald STEENBLIKjust now

Regarding China, I assume you're referring to Chinese-made solar panels. Two little details you might have missed:

1) "In January 2018, the U.S. government implemented Section 201 solar tariffs on imported cells and modules. ... The trade barriers, composed of multiple layers of tariffs and import quotas, had a material impact in 2018 and early 2019. The 2.5-gigawatt solar cell import cap was enough to support domestic solar module manufacturing, and tariffs on imported modules were high enough to level the playing field."

Source: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/why-us-solar-tariffs-almost-worked-and-why-they-dont-now

I'm not defending those tariffs (which were targeted at Chinese manufacturers), just pointing out that they exist.

2) Most of the jobs in the solar industry are downstream of manufacturing, which is capital-intensive -- i.e., in installation, operation (of utility-scale plants), and maintenance. Increasingly, there will be jobs also in recycling the materials in solar panels at the ends of their useful lives.

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It isn’t just solar panel manufacturing. There is also the question—a fraught question—concerning batteries. Not only does the future of solar power depend on them, but it’s estimated that over the next twenty years, some 500 million electric vehicles (EV) will hit the road. They will be powered by lithium-ion batteries, the current standard of the industry. To manufacture such batteries the following raw materials are required: cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese and nickel and some others. The primary sources for almost all of these raw materials are foreign.

Lithium comes from Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo provides most of the world’s cobalt. In all of these countries, extraction is associated with serious environmental hazards and human rights abuses. It’s estimated that in the DRC, some 40,000 children work in the cobalt mines. Lithium mining requires lots of water, the demand for which has has put the squeeze on the country’s agricultural economy. Lithium mining is also responsible for soil contamination problems in all three producing countries.

It gets worse. The extraction and processing of the raw materials need to produce lithium-ion batteries is almost entirely controlled by one country—China. At home and abroad, Chinese companies dominate the harvesting and processing of these raw materials, for instance accounting for 60% of global cobalt production. The Chinese government supports them with state subsidies as part of its drive to corner the relevant markets and control the battery supply chain. This represents a serious national security hazard for the United States, to say nothing of the human rights implications.

Once upon a time, the United States was dangerously dependent on foreign oil. I well remember the 1973-74 oil embargo and the 1979 oil crisis. Today however, this country is energy independent. America’s vast reserves of natural gas give us the time and flexibility to modernize our energy infrastructure at a measured pace, without the distortions and economic damage that centralized government planning would inevitably cause. And a forced transition to energy technologies that would make us dependent on the good graces of a hostile foreign power seems contraindicated, to put it no more pointedly.

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There will be a new article posted, tomorrow I hope, that mentions a bit the issue of Chinese dominance of producing certain minerals, and the dominance of the DRC in cobalt.

Cobalt is certainly a concern, which is why chemists are constantly lookin for new formulations for batteries. As for "dependence" on countries like Chile, which is a fellow OECD country and with which the United States and Canada, and many other countries, have free trade agreements, I don't see that as a problem.

Over the longer term, I expect also to see a lot more recovery and recycling of metals taking place in the USA and elsewhere. The West received a shock after China imposed greater restrictions on the processing of waste materials (by tightening their purity standards) a few years ago.

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Apr 29, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Here's a series of examples of article on the notion of a "just transition" for workers in the fossil-fuel industries:

From the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)'s "Just Transition Centre" (Belgium):

https://www.ituc-csi.org/just-transition-centre

From the World Resources Institute (USA):

https://www.wri.org/insights/steps-aid-us-fossil-fuel-workers-clean-energy-transition

From the International Institute for Sustainable Development (Canada):

https://www.iisd.org/publications/fossil-fuel-subsidy-reform-and-just-transition-integrating-approaches-complementary

From the Stockholm Environment Institute (Sweden):

https://www.sei.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/realizing-a-just-and-equitable-transition-away-from-fossil-fuels.pdf

There are dozens and dozens of other web sites and studies I could list here, but you get the idea, I hope.

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I haven't heard such a passionate argument in favor of "loss without limit" since Arthur Scargill. Tell me: If you believed we could have virtually free electricity and all the economic and technological benefits that would ensue--assume this as a hypothetical--would you agree we should put these men to work breaking rocks with a hammer (or something equally useless) all day, pay them the same salary, and go with the cheap energy? Because assuming Casey's right, what you're describing is a welfare program. A highly inefficient one. If you think Casey's wrong, make that case, but if you think the only reason fossil fuels should exist is because the jobs that ensue from it are well-paid, let's have the argument you really want to have: It's called, "Is communism a good idea?"

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Claire, you have it exactly backwards. The welfare program you should be bemoaning is the one the American Government is sponsoring for poorly paid Chinese workers.

What Casey neglected to mention in her passionate advocacy for all things solar is that most of the worlds solar panels are produced by the nation that’s enslaving the Uighurs, imprisoning democracy-loving students in Hong Kong and threatening with increasing regularity our allies in Taiwan.

Supporting that may seem like a no-brainer to some; it doesn’t to me.

Let’s assume for a moment that Casey is right (most of your subscribers can’t possibly have the expertise to know whether or not she is, and I certainly don’t know). Even If the economic prospects for solar are as advantageous as she claims, it would take many decades to transition to a solar-based grid, affording energy workers years if not decades to transition to new careers.

But that’s not what’s happening; the transition is occurring not because of economic imperatives but by government fiat (in the United States at both the federal and state level). Climate targets (an obsession of mostly credentialed elites) is mandated to happen at a pace that has nothing to do with the economic viability and everything to do with a pseudo-scientific analysis of how much time we have to implement decarbonization before calamity ensues.

In fact, Claire, we will never know if Casey is right that solar can out-compete nuclear and fossil fuels because there will never be a competition; the rules of the game have already been rigged.

But what you’ve gotten remarkably backwards, Claire, is your reference to protecting American jobs as “communism.” As I’ve already mentioned, energy related jobs are being off-shored to China, not because of economic reasons (at least not exclusively) but because of government mandates. Apparently it’s far more important to assuage the obsessions of credentialed elites than it is to save the jobs of Americans who live in the heartland.

It’s not communism you should be worried about, Claire, it’s feudalism.

Feudalism is making a comeback in the West at an unprecedented rate and the focus on climate change is accelerating the process. This time around we might not see knights in shining armor paying homage to their feudal overlords or enforcing the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, but we already see wealth concentrated in fewer hands. We also see societies becoming more stratified with declining social mobility. We also see a new clerisy made up of college professors, journalists, pundits and other cognitive elites enforcing the new orthodoxies (including climate change) with enthusiasm and vigor.

Tell me something, Claire, do you really believe we can have a thriving democracy in the West if hundreds of millions of non-college educated people are relegated to perpetual serfdom?

Do you really believe that when we tally up the costs and benefits of new energy strategies designed to ameliorate climate change that the costs of ruining the lives of millions of people should simply be left out of the equation?

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This is exactly what I've been pointing out: The very concept of "energy policy" skates past political and social factors. Even if it were possible to transition to 100% solar power—which is more than doubtful—the unintended consequences would be dire. I would just remind everybody that the populism so deplored here at The Cosmopolitan Globalist thrives in times of economic upheaval.

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Apr 29, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Well, France on a much smaller scale put its entire coal industry out of business in the 1980s because of nuclear without much fuss(and nothing compared to the Scargill-Thatcher battles). Francois Mitterand gave the coal miners a very generous severance package where they basically never had to work again or find different jobs something else that Thatcher was most unwilling to do but even Mitterand understood it made no sense with the advent of mass nuclear power in France to pay people to break rocks with hammers for no reason. Mitterand was willing to pay the miners over a certain age a salary to do nothing in order to keep social peace but that is much different than what Arthur Scargill wanted. So it is not as if this is a new issue.

France is an interesting case for the economics of solar. France already has a very clean electricity grid and already has put 6% of its power generation coming from solar as a type this about the same amount as it is getting from natural gas. Obviously, this is dwarfed by the amount coming from nuclear and hydro in the French Alps currently but if solar actually makes sense from an economic perspective(and not solely as a means to replace fossil fuels) compared to nuclear then France will be an interesting test case.

https://www.electricitymap.org/zone/FR

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Sorry to be a stickler, but France only STARTED closing down its coal industry in the 1980s. It didn't actually close down its last mine until April 2004: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3651881.stm

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Yes, but I believe most of the subsidies and state support stopped in the Mitterand era. There were some coal mines that lingered on until the early 2000s just as there were some mines that continued on in the UK even after Thatcher's crushing of the miners union.

I always find the French coal industry interesting given the political asymmetry between Mitterand and Thatcher. Another project that in fact was a very specific Mitterand-Thatcher joint venture was the Channel Tunnel however, Mitterand was very much in favor of the Channel Tunnel as he didn't want to start a big fight with SNCF's unions over featherbedding(which he privately knew was a huge problem at SNCF) as he had longstanding ties to the rail unions but he knew by opening the Channel Tunnel and creating a whole new market for rail service he could create new job openings for the existing SNCF workforce allowing him to make it more efficient while not decreasing the overall workforce. Thatcher of course would have just cut cut cut the rail workforce and bulldozed the unions but this was never the French nor Mitterand way yet in some sense they both had the same outcome in the end.

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Apr 29, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

I'll believe it when I see it. The Germans bet big on this ten years ago, and they ended up burning more coal. Ditto for the Chinese. Energy policy is serious business.

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Apr 29, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Yes, Germany increased its coal production between 2009 and 2013, mainly as it emerged from the Great Recession, and because it had cut back on nuclear power. (A democratically popular idea, but of dubious climate benefit.) But please have a look at the graphs on this page. [I would like to know how to post a picture of the graph here, but I guess that's not possible].

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-energy-consumption-and-power-mix-charts

Over that same period, production from renewable energy sources grew, and really took off after 2013. In December 2018, Germany closed its last (heavily subsidized) hard-coal mine, which also coincided in closing some associated power plants. It still imports some hard coal from abroad, but its priority for generating base-load power has switched to its domestic brown-coal (lignite) mines and associated power plants. Those huge, open-cast mines are literally scars on the landscape, and the federal and Land governments are coming under increasing pressure to close them sooner than the announced end date of 2038.

Last year (2020) was obviously aberrant, but some 45% of its power was generated by renewable-energy sources. What has to be appreciated in addition is that Germany's electrical grid is well situated in the middle of Northern Europe, hence it is able to smooth its electricity supply through purchases of mainly hydro-electric power from Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Austria; mainly nuclear-generated power from France; and mainly coal-generated power from Poland.

All that said, the meme that "Germany ended up burning more coal" needs to be understood in context, and is sorely in need of updating in light of more recent data.

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So I guess I will put forward this first comment. If you look at ElectricityMap.org right now you will notice that all of the power grids that are extremely low carbon(sub 100g or even sub 50g) are either Hydro or nuclear-dominated. To date, no one has actually developed a solar-centric power grid without the use of other fuels such as natural gas, nuclear, or hydro. So to be clear solar is very much a bet that in 10 or 20 years this will not be the case.

https://www.electricitymap.org/map

Obviously, under the right weather conditions, there are cases where solar can really make the grid pretty clean like right now California is at about 127 g which is pretty low compared to the majority of the world's fossil dominated grids but that is still not sub 100 nor is it something attainable yet on a consistent 24/7 basis. In fact in France for example in the middle of the night, CO2 emission will go down as the nuclear plants keep running but people stop using electricity.

Now, none of this means that solar with battery storage in 10 or 20 years might not be able to obtain the same type of 24/7 reliability with the sub-50-gram emissions nuclear and hydro provide today but to be clear we are not there yet.

Perhaps an interesting thought experiment is the closest proposed nuclear plant to groundbreaking in the US is in Florida. Florida also has and continues to deploy large amounts of solar and battery storage. Additionally, Florida has also built a lot of very high-efficiency natural gas power plants over the last 20 years that replaced older much higher emitting bunker fuel and coal plants but still emit CO2. So all things being equal should Florida with the support of the Biden Administration go forward with the next nuclear plant built in the US(After the one currently under construction in Georgia finishes) or should Florida go all-in solar also keeping in mind the proposed nuclear plant in Turkey Point(already the site of an existing plant) is relatively close to major demand centers in Miami, etc.

**One proposal in Florida is to make hydrogen by electrolysis during peak supply periods from solar and then burn it in the high-efficiency gas turbines the state has built over the last 20 years which is another angle to this discussion.

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Apr 29, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

"In fact in France for example in the middle of the night, CO2 emission will go down as the nuclear plants keep running but people stop using electricity." There's one other important aspect to this: Électricité de France (EdF) charges much lower electricity tariffs at night, and so most all-electric homes and apartments have circuit boards that allow electric water storage heaters to turn on only at night. And many electric appliances, such as dishwashers and clothes-washing machines (both of which in typical French households heat their own water, rather than drawing hot water from the water heater) are built so that they can be programmed to run at night. As a consequence, the bulk of our electricity consumption occurs during the wee hours of the morning.

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Apr 28, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Well I can hardly wait. Really. Having said that, it has been my (albeit limited) experience with solar that it over promises but underperforms. From purchasing a solar powered phone recharger to roof top solar panels to powering up batteries on a sailing vessel at sea. It seems that the fossil fuel portable generator is still a must have.

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