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

Expand full comment

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.

Expand full comment
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.

Expand full comment

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.


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.

Expand full comment
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.

Expand full comment