Streetwise Professor

May 14, 2020

Strange New Respect

Filed under: Climate Change,CoronaCrisis,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation,Tesla — cpirrong @ 5:50 pm

The past few weeks have brought pleasant surprises from people whom I usually disagree with and/or dislike.

For one, Michael Moore, the executive producer of Planet of the Humans. Moore does not appear on camera: that falls to Jeff Gibbs and (producer) Ozzie Zehner. The main virtue of the film is its evisceration of “green energy,” including wind and solar. It notes repeatedly that the unreliability of these sources of power makes them dependent on fossil fuel generation, and in some cases results in the consumption of more fossil fuels than would be the case if the renewables did not exist at all. Further, it points out-vividly-the dirty processes involved with creating wind and solar, most notably mining. The issues of disposing of derelict wind and solar facilities are touched on too, though that could have been beefed up some.

If you know about wind and solar, these things are hardly news to you. But for environmentalists to acknowledge that reality, and criticize green icons for perpetrating frauds in promoting these wildly inefficient forms of energy, is news.

The most important part of the film is its brutal look at biomass. It makes two points. First, that although green power advocates usually talk about wind and solar, much of the actual “renewable” energy is produced by biomass, e.g., burning woodchips. In other words, it exposes the bait-and-switch huckersterism behind a lot of green energy promotion. You thought you were getting windmills? Sucker: you’re getting plants that burn down forests. You fucked up! You trusted us!

Second, that biomass is hardly renewable (hence the quote marks above), and results in huge environmental damage. Yes, trees can regrow, but not as fast as biomass plants burn them. Moreover, the destruction of forests is truly devastating to wildlife and to irreplaceable habitats, and to the ostensible purpose of renewables–reduction of CO2.

The film also points out the massive corporate involvement in green energy, and this represents its weakest point. Corporations, like bank robbers, go where the money is. But that begs the question: Why is there money in horribly inefficient renewables? Answer: Because of government subsidies.

Alas, the movie only touches briefly on this reality. Perhaps that is a bridge too far for socialists like Moore. But he (and Gibbs and Zehner) really want to stop what they rightly view as the environmental and economic folly of renewables, they have to turn off the money tap. That requires attacking the government-corporate-environmentalist iron triangle on all three sides, not just two.

I am not a believer in the underlying premise of the movie, viz., that there are too many people consuming too much stuff, and if we don’t reduce people and how much they consume, the planet will collapse. That’s a dubious neo-Malthusian mindset. But put that aside. It’s a great thing that even hard core environmentalists call bull on the monstrosity that is green/renewable energy, and point out the hypocrisy and fundamental dishonesty of those who hype it.

My second candidate is long-time target Elon Musk. He has come out as a vocal opponent to lockdowns, and a vocal advocate for liberty.

Now I know that Elon is talking his book. Especially with competitors starting up their plants in the Midwest, the lockdown in California that has idled Musk’s Fremont manufacturing facility is costing Tesla money. But whatever. The point is that he is forcefully pointing out the huge economic costs of lockdowns, and their immense detrimental impact on personal liberty earns him some newfound respect, strange or otherwise.

Lastly, Angela Merkel. She has taken a much more balanced approach to Covid-19 than most other national leaders. Perhaps most importantly, she has clearly been trying to navigate the tradeoff between health, economic well-being, and liberty. Rather than moving the goalposts when previous criteria for evaluating lockdowns had been met, when it became clear that the epidemic was not as severe in Germany as had been feared, and that the economic consequences were huge, and that children were neither potential sufferers or spreaders, she pivoted to reopening quickly and pretty rationally.

The same cannot be said in other major countries, including the UK and France as notable examples. She comes off well in comparison to Trump, although the comparison is not completely fair. Trump only has the bully pulpit to work with, for one thing: actual power is wielded by governors. But Trump’s use of the bully pulpit has been poor. Moreover, he has deferred far too much to execrable “experts,” most notably the slippery Dr. Fauci, who has been on the opposite sides of every policy decision (Masks? Yes! Masks? No! Crisis? Yes! Crisis? No!), is utterly incapable of and in fact disdainful of balancing health vs. economics and liberty, and who brings to the table a record of failure that Neil Ferguson could envy, for its duration if nothing else. The Peter Principle personified: he is clearly at the level of his incompetence, and due to the perversity of government, has remained at that level for decades.

Merkel’s performance is particulary outstanding when compared to those who wield the real power in the current crisis, American governors, especially those like Whittmer, Pritzker, Evers, Walz, Brown, Wolf, Cuomo, Murphy, Northam, and Newsom. These people are goalpost movers par excellence, and quite clearly find the unfettered exercise of power to be orgasmic.

It is embarrassing in the extreme to see the Germans–the Germans–be far more solicitous of freedom and choice than elected American officials, who seem to treat freedom–including the freedom to earn a livelihood–as an outrageous intrusion on their power and amour-propre.

Will this represent the new normal? Will SWP props for Moore, Merkel, and Musk become routine in the post- (hopefully) Covid era? I doubt it, but for today, I’m happy to give credit where credit is due.

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  1. The Left are keeping their heads down over this (doesn’t sound right does it). I’m sure they are grateful their relatives are dying from the alleged CV19 while this story gets covered in a smokescreen. This will take most everyone’s eyes elsewhere then when the smoke has cleared they will start up again like whining children at a birthday party – someone just has to spoil the day!

    Comment by Alessandro — May 14, 2020 @ 7:34 pm

  2. It no coincidence that Angela Merkel is not a career politician. As a scientist she understands the scientific method, is numerate and that models are only as good as the inputs, at best. As a researcher she also understands that its OK to change your mind as the data proves or disproves your hypothesis.

    Having grown up in East Germany she is also well aware of the power of the State and its tendency to seize and abuse power. It should be noted that a lot of the EU privacy laws are driven by the likes of her and others who grew up under communism.

    At the end of this what we really need is an end to career politicians, but that won’t happen.

    Comment by Bloke in North Dorset — May 15, 2020 @ 1:41 am

  3. It’s at times like this that us Brits should be asking the other eternal question – WWMD (what would Maggie Do?)
    Margaret Thatcher was another world leader that had a science based background and I can’t help but think that she would have dealt with this situation rather better than Boris.
    As you have already said, the scientific model (and I use the term loosely) that Ferguson produced should never have been used as the basis for public policy, and I think that any politician with a science background would have been very wary of it.
    If you compare and contrast public officials in Germany with those of Britain, you will see a great many with far higher educational achievements and I don’t mean those with PPE’s or English lit.
    German boardrooms are awash with science PhDs and it shows. The next big task after Brexit, for us, is to tackle the Educational establishment. We could do with a little more rigour, and a lot less Socialism.

    Comment by BlokeInBrum — May 15, 2020 @ 2:17 am

  4. Moore arguably is more interested in the toxic nexus of big business, lobbying and government than any particular topic [healthcare, gun control and now environmentalism]. Although admittedly his solution – more government is a bit odd and echoes the social ideals of his social circle. However, we knew that anyway.

    Musk is always a mixed bag – he is an engineer and has come up with lots of interesting ideas in his companies but this is almost completely counter-balanced by a) his inability to control himself on Twitter and b) his fifty shades of grey accounting practices.

    Merkel is just responding to a ‘Germany’ first political doctrine. Part of this is her scientific literacy but after the various drubbings she got over the migrant crisis and the impending collapse of the German automakers, if I were her I’d be looking for any excuse to restart the economy [especially with my, um obligations to my Euro comrades that I know I can’t get out of] and not hack off the electorate.

    Comment by Duke Togo — May 15, 2020 @ 6:51 am

  5. See, flattening Germany with air raids and the Red Army worked, didn’t it?

    On the other hand Merkel was the idiot who invited an army of invaders into Germany on the pretence that they were mainly refugees and mainly from Syria.

    Long term that’s likely to mean that the improved Germany will perish. Whether it perishes before Sweden, Belgium, France, the UK, the US, … nobody knows.

    Comment by dearieme — May 15, 2020 @ 10:24 am

  6. BiND: Merkel was a student until 1986, and worked as a researcher for 3 years. She has since then spent 30 years in politics – I’d call that a career politician. Granted, much better than a PPE and then straight into a political life and career.

    Comment by dcardno — May 15, 2020 @ 10:27 am

  7. I’ve never been a fan of Moore, but I must admit I did settle down to watch the film with a frissant of expectation, given we’ve just been fast-forwarded to the future XR had envisioned for us all (and isn’t it sh*t?). I wanted to see what the big man made of it all. What followed could best be described as a curate’s egg, typical Moore with all the usual heavy-handed and unsympathetic editing, lazy rabble rousing and jumbled narrative. Fair enough, he was on the money regarding biomass and the industrial nature of renewables (who knew? Didn’t they grow on trees?), and he rather nicely speared a couple of the protagonists, perhaps slightly unfairly in the case of Gore (he based his fund in the Cayman Islands? String him up already!). It was also refreshing to see some sane and unarmed protestors in Lansing. Evidently the kids really are okay.

    The critique of wind & PV was selective to say the least, and in some respects rather misleading, particularly with regard to their service life. Footage of long decommissioned early generation wind turbines and solar thermal arrays was also deceptive, particularly as it turns out one of the latter has recently been repurposed with PV. As for the footage of Orangutans, WTF did that have to do with renewables?? I’m guessing the land was being cleared for palm oil or somesuch. Overall, not his best effort by a long stretch.

    As for Musk & Merkel, libertarians, really? They just want to get back to making money. No harm in that.

    And as for your list of errant Governors, let me guess their political allegiances. Why not add Greg* to the list, seeing as you too are still in lockdown?

    * I’ll wager you know him and are on first name terms.

    Comment by David Mercer — May 15, 2020 @ 12:03 pm

  8. @Alessandro. On the contrary, they’ve been vocal on social media. Typical knee-jerk stuff, without really appreciating what they’ve just viewed.

    Comment by David Mercer — May 15, 2020 @ 12:12 pm

  9. Michael Moore is a Judas goat.

    Watch this emotional, Michael Moore video that came out October before the election of Trump.

    Is he on Trump’s payroll?

    Same with this environmental change in “behavior”

    Comment by Joe Walker — May 15, 2020 @ 12:13 pm

  10. @David Mercer–I’m not on a first name basis with any politician, of any party. That said, we are more liberated from lockdown than most. I got a haircut yesterday. I go to the gym starting on Monday. And I don’t have to wear a mask.

    Please try to keep up.

    Comment by cpirrong — May 15, 2020 @ 12:21 pm

  11. “As for the footage of Orangutans, WTF …”

    Only a cad could ever complain about footage of Orangutans.

    Comment by dearieme — May 15, 2020 @ 4:46 pm

  12. @David Mercer,

    Yes, those governors are Democrats and the present situation has given them the opportunity to show their true colors, jackbooted control freaks wearing sandals and asserting they know best.

    Comment by The Pilot — May 15, 2020 @ 4:59 pm

  13. Nuclear is the solution. But it has a bad press, despite killing fewer people in 60years than the rest of power generation kills in the average year or Piper Alpha (168 dead) killed in one accident.
    They can put small nuclear plants on ships and submarines, and they even fire them on rockets into outer space, so they are pretty reliable.
    So why can’t I buy one and put it in my back yard?

    Comment by philip — May 15, 2020 @ 10:53 pm

  14. It’s no coincidence that the worst governors are Democrats. As was pointed out years ago, quite possibly by the Professor as well, Obama had very little interest in the Democrat party and in building it from within. He was notoriously indifferent to down-ticket races. Democrats started getting hammered at the local and state levels, and their pipeline of young talent has been severely diminished. Just look at the current Presidential field.

    A lot of the Democrat governors were no doubt elected in the last election cycle, recipients of the reflexive spasms of the two-party system. Pritzker is a result of the impasse between the previous Republican governor (Rauner) and the Democrat legislature over Illinois’ penchant for spending far more money than it takes in. Counties in Illinois are beginning to revolt, several downstate announcing that they will not prosecute businesses that re-open, reducing Pritzker to threats and sputtering. I had dinner in a restaurant last night, for the first time in two months, and it was glorious.

    Comment by Christopher Hunt — May 16, 2020 @ 5:09 am

  15. @Deari Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of orangutan action, who doesn’t? The footage was by far the most harrowing part of the film. I suppose Moore didn’t appear in person for fear of detracting from it.

    @Pilot Lots of people hereabouts claiming they know best too, which is odd given the virus has only been out and about for a couple of months now and there is much to learn. More fence sitting required all round.

    @Philip. Yup, nukes in back gardens, what could possibly go wrong? If the Chinese figure out thorium reactors they may well keep it to themselves, given the current climate. We’ll be hacking them for a change.

    Comment by David Mercer — May 16, 2020 @ 6:31 am

  16. @ philip

    It’ coming under another name, Trump has alluded to it in interviews calling it a “new energy source”.

    Comment by Tom Henderson — May 17, 2020 @ 7:23 am

  17. I intend to see the movie, but I am skeptical that conservatives should put too much stock in its criticisms of “renewable” energy. The criticisms of Wind and Solar PV cited in the movie sound mostly wrong and outdated. This isn’t a hill for conservatives to die on. The reality is the two aforementioned sources are best thought of as Natural Gas extenders. There is a symbiotic relationship where the great flexibility of Natural Gas helps to balance the grid for the additional volatility caused by renewables (the other source of volatility being demand). Texas’ experience pretty much puts a lie to many criticisms. Of course there are still land use, habitat and avian mortality issues. But hey, let the envrio-wackos fight among themselves; let them die on that hill.

    Now one area I totally agree is biomass; it is flat out crazy to be burning trees in the name of “renewable.” We haven’t even got into transportation biofuels and it sounds like the movie does; at least on ethanol. But the real issue here is that it is one thing (and quite a bit) to have 10 to 15% of fuel volume from these sources (and ethanol fits in as an octane enhancer) or a small portion of diesel (from vegetable oil). It will be an entirely different thing not just doing that but “replacing” plastics made from oil products with these sources. I just see no way that you can replace all our uses of Oil and Gas for chemicals and materials without greatly increasing the needs for more intense agriculture; and to what real added benefit vs. use of fossil fuel. Just one example, propylene from bio based propane dehydrogenation is indistinguishable from propane made from fossil fuel sources. And the latter is likely to have less ghg impact.

    And with Musk, I have always thought him a huckster, and I am not touching Tesla as an investor or a vehicle owner (and I want to get an electric vehicle). But Electric vehicles make a lot of sense from a thermodynamics perspective and the possibility and benefits success make it worthwhile.

    Comment by JavelinaTex — May 17, 2020 @ 8:25 pm

  18. @David Mercer,

    Yes, but sandals with sox and asserting they know best. What an image.

    In regard to the Lefties and social media I would not know, can’t be bothered with it as I have more to do.

    Comment by Alessandro — May 17, 2020 @ 8:48 pm

  19. Sandals with socks is about the only good idea The Left has ever had.

    Comment by dearieme — May 18, 2020 @ 7:42 am

  20. @dearieme

    It’s actually the best idea the left has ever had.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — May 19, 2020 @ 3:33 am

  21. Jackboot sandals? Seems a bit over-designed, nee specialised, for my liking.

    As for the sandals + sock combo, you guys are showing your age & snowflakery. Man-up and ditch the socks.

    Comment by David Mercer — May 19, 2020 @ 6:23 am

  22. On Germany: Some very important cultural context about Deutchland is that compared to the Latin or Anglo societies, the Germans ALREADY live a form of social-distancing, with less contact with family and friends, and fewer physical displays of affection. So wile Merkel has indeed done her job well, I don’t think she’s done it any better than any other European leader would have when faced with declining infections, hospitalisations and deaths in a society that was, by its default behaviour, much less at risk than others.

    On renewables: I fear that a lot of people in the comments have missed the seismic shift in solar and wind recently:
    – Check out the Eland project in Los Angeles. Without subsidies, they have bid to provide daytime solar and 4-hours of nighttime battery power for about 3.3c/kwh for 25 years. You’d struggle to get a coal plant that cheap, nevermind gas or nuclear. On my side of the Atlantic, a solar plant in Portugal was bid at 1.5c/kwh last year. You all talk about the need to change your opinions when the data change… well solar has changed significantly, if you care to look, and battery storage isn’t far behind…
    – The question of disposal is way overdone: Solar panels are mostly ceramic, and even if they are crushed and put into landfill, I don’t see how it’s any worse than burying the (greater quantity of) fly-ash that would come from producing the same energy from coal. Same if epoxy-fibreglass turbine blades get buried – some eggs have to get broken for the energy omelette, and these ones look fine to me.
    – I agree that biomass is mainly nonsense (unless it’s from otherwise wasted material), but at least here in France, you don’t get environmental credit for burning it.
    – The mining is a problem, but progress is being made, just look at Tesla’s moves towards cobalt-free batteries.
    A lot of people reflexively dump on renewables, but the facts increasingly don’t support such an attitude…

    Comment by HibernoFrog — May 19, 2020 @ 9:37 am

  23. HibernoFrog – thanks, I had not heard of the Eland project – it is pretty impressive. I note that acceptance of the project was time-sensitive as they had to begin construction by a given date in order to qualify for an investment tax credit. I don’t know the terms of the tax credit; if it is of general application then you are correct that the project has not been subsidized – if it is specific to renewables (etc) then that represents a subsidy, although I have no idea of the magnitude. Even at that, ~$33/MWh is a very good price. To the extent that night-time demand does not fall off by two-thirds, they will still need an alternate supply, which will probably be fossil.

    Comment by dcardno — May 19, 2020 @ 4:22 pm

  24. @dcardno:
    As far as I know, the investment tax credits that solar providers get nowadays aren’t particularly unusual in the energy business generally. I’ve read that oil companies get at least equally generous tax treatment, even without talking about the fact that their carbon emissions aren’t taxed, but I admit I haven’t looked into it in detail.
    It’s true that any shortfall needs to be made up with what will be most likely fossil fuels, but those plants are amortised already. I think that this could really work – maybe less so for the US where you have domestic oil supplies, but for any countries that have adequate sunshine, wind and little oil, this could really boost our trade balance!

    Solar is getting crazy cheap even at domestic levels: Here in France, you get net-metering for your own household consumption, but any surplus is bought by the grid for 50% of the retail price for a certain number of kWh, and then the price drops more and more as your production rises. Might be worth noting that you have to pay a monthly charge for grid access here, so people doing net-metering aren’t considered to be freeloading on the availability of that infrastructure, as is sometimes accused in the US. There are interesting times coming in the energy market…

    Comment by HibernoFrog — May 20, 2020 @ 8:48 am

  25. @HibernoFrog: “Without subsidies, they have bid to provide daytime solar and 4-hours of nighttime battery power for about 3.3c/kwh for 25 years.”

    Fat F-ing chance.

    PV solar produces reasonable energy between 8 am and 5 pm, when the sun is above 30 degrees. That leaves 15 hours per day needing power back-up. And you’ve got a 3 hr battery.

    And then the next day. Your battery is discharged. The first hours of PV must be diverted to re-charge the battery. What’s powering the city in the meantime?

    Most of the so-called economics of solar (and wind) touts levelized cost of power because neither energy system requires fuel. That gives PV/wind a fake advantage. The fatal problem with both is intermittency. Chemical batteries will never, ever, be able to provide the back-up.

    And if you’ve got some reliable steady back-up (such as nuclear), why do you need PV?

    The whole renewables thing is an exercise in ideological stupidity.

    And the worst of it is, there’s no evidence that CO2 is influencing, or even can influence, the climate. The whole frenzy is for nothing.

    Comment by Pat Frank — May 25, 2020 @ 11:49 am

  26. @HibernoFrog< "As far as I know, the investment tax credits that solar providers get nowadays aren’t particularly unusual in the energy business generally."

    I've done that analysis based upon US EIA figures. Normalized to the power produced, renewables get 35x the subsidies of fossil fuels. That's 35 times more, not 35% more.

    Comment by Pat Frank — May 25, 2020 @ 12:20 pm

  27. @Pat:
    “That leaves 15 hours per day needing power back-up”
    There is considerably less demand at night, so your statement is misleading right off the hop, but regardless, if you can get SOME of your power very cheaply from solar, that’s still better than getting ALL of it from other more expensive sources (and at current contracted prices, the solar is just about cheapest way to get power).

    “Your battery is discharged. The first hours of PV must be diverted to re-charge the battery. What’s powering the city in the meantime?”
    Or, you know, just divert 10% of the power into the battery for 10 hours and send 90% of your solar to the grid. And what’s powering the shortfall in the meantime? Coal, nuclear, whatever… Why does it have to be all or nothing?

    “Most of the so-called economics of solar (and wind) touts levelized cost of power because neither energy system requires fuel. That gives PV/wind a fake advantage”. Misleading statement. The prices quoted are for delivery of electricity into the grid.

    “And if you’ve got some reliable steady back-up (such as nuclear), why do you need PV?”
    Because when it’s available, it’s super cheap! (Plus the disputed environmental benefits).

    “And the worst of it is, there’s no evidence that CO2 is influencing, or even can influence, the climate. The whole frenzy is for nothing”
    Deny it all you want, but most of the world’s governments (and therefore presumably the majority of their people) disagree with you.

    “Normalized to the power produced, renewables get 35x the subsidies of fossil fuels”
    Maybe based on past subsidies, but going forward, your statement is implausible, and given that you apparently haven’t bothered to check the difference between levelised costs and contractually-guaranteed prices, I am not inclined to believe your analysis.

    I might be too late here for anybody to read this, but these kinds of illogical and ideological statements really hack me off…

    Comment by HibernoFrog — June 3, 2020 @ 7:43 am

  28. HibernoFrog, I’ve done the work on climate models:

    Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air temperature Projections.

    Climate models can’t resolve the effect of CO2 on the climate, if any, at all. They’re utterly unable to predict climate futures. Not even the air temperature of one year out, no matter 100 years.

    I did the EIA subsidy analysis as well. You didn’t. The analysis used 2013 figures. There’ve been no big breaks-through in technology since then. Your belief or disbelief is irrelevant.

    Here is the day-night power demand for New England: Night demand is 50% of day demand. Your 3 hr of nighttime battery takes that change into account. You’re still stuck for 12 hours.

    And I’ll bet the cost of your battery is determined by its fossil fuel construction costs. All that refined lithium metal and special high-value electrolytes. What happens when the cost of battery manufacture must rest on PV and wind power? Still cheap? Once again: fat f-ing chance.

    You wrote, “And what’s powering the shortfall in the meantime? Coal, nuclear, whatever…” Yeah, the steady and reliable back-up that your PV, wind, and whatever needs. Why have PV, wind and whatever at all, then, if equivalent back-up must be kept spinning at the ready?

    And why have PV, wind, and whatever at all, when there’s zero evidence that CO2 is doing anything to the climate? And that’s not just opinionizing. That’s a fact. See the above paper.

    Someone can contractually guarantee anything they like. Let’s see what they produce when the rubber hits the road.

    PV is a diffuse energy source. Wind is far worse. Both produce intermittent power. Neither will ever be capable of competing on an equal basis with the concentrated and steady energy of fossil fuels. Except perhaps above 100 miles vertically, where the full 1360 W/m^2 of solar is always available.

    “llogical and ideological statements” That’s rich.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 4, 2020 @ 10:42 pm

  29. Craig, did you delete out my reply #28 in response to HibernoFrog #27? It’s disappeared.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 5, 2020 @ 11:06 pm

  30. No reply from Craig. Well, HibernoFrog, I’ll just reiterate one central point anyway. We’ll see if it survives.

    My September 2019 paper, “Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air Temperature Projections,” peer-reviewed and all, shows that climate models cannot predict the climate. Not one year out, not 100 years out.

    It’s open access here:

    It shows the IPCC literally doesn’t know what it’s talking about. There is zero evidence that CO2 emissions have caused, are causing, will cause, or can cause the climate to warm. The case for PV, wind, and blah-blah renewables is without objective merit.

    I’m not interested in reconstructing the rest of my reply. But one point you’ve not considered (and no one else seems to have done either) is that the cost of your battery back-up is calculated on fossil-fuel cost of manufacture. Powered by your renewables, battery back-up would be 4-10 times more expensive.

    “illogical and ideological” my initial comment or my reply was not.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 6, 2020 @ 7:04 pm

  31. @Pat. I did not delete. For some reason my spam filter does not like your comments. I do though 😉

    Comment by cpirrong — June 7, 2020 @ 2:30 pm

  32. Thank, Craig. 🙂

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 7, 2020 @ 3:20 pm

  33. @Pat: Yeah, I find this happens occasionally when there is a link. Thanks to the Prof for releasing it!

    Let’s not debate global warming here, because we’ll never convince each other. As a European (and therefore having few domestic oil reserves) I’m perfectly happy to go along with the near-universal agreement among our government and their advisors, plus the agreement or indifference of the vast majority of the population. I lean towards believing the global warming narrative, but I’m far more motivated by the economics and geo-politics of the situation. That being said, I now see that you are that rare person on the internet who is actually an expert on their field, so I will make sure to look at the information you have linked.

    I can’t speak for the US, but AFAIK here in France, the only subsidy that solar gets is that the state-run electricity company has to buy the power for 20 years. The price is set by competitive tender and is usually very low. Portugal set a record recently at just under 1.5 euro-cents per kWh. So then my responses to you are easy:

    – “They’re utterly unable to predict climate futures” – I agree that there is a lot of nonsense science out there on this subject, but you’re asking us to believe that a LOT of people (some of whom have similar credentials to yourself) are wrong. For me, I clearly can’t tell you that you are wrong, but neither can I tell that to your opponents. I’ve accepted that de-carbonisation is coming, and I want to make the best of it.
    – “There’ve been no big breaks-through in technology since then. Your belief or disbelief is irrelevant.” PV prices have fallen by about 30% since 2013 (LBNL, via I’d call that a breakthrough. But again, investors are (presumably) making money on selling electricity from their solar farms at rock-bottom prices. I see no reason to assume that they don’t know their own costs.
    – “What happens when the cost of battery manufacture must rest on PV and wind power? Still cheap?” Since solar is veritably the cheapest source of electricity, when available, then yes, I would not expect batteries to increase in price very much, or even decrease as production is biased towards times of cheap electricity. So unless the presence of solar in the grid causes the cost of non-solar skyrocket like crazy, I don’t see why this should change.
    – “Night demand is 50% of day demand” – I will admit to standing corrected on that. I expected it to be lower. In fact, it’s above 50% here in France (I assume that the large percentage of nuclear means that electricity is very cheap at night, so some demand gets deferred until then).
    – “You’re still stuck for 12 hours” – Again, I’m not suggesting using only solar and batteries. So for the remaining 12 hours, we just do what we’ve always done and burn oil, nuclear, whatever. OK, so those plant owners will have longer amortisation and will price that in, but an efficient market should keep that in check. And if it doesn’t then alternatives like pumped storage will become viable.
    – “Why have PV, wind and whatever at all, then, if equivalent back-up must be kept spinning at the ready?” But we ALWAYS have peaker plants at the ready, otherwise the grid would collapse. Maybe the extra variability requires a few more peakers or maybe some rapid-reaction batteries (as Tesla has shown with spectacular efficiency in Australia), but A: Probably not in Europe where we have a continent-wide grid and B: That’s a tiny percentage increase in cost.
    – “Let’s see what they produce when the rubber hits the road” They already are producing!
    – “And why have PV, wind, and whatever at all, when there’s zero evidence that CO2 is doing anything to the climate?” BECAUSE IT’S CHEAP! (And in Europe, it’s good for the trade-balance. And arguably reduces the money available in certain parts of the world that export instability/violence).
    – “The case for PV, wind, and blah-blah renewables is without objective merit.” This is what I mean by ideological statements. Solar already IS competitive, albeit only at certain times and certain places. Your constant denial is at odds with the facts on the ground. And on the ground is my domain 🙂 I was an electrical power engineer for commercial aircraft until 2 years ago.

    Comment by HibernoFrog — June 8, 2020 @ 4:30 am

  34. “And on the ground is my domain” – I’ve just realised the irony of an aerospace engineer saying this. Of course I meant it in the sense of “the facts on the ground”. Oops 🙂

    Comment by HibernoFrog — June 8, 2020 @ 4:34 am

  35. HibernoFrog, rather than stepping through your post, I’m just going to provide a link to a study titled, “Wind and Solar Tax Credits”

    Solar and wind are not cheap. Diffuse energy sources cannot be cheaper than concentrated energy sources. One suspects that the EU hides its subsidies more effectively than the US.

    Solar is useful in deeply rural areas where there are no transmission lines, and where installing transmission lines would cost horrendous bucks. Likewise windmills.

    Solar is also useful to drive small stand-alone installations, such as emergency road phones, where direct power connections might be more expensive.

    According to Suncyclopedia, a rule of thumb is that PV solar requires about 100 sqft per 1 KW name plate power.

    That means a 1 GW PV solar power plant will require about 100 million sqft, or about 3.6 sq miles.

    But PV solar is only about 20% efficient, so to actually get that 1 GW, you’ll need 5 times the name plate area, or about 18 square miles of panels. And that’s not counting the additional land area required for the rest of the facility.

    Land requirements are not considered in solar levelized cost.

    France produces about 570 TW-hr of power. Would you like to pave a minimum of 100,000 square miles of France with PV panels to go full renewable? That’s nearly half of France.

    And full power is available only between 8 am and 5 pm on a sunny cloudless day. That is, intermittency is not solved.

    It’s not ideological to observe that the case for wind and solar has no merit. It’s a fact on the ground.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 10, 2020 @ 1:06 pm

  36. Hi Craig — my latest post disappeared into your spam filter again. Can you please retrieve it?

    Thanks so much…

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 10, 2020 @ 9:48 pm

  37. “But PV solar is only about 20% efficient” – Unless I am very much mistaken, this is already counted in the nameplate capacity.

    “Would you like to pave a minimum of 100,000 square miles of France with PV panels to go full renewable?”, “That is, intermittency is not solved”. For the last time, I’m NOT saying that. I’m just saying that Solar can be a cost-effective contributor to the grid provided that it is cheap and that other sources are available to cover the shortfall. YOU are the only one here who keeps talking about a 100% solar grid!

    Then I have an issue with your math: 570TWh/yr seems a little high (but maybe this is the difference between production and consumption – France exports a lot of electricity) and 100 square feet is double what would be suggested by the dimensions of the panels (but I guess they have to be angled and spaced so as not to throw shadows on each other, so fair enough). But sorry, I’m calling it 10 square metres instead 🙂 In the south where I am, the statistics say that we get an average of 8 hrs per day of equivalent full-sun over the course of a year, so 570TWh for 8 hrs per day and 365 days per year would require 195 GW (about 4 times the current output of the grid as I write this in the afternoon, which seems in the right ballpark) of solar nameplate capacity (which obviously would be unwise). At 10 square metres per kW -> 10 million square metres per GW and asking google to convert to square miles makes 750 square miles. Since a 100% solar grid is a silly idea at this scale, the real number would only be a fraction of that, a big proportion of which could be done with rooftops and carparks. I’ve no idea how you got to 100,000 square miles, because even with your arbitrary 20% efficiency penalty you’d still be nowhere near.

    “the case for wind and solar has no merit” As Wikipedia would say, [dubious – discuss].

    Comment by HibernoFrog — June 17, 2020 @ 8:44 am

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