Battery Foolishness in Florida

The largest electric utility in Florida is proposing building the world’s largest battery to smooth the output of solar energy installations.

Wind and solar energy are erratic. Output depends on when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. If only electricity could be economically stored, wind and solar would be a lot more practical, or at least, less impracticable. With storage, when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, electricity could be stored for use when the wind or solar was temporarily dead in the water.

There are two methods of storing electricity that are not entirely inadequate: pumped storage and lithium batteries. Pumped storage is best, but it requires two reservoirs at considerably different heights. That’s out of the question in pancake-flat Florida. Batteries are great for computers, cellphones and portable drills. They are even semi-practical for automobiles like Tesla’s products. But batteries are desperately expensive for smoothing out wind or solar energy.

Florida Power and Light (FPL) is proposing that the world’s largest battery will be connected to a small solar plant. The battery will be capable of storing 900 megawatt hours of electricity. It will cost about $400 million. The solar plant in question has an average output of about 15 megawatts. The battery will be able to store 60 hours’ worth of the solar output. If it is cloudy for more than 60 hours the battery will likely run flat. There are over 100 cloudy days per year in nearby Tampa Florida, so one suspects that it is cloudy for more than 60 hours, or 3 days in a row, from time to time.

The electricity exiting from a typical utility scale solar plant, without subsidies, costs about $70 per megawatt hour. Adding the battery to the system will jack up the price to more than $300 per megawatt hour. An interesting sidelight is that the energy stored in FPL’s 900 MWh battery is equal to the energy in 800 tons of high explosive TNT. That is about 1/20th of the energy released by the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan. Given the many fires traceable to lithium batteries, that is something to think about.

FPL’s proposed battery is capable of supplying 400 megawatts for 2 hours. That is a high rate of discharge, making the system more expensive. So, perhaps, the battery is actually intended to be a peaking generator pressed into service when electricity consumption peaks briefly. I suspect that this is the case and all the blather about solar energy is a cover story to make the battery fit in with green psychology. The beauty of painting something green is that it makes foolish projects desirable. The problem with the battery as a peaking generator is that for about the same money one can buy a combined cycle natural gas plant that can supply 400 megawatts for as long as you want, not just for two hours. Further the electricity from the gas plant will cost $50 per megawatt hour, not $300.

The profiteers who have painted wind, solar and batteries fluorescent green are very good at propaganda and changing the subject. Somehow reducing CO2 emissions has become an urgent priority. The profiteers never make a peep about the 86% of CO2 emissions that come from places outside our borders. China is building hundreds of new coal generating plants, the biggest emitters of CO2. Wind and solar are 70% subsidized. Now green ideologues are lobbying Congress to add batteries to the green welfare rolls.

Climate change, formerly known as global warming, is another green hoax. Clever propagandists have managed to make skepticism concerning global warming politically incorrect. Our legislators shake in their boots fearful of being tagged as climate deniers. If you want to know that it is a hoax it is only necessary to read the climategate emails among prominent scientist-promoters of global warming. Global warming made climate scientists rock stars rather than nerdy occupants of an academic Siberia. They vigorously defend their new celebrity status. The predictions of global warming come from complex computer models that are easy to manipulate under the influence of confirmation bias.

Utilities don’t shrink from building over-priced, useless projects. Actually, they are eager, frothing in the mouth and champing at the bit. The reason is that they add the cost of the useless project to their rate base. Regulation usually allows them a profit proportional to the size of the rate base. The catch is that a public utility commission must approve the project. In the current atmosphere, useless projects go through easily provided they are green.

Supposedly, Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, said “Repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who died in 1923, stated that men form their beliefs from emotion and passion and that rational justifications are window dressing for the underlying passion. A core justification for science is that scientists are supposed to form their beliefs based on rationality and data, not emotion or personal prestige. Unfortunately, in climate science, it’s not working. Similarly, journalists are supposed to be skeptical and dig for the truth. Instead, most journalists, especially in the big, establishment media companies, uncritically accept green delusions, be it windmills or global warming.

The picture is not completely dark. There are plenty of scientists that dispute the global warming/ climate change mythology. There are many journalists, especially outside of the big media companies, that write skeptically and intelligently about green ideology. It is disturbing that there are persistent efforts to silence these dissenters.

Calling people climate deniers and demanding that they listen to science are not discussions about public policy. These are attempts to hold people to public ridicule and silence dissenters. It is disgusting that big media and big science engage in these tactics. It is sad that our legislators cower in the face of these attacks.

It is difficult to challenge global warming propaganda, because the science is very opaque and complex. However, the engineering and economics behind green energy is not particularly difficult. There are thousands of engineers and scientists that understand perfectly well that green energy is largely fraudulent. But the dissenters are not organized or well-financed. The promoters of green energy are connected to large business with billions of dollars of annual sales. They are able to control public opinion and the legislative agenda with money and influence.

Norman Rogers is the author of the book: Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy. He writes often about climate and green energy. His articles can be found here.