Solar Power to Hit the Wall in Nevada

Solar power and wind power are the dominant methods of generating electricity that are acceptable to the extreme left. The left calls its acceptable methods of generating electricity “renewable energy.” The definition of renewable energy, enshrined in renewable portfolio laws in many states, tells us what the left likes and doesn’t like. It is very arbitrary. The general idea of renewable energy is that it doesn’t use fuel that could run out and it doesn’t emit CO2. But the left breaks its own rules as is convenient.

For example, nuclear power doesn’t emit CO2 and running out of fuel is strictly theoretical. Nuclear is also reliable with steady delivery of electricity. The prospects for new technology in the nuclear universe are very bright. Yet, nuclear is arbitrarily banned in renewable portfolio laws. Incredibly, most renewable portfolio laws effectively ban hydroelectric power too, because the environmental left does not like dams.

Geothermal power, utilizing hot rocks underground as a source of energy, is accepted as renewable, even though the “fuel” can and does run out as the rocks cool under the pressure of removing the heat to make electricity. Geothermal only works if rare good sites are found.

Solar power and wind power are loved by the left, but have the serious problem of erratic delivery of power. Wind dominates solar except in places with poor wind and good sunshine, such as Nevada, where I live. In states where a lot of solar has been installed, such as California and Nevada, solar is running into a wall that is related to  the time delivery of solar power versus when the electrical grid’s need for power.

Nevada has a renewable portfolio law that demands that by 2030 half the electricity come from renewable sources. The promoters of green power are even trying to put the renewable power quota into the Nevada Constitution. As a practical matter that quota requires greatly increasing solar electricity. Nevada does have fairly good geothermal resources, but those are expensive and slow to develop.

As more solar is added to the electrical grid a point is reached when midday generation is too high, particularly in the spring when sun is strong, but air conditioning load is not yet peaking. As a practical matter solar can’t go beyond 50% of the electricity generated at any time because it creates instability in the grid and complicates the transition to fossil fuel power as the solar quits for the night. This problem has been given the name the “duck curve” problem because the graph of the daily accessory fossil fuel power looks like the back of a duck.

The solar industry is facing the problem that at a certain point, in some places, it will be running into a wall and no more solar installations can be built. They have a solution. They want to add batteries to solar installations. The batteries will store excess power at midday and release the stored electricity in the early evening when the power is needed. The problem is that batteries to do this are very expensive. The cost of a solar installation with batteries would nearly double the cost and the batteries will probably wear out periodically. The promoters of solar have a solution for that -- have the federal government subsidize the cost of the batteries.

Solar installations are approximately 70% subsidized by the federal government and by state energy quotas that energize favorable financing. As a consequence solar power that really costs $70 to $80 per megawatt hour, can sell for as little as $25 to $30 per megawatt hour due to the subsidies. But if a nonsubsidized battery system is added to the installation, the energy cost is likely to balloon to $80 or $90 per megawatt hour. To prevent this high cost and in order to pass beyond the wall, the solar promoters have an intense lobbying campaign to add battery systems to the list of things receiving huge green subsidies. Even if they get the subsidy, the combined solar plus battery system will probably deliver power for about $50 per megawatt hour.

Solar is not competitive with natural gas unless it can be purchased for less than $20 per megawatt hour. That is because solar does not replace existing fossil fuel, much less nuclear, generating plants. All those plants must be retained intact when solar is added. This is for the very obvious reason that solar contributes nothing in the early evening when demand typically peaks. Solar also contributes nothing when it is cloudy. So the only economic benefit of solar is displacing consumption of natural gas when it is generating power that is accepted by the grid. Solar saves natural gas that may be worth as much as $25 per megawatt hour, but it lowers the duty cycle of natural gas plants and thus increases the capital cost per megawatt hour in the gas plants. It also stresses the gas plants that have to balance erratic solar generation. Solar is an extremely expensive device for reducing CO2 emissions, costing about $140 per metric ton of CO2 emissions avoided (a carbon offset). That is a very high price compared to many alternatives for a carbon offset.

The bottom line is that solar is not a good method of supplying electricity and it is not a good method for reducing CO2 emissions. It keeps going because the promoters constantly lie and spread propaganda. They often brag about cheap solar purchase contracts without mentioning the huge subsidies and the state mandates that force utilities to buy solar (and wind).

Norman Rogers writes often about green energy. His website gives more detail concerning solar power in Nevada.

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