Google rejects renewables

Here at Energy Matters we pride ourselves on writing original posts that aren’t just rehashes of what someone else has written, but once in a while along comes an article  of sufficient interest to justify putting it up for discussion. This article is one.

It’s a post-mortem on a project initiated by Google – a master of innovation if ever there was one and a company with impeccable green credentials (see photo below) – the goal of which was to scope out an innovative renewable energy system that could compete economically with coal and other fossil fuels and which could be deployed quickly enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

Google headquarters, complete with 1.6MW of PV panels

Work on the project, which Google named RE<C (Renewable Energy cheaper than Coal) continued from 2007 to 2011, a period over which Google invested large sums of money in renewable energy projects. (How much Google spent on the RE<C project isn’t known, but according to Forbes the company’s total investment in renewables by April 2011 had reached “a cool quarter of a billion dollars”.)

But RE<C failed to produce the hoped-for results, and in November 2011 the project was shut down and project staff were instructed to write a post-mortem detailing what went wrong. They summed up their findings in this stark conclusion:

Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us.

The question of whether renewable energy can be made to work has been discussed at length on this blog, and while opinions remain divided I don’t remember ever seeing such a negative assessment from commenters on the – for want of a better word – “green” side of the fence. This is what makes the Google project interesting, because the people who shut it down – Google management – were of a strongly green persuasion and the people who ran it were too:

At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change.

They also accepted that the impacts of climate change were potentially catastrophic.

Climate scientists have definitively shown that the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere poses a looming danger. Whether measured in dollars or human suffering, climate change threatens to take a terrible toll on civilization over the next century.

So what happened here?

Details of Google’s results are given in Google’s 2011 energy innovation study, but two linked Figures in the post-mortem tell the story. The first of the duo entitled “The Climate Conundrum” shows how Google’s best-case scenario reduces emissions by a very respectable amount by 2050 (note that the graphic shows data for the USA):

Caption: In the energy innovation study’s best case scenario, rapid advances in renewable energy technology bring down carbon dioxide emissions significantly.

But the second shows atmospheric CO2 continuing to climb anyway, to the point where by 2150 even Google’s best-case scenario shows CO2 more than 250ppm above the 350ppm “safety threshold” and still heading up (how Google converted the USA emissions data into atmospheric CO2 and projected CO2 to 2150 isn’t specified, but we will take the results at face value):

Caption: Yet because CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for more than a century, reducing emissions means only that less gas is being added to the existing problem, Research by James Hansen shows that reducing global CO2 levels requires both a drastic cut in emissions and some way of pulling CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it.

But look at the caption. CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for more than a century. Research by James Hansen. A 350ppm safety threshold. Pulling CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it. What Google did here was judge their results against a catastrophe scenario that there is no realistic way of mitigating, and having found there was nothing to be done they threw their hands in the air and canned the project.

Was such a drastic reaction justified? Yes, if Google’s only goal was to save the planet from their vision of climate catastrophe. But there was one feature of the Google study that distinguished it from most other renewable energy studies and which provides some intriguing insights. Google constrained their scenarios economically, assuming that “clean energy” would take over only if and when it became cheaper than (and as reliable as) fossil fuels:

What’s needed, we concluded, are reliable zero-carbon energy sources so cheap that the operators of power plants and industrial facilities alike have an economic rationale for switching over soon—say, within the next 40 years. Let’s face it, businesses won’t make sacrifices and pay more for clean energy based on altruism alone.

Now look at the purple CO2 plot on the second of the two graphs above. It bends upwards between 2040 and 2150. The Google study doesn’t give any generation mix numbers, but an upward bend like this can occur only if the mix has a significant fossil fuel component. The implication is that by 2150 “clean energy” still hasn’t become cheap enough to displace all fossil fuel generation, not even under a best-case scenario which assumes “aggressive hypothetical cost breakthroughs in clean power generation, grid storage, electric vehicle, and natural gas technologies”. Google confirms that the economics just weren’t there:

By 2011, however, it was clear that RE<C would not be able to deliver a technology that could compete economically with coal.

(And to coal we can add gas and maybe nuclear too. According to EIA levelized costs for US combined cycle gas are presently considerably lower than coal and levelized costs for “advanced nuclear” about the same as coal.)

In short, Google is telling us that a free-market approach won’t work for renewables. They aren’t cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation and aren’t likely to become cost-competitive at any time in the foreseeable future.

Now one can argue – many will – that Google is incorrect in this assessment. Conversely it can be argued that if the super-innovators at Google, who like the Imperial Guard on the eve of Waterloo had never before failed in a charge, couldn’t come up with something then there probably isn’t much to come up with. And Google can hardly be accused of pessimism. Figure 2 of its energy innovation study shows the levelized costs of electricity for different low-carbon technologies that are needed to reach “breakthrough” relative to coal costs. Google admits that these breakthrough costs “are highly aggressive and would be challenging to reach even with a much more concerted push on innovation than at present.”

And if Google’s summation is right we are left with only one option – to enforce the adoption of renewables through legislation, meaning that politicians must weigh the perceived risks of burning fossil fuels against the perceived costs of replacing them with renewables and come up with a balanced solution. Is this too much to ask of them? I’ll leave that question hanging.

This entry was posted in Energy, Political commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

79 Responses to Google rejects renewables

  1. Graeme No.3 says:

    They invested in the Ivanpah solar heat project. Their stated aim was to reduce the cost of the parabolic mirrors which is the major capital cost in these plants. Obviously they failed.
    Ivanpah isn’t producing anywhere near what it is supposed to do, and they are seeking permission to use more natural gas.

  2. Willem Post says:


    It is amazing the ends overzealous people will reach for no matter how unreachable upon hindsight. Yet, relatively simple calculations would show the error of their ways.

    The below is an excerpt from this recent article which was published on Oct 29, 2014 and had 2,400 pageviews and 102 comments by 21 Nov, 2014.

    “That leaves us with the other options: 1) world population management, i.e., reduction to about 1 billion people, the same as in 1800, and 2) energy efficiency practiced by the remaining people, i.e., less than 1/10th the per capita energy and other resource consumption than at present.

    Remember, we are not alone. Unless we are going to be total idiots, we MUST preserve the habitats of all the OTHER fauna and flora, so they can survive and thrive.

    Biologists estimate at least 50% of the world’s land and sea areas need to be kept in a near-unspoiled state for the other fauna and flora; it is their healthcare system!! There is such a thing as the 360-degree systems approach to solving problems.”

    • A C Osborn says:

      Would you and every other total pessimist like to be the first volunteers in reducing the world’s population to 1 billion when the world is quite easily accommodating 7-9 billion?
      Or do you intend it to leave it up to everybody else?
      Haven’t you noticed that those calling for the biggest reductions are also those with the biggest “Carbon Footprints”, you are being taken for a ride?

      • Willem Post says:


        “the world is definitely NOT easily accommodating 7 – 9 people”

        If you think that, there is not hope, as your mind is closed to facts.

        My wife and I already have made the decision not to have children. If more people joined by means of incentives, the world’s population would decline. If you read my article you will see one of my proposed incentives.

        Here is an excerpt:

        Measures to Increased Energy Efficiency:

        If existing, uncoordinated, EE measures reduced the world energy intensity by 1.0%/yr., then that 1.0%/yr. could be at least doubled by 1) worldwide upgrading of energy codes and 2) redirecting any future RE investments to EE to provide subsidies to implement the following requirements:
        – All NEW buildings to be zero-energy, or energy surplus buildings. These buildings would have high efficiency appliances and lighting (CFLs, dimmers, motion sensors); PV solar systems; electrical and thermal energy storage systems; and engine-generator backup systems.

        – All NEW light vehicles to be plug-in EVs and plug-in hybrids, charged by the energy-efficient buildings and public charging stations.

        – Build electrical train systems, community and high speed, primarily nuclear powered, as they are in France, which already has one of the lowest energy and CO2 emissions intensities among developed nations.

        – Phase out short distance air travel as high-speed rail systems become available.

        – Widespread adoption of battery-assisted bicycles and tricycles; useful for physically, less-capable people, for carrying various goods, for local travel and local shopping, etc. The batteries would be charged by buildings and by public charging stations.

        – Taxing energy energy inefficiency. The revenues to be used for EE subsidies:

        Example: If a person drives a light vehicle that gets 25 mpg (EPA Combined), there would be no tax; 24 mpg $100 annual tax, 23 mpg $200, 22 mpg, $300, etc., to be paid at annual registration with the registration fee. The 25 mpg, no-tax limit would be raised by 1 or 2 mpg each year. People would quickly get rid of their gas-guzzlers. Using a gasoline or diesel tax would be too regressive.

        Example: Apply surcharges on household electricity consumption as follows:
        Monthly consumption: 0 – 399 kWh; no surcharge; 400 – 499, 5 c/kWh surcharge; 500 – 599, 10 c/kWh; 600 – 699, 15 c/kWh; etc. Energy-guzzling households would quickly find ways to reduce their electric bills.

        – Build factory-built, proven-design (to save time), near-CO2-free, modular nuclear plants to provide at least 50% of the world’s electrical energy. The US has about 50 years of experience building several hundred modular reactors for the US Navy. If Boeing can build 50 planes per month, the US can build 50 modular units of 100 – 150 MW per month. US nuclear energy production was 790 TWh in 2013, 19.4% of energy generation. About 2,050 TWh/(8760 hr/yr x 0.9) = 260,000 MW of modular units would be required to replace the existing plants and achieve 2,050 TWh, about 50% of US energy generation in 2013. The IPCC is finally shifting its nuclear stance.

        – Phase in worldwide population management starting with the first 2 children, boys AND girls, receiving cost-free education, all levels, whereas the 3rd, etc., children would not. Parents would think twice before having a 3rd, etc., child. If the energy-guzzling, environment-destroyng human race keeps “expanding”, there will be too little unspoiled habitat for other fauna and flora, which need the unspoiled habitats as their healthcare support systems to survive and thrive.

        • A C Osborn says:

          Well, let’s agree to disagree over the world’s population. By the way we only had one child 44 years ago by choice.

          I agree about improving energy efficiency, however you have to be careful not to take it too far and price items out of reach of the poorer people.
          Let’s take energy efficient houses, in the UK the majority of young people can’t even afford to buy an old inefficient house let alone more expensive energy efficient ones.
          The other thing you need to beware of with very efficient houses are moulds caused by condensation and “sick building syndrome”, something quite common in the UK ones.
          Then of course there are odd balls like me and my wife, we like fresh air when we sleep, so we have a window open, what does that do to efficiency?
          We have had double glazing and wall & loft insulation since 1987, we have had Central Heating since 1970.
          Our cheap old Gas boiler died at the grand old age of 23 years and in that time only needed one new Flame Sensor, it was replaced with a new efficient “Condensing” boiler costing twice as much.
          It is no where near twice as efficient as the old one and is so complicated that it has already required 2 major repairs costing over $600 each. This kind of cost was not highlighted by those pushing these boilers, even though it was known about.

          In the UK we have had “CO2 Vehicle Taxation” for years as well as the London emission Zone charge and whereas you are talking about 25 Mgpg and down we are talking 40-50-60 Mpg.
          We even have the “efficiency idiots” in the EU telling us that our future Kettles/Coffee makers and Vacuum Cleaners have to be reduced in power.
          They can’t even understand that it will just take longer for those items to do their jobs and will probably end up using more energy than the high energy versions.

          Also in the UK it has become not only quicker but also cheaper to do some short haul journeys by Plane as Train tickets are so expensive.

          Electric only vehicles are too expensive here at the moment and the ranges are poor (100 miles) Renault are currently offering a small car for £10,000 which includes a Government Subsidy of £5000 and a makers discount of £5000, they may actully manage to sell them at that price.
          Hybrids are also quite expensive and do not offer much of an improvement over conventional vehicles in fuel consumption.

          I agree with you about nuclear, including the use of current Sea Vessel type units, but I would also like to see more investment in LENR development as well.

          • Roberto says:

            Agreed on all you’ve said, but LENR… please… it doesn’t exist, let’s forget about it.

          • A C Osborn says:

            Roberto says:
            November 26, 2014 at 5:38 pm
            Well that is odd as NASA scientists along with lots of others seem to think it does.

          • Roberto says:

            @A C Osborn
            NASA has no position whatsoever in the LENR debate, which is not even a debate ’cause LENR is physically impossible.

          • Willem Post says:


            Mould formation should not be allowed to start; it is controlled by controlling humidity. That is the reason new, energy-efficient houses have forced ventilation at 0.5 ACH/hr, humidity control, and (optional) HEPA filters. Not much can be done, if mould is already in the house.

            I had a Viessmann (German), 96%-efficient, condensing, propane fired furnace installed 4 years ago. No problem of any kind, except annual servicing at about $300.

            The reason you are not getting the high efficiency is because your radiators are not sized to operate at low circulation temperature (furnace in condensing mode).

            My 3500 sq ft house uses about 1100 gal of propane for space heating and domestic hot water.

            I designed it 30 years ago. If I had to do it again, it would be a very different house, as outlined in my article.

          • A C Osborn says:

            You are too positive for your own good.
            Just enter NASA & LENR in to Google and see how mnay hits you get.

    • Hugh Spencer says:

      As a biologist – I have to totally agree with Willem .. we have become ‘conditioned’ to expecting more and more resources and energy to be available to us – and ‘de-energising’ is portrayed as necessarily going back to the stone age – which is of course complete nonesense. We have become far too comfortable – which blinds us to the reality of what’s happening to the planet as a result of our actions.. Plus our increasing ‘cocooning’ in urban structures disconnects us from the real (planetary) world. Population control (and not just 3rd world folk!!) has become a dirty and loaded term – despite the fact we have the technologies (cheap and effective) to make it available to all societies .. but no… and we forget – it is not just direct energy “needs” (or should we say “wants”) that are driving this accelerating demand for energy – but the increasingly large ’embodied’ energy in the gadgets (including vehicles) we so cheerfully buy (in response to saturation advertising) and then discard.. I could go on, but won’t.. it is pretty bloody obvious.. We can have a low energy future – and a perfectly comfortable one at that – but the current paradigm don’t allow..

      • Willem Post says:


        Thank you.

        …..and the RE paradigm is unaffordable, and not feasible, and disastrous for the OTHER fauna and flora.

  3. Matt says:

    Intriguing reflection. At the end of the day, legislation will indeed be needed to help boost use of renewables and low carbon fuels. But if an economic advantage can be found – such as the current cost competitiveness of natural gas and wind to coal for power generation – there is no legislation that can spur such enthused rapid adoption.

  4. Sam Taylor says:


    This tallies with some work done by Tim Garrett, who’s a Utah physicist. He basically modelled the human economic system as a well-mixed thermodynamic heat engine, and came out with some extremely interesting results. The paper is here:

    The last few lines of the abstract run:

    “Effectively, it appears that civilization may be in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the risk is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse.”

    What I find curious about the google engineers is that, having thrown a quarter of a billion at the project, their proposed solution is simply to throw even more money at the problem looking for even more exotic technologies. I believe this falls into Einstein’s definition of madness. Quite why behaviour changes are never mentioned as an alternative baffles me.

    • A C Osborn says:

      “then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv”, not even the IPCC talks about such a high level, does he have any idea how much FF needs to be burnt to get there?

      • Sam Taylor says:

        Enough to keep the economy growing at roughly its present rate over the next hundred or so years. I don’t think that he thinks this is a realistic proposition, since resource depletion would likely render it impossible to achieve. However given that human behaviour seems to largely be governed by the maximum power principle I reckon that we’ll do our level best to get there.

      • AC: The IPCC’s RCP8.5 scenario in fact projects ~1,230 ppm in 2100. As Dave Rutledge has pointed out, however, this involves burning about twice as much mineable coal as is known to exist on Earth so it seems unlikely to be reached.

    • Sam: As I understand it Google’s continued investments in renewables are designed to power Google’s operations exclusively with renewables, and right now they are about a third of the way there. Google’s computers burn a lot of juice (~260MW constant load).

  5. Euan Mearns says:

    “Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.”

    This from a related article on WUWT a few days ago. This is what happens if you target energy production with ERoEI approaching 1 – not to say that is what is happening. But with exponential growth in renewables we have exponential growth in demand for materials today against a promise of “free energy tomorrow”. Renewables cannot compete with the current economic model since ALL the cost is front loaded and the economic system is based on some capex up front followed by fuel costs spread over the life of a project.

    • Willem Post says:


      Exactly my view. The RE aficionados are doing everything to prevent lay people from understanding the futility of their “solutions”.

      Expensive, distributed, resource-intensive, low-energy density RE systems are being created by low-cost fossil, hydro and nuclear energy.

      There is no way such RE systems can procreate themselves, even if they becomes less expensive, as aficionados are claiming.

      The variable, intermittent wind and solar energy CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT LOW-COST STORAGE.

      Worldwide RE Investments and RE Generation:

      The below, recently issued report presents an overview of worldwide RE investments from 2002 to 2013.

      As a result of RE build-out investments of about $1,700 billion from 2002 to 2013 (excluding mostly “socialized” investments for grid adequacy, capacity adequacy, etc., of about $400 billion not mentioned in the report), worldwide RE generation increased from 1.6% to 5.3%, a 3.8% addition, of which:

      – Wind increased from 0.3% to 2.7%
      – Biomass from 0.9% to 1.8%

      – Solar (PV + CSP) from 0.0% to 0.5%

      – Geo from 0.3% to 0.3%

      – Marine from 0% to 0%

      Thus, the total generation (excluding nuclear) of Hydro + RE increased from 16.7 + 1.6 = 18.3% in 2002 to 16.4 + 5.3 = 21.7% in 2013. The 3.8% addition of worldwide RE generation required investments of 1.7 + 0.4 = $2.1 TRILLION from 2002 to 2013. The report data shows, the 12 – year trend of RE investments to reduce fossil energy generation and replace it with renewable energy generation would take many decades.

  6. Euan Mearns says:

    And from the pic, I can’t help but comment on the acres of Tar macadam and thousands of cars and what looks like a dirt race track out the back. I don’t see a bicycle stand by the front door 😉

    • roberto says:

      You see only cars because they mostly are 100k dollar Teslas… all electric vehicles, it’s becoming the fashion among “green”accolites…


  7. Sam Taylor says:


    I’m aware that your preferred route forward is a massive nuclear buildout. Leaving aside the uncertain nature of nuclear EROEI (I’ve seen 100), which is probably still somewhat uncertain until we get a handle on decommissioning energy costs, couldn’t exactly the same criticism be levelled at nuclear? Hydro aside none of the low-carbon options look a good bet.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Sam, not wanting to belittle the risks of nuclear, I think we really need to get an objective hold of what these risks really are and to scale the measures to handle them accordingly.

      The environment led health and safety rules in place are crazy. I have close connection to the offshore industry here in Aberdeen. If someone stubs a toe in the shower offshore someone flies out there in a helicopter to investigate. This ends up adding risk and piling on the cost. The motive is to run the FF industry out of business.

      As far as environmental harm and casualties are concerned, this takes some beating.

      • sam Taylor says:

        Sorry this was meant to be a reply to your posts about the front loading of capital rendering low carbon sources uneconomic vs ff generation, since nuclear needs massive investment at the start too.

        Having worked in nuclear, and spent plenty of time on site, I’m more than aware of the utterly insane levels of HSE and what a drag they can be. Don’t ever try walking down stairs without holding the handrail!

        I’d be happier with nuclear if we could actually deal with sellafield, and show that we are capable of cleaning up after ourselves. Crapping where you eat is not a great long term strategy.

  8. “In short, Google is telling us that a free-market approach won’t work for renewables. They aren’t cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation and aren’t likely to become cost-competitive at any time in the foreseeable future.”

    This is not true.

    There are two types of energy markets – ones that need new power capacities (Type A – China, India, Turkey, Brazil, etc) and ones that have excess power capacities (Type B – EU, USA, etc)

    The thing is that new(!) renewables are cheaper than new(!) fossil fuels but not cheaper than old(!) fossil. On the auctions for new capacities in Brazil, for examples, new wind and solar get much cheaper prices than new fossils.

    This must be understood.

    Because of that Type A energy markets will install more and more new renewables just because they are the most economical options and Type B energy markets will invest mainly in energy efficiency and behind-the-meter capacities like roof PV.

    • dilaseuq says:

      ..this is a really fundamental distinction: new installation Vs. old installation. This make a huge difference in terms of financial committments, payback period, risk involved and so on….consider only this: in case of economic recession, a renewable plant have limited operating costs (no fuel e low o&m costs) so it can keep on producing energy. This is not the case of FF plants (cost of kWh linked to coal, oil and ng cost + o&m usually higher).
      For nuke, this is the interesting comment of Steven Chu, the former US energy secretary and Nobel prizewinning physicist:

      “Unless we can learn to build nuclear on schedule and on budget it will be a financial drain. Other countries have learned how to do this: South Korea has built 10 plants exactly the same and the tenth plant was only 60% of the cost of the original one. The cost came marching down because they just kept doing the same thing,” he told the Guardian.

      “That is true of all industries. If you build exactly the same its get cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. Everything different means it will cost more. You have to understand that. When the United States built its nuclear plants they were all different,

    • roberto says:

      “On the auctions for new capacities in Brazil, for examples, new wind and solar get much cheaper prices than new fossils.”

      No way!… this works only until the penetration of wind (or any other intermittent renewable) is low… if you believe in this then ask yourself… the day all dispatchable fossil/nuclear power stations are stopped, who will balance the intermittency of wind and at what costs?

      This is baloney.


      • In the case of Brazil this is not an issue – they have build enormous hydro capacities that can supplement wind and solar perfectly.

        Besides they do not have an options – draught leaves their hydro without a water, and new(!) fossils plus the needed infrastructure (including import capabilities) is much much more expensive than new wind and solar there.


        Brazil record low wind auctions
        Brazil record low solar auctions

          • From your article:

            “The big shift in this auction is that thermal plants come with the best terms. In an effort to lure more projects, the nation’s energy regulator raised the cap on thermal-electricity rates to 209 reais ($83.51) a megawatt-hour from an initial proposal of 197 reais. The new price is more than twice that of the last gas project that was awarded in 2011.”

            Now lets check the prices of the wind and solar auctions:

            Casa dos Ventos and other wind developers agreed to sell electricity at an average of 129.97 reais ($57.89) a megawatt-hour, below a ceiling price of 133 reais. In Brazil’s energy auctions, the government sets a ceiling price and developers bid down the price at which they are willing to sell power. The lowest bids win contracts.


            São Paulo, 4 November 2014 – Extremely aggressive bidding at Brazil’s first-ever specific auction for solar power, held on Friday, 31 October, resulted in the awarding of 890MW AC capacity (1,048MW – total capacity) of contracts at a clearing price of BRL 215/MWh (USD 87/MWh). This marks one of the lowest prices for solar energy ever recorded, according to research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).


            Keep in mind two things:

            These are PPAs – they do not change, so no price volatility

            and second:

            wind and solar are technology, not fuel, so their cost WILL go down.

            We’ll see even lower PPAs in the coming years.

            So to repeat myself:

            New(!) wind and new(!) solar are cheaper than new(!) fosiils

    • Willem Post says:

      You do not understand the variable, intermittent solar and wind energy cannot exist without the lifeline, critical support of the existing grid.

      That support costs money, which at present is off-loaded as a cost on society.

      This is feasible only because solar and wind energy are small percentages of the world economy, but it will not be feasible if greater percentages are to be accommodated.

      BTW, using rich countries, such as Denmark, Spain, Germany, etc, all with more than 20% RE, as RE poster children is not applicable to the entire world.

      Read my article and my other comments in this string.

      • You are half-wrong.

        First – intermittency is not a problem and it have never been a problem – the power consumption is as intermittent as wind and solar if not more. The current power systems are built with intermittency in mind. I mean the intermittency problem was solved 100 years ago

        Its the unpredictability that is the problem. If you cant predict the power output or the changes in the consumption you must have certain capabilities that enable you to react. This cost money.

        For example the automated security systems in a typical nuclear power plant can take out 1000 MW out of the systems in a matter of milliseconds. This happens pretty often.

        This is unpredictability.

        And the power grids with nuclear plants know this and they are prepared. But it cost money.

        That being said:

        Second – intermittency of wind and solar is a problem only if you are not smart enough. Only if you can not predict their output accurate enough.

        Luckily we live in the 21st century and finally the IT and AI technologies enter the energy sector. Please read this:

        Smart Wind and Solar Power

        Big data and artificial intelligence are producing ultra-accurate forecasts that will make it feasible to integrate much more renewable energy into the grid.

        Third. You have two types of power generation – dispatchable ( CCGT, hydro, etc) and non-dispatchable (nuclear, other baseload, wind, solar etc)

        As long as the sum of non-dispatchables is less than the demand – everything is perfect – grid is designed to react.

        However when the non-dispatchables produce more than the demand than they start to compete with each other and wind and solar being fuelless they have market advantage. They can sell at zero or below zero prices as long as their competition (nuclear, coal baseload etc) suffers more.

        In the long term nuclear and other baseload will stop making money.

        Than the market will create demand for different dispatchable generation – ones that can stop cheaply and idle cheaply when wind and solar are not producing. And if you have demand… soon you will have supply.

        THIS is what is going to happen.

        And the ugly truth is that nuclear and base-load in general are obsolete.

        • Dimitar

          I recently wrote a post on solar in Germany that goes into the problem of how to store the summer solar power surplus for re-use in the winter, which is a far larger problem than handling diurnal intermittency. You might care to read it and comment.

          • Nice article.

            And it is in line with what I said – wind and solar are pushing the other non-dispatchables out of the market.

            With lots of wind and solar there is just no place for baseload – it will be replaced with dispatchable capacities that can stop and idle cheaply – there is quite a research effort going towards that.

            Also quick note.

            Solar wont scale like you assume in your article.

            First of all solar has its effect on the intraday market prices so as PV gets cheaper we’ll see more PV systems optimized to make more money or save more money depending on wheather it is for self consumption

            We can see that in Germany at the moment – since PV got cheaper enough there is big market for PV for self-consumption.

            And these PV systems are not oriented south – they are east-west oriented so they can produce more “rectangular shaped”

            You can see them here:


            Also Germany will have 150 GWp around 2025-2030 that’s more than enough time the power sector and the economy to restructure themselves around excess PV production

          • You seem to be having difficulty distinguishing between dispatchable and non-dispatchable generation.

            Dispatchable generation refers to sources of electricity that can be dispatched at the request of power grid operators; that is, generating plants that can be turned on or off, or can adjust their power output on demand. This may be contrasted with variable renewable energy sources such as wind power which cannot be controlled by operators.[2] The time periods in which dispatchable generation plant may be turned on or off may vary, and be considered in time frames of minutes or hours. In general the only types of renewable energy which are dispatchable are biofuel, biomass, hydropower with a reservoir, and concentrated solar power with thermal storage.

    • The thing is that new(!) renewables are cheaper than new(!) fossil fuels but not cheaper than old(!) fossil

      According to EIA (see text link) new CCGT in the US is considerably cheaper than new solar or wind.

      Conventional CCGT: $66.3/MWh
      Onshore wind: $80.3
      Offshore wind: $204.1
      Solar PV: $130.0
      Solar thermal: $243.1

      • A C Osborn says:

        And I bet those values do not reflect the need or cost of Back-up for the REs.

      • EIA is the last place you should look for such information.

        Take your time, use some Google and find at what prices utilities sign PPAs with wind and solar in USA.

        Besides you are missing the point – Conventional CCGT has this price at current gas prices and the price in wind and solar PPAs is constant – no price volatility.

        The lack of price volatility is a huge plus in the current market.

        • Graeme No.3 says:

          You are confusing Open Cycle (or simple) Gas Turbines with CCGT. The latter supply long term generation, whereas OCGT are their to cover peak demand, sudden generation failures etc.
          OCGT are expensive to run and generate quite high CO2 emissions. When higher levels of wind energy are added to the grid, there has to be some way of maintaining electricity output as the output of the turbines drops away, and this can be either hydro (best) or OCGT. They are only intended to cover the time needed to bring conventional generators into use.

          Batteries might replace OCGT but not conventional generating methods, nuclear, coal or CCGT, especially as the examples in your links would supply the grid only for a few minutes at best.

          South Australia has no hydro (worth mentioning) but a high proportion of wind capacity, hence is installing a number of OCGT plants, but to cover the reduced output of wind in summer has to operate an old coal fired power station for 5-6 months a year, and import brown coal fired electricity from Victoria. The end result has been high electricity prices and very little reduction in overall emissions.

  9. Jacob says:

    “legislation will indeed be needed to help boost use of renewables and low carbon fuels.”

    As Euan said, no amount of legislation can change the ERoEI of renewables. It’s not an economic or social problem – it’s physics. Current day renewables will never reduce CO2.

    Let’s do a mental experiment. Let’s imagine that the cost of solar and wind drops to half the cost of coal for each KWh of electricity. How much of our energy needs will be supplied, then, by renewables? How much coal, gas and oil will still be needed? My guess: 75-80% of what we consume today.

    • Willem Post says:

      That can only happen with energy storage. Here is an example:

      Standard House, With Grid-connected PV Solar System and Plug-in Vehicle

      This alternative is used worldwide, especially in Germany. Its main attraction is using the generators on the grid to supply steady, 24/7/365 energy when PV solar energy is insufficient or absent, at least 80% of the hours of the year.

      In effect, the grid connection is a valuable, free (to the homeowner) energy service mostly paid for by the other ratepayers. To add to that free service, politicians often bestow high feed-in rates for any excess PV solar energy that cannot be used by the homeowner.

      An average standard house uses about 6,000 kWh/yr and one plug-in vehicle consumes about 12,000 mi x 0.30 kWh/mi = 3,600 kWh/yr. In New England, the PV solar system capacity would need to be about 10 kW to produce 10 kW x 8,760 hr/yr x capacity factor 0.14 = 12,264 kWh/yr; this CF likely is optimistic, see Note 7. It would produce energy during the day and feed any excess into the grid, to be withdrawn at night to charge one or two plug-in vehicles.

      Investments and Energy Cost Savings: The cost of the PV system would be about $40,000 less subsidies. Bills for electricity and gasoline would be minimal, but bills for space heating and domestic hot water, DHW, about $3,000/yr. (about $4,000 before tax), would remain.

      Energy Efficient House, Off the Grid, With PV Solar System and Plug-in Vehicle

      This alternative is becoming increasingly attractive, as the prices of PV solar systems have decreased and subsidies are generous. As battery systems become more widely used for electrical energy storage, their prices will decrease as well. Homeowners should receive the same 30% subsidy for the battery systems as now applies to PV solar systems.

      The off-the-grid concept can readily be applied to freestanding houses, or housing developments; the latter could have PV solar systems on each building roof, or have a parking area with a roof covered with PV solar panels. Bills for electricity, space heating and cooling, DHW, and gasoline would be minimal. Here is how this would work for a freestanding house.

      Investments and Energy Cost Savings: An absorbed glass mat, AGM, battery system costs about $200/100 Ah. A 4,000 Ah system, sufficient for about 6 days, would cost about $8,000. A PV solar system costs about $4,000/kW of panels. An 8 kW system would cost about $32,000 less subsidies. On the grid, in a standard, code-designed house, no PV solar system, bills for electricity $1,200, space heating + DHW $3,000, and gasoline $1,500, would total about $5,700/yr. (about $7,500 before tax). Off the grid, in an energy-efficient house, they would be minimal.

      Off-The-Grid: My starting point is a freestanding house, similar to a Passivhaus, NOT grid-connected, with properly angled roof-lines, proper solar orientation and passive solar features, and using about 80% less energy per square foot for heating, cooling, and electricity than a standard, code-designed house.

      In winter it would be challenging, as several days may pass with near-zero electrical and thermal energy generation. About a week’s consumption of electrical energy and domestic hot water storage would be required in less sunny areas, such as New England.

      For living off the grid, in a near-zero-CO2 mode, the house would need to be equipped with:

      – A roof-mounted, PV solar system + a 12 V, AGM battery system, with charge controller, wired for 12, 24, or 48 V output + a hot water storage tank with DC electric heater + a system with DC pump and water-to-air heat exchanger.

      – A gasoline-powered, 2 – 4 kW AC generator with 50-gallon fuel tank to periodically charge the batteries to about 90%, in case of insufficient PV solar energy during winter, due to fog, ice, snow, clouds, etc.

      – Any excess electricity would bypass the already-full batteries and go to the electric heater in the DHW tank. Any excess thermal energy would be exhausted from the DHW tank to the outdoors.

      – A whole house duct system to supply and return warm and cool air, with an air-to-air heat exchanger to take in fresh, filtered air and exhaust stale air at a minimum of 0.5 air changes per hour, ACH, per HVAC code.

      – For space cooling, a small capacity, high-efficiency AC unit would be required on only the warmest days, as the house will warm up very slowly.

      – For space heating, a DC electric heater, about 1.5 kW (about the same capacity as a hairdryer) for a 2,000 sq ft house, in the air supply duct, would be required on only the coldest days.

      – A plug-in EV, such as a Nissan, or plug-in hybrid, such as a Chevy-Volt, would be charged with DC energy from the house batteries by bypassing the vehicle AC to DC converter, provided the house batteries have adequate remaining storage energy, kWh, for other electricity usages. During some winter days, this may not be feasible, as not enough PV solar energy would be available; public chargers would be needed.

      Household Energy Management: To determine the capacity of the energy systems, list all the energy users on a spreadsheet, how much they use (amp-hours/day) and what time periods they are on and off. The sum will give the hour-to-hour energy consumption per day, or per week. Subtract the hour-to-hour PV energy generation to yield the hour-to-hour surplus (charges the batteries) or deficit (discharges the batteries). Energy consuming items can be scheduled on and off to manage the energy flows. If there is a prolonged period of no sun, the engine-generator supplies the energy. Having as many DC devices as possible reduces DC to AC conversion losses.


      The above alternatives clearly show to provide off-the-grid standard (mostly energy-hog) houses with PV solar systems, and electrical and thermal energy storage systems, they would need to be of such large capacity the costs would be prohibitive, if “zero-energy and near-zero CO2 emissions” is the goal.

      As a result of better building practices and materials much more energy-efficient houses can be constructed. Such houses, equipped with efficient mechanical and electrical systems, and the lower cost PV solar and battery systems, enable more and more homeowners to “live off the grid”, plus charge one or two plug-in EV or hybrid vehicles.

      PV systems have at least 25-year useful service lives, and battery systems, if property operated, have at least 10 to 15 year useful service lives. The homeowners will be enjoying annual cost savings for heating, cooling, electricity and gasoline for decades that are sure to increase year after year, plus they have the satisfaction of minimizing their CO2 emissions “footprint”.


      1) If an EV travels 12,000 m/yr. at 0.30 kWh/mile, about 3,600 kWh/yr. would be required, equivalent to the production of a 3 kW PV solar system in New England. Gasoline cost avoided = 12,000 mi/yr. x 1 gal/28 mi x $3.50/gal = $1,500/yr.

      2) Because PV solar systems have become much less costly, it would be less complicated and lower in O&M costs to increase the capacity of the PV solar system to also provide electricity for DHW, instead of having an $8,000 roof-mounted solar thermal system for DHW; no tube leaks, freeze-ups, less moving parts, etc. With a properly insulated, large capacity DHW tank, say 250+ gallons, there would be enough DHW for 5 – 7 days.

      3) A maximum of about 70% of battery nameplate rating is available. To prolong the useful service life well beyond 8 years, batteries should typically be charged to a maximum of 90% and discharged to not less than 70%; shallow cycling. Very rarely should they be discharged to a minimum of 20%; deep cycling reduces life. Also, life is prolonged if charging and especially discharging is slow; a few amps for many hours is much better than many amps for a few hours.

      4) Battery charging loss is about 10% and discharging loss is about 10%, i.e., input 100 kWh, store 90 kWh, output 81 kWh. Inverter DC to AC efficiency, low at low outputs, increases to about 90% at rated output (at which it almost never operates); i.e., using multiple inverters and minimizing DC to AC conversion by using DC devices (fans, pumps, heaters, etc.) avoids losses.

      Example of required battery capacity = 10 kWh/d x 6 d x 1.4 DOD factor x 1.2 loss factor = 100.8 kWh, or (1000 x 100.8) Wh/24 V system = 4,200 Ah.

      House low energy usage = 0.5 kW x 1 h x 1/0.5 inverter eff x 1/0.9, battery loss = 1.11 kWh from battery, or (1000 x 1.11) Wh/24 V = 46.3 Ah

      House high energy usage = 2.0 kW x 1 h x 1/0.8 x 1/0.9 = 2.78 kWh from battery, or (1000 x 2.78) Wh/24 V = 115.7 Ah

      PV solar energy to battery; overcast winter day = 8 kW x 4 h x 0.16 CF x 0.9 battery loss = 4.61 kWh; generator is needed for a few hours.

      PV solar energy to battery, sunny summer day = 8 kW x 6 h x 0.70 CF x 0.9 battery loss = 30.24 kWh; excess energy for charging plug-in.

      5) As space heating and cooling would be required for just a few days of the year, an air-source heat pump would be overkill and too expensive in this case.
      6) The PV solar system needs to be oversized to ensure adequate electrical and thermal energy during winter when the monthly minimum winter irradiance is about 1/4 – 1/6 of the monthly maximum summer irradiance. See below URL of monthly output from 2 monitored solar systems in Munich; 1/6 appears about right in South Germany.

      7) Whereas, the daily or weekly maximum solar output of Germany may be up to 60% of installed capacity, kW, during a very sunny period, it may be near zero, due to fog, ice, snow, clouds, etc. As a result, Germany’s mix of PV solar systems (old and new, dusty or not, partially shaded or not, facing true south or not, correctly angled or not) has a low nationwide capacity factor of about 0.10. This compares with a New England CF of about 0.12; the theoretical CFs are about 0.12 for Germany, about 0.143 for New England.

    • Many utilities/energy providers do not use ERoEI as a guiding factor for purchasing however – a basic ROI of renewable energy that matches coal on a KWh basis is what will move the needle the most.

      And indeed, generous renewable energy subsidies from the U.S. government to date have played a significant role in boosting cost competitiveness of wind and solar when compared to coal. Cost will always be the largest factor; new energy sources must match the cost of coal in order to see large market adoption in this current climate.

    • Legislation, such as renewable energy subsidies, drives at the basic ROI of a renewable energy project – ERoEI is not a factor in this regard. Cost is what will be the biggest driver for renewable energy development, specifically compared to the KWh cost of coal.

    • The legislation I refer to, such as the renewable energy subsidies in the U.S., drive at the basic ROI of a renewable energy project – ERoEI is not a factor in this regard. Cost is what will be the biggest driver for renewable energy development; specifically compared to the KWh cost of coal.

    • Jacob says:

      Also – you would need some energy to build those houses, the solar panels, the cars (EV or hybrid or whatever), the batteries, also for food and clothes production and transportation. etc.
      My thought experiment was meanat for the real world we inhabit, not for some utopian world of passive houses.

  10. But ERoEI is hardly a guiding factor for utility/energy providers – basic ROI is what will move the needle on sales of renewable and low carbon fuel sources.

    Fuel sources must be cost competitive with coal on a cost-per-kilowatt-hour basis in order to be deemed viable for large market adoption. And indeed, generous renewable energy subsidies from the U.S. government have played a critical role to date in boosting renewables in cost competitiveness.

    • A C Osborn says:

      Subsidies do NOT make things “Cost Competitive”, it just means somebody else, ie the Tax Payers have to pick up the Bill.
      But then seeing where your Link leads you would say that wouldn’t you.

      • Appreciate the attempted insult. However, if you would have bothered to read further than the front homepage, you’d realize that I have worked with a good deal of fleets that have shifted to alternative fuels, showed cost savings (and emission reduction), and not taken advantage of any government grants/incentives. Government grants/subsidies are fantastic when available, but the best projects are those that pencil out to savings without any subsidy.

        As I said before: Cost will be the largest guiding factor for renewables and alternative fuels. Government will step in from time-to-time with subsidies and grants, which offers temporary cost benefit. But overall reduction of pricing – such as $2.19 for a gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) of CNG here in Ohio – will provide the greatest impact for consumer adoption.

  11. Raff says:

    I guess “Google rejects renewables” is a much snappier title than “Google closed down RE<C program 3 years ago". That must explain why you would lead with an untruth. Has Google divested its green investments and taken to coal and gas? Or has it continued to invest in solar (which has halved in price since the end of RE<C and will do so again) and other renewables?

    The Spectrum article is clearly a gift to anti-renewables types but its premise is questionable. We know that total world energy needs could be covered by a solar installation on a square of desert of 200km sides. That is a lot of solar, but it is clearly doable. So it is the detail that matters, not the concept. Critics will say, ah but it isn't reliable, what happens at night etc. But these are not insuperable problems and don't need to be resolved all at once. We are engaged in a decades-long transformation.

    There's an odd sentence in the Spectrum article: "Let’s face it, businesses won’t make sacrifices and pay more for clean energy based on altruism alone". Does this mean that Google's investments in clean energy and offsets are profit based? If so, that is great! If not the writer is clearly wrong – you'd think he'd know that already. And companies may adopt renewables for reasons other than price, as the response of Apple's chief to complaints about its energy policy make clear. If Apple and Google do it, why should other companies not join in? Is Apple investing in clean energy because it makes business sense or out of altruism? And Ikea, Walmart and others? What is their motivation?

    I sympathise somewhat with nuclear. But I can't see mass adoption until designs are intrinsically safe (no danger of melt down), cheap to build (probably factory built, modular) and insurable. These problems seem solvable, but the investment there is huge and uncertain and the timescale and regulatory hurdles mean that it will take many years to get to the starting block. Renewables have a great head start.

    • Jacob says:

      ” “Let’s face it, businesses won’t make sacrifices and pay more for clean energy based on altruism alone”.

      The article also says that even if they did, it would not be enough. It says that, no matter how much of current wind and solar technology you deploy, it will not stop catastrophic climate change.
      The article says it, not me, you can disagree, but that is what it says.

      You seem to believe that we need renewables regardless of cost, and regardless of the climate goals they might achieve or not.

  12. Also another quick note:

    “Google rejects renewables”

    Google did not reject renewables.

    Google said:

    “Renewables are not enough to fix Climate Change”

    There is big difference in the two statements.

  13. renewnatta says:

    An entertaining discussion. As far as I can see, Google are saying that competitive markets wont deliver climate salvation. But few thought they would. That’s why governments have provided interim subsidies to help renewables get their cost down- and that’s beginning to work e.g enabling FiT levels to be cut (though maybe too fast, too early).

    If we want to cut emissions fast then we have to go for energy efficiency and renewables quickly and massively.That might include BECCs which can absorb CO2.

    The simple costs sums ignore the environmental and social costs of using fossil fuel, including health costs. If these externalities are included then renewabes stat looking competitive- indeed some already are in some locations without that.

    I don’t see an alternative option. It will require extra embedded energy investment , but the EROEIs for efficiency can be up to 100:1 and for wind 80:1 compared to 15:1 and falling ( as uranium ore quality falls) for nuclear. Rather than just burning it off for general energy use we need to invest as much of the fossil energy we release as we can in starting building this system, then it can provide surplus energy to build more.

    In parallel, to help ( a bit ) to get CO2 level stable, reafforestation would be a very good low cost idea…but one with no commercial driver.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Since you are posting from a address I will ask you to post links that verify ALL of the data in your comment. In particular the data that shows wind has ERoEI of 80:1 where most studies show a value closer to 20:1 is more realistic and those exclude the energy costs of grid balancing and the costs of bringing wind to market. And the 15:1 and falling for nuclear. I am looking for loads of details here. Since the cost of fuel for nuclear is of the order 2% of total cost I’m intrigued to see how an increase in mining cost gets leveraged in to falling ERoEI for nuclear power.

      Traffic at this site is growing pretty fast and comment volume with it. I simply don’t have time to respond to many of the comments.

      The simple costs sums ignore the environmental and social costs of using fossil fuel, including health costs.

      Look around you. Fossil fuels gave you absolutely everything you see, hospitals, the university you work at and the wage you earn there. Fossil fuels gave you absolutely everything you have. It is FF that are subsidising renewables. Without FF there would be no society or health care – you would not exist. So where do you derive the fanciful notion from that there are health and social costs?

      • Raff says:

        What a strange response. Is it so “fanciful” a notion that something good can have negative aspects? Why were clean air acts passed (e.g. after the London smog, which apparently killed 12,000), unless if it was recognised that burning fossil fuels in an uncontrolled way has costs – social costs? FF had built everything, as you say by the 1950’s, so what was different?

        Why are there protests in China now at the pollution levels in cities (causing and apparent half a million early deaths a year) and why is the government talking notice is there are no costs from burning coal?

        The thing is that most such costs are hidden from view and easily ignored. We don’t care that the Niger Delta is a hellhole as a result of oil extraction or that third world governments have been deposed or corrupted or that wars have been fought in order to supply you with “everything you have”. We don’t notice that the lungs of a child growing up in a polluted area are smaller and the child grows up sicker than a child in clean air – that represents a cost to the child and to society, even if we can care for him thanks to electricity, maybe from the same fuels that damaged him.

        All of these things reflect choices we make and have made in how we obtain the fuels and release the energy from those fuels. We can do it ethically (not deposing governments) and cleanly (not spilling it, burning it cleanly, capturing and cleaning the exhausts) or we can do it dirty. Clean costs money at the point of extraction and use. Dirty costs money too, but distributed around everyone. Whether clean or dirty is cheaper overall is difficult to know, but the clean way concentrates the cost in the hands of those gaining direct benefit from the energy and the dirty way socialises the cost. Pretending that this cost disappears if socialised is not sensible.

        What has built everything around us is the controlled release of energy. As far as the electricity coming out of my socket is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether the generator used fossil or nuclear fuel or was renewable. 240v, 50Hz (or whatever) is all that matters. So when comparing the cost of energy from different sources we put all the gains to one side; electricity is electricity. And we add up the physical and social costs of each method producing electricity.

        I’m guessing that you or others will gladly comment on the social costs of extracting rare earth metals or the social costs of excess winter deaths. But you are strangely blind to social costs of FF.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Is it so “fanciful” a notion that something good can have negative aspects?

          Of course not. Oxygen is incredibly harmful to the human body but I don’t here you arguing that it should be phased out. Likewise water in large doses is incredibly harmful.

          The trouble here is that Greens are arguing the corner of renewables using the evils of FF as the main weapon. The argument should be based on the merits of renewables, and since these are non-ubiquitous, it is an argument that is difficult to make and to win.

          Of course I think it will be a very good thing when China cleans up its air. They are in the position Europe was in 60 years ago. But I fail to see the logic of you argument which seems to be that coal fired power stations cause disease in China. Therefore we should stop burning coal in the UK. Driving up emissions standards drives up costs and at some point they stop benefiting society where the high price causes harm to the general populace in excess of the tiny and largely unmeasurable health gains that may be made.

          Indoor air pollution from solid fuel use and urban outdoor air pollution are estimated to be responsible for 3.1 million premature deaths worldwide every year and 3.2% of the global burden of disease.1

          This about sums it up. FF bring unmeasurable benefits at a tiny cost to health. They might add 20 years to someones life but then chop 6 months off the end.

          But you are strangely blind to social costs of FF.

          I’m assuming you are in Europe or N America. Would you care to make a list of the social costs in your country that I am blind to? This is a genuine question. And then a list of the benfits. Anyone else can join in. I know what is top of my list of costs by a long way.

          And the social costs of excess winter deaths which in the UK have fallen steadily in recent decades thanks to the cheap energy provided by FF combined with enlightened government policy. The UK government subsidises energy use for the elderly in winter. This is the sort of subsidy that the IEA would like to see phased out. One of us is viewing the world through a distorted lens.

          • Oxygen is incredibly harmful to the human body but I don’t here you arguing that it should be phased out. Likewise water in large doses is incredibly harmful.

            The Greens have yet to sign a petition to phase out oxygen but they have signed petitions to phase out water:


          • Raff says:

            You didn’t answer me earlier. If the idea that FF have social costs is “fanciful”, why were clean air acts passed (e.g. after the London smog, which apparently killed 12,000)? Was it recognised that burning fossil fuels has social costs? Or was there some less fanciful reason? In your words, FF “gave [us] absolutely everything” that we had in the 1950’s too.

            I’ll answer for you: people recognised the social costs of burning FF – that it caused smog and ill health. They didn’t like that and so they regulated to stop it. If there had been blogs at the time I guess there would have been a minority predicting economic armageddon and starvation from making energy more expensive, although most people probably just wanted to get rid of smog. But this episode alone lets us end the pretence that FF don’t have social costs.

            A more reasonable argument would be that things are not nearly as bad in the West now that we have regulated away the worst abuses of public goods (the environment) and that although some of the costs of FF use are clearly still socialised, the costs are either small, difficult to quantify or not easily returned to the producer or user. That would at least get us beyond denial to acceptance, discussion and evaluation. That seems a trivial step, but one that many anti-renewables folk cannot bear to take.

            Once we get to that stage, we can start to recognise the hidden costs. FF fans will never acknowledge that any sort of costs that accrue overseas (through political and economic exploitation, environmental destruction and wars) are attributable in part to them. Of course they’ll gladly offer up a “yeah, but rare-earth metals…”, as if that was equivalent. Many will not acknowledge that combustion products still cause health problems in developed countries and not just in tents and huts in the 3rd world, even in the face of clear evidence that they do. So an evaluation of the social costs, aside from its intrinsic difficulty, will be unacceptable to many, because, well FF gave us all we have…

          • A C Osborn says:

            Raff, wrong again, it just goes to show that you know nothing about real UK history, which I actually lived through in London.
            FF was not legislated against in the 1950s Clean Air Act, the burning of “pure” coal was.
            Britain went on burning just as much FF after the legislation, it was Coke instead of coal, which as you should know is Coal with the sulphur removed..

  14. renewnatta says:

    The EROEI data comes from Danny Harveys book ‘Carbon Fee Energy Supply’ Earthscan 2010. It’s not costs that high EROIE s add ( though they do rise), so much as carbon /kWh
    The health costs of burning fossil fuel, coal especially, but also oil (respiratory illnesses etc), are I would have thought, very clear and not disputed. Yes they have powered us so far, but at a huge human costs (even leaving aside coal mining deaths/illness/accidents) and environmental cost. Time for a change.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Indoor air pollution from solid fuel use and urban outdoor air pollution are estimated to be responsible for 3.1 million premature deaths worldwide every year and 3.2% of the global burden of disease.1

      So FF provide 100% of our prosperity, are directly responsible for enabling all the advances in health care, well fare etc and extension of life expectancy by decades but carry a penalty of accounting for 3.2% of global disease, mainly in countries outside of the OECD and you ant to phase out their use.

      It’s not costs that high EROIE s add ( though they do rise), so much as carbon /kWh

      Does anyone else want to have a go at explaining this drivel to me?

      • renewnatta says:

        If you insist on using words like ‘drivel’, all I can do is refer you back to the discussion we had some while ago when you provided chapter and verse of how bad coal burning was in health impact terms compared with nuclear power. You seem to have changed your mind now on FF. I think both are bad and we can do better to supply (and avoid wasting) energy. No one is saying that the use of energy is not beneficial .

  15. Graeme No.3 says:

    Dimitar Mirchev (@dmtk8) says @ November 28, 2014 at 7:07 am.

    I have looked at the article you linked, and I think there are a few assumptions being made.
    Firstly, that the cost of solar panels will continue to decline as quickly as in the last few years. Not necessarily, as part of the price decline was from companies going out of business and dumping otherwise unsaleable stock. The chinese producers are left and reputedly subsidised by cheap government loans. The other reason was the introduction of large scale manufacture and some technological advances. Neither are likely to help that much in future.
    Secondly, the writer assumes that the price of conventional electricity will go up. It is being forced up by having to carry all the costs associated with variable renewables. Should that change the renewables won’t look so attractive. Nor will the rising electricity bills impress those who for one reason or another cannot install solar panels.
    Thirdly, the writer assumes that solar will be favoured by legislation, but look at Spain where the government dropped feed-in tariffs and even introduced a “grid disruption” tax on output.
    Fourthly, the writer assumes either a massive boost in battery capacity, or another breakthrough in storage. Lithium batteries store about one sixth of the power of an equivalent weight of petrol.
    Leaving aside certain problems such as fires and lifetime, this assumes that the storage facility will cover a vast area. The same applies for flow through chemical batteries.

  16. Pingback: Resilience Roundup | VantageWire

  17. i think it’d be fair to say every person reading this blog has vested interest in adoption of renewables.

  18. Pingback: AWED Energy & Environmental Newsletter: December 1, 2014 - Master Resource

  19. I live in the Tehachapi Pass – renown for wind and sun. Since 2008 industrial wind turbines by the thousands have been installed. Then a fews years ago industrial solar, panels and some thermal solar concentrators started springing up. A month ago our local paper Tehachapi news had a story/announcement that Kern County was going to permanently lose property tax due to devaluation of the wind farms because they weren’t producing the power expected. The taxpayers pay 30% of the total cost in subsidies and cash grant to the developers to construct the installations. Wind is intermittent and the investors chasing high profits swarmed like bees to get their share of the subsidies, grants that aren’t due until the end of life of the equipment / 30 years, property tax on unimproved land as opposed to taxed on billion dollar businesses.

    When I attended hearings the developers threw out numbers like the project when operational will provide clean, free energy to 175,000 homes, 1500 jobs, millions into the local economy. It was all lies.

    The permanent toll on endangered birds like California condors, Bald and Golden eagles, turkey vultures, red tail hawks and migratory birds and bats is unforgivable. The equipment manufacturers didn’t even bother to design grills over the blades to protect the environment. Yet they have the audacity to call it green energy. It’s the same for solar. Neighboring communities report shooting of ravens and other birds by hired shooters near solar plants because they poop on the panels. The thermal sites fry birds that pass over and they’re called Streamers.

    Subsidies for research and development for zero impact technologies should be the only investment paid for by us taxpayers.

    Sorry if i seem like I’m ranting but our pristine desert has been destroyed by garbage technology that should never have been placed into widespread production.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      It’s interesting to hear stories like this from the horses mouth. I googled a bit to look at some of your beautiful wind farms 🙁 I live in NE Scotland, its not as bad as you have yet, but in places there are literally forests of wind mills.

  20. Pingback: Recent Energy And Environmental News – December 1st 2014 | PA Pundits - International

  21. Pingback: Google’s renewables fail b/c BigWind too expensive | saveourskylineohio

  22. Pingback: simpleNewz - Energy Matters RSS Feed for 2014-12-06

Comments are closed.