Ten Reasons Intermittent Renewables (Wind and Solar PV) are a Problem

Intermittent renewables–wind and solar photovoltaic panels–have been hailed as an answer to all our energy problems. Certainly, politicians need something to provide hope, especially in countries that are obviously losing their supply of oil, such as the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the more I look into the situation, the less intermittent renewables have to offer. (Please note that I am not talking about solar hot water heaters. I am talking about intermittent renewables added to the electric grid.)

1. It is doubtful that intermittent renewables actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

It is devilishly difficult to figure out whether on not any particular energy source has a favorable impact on carbon dioxide emissions. The obvious first way of looking at emissions is to look at the fuel burned on a day-to-day basis. Intermittent renewables don’t seem to burn fossil fuel on day-to-day basis, while those using fossil fuels do, so wind and solar PV seem to be the winners.

The catch is that there are many direct and indirect ways that fossil fuels come into play in making the devices that create the renewable energy and in their operation on the grid. The researcher must choose “boundaries” for any analysis. In a sense, we need our whole fossil fuel powered system of schools, roads, airports, hospitals, and electricity transmission lines to make any of type of energy product work, whether oil, natural gas, wind, or solar electric–but it is difficult to make boundaries wide enough to cover everything.

The exercise becomes one of trying to guess how much carbon emissions are saved by looking at tops of icebergs, given that the whole rest of the system is needed to support the new additions. The thing that makes the problem more difficult is the fact that intermittent renewables have more energy-related costs that are not easy to measure than fossil fuel powered energy does. For example, there may be land rental costs, salaries of consultants, and (higher) financing costs because of the front-ended nature of the investment. There are also costs for mitigating intermittency and extra long-distance grid connections.

Many intermittent renewables costs seem to be left out of CO2 analyses under the theory that, say, land rental doesn’t really use energy. But the payment for land rental means that the owner can now go and buy more “stuff,” so it acts to raise fossil fuel energy consumption. Continue reading

Renewables Are Overrated, We Need Cheap Oil – Interview with Gail Tverberg

This article originally appeared at Oilprice.com.

What does our world’s energy future look like? Does renewable energy feature as much in the energy production mix as many hope it will? Will natural gas and fracking help reduce our dependence upon oil and how will the world economy and trade fare as supplies of cheap oil continue to dwindle?

To help us take a look at this future scenario we had a chance to chat with Gail Tverberg – a well-known commentator on energy issues and author of the popular blog, Our Finite World

In the interview Gail talks about:

•    Why natural gas is not the energy savior we were hoping for
•    Why renewable energy will not live up to the hype
•    Why we shouldn’t write off nuclear energy
•    Why oil prices could fall in the future
•    Why our energy future looks fairly bleak
•    Why the government should be investing less in renewable energy
•    Why constant economic growth is not a realistic goal

Gail Tverberg is an independent researcher who examines questions related to oil supply, substitutes, and their impact on the economy. Her background is as a casualty actuary, making financial projections within the insurance industry. She became interested in the question of oil shortages in 2005, and has written and spoken about the expected impact of limited oil supply since then to a variety of audiences: insurance, academic, “peak oil”, and more general audiences. Her work can be found on her website, Our Finite World.

Interview conducted by James Stafford of Oilprice.com

Oilprice.com: Do you believe that shale gas is the energy savior we have been hoping for and can deliver all that has been promised? Or have we been oversold on its potential? Continue reading

Where do continued high oil prices lead us?

We know high oil prices have an adverse impact on the economy, often leading to recession. According to Economist James Hamilton, 10 out of 11 of US recessions since World War II have been associated with oil price spikes. But where do continuing high oil prices lead us? How will economic contraction “play out,” if tight oil supply and high oil prices continue?

Figure 1. Structure built with blocks. (Barkless tree blocks from http://www.childmode.com) Our economy is also built piece by piece, based on the rules and prices that are in effect when individual decisions are made.

Clearly there are many possible ways forward. Using Figure 1 as an analogy, there is the theoretical possibility of continuing to build our economy to ever-higher heights, as we are told by economists and politicians, despite the obstacle of high oil prices. There is the possibility of taking down parts of the economy, and rebuilding in a more fuel-efficient manner. There is also the theoretical possibility of eliminating unneeded parts of the economic structure we have built to date, so that the structure is more compact. And, unfortunately, there is also the possibility that a major portion of what we have built to date will inadvertently be knocked down, as constricted oil supply makes its effects known.

Before discussing what paths may lie ahead, I would like to talk about how contraction of an economy differs from continued expansion. Continue reading