How do wind and solar power stack up against the five Es of sustainability?
Empirical (scientific justification)
Incidentally right now Wind and Solar are delivering about 5% of the modest Sunday afternoon demand. Wind is contributing under 2%. By dinner time the sun will clock off and we will get a repeat of the previous two days when the the sun and wind were irrelevant at the evening peak. That probably tells you as much as you need to know about the sustainability of unreliable energy. Very expensive virtue-signalling.
Turning to the empirical base for the RE experiment. First of all there is alarm about the effects of the beneficial warming and CO2 fertilization that we have enjoyed since the Little Ice Age. That warming ceased for all practical purposes around 1998 and we are now alarmed about the possibility of more warming driven by CO2 emissions. The science suggests that CO2 is at most (if at all) a modest driver of warming, as the experience of the last two decades suggests. Not much empirical base.
On the engineering feasibility of RE at the level required to satisfy the Carbonphobes, there are suggestions that really major problems in grid management occur after about 20% penetration of wind and sun. We are not there yet but we soon will be given the amount of work in progress. Engineering issues very rapidly turn into economic issues.
The economics of RE favour investors at the expense of everyone else as the Fisher modelling demonstrated. All you can say for the Coalition policy is that it is less absurd than the old ALP position. The most dangerous aspect of the system is the way RE predators tend to drive out the coal-fired providers. Given the RE supply lately the unreliables need almost 100% backup from other sources. Interesting times ahead! All the overseas experience shows that power becomes more expensive as the RE content increases. Very creative accounting is required to sustain the illusion that RE is getting cheaper than coal. Just ignore the transmission lines and the subsidies. In any case we have to keep coal until there is a new generation of storage so we are stuck with dual power systems for a long time to come. Unless we go nuclear.
A major study in the US makes the economic point.
Solar panels and wind turbines are making electricity significantly more expensive, a major new study by a team of economists from the University of Chicago finds.
Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) “significantly increase average retail electricity prices, with prices increasing by 11% (1.3 cents per kWh) seven years after the policy’s passage into law and 17% (2 cents per kWh) twelve years afterward,” the economists write.
The study uses what the economists say is “the most comprehensive state-level dataset ever compiled” which covered 1990 to 2015.
The cost to consumers has been staggeringly high: “All in all, seven years after passage, consumers in the 29 states had paid $125.2 billion more for electricity than they would have in the absence of the policy,” they write.
Last year, I was the first journalist to report that solar and wind are making electricity more expensive in the United States — and for inherently physical reasons.
The massive human and environmental impact of RE has been documented in a previous post. This raises the ethical issue. We are spending trillions and doing all this damage to avoid hypothetical harms that may arise decades in the future while all the waste and destruction is happening around us and has been building up for decades.