Graph of the Day: Why “experts” get it wrong on wind and solar

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We’ve mentioned this before, but one of the striking patterns of behaviour in the energy industry over the last decade has been the ability of the “established” energy experts to completely underestimate the growth of renewable energy – and to overplay the credentials of fossil fuels.

As we have seen in Australia, this has been a costly exercise, resulting in massive over-investment in poles and wires, and in fossil fuel generation. Similar stories have been played out across the world.

So who is best at getting the forecasts right? This interesting graphic shows that the green NGOs – those accused in dealing in “fantasy” – are a lot closer to the mark, particularly when it comes down to forecasts for wind and solar capacity additions.

The graph below pretty much speaks for itself. Greenpeace has been a lot closer to reality than the International Energy Agency. Perhaps it also has a better grip on how quickly the world can move to a largely renewable-based energy system.

graph of day greenpeace




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  • ac baird

    Yet News Ltd persists in continually referring to anybody of the faintest greenish tint as “extremist”, while industry “experts” (minions) are shamelessly given a pocket hagiography upon each mention of their names. This is a daily, routine phenomenon. This from the motley crew who accuse the ABC of bias. Laughable but serious.

  • Kevin O’Dea

    News Ltd have long ago given up on credibility as they consistently push the corporate agenda of their corporate mates.

  • Michel Syna Rahme

    One other aspect I have not seen much considered in forward long term forecasts for cleaner energy is the probability that we will see a faster more dramatic shift once a majority of the population aged between 63 and 80 pass away (an age bracket in Australia who vote consistently based on their outdated traditional old order world view that most of us can see clearly will not dominate in tomorrow’s world).

    The passing of that demographic should happen between 2020 and 2030, all the while more stringent global agreements limiting CO2 emissions are attained, continued economies of scale favouring cleaner energy technologies, and the rise of a more educated and younger generation from the developing world who will be far greater affected by climate change that wealthy countries. Therefore, the view that the transition to cleaner energy will be easier to contain going forward by those vested interests who stand to lose, is over confident at best. (Overconfidence is usually a sign of stupidity)

    Do superannuation funds, investment houses, and major banks (who will be pushing their luck if they expect another tax payer funded bail out will be palatable) really think its prudent to be making large long term investments in Coal and unconventional gas via fracking within our nations aquifers with undisclosed, secret, protected via proprietary, chemicals?

  • mike

    y axis label?

  • ecoh

    Solar and wind is backed by fossil fuels to compensate intermittency, making it expensive economically.
    “Since solar works only when the sun is out, and wind works only when there is wind (and not too much of it), both of these are unreliable (called non-dispatchable). They require dispatchable backup, which adds greatly to the cost. So for example, wind with NatGas Combined Cycle backup costs $0.09 + $0.07 = $0.16/KWh.”

    • Bob_Wallace

      I think you have a little problem with your logic. When wind and solar are added to grids there’s no need to add fossil fuel backup. Most grids already have a lot of fossil fuel capacity, that’s what they’ve been running on.

      When wind and solar are added coal and gas plants are run less. Fuel is saved. Less CO2 is emitted.

    • Don Osborn

      This is a false and oft repeated misconception. Today’s grids are well suited to utilize 15 to 20% with out any major changes in operations. With regional interconnections and other cost-effective operational modifications, the level can be much higher.

      • ecoh

        Nuclear units can run “at a capacity factor of 94.2 percent” while wind/solar is not able to reach 15%
        “A nuclear or gas combined cycle plant avoids far more emissions per MW of capacity than wind or solar because it can operate at 90 percent of full capacity.” “nuclear plant can operate also at 90 percent of full capacity and can replace a coal-fired plant on a one-to-one basis.”
        “Limited benefits and higher costs make wind and solar socially less valuable than nuclear, hydro, and combined cycle gas.”
        “renewable incentives that are biased in favor of wind and solar and biased against large-scale hydro, nuclear and gas combined cycle are a very expensive and inefficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
        “US nuclear power reactors operated at record 91.9% capacity in 2015”

        • Bob_Wallace

          US Capacity Averages – Department of Energy

          2013 = 89.9%
          2014 = 91.7%

          Onshore wind
          2013 = 32.4%
          2014 = 34.0%

          PV Solar

          2014 Aug – Dec 25.9%
          The DOE only began reporting solar CF in Aug/14.

          Natural gas has increased ‘value’ to the grid because it is readily dispatchable. The same holds for some hydro (not run of river hydro). Because those two sources can be quickly turned on and off they serve as valuable fill-ins for wind and solar. As the price of storage drops NG will be shoved into the background.

          Nuclear does not have any special value because it is not readily dispatchable. Countries which have installed a significant amount of nuclear (the US and Japan, for example) have found it necessary to add storage (mostly pump-up hydro) in order to find a place to stick unneeded nuclear generation during times of low demand.

          As soon as nuclear produces more than the minimum demand then it becomes a liability for the grid. The output has to be sold (probably at a loss), stored or, if possible, output lowered. Lowering output (load following) increases the cost of electricity. The cost of electricity = total annual costs / total annual output. Nuclear has high fixed costs and lowering the output means that what MWh are produced must be sold at a higher price.

    • Brian

      You are using the high prices for peak and reserve generators that run with capacity factors of 3% or so.

      Actually it’s nuclear that has always needed pumped storage and relied on fossil fuel reserve, peak and load following generators. Pumped hydro was built FOR nuclear.

      The very same storage and reserve that nuclear has always needed is the same that solar and wind need.

      Natural gas has more emissions than coal when you include methane.

      Solar and wind have reduced reserve generator requirements one for one in Germany.