Misrepresenting German renewables: NYT does climate denial 101

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Editor’s Note: Last month, The New York Times raised eyebrows and ire when it appointed former Wall Street Journal editor and serial climate science denier Bret Stephens as a columnist. As Think Progress’ Joe Romm has noted, this is a journalist who, in 2015, described climate change – ”along with hunger in America, campus rape statistics, and institutionalised racism” – as an ‘imaginary enemy.’ True to form, his very first column, a thinly veiled critique of climate science, attracted more than 600 reader responses, “an unusually large outpouring” even if the NYT does say so itself.

The below column – by Rocky Mountain Institute founder, chairman and chief scientist, Amory Lovins – was written in response to Stephens’ second column, Answering your climate questions, which was itself written in response to some of the hundreds of letters challenging Stephens’ views. Over to you, Amory…

-1x-1 copy

RMI Outlet

Mr. Stephens misrepresents the German energy situation in three ways. First, he compares 2016’s record renewable electricity production with the whole economy’s carbon dioxide emissions. In 2015–16, those rose 0.9 percent—one-third due to leap day and a cold winter—as transport fuels and the gas that heats half the buildings got efficient and renewable slower than renewable electricity grew. Yet Germany’s coal burn fell in 2016, both in total and in the power sector, as renewables generated 29 percent of 2016 electricity and met 32 percent of domestic needs. (The difference was record net exports, 9 percent of production, notably to offset France’s nuclear decline with cheaper German wholesale power.)

Next, Mr. Stephens cherry-picks his emissions comparison with 2009, when the deep global recession made GDP nosedive to 13 percent below 2016’s, so energy use and emissions plummeted too, facilitating his deceptive conclusion that “emissions are almost exactly what they were in 2009.” But that’s wrong anyway. During 2009–2016, renewable electricity grew 98 percent (nearly twice nuclear’s decline), and the power sector’s CO2 emissions fell 3.5 percent, or 16 percent per dollar of GNP—hardly an “illusion of ecological virtue.” Germany’s renewables significantly cut its CO2 emissions, and helped make wholesale electricity prices some of the lowest in Europe (as Germany’s rising power exports confirm).

Third, Mr. Stephens cites German households’ high electric bills without mentioning that as a longstanding policy, home electricity is heavily taxed, averaging 55 percent taxes and fees. Only 22 percent pays for renewables—not just for the households themselves but also for billions of Euros of annual cross-subsidy to thousands of industries, though German taxpayers don’t subsidize renewables as Americans do.

Mr. Stephens is in good company in misunderstanding German energy policy and outcomes. Both have been widely misrepresented, including by the New York Times. Some of the most common misconceptions are corrected herehere, and here. Today, Mr. Stephens’s latest post recommends Der Spiegel as a “reputable” source on German energy policy. Its sensationalist campaign against renewables has long astonished German and other readers. Mr. Stephens may as well look to supermarket tabloids for evidence about climate.

The above blog post was first published on the RMI Outlet blog. Click here to read the original version.  

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  • MikeH
  • trackdaze

    Let me guess who owns the Wall Street Journal.

    Same owner as The coAlstralian?

  • john

    This dismal person has a history of writing drivel about Renewable Energy.
    As to why the New York Times hired him is proving to be one very poor decision.
    Their excuse is that a wider audience needs to be catered to.
    Considering Fake News is already very well covered by Fauk News Corp, one can only conclude that the NYT has made a very dismal pathetic decision in hiring someone who has lost a lot of subscribers to NYT.

    As to his ability to actually understand RE let alone make any comment that is in anyway believable he fails the bar not even getting a fail as in “F” for his efforts.

    Post Script.
    Quiet a few Scientists have cancelled their subscriptions to the NYT due to this pathetic effort to try and get support from the lunatics in society.

  • Just_Chris

    It always bugs me when people, especially Australians, hold Germany up as an example of failure in energy policy. This is the first article that I have read that quite rightly points out that German wholesale electricity is not “the most expensive in the world”. Retail electricity prices are high which drives efficiency and the extra tax revenue pays for more renewable energy to be installed. This supports the German solar, wind and biomass industry whilst reducing reliance on gas imports.

    • EdBCN

      Not to mention that the Australian grid, at 85% fossil fuel generation, is both one of the most expensive and unreliable grids in the world. Way to go fossil fuels!

    • Tom Andersen

      Wholesale prices in a rigged market like Germany or Ontario, etc are meaningless. The electric market in Germany is intentionally rigged, which depresses wholesale prices. That’s OK for producers as they are paid by contract, and wind and solar contracts are lucrative.

  • Quiet_Think

    Here are some actual German production numbers

    Energy systems are only as good as their performance in high demand situations. They must be designed to handle the demand profile and therefore looking at the ‘easy’ times doesn’t reflect the entire picture. Let looks at some other numbers besides that typical “we hit a hit percentage on a spring Sunday when little power was being used” scenario;

    Spot production; (other sources or imports not listed);
    May 8 at 23:30: Solar 0%, Wind 2.1%, Conventional 92%
    May 10 at 1500: Solar 0%, Wind 0.04% Conventional 92%
    These are not outlier moments, these are typical daily occurrences.

    Total Electrical Production January 2017;
    Solar 2%, Wind 7.95%, Conventional 80%

    Lets looks at some full day productions percentages (Total=Twh) for Germany; (other sources not listed, Conv = coal+gas+nuclear)

    Jan 6 2017: Solar=2.2% Wind=7.0% Conv =75.2% T=1.61 Twh
    Jan 8 2017: Solar=0.3% Wind=3.2% Conv=79.0% T=1.46 Twh
    Feb 5 2017: Solar=3.5% Wind=8.9% Conv=71.8% T=1.41 Twh
    Mar 7 2017: Solar=2.8% Wind=6.7% Conv=75.4% T=1.60 Twh
    Apr 4 2017: Solar=8.7% Wind=2.9% Conv=71.3% T=1.51 Twh

    As we can see there are still many days in Germany where wind and solar struggle to provide even 10% of demand, and at times during those days actual contribution is less. I hope these numbers don’t surprise anybody. They are exactly what we should expect.

    That is a glimpse of what 300 billion Euro in wind and solar achieves from a system capability standpoint. There is a great challenge ahead as costs for major transmission infrastructure improvements required for higher penetration of intermittent renewables take hold.

    • nakedChimp

      All you show is the Dunkelflaute is real (which is known for 20 years by now) and that you are able to cherry pick dates..
      Congratulations, maybe the NYT could use you as a number cruncher for Stephens.

      • Quiet_Think

        These are not outlier numbers. These are 2017 real numbers from Fraunhofer. There are similar occurrences every year. You can dismiss this reality if you like, but those that must design the power grid and supply systems have to factor in times when wind and solar production are not fully available. Yes, I chose dates that demonstrate the point. Just as I see the occasions article about moments when German nonrenewable provide a high percentage of you complain about those being ‘cherry picked’ or do you reserve that criticism for facts that you don’t like.

        • neroden

          The individual days are cherry-picked outlier numbers. Obviously we need some batteries to ride out weird days. And yes, we need to build more solar, everyone knows that.

          Also, did you leave out hydro for some reason?

          • Quiet_Think

            The dates were shown to illustrate the challenges remaining for solar and wind. We see stories about ‘cherry picked’ peaks, I am opening eyes to the other side of the story. Its good information for those who don’t realize as much. Its funny how some people don’t like this information being posted, oh well. I didn’t mention hydro because its a small portion of Germany’s generation and its not a option for scaling up. Building a lot more hydro isn’t really viable.

    • EdBCN

      Now that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, the fall-back argument against them has become that energy sources “are only as good as their performance in high demand situations.” -a very well stated version of the intermittency argument. Three rebuttals:
      1. It is an obvious truth in the abstract that intermittent sources, without some very expensive long-term battery backup, wouldn’t be able to power a reliable modern grid all on their own. But that’s a non-existent counterfactual. In the real world we’re not facing that situation. We’re facing situations where we have way more than enough backup to keep the grids stable even with a lot more cheap renewables. Or we are in situations where there is no grid or the grid is unreliable we are happy to install solar to at least have power when the sun shines, at a considerably lower price than a portable generator and imported fuel.
      2. All power sources have reliability problems and need backup. The nature of their reliability issues are different, but they all have them. Expanding on that, they all have various intrinsic plusses and minuses that impact the value of their output. For example, one of the plusses of solar over coal is that it can be economically deployed at any scale and in distributed settings near the end user. Focussing solely on the one issue of intermittence isn’t a balanced perspective.
      3. The pre-existing grid was designed to deliver centralized fossil fuel generation to variable distributed demand. It shouldn’t be surprising that it doesn’t work well for distributed intermittent sources. The advent of large amounts of cheap renewables, along with smart grids, demand response, distributed generation, and now distributed storage, is changing the nature of grids. These changes going forward will keep pushing up the upper limit for the percentage of intermittent generation until finally there will be no upper limit.

      • Quiet_Think

        I’m glad you understand how very expensive the transmission and storage solutions are. Many do not realize just how economically taxing it would be to have very high wind and solar, for, as some say, ‘the wind is always blowing somewhere’ solution.

        THe most of the rest of what you say is more hopeful prediction than practical solution. Even in Germany where wind last year only was 15% of total generation are they experiencing challenges with the grid, even with a lot of money already poured into upgrades and additions. They are reaching their limits and Wind hasn’t even gotten to 20% annual production. The cost gets much higher per mwh going forward. Once you get to >35% total annual production from wind, you run in to significant wind curtailment periods, which actually drive up the cost of that source.

        As for reliability and backup. Unfortunately the numbers I posted above about the low periods of wind and solar demonstrate that there needs to be almost 100% backup (probably more like 90% for wind). For conventional plants, you don’t need to assume they all fail and the practice is having about 10% reserve, or simply enough to replace the highest rated plant on the grid at the time. So you need much less ‘backup’. Not only that, but conventional allows more control over how things are backed up.

        • EdBCN

          It’s not so much hopeful prediction as simple observation of where things are and where they seems to be heading. Wind and solar are now the cheapest form of new generation in a lot of places, and their costs are dropping much faster than fossil fuels. In many cases wind is cheaper than just the fuel cost of existing coal plants. So if you can deal with their intermittency, they are now the go-to sources. Which is why the majority of new capacity being added in the US and worldwide is renewables. Already solar and batteries beats natural gas peaking plants on cost in Australia. None of that is prediction, it’s where we are at now. While it is a (hopeful) prediction that the cost of solar will keep falling, perhaps by half over the next 4 to 5 years and then by half again by the end of the 20’s, it is a conservative prediction that assumes that solar’s falling cost trajectory will slow down a lot from where it has been in recent years. All of this is is apt to wreak huge changes to the grids in the near future. Massive curtailment or dumping of intermittent wind and solar will probably be the norm, but that should not be seen as a flaw anymore than we think of it as a flaw that a large part of the capacity in fossil fuel based grids often sits idle. The difference being that the fuel is free with renewables so there is no downside to overproduction. I could see whole industries growing up around seasonally available ‘free’ electricity- like desalinization plants or hydrogen gas plants.
          If someone had told you in 1990 that the internet would become what it is today, you could have easily, and convincingly refuted them by pointing out that it would cost more than the entire annual world economic output just to pay for the memory required (at 1990 prices) or that the server banks and their air conditioners would suck up unsupportable quantities of power. Someone in 1990 who focused on the enormous transformative potential of the internet and just hopefully assumed the technology would advance to meet the promise would have been a much better predictor of the future than someone who focused on the technological limits.

          • Quiet_Think

            Internet is a poor example. It was a very new thing. We’ve had power plants and grids for a very long time. Our history is full of technological successes and failures, neither specifically means another will or won’t. We’ve been predicting fusion power is only 15 years away for the last 50 years. Fuel cells have been a few years away from large scale deployment for 30 years, many of those companies have gone belly up. But those examples are no more applicable than the internet.

            So yes, they are just hopeful predictions on your part because the costs of transmission and distribution additions are only likely to go up.

          • EdBCN

            You’re argument is much more heavily predicated on uncertain predictions than mine. As it stands now, without any predictions, expanding the development of renewables is an economic no-brainer. That’s why market forces (and to some extent, regulatory forces) in countries as varied as China and Chile, and for customers and applications as varied as nickel mines to subsistence farmers, are driving the exponential growth of renewables. Your argument is basically we shouldn’t develop renewables now because you predict that at some point in the future there will be so much of them that it will destabilize the grid. If we get to that point, I’ll start to listen to you. I will readily admit that there is a huge amount of uncertainty and complexity in making any specific forecast of where the world’s energy systems are heading, and what exact form they may eventually take. But the big picture is this: Solar is now the cheapest form of new generation capacity in most of the world and it’s cost is falling more rapidly than any other source. It can be easily and economically installed at almost any scale, centrally or distributed close to end users, with no need for access to water supply or imported fuel, and it can be deployed very quickly. In the time it takes to plan, permit, design, build and commission a new coal plant, solar developers can commissioned 10 generations of new solar plants. Cheap, easy, scalable and fast with a cost and learning curve that appears to be matching that of digital technologies more than energy technologies- that’s hard to beat.

          • Quiet_Think

            Solar is nowhere near the cheapest when you consider the cost of intermittancy. It can only exist on the grid today because of conventional sources to provide backup. Same with wind. You can ignore those costs if you like.

          • EdBCN

            How, exactly, do you calculate those cost? And are you adding in the backup cost for nukes and coal plants that can and do trip offline without warning? Lazard seems to agree with me.

          • Quiet_Think

            Conventional plants don’t need 100% backup because only one of a fleet is likely to go down at any given time. Solar needs 100% backup for when the sun isn’t shining. Wind needs 96+% backup for low wind conditions over a large area (such as times this year when all of Germany’s wind was producing less than 3% of demand).

            Then if you have high intermittent penetration on the grid, you need added transmission infrastructure, another cost.

            Not sure why this isn’t just obvious to everyone.

          • Only one plant going down at any given time? You do live in a dream world. All plant need back-up, whether fossil fuel or renewables. and wind and solar don’t require any more back up than fossil fuels. the CSIRO/networks study made that clear. and it is obvious to anyone who has witness what has happened in australia this past summer where the two big gas generators in South australia both tripped at same time, the two biggest gas genitors in NSW tripped at same time, and a dozen different coal and gas plants had to reduce capacity because they couldn’t cope with the heat.

          • Quiet_Think

            No, I don’t live in a dream world, but I am familiar with regional spinning reserve rules and they are generally requiring the equivalent of losing the largest plant on the grid in their region. That doesn’t mean there are not occasions where that isn’t adequate, but it has proved to work quite well in the USA. So if two smaller plants trip, it is generally adequate plus the benefit of support from neighboring grid operators.

            Your anecdote doesn’t describe the entire grid condition, nor general required operating conditions. You are describing just a portion of one particular grid under unique conditions. And it certainly doesn’t negate my point. I am sure there is more to that story as well, news writers rarely understand what they are talking about in these situations.

          • “Your anecdote doesn’t describe the entire grid condition, nor general required operating conditions.”
            Are you kidding me? Australia’s NEM is five distinct grids and markets linked with interconnectors. The two that went down in South Australia were the only two fossil fuel plants operating at the time. and “under unique conditions”. operating under general conditions is easy, it is the peaks and special events that have to be managed. exactly the sort you use to decry wind and solar.

          • Quiet_Think

            And how often does that occur? Once? One time occurrences are not what we are talking about. We are talking about the very frequent times when wind is low and solar is not available.

          • Nope, just about every day during the recent heatwave. On one day in Queensland, all six major plants had to cut supply. But rooftop solar saved the day and meant there was no load shedding. Variability of wind and solar can be managed just like variability of supply. It just means smarter technologies, and smarter management, not big inflexible machines.

          • Quiet_Think

            Rooftop solar didn’t help at night, and probably was a lot less than you think on average compared to a few of the plants that were running also. It just so happens that those heat waves are typically the result of anticyclones which are typified not only by heat but by low winds over a large area, so wind power becomes pretty useless during these times.

            So if ‘rooftop solar’ saved the day, tell me what percentage of total load was it carrying?

            As for failure rates of conventional, an unexpected trip is rare. For a grid with 50 plants you might see only a couple sudden unexpected trips per year. If there is an equipment issue more often it can wait and the plant brought down at a convenient time.

            For solar and wind its much different. Just so far this year, there have been dozens, probably much more, where total solar and wind output where less than 4 percent of demand. All that power must be supplied from other sources, and there is a cost associated with that. You can ignore it if you like and use outlier anecdotes as your excuse.

          • Not sure where you live but in Australia the high temperatures – and therefore the critical peaks – usually happen during the day, when the sun is shining. About 850MW at noon in Queensland on Feb 12, still around 200MW at 5.30 at system peak. That was crucial given the fact that market operator was scrambling for supply given 790MW of fossil fuel generation had been lost due to the heat, they were unable to provide more and load shedding was being considered. There are no wind farms in Qld, so you can’t blame that.

          • Quiet_Think

            Only 850MW of solar? That is not much on a large grid. What percentage of demand was it at the time? Two or so?

            I didn’t blame wind farms, btw, just noting that they’d be useless if you did have them, I guess that is why you don’t.

          • Rooftop solar only. There is about 1.6GW rooftop solar on the Queensland grid, highest penetration in the world. it was providing about 10% of total demand at noon, around 2% at 5.30.

          • Quiet_Think

            Great. Solar works better is some place than others. And it works at night nowhere, and not to its full extent on cloudy days, and it varies during the year. So nothing against solar, it has its place, but it is still intermittent and still needs other supplies to back it up because it is not available all the time, and varies in output during the day, and its own peaks vary. That 10% is only available part of the time. I’m not familiar with seasonal variance in Queensland, but I would guess you stated the best numbers from the summer season.

            So that 10% saved 10% of the day, the rest of the sources save 90% of the day. They all work together, so one source can take credit for saving the grid. Solar cannot exist on the grid without conventional source to make up for its intermittency, and there is a cost to that. The fact that some parts of Australia had some problems doesn’t change that simple fact, it just an anecdote. Maybe if they added better designed plants, or upgraded, they’d not have so many problems. There are many hot places in the world that have had reliable conventional power for many years without these specific problems, its unusual and the causes are related to a number of factors, including likely an inadequately designed grid.

            I explained the difference in backing up intermittent solar and wind versus conventional plants, and gave to a reference that demonstrated I was accurate. So my points stand, you’ve argued with me but said nothing that remotely refutes them. There is a cost of indeterminacy, its clear and obvious to anyone who is objective.

          • Oh dear, you really don’t get it do you. So the CSIRO and Energy Networks did a detailed report of how to get to 100% renewables, and how it would be significantly cheaper than BAU with fossil fuels. About $100 billion cheaper. This is the work of the nation’s network owners, they now how to operate a grid and deliver power. time to move on from last century’s technology. As the head of China State grid said last year, this is not a technology problem, but a cultural one.

          • Quiet_Think

            BY ‘renewables’ there is typically a gloss over with much hydro and burning of biomass, I am talking about intermittant wind and solar only. Of course you provide no link to your claim, I imagine there are some pretty big assumptions and value plays.

            There is no cultural problem with intermittent sources. It is a technical and cost one.

          • EdBCN

            Sounds like Giles took up the argument with you much better than I could have. One more point that needs to be stressed is that solar and wind are very very reliable and predictable sources. Solar PV in particular almost never has a technical fail or trips offline unexpectedly. With modern forecasting it’s output is predictable with a high degree of accuracy over the time scale of 24 to 72 hours. You can’t say that about coal, gas or nukes. As Giles points out, these thermal sources tend to have problems of their own when temperatures (and demand) rise on hot summer days.

          • Quiet_Think

            Solar and Wind are absolutely not reliable and predictable. Solar is somewhat predictable but you can’t accurately predict the output for the next 3 weeks, much less further out. Solar is not reliable because its not always available when you need it.

            All you need to do is look at a chart or two. Have you ever tried? Here is some help;


            This is one week of total wind for all Germany. Completely unpredictable and therefor unreliable. (Reliable means it is available when you need it)

          • Solar and wind are absolutely predictable. And certainly more so than demand. Grid operators don’t need to know exactly how much solar and wind there is three weeks out. They operate on swings in five minute intervals. Closer to the time, and wind becomes very predictable. all the literature shows that.

          • Quiet_Think

            5 minute predictability isn’t really predictability as needed for operating an energy system. How about 15 minutes, an hour, a day ahead. No, the only thing predictable is that it will keep varying with little you can do about it except make up for that weakness with conventional sources. Stop being ridiculous, not even wind energy professionals call it predictable, just idiots that write articles with no real concept of how the systems really work and the requirements to manage a stable grid.

            You really lose credibility when you play the ‘predictable for a few minutes’ game.

          • You need predictability on 5 minute, 30 minute, 1 hours, 4 hours, and even year ahead for various levels of planning. This graph shows back in 2013 how predictable wind was. And there have been significant improvements since then, as well as with solar PV and cloud cover. This is from the Australian Energy Market Operator. This

          • Quiet_Think

            Wow, you did a good job of finding a completely useless chart. Where is the underlying data? What was the methodology? How many wind turbines? Was it repeatable? Was this real data or predicted via model (as it says 100% renewables, but we know that is not the case). Oh, wait….it says “draft modelling outcome” right there at the bottonM

            Meanwhile, it is widely accepted even by total wind fanboys that it is unpredictable. It is defined that way in every professional publication. If you want to ignore the rest of the world and cling to a ‘draft modelling study chart’, then I’m not sure you’ll ever admit to reality.

          • You are tedious. The modelling relates to name of the study – where AEMO looked at 100% renewable scenarios, which it said was imminently do-able.
            The graph relates to actual data, which you don’t know because you like to shoot your mouth off before checking, like a little kid in a kindergarten argument.
            Here is the original table. And, as AEMO says, it is based on actual experience. You will note that 5-minutes out, it gets 99% accurate. 6-days out, around 80-85%. Now, you pretend that wind is “absolutely” not predictable”. Clearly it is. That is the reality.

          • Quiet_Think

            Its a model. Its not a real world analysis. Just because they plug in some real world data doesn’t mean the model is accurate. It would need to be tested with real world conditions, and it wasn’t. Furthermore, predicting and average output over an hour or even 24 hour period is useless because of the high variability within those time windows. Predicting average wind output for tomorrow doesn’t help much if I don’t know what it will be at peak demand times, or any specific demand time for that matter.

            So, you can cling to this older study that apparently never went anywhere, and you can ignore what really matters when you are trying to keep a grid running. The real world experience in Germany is much different that this idealistic attempt at making something seem more useful than it really is. If the model were to show actual predictions by hour, 24 hours in advance, it would break down immensely. I hope you understand that.

          • This data is not a model. Read the bloody thing. It is based on actual results over six month period.

          • Quiet_Think

            Its a model based on assumption of 100% renewables. It even says its a model right on the chart. List all the assumptions for the model…. then you might get the picture.

          • You’re struggling to accept reality aren’t you. We talking about second graph, no mention of modelling, it is based on actual forecasting performance for those dates, and that data, cited in the graph. It’s pretty clear. And it does show actual predictions and how they turned out. I hope you understand that.

          • Quiet_Think

            Not at all, I’m just a critical observer and a study making claims for 100% renewables must make some assumptions since we don’t have a real 100% renewable situation to monitor. But lets assume those prediction inaccuracies are correct. They are still meaningless when it comes to what is really important. Its not that helpful to know that the average wind over the next 5 minutes will not be much different than the average over the last 5 minutes. Its also not a stretch to ‘predict’ that the average wind output over the next hour will be similar to the last hour. But you study does not tell us how accurately they can predict how much power will be generated for any given half hour tomorrow. THAT predictability will be very low, yet its very important. The variability of wind makes short window predictions like I described very inaccurate.

            To put another way, a grid operator get little help knowing the expected average wind output tomorrow when he doesn’t know if its peaks and valleys will match demand, and that at any given time output will be well above or well below that average.

            Furthermore, 95% accuracy means you are wrong 5% of the time. If you have high wind generation penetration, being wrong that often by that much will lead to grid issues.

          • So, we’ll leave it at that. We disagree about the grid’s ability to manage variability, and about the dynamic management of the grid. If you talk to most operators, they are more worried about the sudden loss of a big fossil fuel plant than largely predictable changes in wind and solar. As the new head of the australian energy market operator told me the other week, look we know when the sun comes up and the sun goes down. Most changes in between can be predicted and responded to. It is very much a cultural issue rather than a technology one, as i wrote in this piece the other day:

          • Quiet_Think

            RE “they are more worried about the sudden loss of a big fossil fuel plant than largely predictable changes in wind and solar”

            They aren’t so much worried about either. What they worry about is dealing with not enough support from wind when they need it, and having no idea if tomorrow it will be sufficient to help meet the peaks or simply be running up when the need isn’t their but yet they are forced to purchase it. That is what worries them, we’ve had many many years of experience on how to plan for and deal with one of the many plants on the grid occasionally plant tripping . In fact the spinning reserve requirements I spoke of earlier have proven to handle that reliably in the US.

          • Yep, and that same reserve is used for renewables. As the networks in australia said in their recent analysis of a zero carbon grid, any penetration of between 30 and 50% wind and solar can be considered “trivial” for the purposes of running the grid.

          • EdBCN

            My point is that there are different kinds of ‘reliability’. Solar, and to a lesser extent wind, are very robust technologies that do not suffer many unexpected technical failures. Solar in particular, being solid state, is more reliable than even the transformers and switches that connect it to the grid. They are also made up of small modules, so that even if one fails, it isn’t apt to cause the disruption of many megawatts of output such as happens when a coal plant trips off.
            If you’re going to fault Solar for being ‘unreliable’ (i.e. intermittent) than you should also acknowledge that is is also very reliable (i.e. essentially zero unplanned failures and very predictable output to a high level of precision.)

          • Quiet_Think

            Reliability for power source means its there when you need it. That’s what matters. Yes, solar is somewhat predictable, that is different from reliable, but you see to define the two the same way.

            One conventional plant of 50 tripping off is easily managed, however a huge area of solar power not being available due to cloudy weather, and not being available when peaks don’t match, is a much bigger challenge if you want high penetration of solar PV.

          • Quiet_Think

            Also, do you have any clue how often a large conventional plant or two has tripped offline and there were no problems? How often do you think that occurs?

    • Peter G

      I cannot see the problem. Germany’s GDP is over 3 Trillion so 300 Billion over the past ten years to get here is less than 1% of GDP. And this investment kick started RE industrial manufacturing internationally!!!
      Given falling costs perhaps after another 20 years spending at this rate Germany will get to 50% generation by wind and solar on the worst day. Who cares? By then most of the legacy thermal plant will have been replaced by embedded storage, and demand management will adjust to the new production reality and pricing.

      • Quiet_Think

        If you have 50% total generation from wind (and some solar), that means at times your wind and solar will actually have great overcapcity and you will need to shut down half of the wind turbines. That will drive up the cost tremendously.

        Also, such a system would be 3 times as many as already installed, plus require huge investments in transmission infrastructure that might cost as much as the generators themselves. You will still need most of the existing conventional fleet for backup, as the lows for wind and solar will still be low. That means skyrocketing costs from less used conventional assets as well.

        Add the ongoing maintenance costs and/or the need to replace all wind turbines after 25 years (or the equivalent of total replacement based on ongoing O&M) and you will find yourself in an upward spiral of energy cost. Germany’s electricity prices are already super high.

        Maybe you don’t care how much it costs but many will. Your ‘hope’ that other solutions will make it easy aren’t necessary showing promise from a cost standpoint.

        • Colin Nicholson

          So Ireland’s booze and tobacco retail prices are double those of Germany and Germany itself is below the European average. Wholesale price the same. What factor do you think is at play here? There is a huge European exchange of wholesale electricity where the wholesale prices are about the same, but Germany’s retail price is the second highest in Europe. What factor do you think is at play here?

          • Quiet_Think

            Germany pays for added renewable capacity with several financial vehicles which are outside of the market and subsidies, some is included in retail pricing on top of purchase/sale cost of energy on the market. Energy markets are drastically different from typical commodity markets due to the instantaneous supply and demand response requirements, so booze/tobacco is quite irrelevant.

        • Peter G

          If transmission and backup will be as expensive as you think why wont individuals and communities simply leave and form micro-grids. Like renewables Microgrid electricity costs have, and are, falling exponentially.

          • Quiet_Think

            Because they are not low enough yet? And probably other reasons like requiring local infrastructure investment. A micro grid requires a distribution network, that cost should correlate closely with larger system upgrade costs.

            Maybe if you truly want the answer it would be good to work up and estimate and get if validated. You’d probably learn a lot about the key cost drivers.

          • Tom Andersen

            That all works at about $2/kWh. So as long as you drive BMW 5 series or above you are fine. The poor people in 3 series or Opels will suffer.


    Amory Lovins is a funny person, a few years ago he said that Germany will shut all of its coal by 2016, didn’t really happen now did it? He is also a messiah among the anti nuclear movement and and a RE advocate. He is also been emplyed by Shell and other oil and gas companies for over 40 yerars. He has made multiple zero oil 100% renewable scenarios…for Shell and other oil companies. He also advocated and still advocates strongly for the use of coal as a replacement for nucelar energy.

  • neroden

    Mr. Stephens is a liar, a libeller, a fraud, and a paid propagandist for fossil fuel companies (among others). While he belongs in prison at hard labor, I accept that this is unlikely to happen soon.

    However, it is completely ridiculous for the NYT to hire this criminal. It confirms my decision to stop reading the NYT.

  • Joe

    I read a bit of ‘Germany Bashing” in the comments below. Germany is a smart country and the fourth richest in the world. A long time leader in solar and wind technology and application, Germany recognises that fossil fuel emissions and the business as usual approach is not valid for a sustainable future. “Die Energiewnede” has now seen them reach some 30% renewable energy and the sky has not fallen in upon them. Yes there are challenges with their Grid that is a legacy of the Coal era but it is being modernised to allow RE to increasingly come on board. Companies like SonnenBatterie are leading the way with technology solutions via their battery storage and the smarts that go with managing batteries as part of the Grid. It is always easier for the “naysayers” to criticise and poo poo a future of 100% RE but they are kidding themselves if they think it won’t happen.

    • Tom Andersen

      If Germany is so smart at Green Energy, then how come they have electricity that is dirtier than the USA? 10 times dirtier than France, 6 times dirtier than Canada. Denmark has dirtier power than Germany.

      The data is clear – wind and solar do not lower carbon output in a meaningful way. One has to subtract all the warm spinning coal, the extra long transmission wires, the millions of tonnes of steel and concrete for little gain, the blight on the landscape and the lack of tax revenue from new age Green Energy. Its a disaster that kills thousands of people every winter in Europe.