Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where is my Solar and Wind Only City?

Two years ago this blog proposed a challenge to solar and wind supporters that if solar and wind were indeed the energy mediums of the future and did not require the assistance of other energy mediums (most notably fossil fuels like coal and natural gas) then they should empirically demonstrate this potential by transitioning a single medium sized city (10,000 – 15,000 individuals) to a grid where at least 70% of the electricity, not even all energy, was produced by solar and/or wind sources. Unfortunately despite the passage of two years and the so-called further expansion of solar and wind technology no such experiment has been conducted.

This lack of attention to detail in producing a model city that would empirically represent and support the actual ability of solar and wind to produce the bulk of electricity and even possibly all energy in the future beyond simple hype is troubling. Are solar and wind proponents so irresponsible that they are willing to gamble the future of society on merely their hopes, dreams, and personal preferences rather than raw data? Do they think that incorporation of solar and wind to a grid steadily advancing from 10% to 20% then 30% then 40% then 50%, etc. will run perfectly with no significant problems? If so, then the solar and wind supporters who believe these things should be stripped of all of their credibility and influence; those who do not believe in such a perfect transition should begin immediately petitioning to accept the challenge.

To the solar and wind proponents who object to the above characterization due to the notion that in March Georgetown, Texas (population approximately 48,000) proposed a plan to get all electricity from solar and wind sources, in essence meet this challenge, hold your horses. While it is true that there has been an initial arrangement between the Georgetown Utility Systems and Spinning Spur Wind Farm (owned by EDF Renewable Energy) and SunEdison to purchase 294 MW (144 MW wind and 150 MW solar) from their installations, this is only an initial arrangement, no actual testing or application has occurred yet.

A more pertinent issue regarding the use of Georgetown as an example is that there is no specific information pertaining to the details of how Georgetown Utility Systems will manage this change in supplier. Basically the only public reporting on this strategy have been puff-hype pieces with no real substance or details. Both Spinning Spur Wind Farm and the yet to be identified SunEdison site have not been fully constructed, are not operational and do not have any secondary storage capacity; thus any electricity produced by these institutions will be live and when those institutions are not producing electricity there will be no electricity to provide to Georgetown.

Initially there are at least three major questions that must be addressed to legitimize Georgetown as a model for a solar/wind only powered city. First, where is the detailed analysis of how electricity, and possibly even energy flows, would be properly compensated to avoid brownouts in times when there is insufficient electricity being produced by solar and wind sources? Simply saying “the sun shines in the day and the wind blows when the sun is not shining” is laughable and severely damages credibility. Anyone who thinks that there will not be periods of intermittence from both Spinning Spur and the SunEdison site is harboring an inaccurate belief. Basically show that 100% renewable can be done using math, not flowery words and misplaced hype; note that it is important to also include any transmission and inverter losses in the calculation and separate nameplate capacity from actual operational capacity.

Second, it stands to reason that proponents of a solar/wind only city will not allow the use of natural gas or coal to act in a backup capacity during these periods of intermittence; therefore, during periods of excess solar and wind, electricity must be stored in a battery for use at a future time. So what type of battery structure(s) is going to be utilized to store that excess energy and what is the economic feasibility of using this structure? If no battery infrastructure is believed to be feasible or economical then what type of energy medium will be tapped to act as backup in lieu of a fossil fuel medium and how will it be properly incorporated?

Third, how will consumer costs for energy change from the transition away from fossil fuels over time, i.e. what will costs be in year 1, what will costs be in year 10…? To simply say it will cost less is not sufficient. It must be demonstrated that it will cost less both now and in the future and if it will not cost less in the future what forms of compensation, if any, will be provided to the residents of Georgetown?

Overall these are just the three most basic questions that must be addressed before anyone should accept the idea of Georgetown, Texas being a legitimate 100% solar/wind powered city when their plan is put into place a few years from now. If these questions are not answered with accurate specifics that are later properly executed over time then Georgetown loses all significance as both a legitimate and symbolic experiment for the validity of a solar and wind “future”.

Of course it must be understood that the results in Georgetown are only an initial step, success only provides support to the possibility, not any guarantee for national eventuality. So how about it solar and wind supporters are you actually ready to put your theories to the test or are you simply content with the unscientific and irrational belief that everything will magically work out without the need for essential specifics, realistic assumptions, honest economics (which is incredibly lacking in most pro-solar and wind papers) and valid proof of concepts?

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