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Renewables + Storage beats out Gas Generation

Cynthia Mitchell's picture
Principal Energy Economics, Inc

Cynthia Mitchell is a 40-year veteran in energy policy and utility regulation, an expert on utility integrated resource planning, focused on sustainability through distributed energy resources...

  • Member since 2021
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  • May 5, 2021
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Bill McKibben’s April 28th The New Yorker weekly column “The Climate Crisis”, citing Carbon Tracker’s April 2021 “The Sky’s the Limit” report, that finds globally, solar and wind are a huge new cheap energy resource, is good news. The report states that the fossil fuel era is over, and that by the mid 2030s solar and wind will have pushed fossil fuels out of the electricity sector, and out of total energy supply by 2050. 

McKibben writes, “The numbers in the report are overwhelming—even if the analysts are too optimistic by half, we’ll still be swimming in cheap solar energy.”

While cheap renewables are great, the sticking point with wind and solar pushing out fossil fuels – notably gas -- has been its intermittent nature. Cheap is only as good as reliable. Equally impressive as the price drops in renewables are the tech breakthroughs in battery storage. When paired with wind and solar, renewables now walk and talk and like gas generation in cost and performance. So much so, that increasingly wind and solar paired battery storage beats out gas gen. Why, some recent boots on the ground data shows renewables plus storage costing less than the operating cost of new gas generation. And, stand-alone storage is approaching cost-effectiveness as new peaking capacity.

This means that as coal retires (and please coal, hurry it up!), it is renewables and storage, not gas generation, that should take coal’s place. But there are plenty – gas industry, utilities, consultants – blocking this progress with misinformation and un-truths. This is tragic as there is no lack of talent and resources to make renewables happen. 

The only thing we are short on is time. 

Living in Washington State 2016-2020, I witnessed incredible misinformation on renewables, storage, and gas gen. Recently, a December 17, 2020 Utility Dive article “PNW poised to test 100% renewables as utilities weight gas vs. storage”, cited an E3 consulting report finding gas generation are least cost and needed for PNW reliability as the underlying basis for the uncertainty utilities and policymakers are facing in moving away from gas generation. https://lnkd.in/gbDyzzd. I did a deep dive into E3’s work and found -- to state it nicely -- that it is outdated and flawed. To read my report, go to www.renewablenw.org/news

 

 

 

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 5, 2021

This is tragic as there is no lack of talent and resources to make renewables happen. 

The only thing we are short on is time. 

Makes you wonder about that natural gas bridge that we were sold-- was it simply a matter of delaying the renewable integration in such a way that when we learned better that it was too hard to really rip off the bandaid that gas backup continues to provide? 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 6, 2021

Matt, it's more than delaying - it's oil companies recognizing long ago that renewables will be forever dependent on gas to provide backup power.

And it's a toxic co-dependency, because gas will forever be dependent on renewables to be that star in the sky that keeps hope in our hearts, but remains forever out of reach.

Whenever nuclear starts to gain traction, it gets its own star in the sky. That's when oil companies start talking about "advanced nuclear" - when nuclear will be safe and affordable. They tell us it's only 10-15 years away - as if nuclear hasn't always been safe and affordable.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 6, 2021

Cynthia, "renewables + storage" doesn't power a single grid in the world. They aren't capable of such a feat, never have been, and never will be. So I have no idea by what metric "renewables + storage beats out gas generation", given gas generation is the primary source of power for nearly every major electrical grid in the world.

Though it may be true that renewables + storage is more profitable than gas generation, climate change doesn't care how much money $billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and Richard Branson rake in from their investments in renewables, or how much funding Bill McKibben receives from the Rockefeller Foundation. It just keeps getting worse, and worse, and worse.

Here, watch liar McKibben desperately trying to conceal oil money from the Rockefellers as a source of funding for his organization 350.org:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPSKOkK4H_A&t=1s

It's time to stop allowing green billionaires to get rich by peddling childish dreams to believers in renewable energy. It's time for a fact-based approach to climate change before it's too late.

Cynthia Mitchell's picture
Cynthia Mitchell on May 6, 2021

I appreciate your thoughtful response. Please check my article regarding E3 consultants. Renewables + storage are increasingly beating out gas. 

One of the best early examples of renewables and storage beating the pants off of gas gen is the Hornsdale Wind farm South Australia, consisting of 99 wind turbines with a generation capacity of 315 megawatts, storage capacity 129 MWh. Since the first 32-turbine phase officially began operations in July 2016, the growing wind farm added in 2017, 100-MW/129-MWh Tesla Powerpack battery energy storage system. 

As reported by Kyle Fields, 2018: “The major shift enacted by the large battery is that it removed the ability for natural gas–fired generation to game the market and took over that role itself.The result of a competing on-demand electricity supplier entering the market was the immediate dilution of the tactics of the natural gas industry, which previously had a de facto monopoly on the local backup market. These gas companies almost entirely leveraged their control to ensure that the price of electricity rose to the market cap price of a staggering $14,000 per megawatt-hour whenever a call for backup power was made.”[i]

Spring 2020, the Hornsdale battery capacity was expanded by 50%, through the addition of 50MW/64.5 MWh of Tesla batteries, providing provide extra reliability to the grid in the extremely challenging times characterized by very low demand and increased risks of outages.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Kyle Field, CleanTechnica, 10/08/2018.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on May 7, 2021

Thanks for your efforts to dispel some of the myths that can be so destructive.  Frankly, I had no idea that such a thing as Hornsdale Wind farm existed, much less the examples you give in your www.renewablenw.org/news report.   Just a couple of years has made quite a difference.  I think there is reason to hope we are seeing the beginning of the end of reliance on gas for power generation. 

I would be grateful if you would use Energy Central to provide information as this saga unfolds, as well as providing links to other sources of information.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 7, 2021

Cynthia, despite whatever glowing terms Kyle Fields use to describe the accomplishments of Hornsdale, here are the facts:

  1. In fiscal year 2019-2020, SA consumed 12,200,000 MWh of electrical energy, at an average rate of 1,392 MW.
  2. At that rate SA, on a windless day (there are indeed windless days at Hornsdale) would burn through all of Hornsdale's stored energy in 129/1,392 = .093 hours = 5 minutes, 58 seconds.
  3. "Would",  if Hornsdale had at least 1392 MW of output capacity. It has only 50 MW of output capacity, however. The best it can do is provide 4% of SA's electricity for 27.8 hours.

What's generating the other 96% of SA's energy during those periods? Gas and coal generation imported from other territories, that's what. SA is 100% dependent on fossil fuel imports to keep the lights on.

After Australia's tragic wildfires it should be more evident than ever renewables aren't slowing the progression of climate change, despite big batteries and the most sincere wishes of renewables advocates.

Those are the facts.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on May 7, 2021

When one talks about renewables + storage "beating out" gas generation, there's an implication that the two are merely alternative ways of delivering the same product. And that renewables + storage is the superior choice. But that's a false implication; the products they delver are not the same!

What "renewables + storage" delivers is electrical energy on an "as available" basis. If you're able to make use of it when it happens to be available, bravo! But what are you going to do at other times? Because there will be other times, batteries notwithstanding.

What generation from gas (or coal!) deliver is electrical energy whenever you happen to need it. That's not at all the same as electrical energy when it happens to be available. 

Battery storage extends the periods when energy from renewables happens to be available. It won't be quite as often that you encounter the situation needing power, and it not being available. But batteries run out of charge, and when they do, what then? You'll want to have a backup generator to turn to. And what will be fueling that backup generator? Did I hear natural gas? Yes, that's the least capital intensive and least carbon-emitting of the fossil-fueled options.

Bear in mind though that it's not just a small backup generator to solve one's particular needs that we're talking about. Weather systems have a nasty way of covering millions of square miles. When adverse weather suppresses generation from renewables and causes one's own batteries to run out of charge, the same is likely to be happening all across a multi-state region. So the backup system will have to be one that can handle the the full demands of a multi-state region. And here we are, one complete electrical supply system for the price of two. Such a deal!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 7, 2021

"Battery storage extends the periods when energy from renewables happens to be available."

Roger, it really doesn't by any appreciable amount. I'm posting an image from another thread to show the contribution of all of California's batteries on the CAISO grid yesterday. It's the tiny, light-orange line hovering around the x-axis, and it's insignificant.

"And here we are, one complete electrical supply system for the price of two. Such a deal!"

The irony will be lost, but we do the best we can.

 

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on May 10, 2021

Bob,

Luckily for us whenever you say anything like this - 

Roger, it really doesn't by any appreciable amount. I'm posting an image from another thread to show the contribution of all of California's batteries on the CAISO grid yesterday. It's the tiny, light-orange line hovering around the x-axis, and it's insignificant.

whatever you are saying the opposite occurs. Wasn't there a Seinfeld episode about that?

Just last September in talking about solar in Texas you said:

Solar in Texas is insignificant, a blip on the radar:

In the latest monthly report from ERCOT, solar shows over 1TWh of generation for both March and April.  This is equal to 1/4 of coal generation for those months and 1/3 of nuclear generation. Blip?

I think by 2023 we will see solar passing coal for full month in Texas and by 2024 solar will pass coal for the full year.  Thanks Bob.

Now getting back to your comment about storage on CAISO.... "it's insignificant"

Again thanks for that comment - we can now be assured that storage will boom on the CAISO grid over the next few years.  

I'm going with discharge from batteries passing NG generation for a single day on CAISO in 2023/24 and discharge passing NG generation for a full month by 2025/2026.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 10, 2021

Lest anyone be tempted to believe the fake confidence on display in the above post is justified by the performance of solar panels in Texas, it's as authentic as the fake statistics on which it rests:

  • The author continues to studiously ignore the swelling contribution of electricity generated by burning methane, a.k.a. "natural gas", a.k.a the fuel that took the Texas grid (ERCOT) down in February, on which all solar in the state is hopelessly dependent.
  • Over the four months shown, burning gas generated ten times as much electricity as sunlight, emitting 17.7 million tonnes of CO2.
  • Over the same period, solar generated 3.1% of Texas electricity.

After 61 years of development, photovoltaic solar continues to make an insignificant contribution to electricity in the U.S. - a blip on the radar.

No more time to waste.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on May 7, 2021

The Tesla battery storage has made it happen. They continue to lower the price and increase the life of the storage systems. Battery Storage has always been the Holy Grail for the GRID and now it is here. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 11, 2021

Jim, "holy grail" may be the best metaphor for grid storage yet: "an elusive object or goal that is sought after for its great significance." Like alchemy, it's a legend, a myth. A scam.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on May 10, 2021

Looks to me like articles like this are based on the peculiar notion that the grid and consumers exist to fund green energy investors. Further, perpetuates the myths that (1) “green energy” will save the planet  and (2) there is a climate crisis. Both of these myths are primarily marketing ploys.

A balanced mix of energy production resources provides consumers and businesses reasonably affordable energy, thereby allowing the economy to grow through innovation emanating from individuals and businesses. The right mix of energy resources is highly dependent on location.

As far as coal is concerned, Texas is experiencing a complete financial energy debacle as the result of poorly thought out policies that included retiring large numbers of coal plants. I live in Kansas. We have a mix of coal, wind, natural gas and nuclear energy production. During the Texas cold snap, we had ample energy supplies. In fact, my electric bill went down because energy was being exported at a pretty good profit.

Renewables + storage is not a panacea. Thinking that it is will only lead to more blackouts and stupefying energy bills.

Cynthia Mitchell's picture
Cynthia Mitchell on May 13, 2021

Good morning gentlemen!

I very much appreciate your comments. I offer a couple of high level responses. My post RE+storage beats out gas gen, is intended to highlight the cusp we are at regarding electricity generation. I agree that RE+storage does not power a single grid in the world --YET! There are  an increasing number of RE+storage projects domestic and global that  beat out gas gen on cost and performance. This trend is only going to grow. We are ready to be on the other side of gas as a bridge fuel. 

P.S. My report referenced in my post also discusses the role of DER, starting with DR, in reducing and shaping loads, particularly weather-driven peak loads, as part and parcel to carbon zero.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on May 13, 2021

Cynthia, I agree that it's still "early days" for the changes that developments in the cost-performance of storage battery technologies will usher in. I don't doubt that there will be a big impact in DERs. What I was trying to point out is that those who see storage at the levels now feasible as a silver bullet for the inherent limitations of weather-dependent energy resources are going to be sorely disappointed.

The problem is the distribution curve for periods of RE shortfall. It's a "long tail" distribution. We could literally spend 100x the amount we have spent to date on battery storage systems and, with further declines in cost, get 200x the storage capacity. It would still not be enough. There would still be times be times when the batteries all ran out of stored energy before production from variable renewables recovered enough to meet demand. It might not happen very often, but it *would* happen. There will have to be some form of backup for those exceptional periods that we can count on being there. It will rarely be used, but it will still have to be there, and guaranteed to work.

Speaking as a systems architect and engineer, long tail distributions are a bitch! 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 14, 2021

Thanks for the follow up, Cynthia. I'd love to ask where you see government subsidies playing a role-- critics of renewable sources like to point the finger at solar as only being viable because of government handout, but as we know legacy fossil fuels operate under a wide umbrella of implicit and direct government support. How do you see these government levers playing a role in the coming critical decade of whether the gas bridge is left behind us or if we're left stranded in the middle of the perilous rope bridge? 

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