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A Look at Wind and Solar, Part 2: Is There An Upper Limit To Variable Renewables?

Jesse Jenkins's picture

Jesse is a researcher, consultant, and writer with ten years of experience in the energy sector and expertise in electric power systems, electricity regulation, energy and climate change policy...

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  • May 29, 2015

Full Spectrum: Energy Analysis and Commentary with Jesse Jenkins

This is a two-part series on the future prospects of renewables. Read Part 1 here.

In our last post, we offered a survey of the progress made so far in wind and solar deployment at the grid-wide scale throughout the world. An accurate and honest accounting of variable renewable energy (VRE) is essential to our goal of building zero-carbon power systems on a high-energy planet. In this follow-up post, we’ll consider what we can glean from VRE performance and modeling about scaling wind and solar further this century.

As our journey through the world’s variable renewable energy leaders illustrates, while wind and solar have come a long way, they have only recently reached double-digit penetration at the grid-wide level in a couple of places (namely Texas, Iberia, and Ireland).

But is it only a matter of time before wind and solar dominate power systems worldwide?

We think there are clear reasons to expect the share of VRE in system-wide electricity mixes to be constrained. Indeed, we offer a rough rule of thumb that is supported by a growing body of power systems research: it is increasingly difficult for the market share of variable renewable energy sources at the system-wide level to exceed the capacity factor of the energy source.

Capacity factor is the ratio of the average output of a wind or solar plant to its maximum rated capacity. For wind power, this typically ranges between 20 and 40 percent, while for solar it runs between 10 and 25 percent, depending on the quality of the renewable resource.

Why is the share of wind and solar in the grid likely constrained to a share equal to their capacity factors?

While much ink has been spilled about the challenges of “integrating” variable renewables into the grid — ie, the increased system flexibility needed to handle the wider variations in power system output necessitated by fluctuating wind and solar output — we actually have a couple more fundamental dynamics in mind. These integration costs are real, but power systems can be remarkably flexible. Natural gas combined-cycle and combustion turbines ramp rapidly, and even coal and nuclear power plants can contribute to system flexibility needs. While accurately accounting for system integration costs is important, we don’t believe these costs will be a showstopper.

Instead, the fundamental economics of supply and demand is likely to put the brakes on VRE penetration.

First, as a growing body of scholarship concludes, the marginal value of variable renewable energy to the grid declines as the penetration rises.

Indeed, where renewable energy earns its keep in the energy market — and is not supported outside the market by feed-in tariffs — the revenues wind or solar earn in electricity markets decline steadily as their market share grows. Here’s why.

Why wind and solar eat their own lunch

Wind and solar produce electricity at roughly zero marginal cost. In effect, whenever they are generating, they shift the supply curve of power plants to the right, or the so-called “net demand” curve (demand minus wind/solar output) to the left. Like any market, more supply and equal demand means lower prices. In the electricity market, this is known as the “merit-order effect.”

Price suppression or merit order effect of wind and solar energy

As wind or solar energy production increases, the “net demand” (demand minus wind/solar) declines, reducing the electricity market clearing price (eg, from P1 to P2).

In other words, wind and solar depress the market price at exactly the times of day these VREs are generating the most power. The revenues earned by wind and solar for each unit of generation thus falls as the share of renewables rises.

This isn’t a hypothetical. The following graphic illustrates the decline in midday wholesale electricity prices already caused by the rise of solar in Germany from 2006 to 2012.

Price suppression or merit order effect of solar in Germany

Source: Lion Hirth, “The market value of variable renewables: The effect of solar wind power variability on their relative price,” Energy Economics (2013)reprinted in the MIT Future of Solar study (2015).

While market prices and thus revenues fall for all generators, the impact is particularly acute for VRE generators, whose output is concentrated in the hours of greatest wind or solar resources, which also tend to be correlated across fairly large areas. The following graphic from MIT’s Future of Solar study illustrates the decline in revenues for a solar farm owner relative to the decline in average wholesale market prices, as solar penetration rises in a Texas-like power system.

Declining value of solar energy

Source: MIT Future of Solar study, Chapter 8.

A 2013 Energy Economics paper by Lion Hirth illustrates, the same dynamic as the market share of wind power rises as well. The figure below depicts the decline in the “value factor” or the ratio between the market prices earned by wind generation and the average market price (effectively the ratio between the blue and red lines in the MIT figure above) as wind penetration grows (the rightmost graphic also includes solar).

Declining value of wind and solar

Source: Lion Hirth, “The market value of variable renewables: The effect of solar wind power variability on their relative price,” Energy Economics (2013).

In short, wind and solar eat their own lunch!

If renewable energy is ever to become truly subsidy independent and earn its keep in electricity markets, that means there is a natural stopping point at which a marginal increment of wind or solar will become unprofitable. The market revenues earned by these VREs will eventually fall far enough that it’s no longer worth deploying more.

This is also why the idea of reaching “grid parity,” or a levelized cost equal to the prevailing market price, is pretty meaningless. As soon as wind or solar penetration grows, the goal posts move further away due to this merit-order or market price effect. Wind and solar costs will have to keep falling to secure greater penetration levels and remain profitable at the ever lower and lower market prices caused by increasing VRE penetration.

Alternatively, if wind and solar are to remain subsidized, the amount of public subsidy per unit of energy supplied will have to keep growing in order to push VRE shares higher and higher. The total subsidy cost could rise sharply, as the price per MWh required increases alongside the quantity of electricity generated from these sources. 

Economic and security-related curtailment

While the ‘merit-order’ or market price suppression effect could limit the maximum wind and solar penetration all on its own, there’s a second, even more challenging effect which kicks in right around the point where wind or solar reach a market share equal to their capacity factor.

In effect, once the market share of wind or solar equals its capacity factor, output from this resource will regularly vary between 0 and 100 percent of total electricity demand.

At that point, wind or solar output will have to be regularly curtailed or spilled as VRE supply will begin to routinely exceed demand.

We can illustrate this dynamic by considering the case of Germany. In 2013, 4.5 percent of Germany’s total electricity generation came from solar PV. But on certain sunny days in the summer, solar power supplied half of midday electricity demand.

Simple math suggests what will happen when German solar approaches just 10 percent of total annual generation: at certain times, solar panels will be generating more than 100 percent of demand.

In the short-term, Germany can solve this problem by exporting excess solar output to its neighbors, just as Denmark sends excess wind production to its Nordic friends. Yet if variable renewables are to contribute this kind of share to the whole power system, and not just isolated pieces of the grid, export is not an option.

Indeed, it will be both economical and necessary to curtail wind or solar output long before they reach 100 percent of system-wide electricity demand at any given hour.

To keep the power system stable, a certain amount of flexible and controllable generation (“dispatchable generation” in industry parlance) must remain online and “spinning” to provide the “operating reserves” needed to meet unexpected fluctuations in either demand or VRE output or the failure of a thermal power plant or transmission line. These generators have minimum technical output levels, so in order to keep enough flexible capacity running, wind and solar will not be able to supply 100 percent of demand in any given hour. System security requirements will require curtailment of VRE before this point.

Indeed, according to a major new study of the challenges of integrating wind and solar in the Western Interconnection of North America, the maximum production of variable renewables at any instant can’t exceed about 55-60 percent of total demand without risking system stability.

In Ireland, which, as we saw in part 1 is the world leader in variable renewable penetration, system operators currently limit variable renewable production to 50 percent of demand at any given time, although operators are working to increase this limit.

In short, the capacity factor threshold may actually be generous: if the instantaneous penetration of wind and solar can’t exceed half or two-thirds of power system demand in any given moment, system security concerns will begin to bind before the penetration of variable renewables reaches their capacity factor. 

In addition, it is often economic to curtail wind or solar even if it is not strictly necessary for system security. Big coal, gas, or nuclear-fueled power stations can’t switch on or off on a minute’s notice and have to remain offline for several hours before they can restart. If wind or solar generation is expected to peak for only an hour or two, as is common, it doesn’t make economic sense to turn these lower-cost baseload power plants off to make room for a short-term surge of wind or solar. That would require relying on costlier combustion turbines or other quick-acting power stations when the wind or solar output inevitably died back until the baseload plants can be turned back on again. It is thus cheaper for consumers to ramp the baseload power plants down to their technical minimum output, but then curtail any wind or solar beyond that point. And if those baseload plants are emissions-free nuclear stations, this strategy is both less costly and just as good for the climate.

The following figure, again from the MIT Future of Solar study, illustrates how both economic and system security related curtailment rises rapidly as solar penetration reaches its capacity factor in a Texas-like power system.

Economic and security-related curtailment of wind and solar 

Source: MIT Future of Solar study, Chapter 8.

As the figure illustrates, security related curtailment picks up precisely as solar’s share equals its capacity factor—about 18 percent in Texas—while economic curtailment begins well before that point. The same dynamic holds for wind power as well, although it tends to have a higher capacity factor and less “peaky” production profile (which may reduce the amount of economic curtailment compared to solar).

This all matters because even a small percentage of curtailment can quickly ruin the economics of a solar or wind project.

Can’t energy storage help avoid curtailment and keep VRE shares growing? Yes, but only somewhat.

Storage isn’t free after all, and storage owners will make their money on the spread between the price they buy power at and the price they sell at later in the day. They can’t afford to pay a premium for excess VRE output, nor will they have to: with wind or solar output flooding the market at zero variable cost, these VRE generators will be willing to sell at close to nothing to avoid losing all revenues to curtailment.

So storage can help, particularly at reducing the prevalence of economic curtailment, but it’s no a panacea

The capacity factor threshold: new rule of thumb

If we look at both the market price suppression effect and the growing levels of curtailment as VRE penetration rises, its clear that the “capacity factor threshold” introduced above could be considered a (fairly generous) rule of thumb for power system planning.

We believe this concept — that it is increasingly difficult for the market share of variable renewable energy sources at the system-wide level to exceed the capacity factor of the energy source — should become a much more significant part of power systems discussions now that wind and solar power have left their infancy and are becoming integral parts of power systems worldwide.

This capacity factor threshold is a rough rule of thumb, one that is useful in guiding our thinking about the eventual role of mature wind and solar sectors in various electricity grids.

So far, the insights behind this capacity factor threshold are primarily drawn from modeling the impact of VRE on the grid, but as wind and solar shares grow in a variety of real-world power systems, these dynamics will soon become realities.

Where does this leave us? Wind and solar’s role in decarbonized power systems

The capacity factor threshold implies that wind may eventually be able to provide on the order of 25-35 percent of a power systems’ electricity, while solar may top out at 10-20 percent in most regions.

Achieving those penetration levels would be a remarkable accomplishment for any energy source.

A wind sector at that scale would supply more electricity than nuclear power currently does in the United States or Europe and would rival natural gas for market share. Solar would generate two to three times more electricity than hydropower in the United States today and could even match nuclear’s share in very sunny regions.

Indeed, no single energy source today supplies more than 40 percent of US electricity, so wind and solar could become major contributors to electricity supplies before running afoul of the capacity factor threshold.

No surprise then that the US wind energy industry and the Department of Energy’sambitious “vision” calls for wind to provide 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050. That would make wind one of the most important energy sources in the country.

Yet even at that scale, it’s clear that wind and solar alone will come far short of decarbonizing the electricity system, let alone the full energy sector.

That’s where the capacity factor threshold is most important: in considering the contribution of wind and solar to a fully decarbonized power system, which is an essential component of any credible plan to confront climate change.

At the upper end, this threshold indicates that wind and solar may be able to supply anywhere from a third to a half of all electricity needs. Whether you’re a glass-half-empty or half-full kind of person, that still leaves the job at most half done.

This is precisely why we both laud the growth of wind and solar, but are very concerned when conversations about decarbonizing the power system become overly focused on a “renewables-only” path forward. Wind and solar will be important contributors to a high-energy, low-carbon planet. But they can’t do the job alone — far from it.

Other nonvariable renewable power technologies like biomass and geothermal face different, but potentially even greater obstacles in the form of resource availability in the case of geothermal and land footprint in the case and bioenergy. Nonrenewable zero-carbon technologies like nuclear power and carbon capture, likewise, have their own challenges. An honest conversation about decarbonization necessitates we ask tough questions about how these technologies fit together (and of course it requires making clean energy cheap!). 

We are quite doubtful that a renewables-only path is the most technically or economically feasible or desirable path to a high-energy, low-carbon planet. It’s well past time for a much more nuanced discussion about the role wind and solar will play in global power systems.

A systems-level perspective is critical for that conversation, as we hope this article has illustrated.

Wind and solar power are becoming mature, important contributors to power grids worldwide. It’s time for an equally mature conversation about the role of variable renewable energy sources in the decarbonized power systems of the future.

The series:

Part 1: A Look at How Far Wind and Solar Have Come

Part 2: Is There An Upper Limit to Variable Renewables?

Jesse Jenkins is a PhD student and researcher at MIT and a freelance writer and consultant. He pens the Full Spectrum column at He previously directed the Energy and Climate Program at the Breakthrough Institute from 2008 to 2012.

Alex Trembath is a senior energy analyst at the Breakthrough Institute, where he authors the Energetics column.

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Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 8, 2015

I’ll agree with the other commenters that the before-and-after photo pairs were clearly Photoshopped.”

Please note that the images *without* turbines were photoshopped: the turbines were removed from the pictures in order to give an impression of the ‘before’ situation.

The images *with* turbines – the ‘after’ situation – are original pictures, unphotoshopped.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 8, 2015

“Why do you qualify scientific studies published in peer reviewed scientific journals as lies?
While the scientific community clearly does not.”

You continually repost the same discredited or misinterpreted ‘research’, apparently hoping that people get tired of dealing with your nonsense, time and time again. And you are right: I am tired of it.

A lot of people already spent a lot of time on TEC to expose your anti-nuclear propagandist tactics. You were banned eventually from TEC. Now you are back under a different name, and using the same tactics. You will not waste my time again. 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 8, 2015

I can, and I have, in previous comments, as have others, but why should I dance to your tune? Even if I help get you banned again, you’ll just make a new account on TEC and it all starts again.

No thanks.

The following paper (which has been shown to you before) exposes Herman Scherb and Kristina Voigt (authors of the fear mongering ‘studies’ you are perpetually linking to) for what they are: gross antinuclear propagandists.

Here is another paper which help relegate the work of Scherb and Voigt to the trashcan where it belongs:

… which concludes with:

Using this scant evidence, Scherb and Voigt go far beyond a sole effect on the sex ratio at birth. They make the extraordinary claim that “the internationally established radiation risk concept based on average absorbed dose is in error at three to four orders of magnitude or, more likely, it is conceptually wrong” and that there are at least “one million missing children.” If this were true, there would be dramatic consequences. For example, the use of ionizing radiations in diagnostic and therapeutic medicine would need to be immediately examined and probably drastically reduced. If the authors’ claim was correct, many effects should already be observable in patients. Therefore, continuing the generally accepted practice of applying the precautionary principle and radiation protection policies recommended by the ICRP is still reasonable and coherent with the current state of good science.

Now, I know absolutely for certain that you will ignore this information – again – and that you will be scaring people with Scherb and Voigt’s discredited research, on this website and other sites, for years to come, as you have been doing, for years. And you will keep drawing people like myself into a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ where we show your fear-mongering is baseless propaganda, and you just ignore it and continue spreading your dangerous lies.

Note to TEC. I’d really appreciate it if you could ban Darius/Bas Gresnigt again. He is incorrigeable, is he not? Get rid of this tiresome liar please, and don’t let him come back again.

Jenny Sommer's picture
Jenny Sommer on Jun 8, 2015

The majority of German people takes the turbines over the NPP anytime.
NPPs stand diametral to the very core of the Energiewende.

The video isn’t about the land-use which would speak in favour of the windturbines, it is about visual “impact”.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 8, 2015

The majority of German people takes the turbines over the NPP anytime.

Jenny, maybe initialy they did, but not lately. German people are getting wiser, which was to be expected. Wind turbines are a great idea in most people’s opinion, until they find them popping up in their backyards. See for example this recent article, which doesn’t stand alone.

(German press, you may need to use a translator to read the articles)

NPPs stand diametral to the very core of the Energiewende.

In my opinion that says more about the ‘energiewende’ than about NPP’s. Top German government officials have stopped pretending that the ‘energiewende’ is meant to improve the climate. They are completely frank about the fact that ditching nuclear has locked Germany into a decades long dependence on coal. The German public doesn’t seem to fully comprehend this. They seem to still think that the energiewende will provide them with cheap, green energy. In reality, it is providing them with expensive, subsidised, dirty energy.

The video isn’t about the land-use which would speak in favour of the windturbines, it is about visual “impact”.

You referred to an NPP as an ‘eyesore’ in a comment above, while you are defending wind turbine technology. That’s a problematic position to take, I think, because wind turbines are clearly a far larger eye-sore than NPP’s. That’s why I linked the video, which clearly illustrates the vast difference in visual impact between NPP’s and wind turbines. If one doesn’t like NPP’s because they are ‘eye-sores’ then the logical position is to absolutely despise wind turbines.

Note, it may seem as if I’m bashing wind energy and promoting nuclear. I’m not really. I promote the idea that both technologies should be treated objectively, including all their costs and benefits. In the end all I care about is the future (of my children and children everywhere). To enable a sustainable future, we have to embrace reason and fact today.

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 8, 2015

I ws reading Friday 6/5/15 something written in 2010 about a computer model of managing electric supply and demand with only Variable Renewable Energy sources (wind and solar) and storage (choice of hydrogen fuel cells, utility size battery, and lithium batteries in cars such that utility has discretion as to just when to charge the car battery).  Hydrgen fuel cells were most successful at sticking with ONLY renewable energy and not needing to resort to natural gas. This was in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.They also wished there was something like maybe a synthetic fuel manufacturer willing to run in wee hours of morning to take advantage of very cheap electricity, and surplus hydrogen. They found they needed between two and three times as much electricity as you would think from multiplying capacity factors and rated power of wind turbines and PV panels. I guess a synthetic fuel plant could be run by remote control and computer, with a human engineer on call.    

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 8, 2015

I do NOT LIKE nuclear power either.  I feel that its history of major cost over-runs and failure to meet deadlines is reason enough to dislike it all by themselves.  I also dislike that the only answer or Nuclear Regulatory Commission can come up with for dealing with spent fuel rods is to store them on the campus of the nuclear power plant in dry casks that must be replaced every fity years, for a total of over 3,000 years waiting for them to cool off enough to store in an old mined out uranium mine, like the one their raw material came from. I doubt that Earth has yet had a civilization that has lasted 3,000 years.  China has been continuously civilized for over 2,500 years, not quite 3,000.

Jenny Sommer's picture
Jenny Sommer on Jun 8, 2015

I like windturbines and there are many in my backyard. 

There will always be some people opposing anything but the general consensus in Germany is that the Energiewende is a great success. The Energiewende has created over 400.000 jobs, a good part in export (we are exporting 2 out of 3 windturbines).

Former structurally weak Bundesländer profit from thisdevelopment.

I can see that it is hard for non native speakers to distinguish between political rhetoric and reality. 

The Energiewende is on track if you look at the targets. Co2 reduction wasn’t even the priority target in the first place. It’s rather about democratisation of energy.

The coal phase out is a political issue and it was clear from the beginning that nuclear would be phased out first. After all German emissions are sinking in contrast to the USA, Canada, China, Russia,…

It is a myth that German people can’t afford electricity anymore. You can change your Anbieter any time and the cheapest is around 21ct/kWh in most parts of the country or cheaper if the community happens to own the infrastructure.

The comparison with other countries is also tiresome. Compare the rent or cost of living between Paris and Berlin and you know that the little difference in electricity cost doesn’t matter at all.

Maybe the sinking beer consume is correlating with rising power prices


You see…higher power prices are a good thing as they lower alcohol consumption and maybe consumers also use less.

We should tax energy even more..the US should tax energy more. They spent even more on electricity than German consumers because they use twice as much per capita. 

No problem here.

I suspect that most articles about Germany are about local politics and it is easy to lie about matters abroad because nobody really cares anyways. 

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 8, 2015

Those 400.000 jobs are explained completely by German renewable energy subsidies of almost 30 billion euro’s per year. This money comes from the pockets of German citizens, reducing their prosperity. If these subsidies are removed, the jobs will dissappear as well.

The German energy policy can work in a rich country (which can supposedly afford the cost), but not in developing countries. So even if Germany manages to continue it’s Energiewende to the final objective, it will do so in a way which cannot credibly be exported to where it really matters: the developing world, which is still ramping-up cheap fossil fuel consumption.

I’m not a fan of energy taxes. They tend to be regressive (i.e. they exacerbate inequality) and they hurt international competitiveness. Furthermore, developed nations tend to have strong environmental protection laws. When industries leave a developed country looking for lower energy prices, they tend to arrive in countries having weak environmental regulations. This hurts everybody, although on paper the country losing the industry might seem to have become ‘greener’.

I am a fan of making sure all external costs of energy are fully internalised (through a tax, fee, or whatever), as long as the external costs are determined in a scientifically valid way and as long as international competitiveness is not affected.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 8, 2015

I second your request, Joris. Bas’s incessant antinuclear spamming isn’t worth your time or patience. Or mine, or anyone’s.

Mods, please?

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 8, 2015

@ Clayton Handleman.  Yes, there are dispatchable renewable energy sources: hydropower, geothermal including enhanced geothermal systems, bio-gas (especially from sewage, livestock manure, and municipal sold wastes), wood pellets from forestry wastes, I hope soon sustainable liquid fuel for transportation especially diesel whether from some sort of photosynthetic microbe or from chemical engineering like what Sun Fuel did for US Navy. And since there is usually more wind when there is less or no solar and vice versa, yes, the combined capacity factor should be close to the sum of the individual capacity factors. I also have high hopes for storage: lithium batteries in electric vehicles, utility-size batteries of whatever technology, hydrogen fuel cells.  I also hope that heavy industrial loads, like synthetic diesel or aluminum smelting, can be convenient sinks, since they seek cheaper electricity even more than a steady supply of electricity.  I also hope that improved energy efficiency, by reducing waste heat, can make loads steadier by reducing strain on HVAC especially summer air conditioning. I agree that a smart grid and real time pricing of electricity will I hope encourage consumers to level loads by buying electricty when it is cheaper and avoid buying electricity when it is more espensive.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 8, 2015

Thanks for speaking up Bob.

I firmly believe in freedom of speech, but not in freedom to deceive, especially when it concerns matters of life and death such as energy policy. Nuclear has issues, as have all technologies, but whichever technology we choose to pursue, the choice has to be grounded solidly in fact and reason. I choose to confront those who sabotage the public discussion on energy and climate, taking for granted that this may seem pointless, intolerant or fanatical by many. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it, I suppose.

I promised Bas years ago, when I first noticed his deliberate fearmongering, that I would be relentless in exposing his deception whenever I ran into it. I aim to keep that promise.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 8, 2015




A 5MW wind turbine has a footprint of ~20m²

This is an absurd non number just as counting all of the farmland is absurd and frequently done.  You have to count the access roads and room around the pad.  Not the roads that were already there but turbines on farmland require vehicular access that does use some crop land and is substantially more than the footprint of the tube.

Wonder if anyone can produce a reasonable study that provides realistic numbers.

The photo above shows what it really looks like with wind sited on agricultural land.  Click and you can zoom in.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 9, 2015

Ok, thanks.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 9, 2015

Regarding the ADEME 100% renewable energy report from the France:  it confirms predictions of high cost and the need for large amounts of energy storage (it is not surprising that the Executive Summary has been blanked-out in the public version, since it would surely embarrass the politicians pushing for a nuclear withdrawal).  In the concluding chapter 6, fig 119 appears to show that the 80% renewable scenario is slightly more economical than the other options, with 100% renewable possible for just 5% more; a more careful reading shows that the report is actually forecasting very high electricity production costs for each renewable-rich scenario: 11.9 c€/kWh in the reference 100% renewable case (without taxes), which rises to 15.1 c€/kWh if demand-response is not as effective as hoped (see p. 71); for comparison they give a cost of 9.1 c€/kWh today (including TURPE= grid distribution costs, but no taxes).

The costs of renewable technologies in 2050 are a blend of estimates from the IEA ETP-2014, NREL, Fraunhofer-2013, and one other (see fig 7).  Interest rate was 5.25%. 

  • Solar PV ground-mounted: 6.0 c€/kWh  (PV sol)
  • Solar PV roof-mounted: 8.5 c€/kWh    (PV toit)
  • Wind, on-shore: 6.5 c€/kWh       (Eolien terrestre)
  • Wind, off-shore: 8.0 c€/kWh       (Eolien en mer)
  • Wood- cogeneration: 8.0 c€/kWh  (bois)

Those renewable figures could be attractive at low penetration, but the need for transmission upgrades and especially storage (stockage) drive up the cost at high penetration.  Fig 11 shows that the added cost of storage (in addition to the cost of the energy stored) is:  5.8 c€/kWh for 6 hour storage (batteries or ACAES), 10.6 c€/kWh for 32 hour pumped-hydro storage, and 13.8 c€/kWh for seasonal storage (power-to-gas-to-power; remember this also has very high energy cost, due to low efficiency).

The nuclear electricity costs are assumed to be fixed at 80 €/MWh @ 80% capacity factor (see sect 6.1); this would be a reasonable Nth-of-a-kind estimate if nuclear plants only lasted 30 years, but this is at least 2x too short.  It totally ignores the US experience of excellent fleet-average economics due to 60 year plant life-time extensions and power-uprates (perhaps over-emphasizing the French struggles at the Flammanville plant).   Nuclear’s apparent competiveness is further degraded in the 40% renewable scenario, as the nuclear segment is only allowed to run at 74% Cf, therefore worsening the economics (fig 111).

It is interesting to note that this report proposes a reference mix of 63% wind power, 17% solar, 13% hydro, 7% thermal renewable.  So it is quite interesting that solar falls within the capacity factor limit; wind goes above the capacity factor, apparently due to a combination of long distance transmission, smoothing via hydro, and daily/weekly/seasonal energy storage. 

The report did not support several of the often-repeated claims by renewable enthusiasts:

  • Rooftop solar was not chosen to be the primary energy source (in fact most of the solar was ground-mounted, and half of that had tracking), and wind was about 4x larger than solar (they say Fraunhofer suggested the same ratio for Germany).
  •  The diverse mix of many renewable energies did not survive the optimization: wind, solar, and hydro totaled 93%.
  •  Balancing of solar and wind, plus hydro, long distance transmission, a large amount of short-medium-term storage, and demand-management (including 10 million EVs and 75% daily residential use of electric water heaters, dishwashers, washing-machines, and dryers) did not make the variability or poor load correlation go away; there was a strong component of dispatchable fuel synthesis, and dispatchable fuel-to-power.

The historic capacity factor (facteurs de charge) for wind in France is around 24%.  17,000 km^2 of wind farms are assumed.  Import and export of electricity was allowed, and the neighboring countries were assumed to have generally lower renewable penetration (80%).

They reached 80% renewable electricity without seasonal energy storage, assuming 2% curtailment, 13 GW of hydro, and a mix of short/medium-term storage 6/32-hour pumped-hydro (STEP), for 15 GW which is 29% of the average demand.  Even the 40% renewable scenario used storage amounting to 9 GW (17% of avg demand).

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 9, 2015

That study is not the study that is commented by the authors in your links.”

You apparently didn’t even read the rebuttals.

You need to be banned.

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 9, 2015

Yeah for electric vehicles!  Great sink for any excess wind energy in wee hours of morning when EVs are charging!

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 9, 2015

Nuclear power’s problems may be even more political than even economic much less technical.  Most people are sufficiently freaked out by the atom bomb to be very leery of anything nuclear including nuclear power. I also suspect that too big to fail fossil fuel firms are using every propaganda trick they can muster to further foment our leeriness of all things nuclear. Even though the high cost of new nuclear power plants may be due more to politics than to truly economic problems with nuclear power, I still feel we need to make good use of our existing nuclear power plants as long as they remain in safe operating condition and hold off on any new ones until somebody manages to not only come up with a good way to dispose of nuclear waste, whether it involves making good use of the remaqining fuel in spent fuel rods or merely dropping the old fuel rods and the dry casks holding them down a really deep hole in the bottom of an old uranium mine, but also manages to persuade our Nuclear Regulatory Commission to use it and actually dispose of the old spent fuel rods instead of insisting that the ONLY thing that can be done with them is to hold them in dry casks on the campus of the nuclear power plant that used them and change the dry casks every fifty years for over 3,000 years.  By the way, further down this comments section there is a link to an article in Forbes about renewables and nuclear power and that article in Forbes contains a link to another article in Forbes that compares the number of deaths both world wide and in some cases within the United states per MegaWatthour for various means of generating electricity.  I was surprised–nuclear power even with Chernobyl and Fukushima still has a lower overall death rate than the next best wchich was wind followed by solar in third place.  Coal both world wide and in the United States was the worst, followed by natural gas, followed by assorted bio-fuels.

However, I do favor demand management, mostly in the form of heavy industry that so much would like $0.02/kWh electric power that they would set up their plants to run on automatic controls to take advantage of such cheap power even though it means taking delivery of the power in fits and starts and mostly at odd times like 2 am. 



Godo Stoyke's picture
Godo Stoyke on Jun 9, 2015

The Breakthrough “Institute” is a known climate delayer that favours natural gas, nuclear and/or “doing nothing”. Bidding for wind and solar is no different from (most) coal plants and all nuclear plants, which also have zero choice as to when to produce electricity, due to long start-up/cool-down. However, unlike nuclear and coal, solar almost perfectly matches peak demand in many countries (e.g. Germany; see Fraunhofer graphs), thus virtually eliminating concerns about “capacity factor”.  Spain and Costa Rica have already run on 75-100% renewables (for 3 months, in the case of Spain).

Nice try, Breakthrough Institute!

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 10, 2015

Seasonal storage … the facility makes a profit when it can sell for >16c€/kWh.  … utilities hesitate to close their classic power plants (a.o. the unions will object). So near always low whole sale prices, as the situation in Germany shows.

This is exactly the problem with high penetration renewables!  In fossil fuel producing free-market countries like the US, the market will never tolerate a carbon price or government mandate that forces out cheap domestic fossil fuel in favor of such a high cost alternative.  This is clearly true of power-to-fuel-to-power, and likely even true of the 32-hour pumped hydro systems.  Hence the US will likely only accept as much sustainable energy as it can accept without storage; which brings us back to the capacity factor limit.  

Developing countries will be even more hesitant to pay a premium for power from storage, so it is fortunate that countries such as China and India are able to deploy nuclear power for a competive price, as it will allow them to reduce the amount of fossil fuel generation that gets locked-in.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 10, 2015

Hence the US will likely only accept as much sustainable energy as it can accept without storage; which brings us back to the capacity factor limit. Hence the US will likely only accept as much sustainable energy as it can accept without storage; which brings us back to the capacity factor limit.”

This is precisely the reason why renewables have gotten (and still get) such great press: They are no threat to fossil fuel hegemony, not even in advanced economies. Advocating for renewables (and against nuclear) therefore equals advocating for utter climate destruction.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 10, 2015

Other estimates range from 80K to 8million deaths. Despite fierce oppostion of pro-nuclear, a book published by the New York Academy of Sciences authored by three prominent radiation professors from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia estimates 825K deaths until 2006 using ~5000 studies and publications.”

There we go again.

Darius/Bas Gresnigt is now completely confident that he is free to reference discredited antinuclear fear-mongering propaganda ad nauseum, undermining serious discussion about energy and our common future, and helping to promote the spread of deadly radiophobia.

Darius/Bas Gresnigt learned nothing of his being banned once before from TEC for this behaviour.

Darius/Bas Gresnigt needs to be banned (again) ASAP.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 10, 2015

I accept all info, except discredited info.

I don’t tolerate people like yourself who present discredited info again, and again, and again, ….

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 10, 2015

“You and few others wrote only that the book is attacked and discredited, which I indicated in my comment where I linked the book. No real info which discredit the book.”

You lie.

Please reread this article, which is just one example where you tried to peddle your Yablokov fear-mongering nonsense two years ago, and were given ample evidence by others as to why that book is baseless propaganda.


Since that time, you have continued peddling the Yablokov nonsense all over the internet, and you continue to do it to this day.

And now you even have the gall to complain that you are getting “no real info which discredit the book”!

Get real. You need to be banned ASAP.



Andy Maybury's picture
Andy Maybury on Jun 10, 2015

The cost dynamics of renewables and fuel-based power stations is so different that it can be difficult to compare them. Running costs of RE plants is minimal and the installation cost dominates. If one installs surplus capacity such that generators need to be curtailed at times of peak production then there is no cost involved in that (although ther may be [perceived] loss of income).

If, for example, the cost of PV halved again, then one could install twice as much and cover one’s own needs for a greater proportion of the time. If that means that half of the installation is turned off for some of the time then that means less wear and tear on the inverters. Obviously one gets into the realms of diminishing returns at some stage but having more nominal capacity than can be absorbed directly is not a strict limit.

Storage will certainly help but the big story will be flexible use … and that is already happening. Just look at the results of the UK Capacity Auction; a significant contribution from load deferral. Once a critical mass of smart meters are installed, flexible tariffs will enable a paradigm shift in the same way that ‘off-peak’ electricity did last century.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 10, 2015

Bottom line it is free storage”

Nothing is free.

Consider the following future news headlines:

“EV owners sign-up for revolutionary grid-scale voluntary V2G power plan in droves, peaking power producers post heavy losses, average electricity spot price jumps.”

“Independent study shows EV battery life shortened due to ‘free’ V2G power cycling.”

“V2G participating EV owners face surprise early battery replacements, not covered by warranty, outraged owners sue for damages.”

“EV owners opt-out of highly successful ‘free’ V2G program overnight, old fossil fuel plants brought out of retirement in a hurry ahead of calm, cloudy weather forecast, co2 emissions jump to highest level in decades, electricity spot market in turmoil posting record negative, then record high price on same day”

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Jun 10, 2015

Nice try “Godo.” If you want to know who I am and what I have spent my professional career advocating and supporting, please see my LinkedIn CV. As someone who helped pass, negotiate, and implement a state renewable portfolio standard and has testified in Congress in support of sustained investments in renewable and other forms of clean energy technology, your comments are laughably off the mark.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 11, 2015

which brings us back to the capacity factor limit.

Nathan you are latching onto this CF limit like a pit bull.  Bruce McFarling provided an interesting analysis which for wind alone which made a very reasonable case that the rule of thumb for wind would be more appropriately placed at 60% rather than the much lower values that are being tossed around as fact rather than points for discussion.  See Bruce’s June 8th comment on this post.

Similar arguments could be made for solar.  And since solar correlates nicely with demand peaks and does not correlate with the wind peaks it would further add to the available power significantly shifting the capacity value well north of 60%.  Since solar in the Southwest is above 20% CF and it can be mixed with tracking and West facing, shifting the Maximum Yield down and increasing the ratio of Average Yield to Maximum Yield.  This puts the solar at higher than the Average Yield / Nameplate.  So a strong case can be made for 80% renewables penetration and that is before including hydro and existing nuclear. 

I think that Jesse has offered a nice post to start this conversation but the rule of thumb is far from definitive. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 11, 2015

Bas, when solar and wind power reach their capacity factor limits, all other technologies are forced to operate at a less economical low capacity factor.  This effects nuclear plants, but also biomass, geothermal, hydro, and energy storage.  The main difference is that in most location, only a small amount of storage will qualify for capacity payments (due to cloudy/windless periods lasting too long), whereas the thermal generators will get capacity payments.  This situation strongly favors use of natural gas for all new power plant (Germany’s existing fleet of flexible coal plants will continue to serve out their lives due to the very low cost fuel).  Without storage, the majority of grid demand will continue to be supplied by flexible generation.

Similarly, China’s solar and wind deployments are happening without being accompanied by storage.  In other words, they are locking-in use of coal power for balancing.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 11, 2015

Clayton, the argument that you and Bruce make that the economic penetration limit is somewhat higher than the capacity factor does make sense.  The problem is that it has not been born out by any of several grid studies using actual historic load and weather data (e.g. the French report linked above, the Kreifels study from Germany, the NREL RE Futures study for the US).  These large studies tend to produce penetrations that are fairly close to the capacity factor and/or revolve around large amounts of storage.

If you want to profess faith that technology and siting improvements will make things better than what these detailed studies show, then fine.  But how does that differ from a person who says we can delay taking action on climate change (or any other current problem) because it will be much easier to fix in the future?

Godo Stoyke's picture
Godo Stoyke on Jun 11, 2015

Jesse, it does not really matter what your personal beliefs or history are. Articles associated with the Breakthrough “Institute” seem to have a fairly consistent pattern: down on renewable energy, down on efficiency, down on carbon tax. Yeah to nuclear, Yeah to natural gas, and yeah to “do nothing”. It’s almost like the Breakthroug Institute were funded by the fossil fuel/nuclear industry. Conveniently, funding sources  of BI are not made public ( Hmmmm …

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 11, 2015

Godo, I doubt you will find anyone here on TEC who remotely agrees with your accusations and insinuations directed at Jesse or TBI, and we are a fairly critical, fairly well informed bunch.

Besides, if you’re looking for the role that fossil fuel funding is playing in shaping the public understanding of energy issues, you could do worse than have a look at how Stanford University’s “100% renewable energy” vision, developed by Mark Z Jacobson, is being funded. 

This might prompt you to ask the question: “Why are fossil fuel interest funding the promotion of the idea that 100% renewable energy is possible and economically attractive? What’s in it for them? Could it be that fossil fuel interests know that chasing the 100% renewable energy vision will not harm their market hegemony? Could it be that they want us all to believe that 100% renewable energy is just around the corner, causing us to destroy our nuclear power capability? But why would they want nuclear power destroyed? Perhaps because it – and it alone – does in fact pose a serious threat to their interests?

I can recommend opening your mind and going down this rabbit hole to see for yourself. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find. I know I was.

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 11, 2015

Too big to fail fossil fuel firms have too much political clout to ever be put out of business.  Also our too big to fail military industrial complex firms have too much political clout to ever be put out of business.  Our military leaders say both the vulnerability of our electric grid to electromagnetic pulse and climate change are greater threats (each by itself) to national security than any other nation or group of terrorists. Thus they want Congress to spend the money needed to fix those two problems. Our too big to fail military industrial complex firms are well able to make equipment needed to solve each of those problems.  A Dr. Pry working for federal government in Homeland Security in 2008 testified for spending $20 billion for Faraday cages and spare parts especially transformers to fix the EMP problem. Bill died in committee. Between inflation and further neglect of our electric grid, it would probably take about $40 billion now. Since it would be insurance and/or loss prevention and engineering, no self-respecting utility would ever pay for it. Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund billionnaire pals claim that for $200billion/year for thirty years, it is possible to replace all fossil fuel we use with renewable energy. I suspect that assumes electrifying all transportation, which too big to fail oil firms will not stand for. So to get rid of all petroleum products for transportation will require R&D for a sustainable substitute for petroleum that too big to fail oil firms can be set up to mass produce. And then it will still be necessary for federal government to buy left over oil reserves at generous prices to bail too big to fail oil firms out of their inventory losses. And replacing coal and natural gas with renewable energy is only half the problem.  It will also be necessary to buy coal and gas reserves at generous prices to maintain the incomes of too big to fail fossil fuel firms at their annual average incomes for 2010-2014. Federal government will I hope place wind and solar harvesting equipment with electric utilities, with understanding that 20% of generation charges for electricity produced by this equipment and sold to customers is utilities’ to keep for maintenance and operations and 80% is to pay whatever too big to fail coal and later natural gas firms they are buying less fuel from for that fossil fuel firm’s loss of fuel sales. So far, too big to fail fossil fuel firms are willing to drill for geothermal on speculation, federal government just needs to get its act together on making paperwork as easy for fossil fuel firms as possible. Wood pellets from forestry wastes are already a commercial product. Some bio-gas from sewage, municipal sold waste, and livestock manure will be made and used locally by whoever is now running sewage plants and municipal solid waste handling. Federal government to get this used as dispatchable power will need to both subsidize and regulate this. Most equipment needed as grid upgrades, especially storage, will need to be at least heavily subsidized if not outright gifts from federal government to utilities for common good, with utilities handling installation and maintenance and operations.I hope 80% of $200billion/year predicted by Bloomberg and pals will go for renewable energy generating capacity mostly wind and solar, and 20% will go for equipment to upgrade the grid including energy storage. I also hope half of $200billion/year can be diverted from military pork our leaders no longer want.  Bloomberg claims replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy will save on average $150billion/year on weather-related disaster relief. Environmental Defense Fund claims we waste at least $345billion/year possibly over $500billion/ear on extra health care costs due to air and water pollution from coal alone. So once those savings start kicking in, with federal government paying almost half of health care costs in US, at least another $150/year savings should help offset cost of $200billion/year to buy renewable energy related equipment from too big to fail military complex firms.   


Nuclear weapons are too extremely profitable to those manufacturing them for them to ever give up. But a complete waste for everyone else. Can we possibly fight our next war against some forces of nature that we have rather badly provoked lately–namely catastrophic climate change provoked by global warming provoked by burning more fossil fuel emitting more greenhouse gases than natural forces can keep up with? – See more at:
Nuclear weapons are too extremely profitable to those manufacturing them for them to ever give up. But a complete waste for everyone else. Can we possibly fight our next war against some forces of nature that we have rather badly provoked lately–namely catastrophic climate change provoked by global warming provoked by burning more fossil fuel emitting more greenhouse gases than natural forces can keep up with? – See more at:
Nuclear weapons are too extremely profitable to those manufacturing them for them to ever give up. But a complete waste for everyone else. Can we possibly fight our next war against some forces of nature that we have rather badly provoked lately–namely catastrophic climate change provoked by global warming provoked by burning more fossil fuel emitting more greenhouse gases than natural forces can keep up with? – See more at:
Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 11, 2015

Renewable energy sources include wind and solar (both intermittent, but as you point out, somewhat negatively correlated), hydro, geothermal including enhanced geothermal systems (bring your own frackin/hydraulic/heat-transfer fluid and frack), bio-gas (from sewage, livestock manure, and municipal solid waste), wood pellets from forestry wastes, tidal and wave power, and ocean thermal energy conversion (Jim Baird claims that if OTEC is scaled up to use almost the entire depth of the ocean along the equator, it achieves a lot of efficiency of scale, and also pushes warm ocean surface water down near bottom of ocean and pulls nutrient rich cold water up to surface (making whole food chain happier from ocean phytoplankton on up to sharks at the top), and also cools the surface of the ocean cutting down of weather-related disasters). So far geothermal is usually run as baseload, but can be used as dispatchable power (about same response time as hydro I guess) which should prolong its useful life, or with enhanced geothermal systems, delay need for redrilling.

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 11, 2015

I read that NREL RE Futures study.  They not only used quite a bit of storage (hydrogen fuel cells worked best) but they also used over twice as much intermittent solar and wind as you would think would be needed adding capacity factors. You also have to consider the cost of failing to do a through job of replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy. Enough damage to agricluture to cause a failure of the world’s ability to feed its human population would be a horrible price to pay. Offshore wind still costs almost twice as much as onshore wind, but utilities are starting to develop it anyhow, not with their own workers, but they are buying in to joint projects with manufacturers of offshore wind turbines. Also the fashion for much taller masts to hold up the actual wind turbine, means turbines can be placed much further off ground where there are steadier winds even over prairie and where turbines can be above tree tops in pulp wood farms. We already have 50% capacity for onshore wind turbines on tall masts. Solar is coming down in price faster than wind and catching up with wind. More solar in the mix will also help with both meeting day time peak demands and cutting down on need for storage. Considering that wet organic waste generates methane whether anyone is prepared to deal with it or not, and methane is 20 times as powerful as greenhouse gas as CO2, federal government had better manage R&D to capture and make good use of methane from sewage, municpal solid waste, and livestock manure. Some cost can be charged to waste management but not all of the excess over market price of natural gas from fracked wells. Hydro is becoming first seasonal, then pumped storage, but we might as well enjoy what we have while we have it. I hope we develop enough geothermal to use it as dispatchable energy instead of baseload like nuclear. That won’t happen until we have enough wind and solar and hydrogen fuel cells to get through at least half of the days of a year for most utilities with those three alone. I hope that if we start placing combination of wind, solar, and hydrogen fuel cell first in states with 90% to 100% coal-fired electric first enough to bring coal-fired electric in that state to 89%, it will be possible to persuade utilities to agree to turn coal-fired generators off, one at a time half in spring and half in fall, clean them and do other routine maintenance, and leave them off until they are really needed again.

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Jun 11, 2015

This is why federal government needs to spend $200billion/year on replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy and devote 20% of that to upgrading the grid including energy storage. Hydro is already very much declining to pumped storage.  Nuclear plants need storage almost as badly as wind and solar do. There isn’t that much really sustainable bio-mass and what there is needs to be almost lumped in with storage much as hydro.  Geothermal will last longer if it is used as dispatchable energy rather than baseload. So far, oil and gas drilling firms (including the big ten) are willing to drill for geothermal on speculation.  Later on between having gone after low-hanging fruit first and the competition from wind and solar, federal governfment will probably need to provide some subsidy for geothermal.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 11, 2015

Am I mixing up studies?  My recollection was that the RE Futures study found that 80% renewables was reasonable based upon 2012 technology.  And the authors made a point of saying that it should not be considered a limit.  Again, correct me if I am wrong but I think they froze the study based upon projects installed at the time thus limiting their study to a database heavily weighted with non-ideal sites.  I believe that also limited them to 80m towers. 

I have posted data showing that there are vast tracts of untouched 50%+ CF land based sites in the US.  Recent projects have gone in at 50% CF and with very low PPA rates.  I have not had any significant pushback other than by posters who cite the existing average CF.  That is a non starter since my thesis is that to enjoy the high CF you would need to build transmission to the high CF sites.  HVDC is available now at up to +_ 800kV dc.

That is not blind faith.  It is doable with off-the-shelf technology.

4th gen nuclear which you advocate is promising but it is not ready for prime time.  Lets get the wind in and use nuclear as the backup if they can get it to work.  At least we would phase out the coal and dramatically reduce emissions from those of today.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 12, 2015

Yes, RE Futures looked at 80% renewable, but wind and PV were each at a penetration down near their capacity factor!    They made up the difference by growing hydro, geothermal, CSP with storage, and worst of all biomass.

Overall, it was a cheerleading piece that ignored and concealed the biggest problem with high renewable scenarios: the incremental cost of growing the renewables grows so fast relative to the cost of continued fossil fuel use as to become non-credible (the study assumed that the entire nation agreed to an 80% cost-is-no-object mandate).

By the way, NREL produces the US wind resource maps, and uses the data in their studies.  Also, their model optimizes wind farm placement based on what they consider to be a realistic transmission cost.  So I doubt that you’ve discovered a vast windy area that they ignored.

The problem with your wind-first concept is that it introduces a very high risk of fossil fuel lock-in, and provides zero meaningful benefits relative to nuclear-first which is proven to work just fine.  Nuclear works well along side all of the non-wind technologies, so including it should be a non-brainer (except for those people who wish to exclude it for emotional reasons).

And no, I don’t advocate waiting for Gen IV nuclear; today’s Gen III designs are great, and are well suited to powering energy-hungry nations like the US and China.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 12, 2015

“By the way, NREL produces the US wind resource maps, and uses the data in their studies.”

Unless I am mixing up studies, they did not use those wind resource maps directly and they certainly did not use the 100m hub height maps.  They go into considerable detail about how the study was based upon technology available at the time the study was ‘frozen’ and used a database of then existing technology.  Given the pace of technology development, that is a VERY conservative assumption.

As I recall much was based upon production data from existing machines at the time – 2009 and before if I recall correctly.  And they tended to be located in good but not great areas such as IA.  A lot has changed in that short time.  There is a dramatic difference in the 100m hub height resource vs the 80m hub height, moving from predominantly sub 40% CF to 50% CF.  That is what got me very interested about a year and a half ago.  And as the EV story has been emerging rapidly I see it combined with the high CF wind as something worth fully exploring.  The more I dig, the better it looks.  




Godo Stoyke's picture
Godo Stoyke on Jun 12, 2015

Joris van Dorp, the Breakthrough Institute’s climate delayer activities are not exactly a secret. For example, check out:


The claim that fossil fuel interests support renewables to distract from nuclear is ludicrous. Fossil fuels’ war on renewables is well documented (e.g.,, Brulle, Robert J. Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations. Climatic Change December 2013.)

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 12, 2015

Joris van Dorp, the Breakthrough Institute’s climate delayer activities are not exactly a secret. For example, check out…”

I checked out those articles.

The Breakthrough Institute has a simple position on climate change policy, it seems to me. It is basically that solving climate change by trying to increase the price of fossil fuels (i.e. getting the public to voluntarily perform sacrifices for the climate) has never worked, does not work, and will never work. The only thing it will do is worsen partisan divide. I happen to believe TBI is probably right about this. The only credible way of solving climate change is to enable energy cheaper than coal, which is mostly nuclear power.

You use the term “climate delayer activities”. But TBI is not delaying anything. They seem to be merely (and correctly, in my opinion) skeptical about (left-leaning) climate policies which depend utterly on the broadbased public willingness to perform sacrifice.  But the public doesn’t roll that way. Such a strategy is very risky and causes partisan divide, as well as delay effective climate policy.

If my house is on fire, and the fire department man says he is going to use gasoline to put out the fire, and if I then protest at his intentions, criticising him and suggesting alternatives, that does not mean that I am engaging in “fire fighting delayer activities”. Neither is TBI engaging in “climate delayer activities”.

That said, I agree partly with the criticism directed at Roger Pielke Jr. in the articles you linked. I have criticed Pielke in the past on several occasions. Which bring me to a second point. In my opinion, I can have my disagreements with Roger Pielke Jr., but at the same time I can agree with the general thrust of the arguments TBI is bringing into the energy debate. Just because I tend to disagree with Pielke, doesn’t mean I am automatically going to attack TBI – or Jesse Jenkins for that matter – like you seem to be doing here.

Besides, if you spend some time reading all the articles Jenkins has written on this website, you will find that he has often gone out of his way to highlight the positive aspects and opportunities of soft energy options (i.e. not nuclear power) and that he is a staunch supporter of addressing climate change. (am I right?) For that matter, your attack on Jenkins seems particularly curious.

Finally, if you want to understand the thinking which underlies the TBI philosophy about the energy/climate nexus, I think you could do worse than read this important report.

Godo Stoyke's picture
Godo Stoyke on Jun 12, 2015

Hello Joris, thanks for your reply. If you include all costs (including adverse health effects and climate change), wind is already the cheapest new source of electricity in Europe, with solar at the same cost as nuclear (and soon to be less, if current trends continue; see e.g. this recent study for the European Union 

Being green is not primarily about making sacrifices but about making better economic decisions, when you look at the total life cycle cost and societal costs like health and climate damage. Though being thoughtful and doing simple things like recycling and switching off the lights when not needed helps, too, of course. Asking people to be not green is to ask them to be poorer in the long run.

I have read the report you linked to. It does not change my view that the Breakthrough Insitute’s voices are climate delaying in their effects. I am afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 12, 2015

Godo, Ecofys’s study disregards the option of pedaling bicycles connected to generators for electricity. It’s  cheaper than wind and solar, and creates no additional atmospheric carbon.

The reason is obvious – pedaling bikes will never be able to power Europe. The same is true of wind and solar, but curiously Ecofys includes these intermittent sources of energy, as if each megawatt were equal in value.

The best energy decisions are not solely based on price/megawatthour but which sources have the most potential for displacing fossil fuels. If we include the societal cost of fossil generation renewables will never be able to replace (and actuallly depend upon to remain viable), nuclear comes out the clear winner.

Jenny Sommer's picture
Jenny Sommer on Jun 12, 2015

This is wrong Bob. Just try to calculate the energy payback time for a bicycle generator system, the price of the food and the energy used for producing the calories you need to deliver the power. 

Never mind the salery of a strong rider, they earn up to a million per season.

Not even with slaves in your wildest dreams can that come cheaper than wind power!


Now compare that to a WKA (Wind Kraft Anlage) with an EROEI between 55-70 and a kWh price around 2ct.

Wind alone can power the world, 9 billion riders could not even power 1‰.

Not even 9 billion riders on steroids could power 1‰ of our world.

Now compare that to wind on steroids… we put 8MW turbines on sustainable 140m wooden towers, we could tap wind resources between 600m-2000m above ground for even higher EROEI.

The thing is we can get everything we want from wind alone (we don’t have to because pv is even more impressive a resource).

The capacity limit is moot when you do it like France but with proper RE energy. Just built it, save on imported fuels and fuel your economy with RE jobs and cheap RE power. Unlike nuclear (and AREVA which btw has a healthy wind power bussines) reactors WKAs will never become a liability or stranded assets. Their scrap value is more than decommissioning, try that with nuclear. Take Flamanville, junk before it goes online and will never deliver power economically if ever. Better scrap it before it becomes radioactive.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 13, 2015

The Ecofys study is deeply – and deliberately – flawed (like all studies coming to the conclusion that RE is cheaper than fossil fuels and nuclear).

The flaws are deliberate, because no attempt was made to correct them after they were flagged.

The Ecofys study stands in a long line of similar ‘studies’ which seem to be mere propaganda intended to fool policy makers and the public to move them to voluntarily wreck their energy systems and economies.

I will never agree to support energy policy which depends on clearly nonsensical assumptions. Making wrong energy policy decision will cause mass dispair and death – especially among the poor – and it ruins the environment. I happen to like humanity and the environment. Do you?

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Jun 13, 2015

This is wrong Bob. Just try to calculate the energy payback time for a bicycle generator system, the price of the food and the energy used for producing the calories you need to deliver the power.”

I suspect that Bob made that comparison to make the point that one has to include *all* inputs to discover the cost of an energy option. RE advocates always fail to do that! They drone on about the LCOE of wind or sun, but they never explain where our energy is going to come from when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. And they always ignore the fact that running a solar PV or wind turbine factory depends on a continuous supply of energy, something which wind or solar cannot ever deliver!

By the way, you state that the scrap value of RE technologies is higher than the decommissioning cost. What source do you have for that? Last time I read up on the subject, I found out that there is not even a satisfactory (recycling) solution to dealing with the huge amount of worn-out wind turbine blades yet. The ‘best’ solution to dealing with this massive amount of scrap is still simply to hack, crush and burn them for the energy value in the (crude oil based!) epoxy holding them together! (another source of ‘renewable’ energy, no doubt! And all the energy-intensive glass fiber in the blades is simply turned into landfill! What a great sustainable technology!

If we are talking recycling and scrap value opportunities, there is no better example than nuclear waste, which still contains 99% of the extractable energy contained in the original uranium ore. If we are talking about recycling and waste reduction, why are environmentalists never interested in utilising this huge source of recycleable energy? Because they have a blinkered vision. They don’t care about humanity and the environment. They only care about their narrow ideology, for which they are willing to sacrifice even common sense.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 13, 2015

If we include the societal cost of fossil generation renewables will never be able to replace … nuclear comes out the clear winner.

Great point Bob.  Nowhere is this more evident than Germany, where variable wind and solar are balanced by the dirtiest of all “flexible generation”, lignite coal. Their state-of-the-art energy storage demonstration plants have told us what we already knew: storage is much more expensive than continued fossil fuel use.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Jun 13, 2015

Shall we also judge the cost of 4th gen nuclear by the first demonstration plants to be built?

Arthur Yip's picture
Arthur Yip on Jun 16, 2015

By the way, you are misinformed about the Breakthrough Institute.

Thanks for bringing that page up to my attention.


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