Last updated by The POOG on February 22, 2021.
Renewable generation is the energy source touted by the ‘Climate Change’ lobby to save the planet. Unfortunately, the difference between the hyperbole and the reality is irreconcilable as we will attempt to show herein.
The Indictment of Renewable Generation
The best overall review of renewable energy generation and its environmental impact is laid out in the following video by Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs. (Note: The original link to YouTube has been censored. This one is from Vimeo. We’ see how long it lasts.). It’s gone but you cam pay to see it from the producer.
Wind turbine blades are not recyclable and end up in landfills:
PragerU has a 5-minute video that presents the limits and true costs of renewable sources. Click here.
An important concept to grasp is ‘capacity factor’. We define it later in this article in the section titled ‘Power Supplied in 2020’.
Problems with a Renewable Grid
Apart from the problem of intermittency, which is currently solved by spinning fossil fuel rederves, there is an associated problem with frequency instability.
The winter of 2020-2021 saw several polar vortex weather events in Europe and North America. Record cold and snowfall caused wind turbine failure due to icing and solar panel failure due to being covered with snow. The result was grid instability with brown-outs and rolling blackouts in areas using high levels of renewable generation. An analysis of the data shows that it was the failure of wind power that was the primary cause of the grid instability.
Although not direct renewable energy, other parts of the Texas energy sector also failed. The best explanation is given in this video:
The cost to a renewable paradigm from the current conventional sources will be high, possibly as much as $15 trillion or more. Attendant costs to the environment are not factored in.
If you get the strategy wrong the costs can be enormous as B.C. Hydro is finding out.
Renewable technologies in many cases use natural elements such as lithium and niobium in magnets, that are finite resources. This implies rising costs as the easy extractable deposits are exhausted. The environmental impact of the mining process can cause local problems – usually in someone else’s backyard.
Renewable Energy in Ontario Canada
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is the organization in Ontario that controls the electricity system by matching generation to demand or load. It also manages the market for electricity by buying electricity from or selling it to external system operators in other jurisdictions. They publish a limited amount of system data which we shall use to analyze the renewable component.
The IESO starting place is with Power Data, in particular, the page “Generator Output by Fuel Type Monthly Report” which has six years of data in the form of .xlm (Excel) spreadsheet files in two versions. Right click on the plain .xlm file for the year you want and choose ‘Save Link As …’. Save it to a convenient file location such as your desktop.
Data is for installations with capacities of 20 megawatts (MW) or greater and are “transmission” or high-voltage (>50 kilovolts (kV)) grid connected sources rather than embedded or “distribution” connected (<50 kV) sources. In short, it covers most but not all of the generation in Ontario.
Once saved, drag it into a new Excel spreadsheet or drop it on the desktop icon. I found it useful to sort the file on fuel type so I could create easy subtotals. Data does not include embedded generation.
As a comment on the expansion of hydro generation, water resources capable of supporting new generation are limited to a few northern rivers. Environmentalists and outdoor sports enthusiasts want to preserve the few ‘wild rivers’ that are left from damming and hydro development. Native groups are always a wild card. We can’t look to hydro to expand renewable generation in Ontario.
Ontario Supply (Generation) Data
We begin by explaining some terms. ‘Installed capacity’ of a generator such as a wind turbine, is the maximum amount of power that it can produce under optimal conditions. ‘Supply’ is the term used for actual amount of power produced. ‘Capacity factor’ is the percentage ration of supply to installed capacity. It can be considered to be an efficiency measure.
Power Supplied in 2020
The following table shows the amount of supply for the first ten months of 2020, at time of writing. We use the ‘Current Installed Capacity‘ given for the end of the data period and assume it has been unchanged for the year. We couldn’t find any historical data for installed capacity. Supply figures are in gigawatt hours (GWh). Installed capacity is in megawatts (MW).
We want to calculate the capacity factor (Cf) from the total power output or supply (S) for the ten months Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, a period of 304 days. Since this is a figure based on an hourly measurement, we need to calculate the theoretical maximum supply for the same period of time based on installed capacity (Ic), in hours. We get this latter figure by multiplying Ic by 24 hours in a day and by 304 days as the total period of measurement. This gives us the formula for the ratio as a percentage to be: Cf = S*100/(Ic*24*304).
Data Analysis and Commentary
For 2020, solar had a minimum monthly generation of 19 GWh in January and a maximum of 99 GWh in June. There is a strong seasonal influence as we would expect. Wind had a minimum monthly generation of 514 GWh in July and a maximum of 1363 GWh in February. Again there is a seasonal influence that we are familiar with. The range of monthly variation over the 10 months for solar is 5 times and 2.7 times for wind
So how do we compensate for this inherent unreliability? The answer is that to meet a relatively predictable demand figure with an unpredictable supply source we need reliable backup generation. In Ontario, this is provided by natural gas-powered generating stations. Further, within this backup generation we need to keep what are called ‘spinning reserves’. These are generating units fired up and sitting in a standby mode to be brought on line quickly by the IESO to match rapid changes in demand or rapid changes in supply.
The capacity factor tells us something interesting also. For the above period in 2020, Ontario was able to extract only 28% of the possible power from its installed wind generation. Solar is even less at 20%. Contrast this with nuclear at 78%. Nuclear is this low because a number of units are out of service for scheduled maintenance and refurbishing.
The Problem with Net Zero
A first observation is that biofuels are counted in renewable generation but produce as much CO2 as natural gas per unit of carbon in the fuel. Further, they are not as clean burning as nat gas creating a net pollution effect (CO2 is not a pollutant), and are much more environmentally destructive (see the Planet of the Humans documentary above). It doesn’t seem to penetrate the consciousness of green advocates that cutting down a forest of trees which sequester CO2, to fuel generation that releases that sequestered CO2 back into the atmosphere, is maybe … just dumb? Arguing that biofuel plants that burn waste wood that would otherwise be ecologically absorbed into the environment, are OK is still releasing sequestered CO2.
The figures in the table are monthly averages. There are days when renewable output will be close to zero. You cannot run a technological society that is electricity-based without a guaranteed constant supply of electricity. It is simply not possible to provide this with renewable carbon-free generation other than with nuclear. As long as nuclear is hated by the same people that promote a ‘green’ economy, IT WILL NOT HAPPEN!
The Elephant in the Room
The elephant in the room is the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, Ontario’s oldest. Six of its original eight reactors remain in operation with a total installed capacity of 3100 MW. An Ontario Power Generation (OPG) report states that the plant will be decommissioned in the next five years:
The Province of Ontario is supporting a plan to end commercial operations in 2025. Under the proposed plan, OPG will shutdown Pickering’s units 1 and 4 in 2024 and units 5 to 8 in 2025.
This means that the province will have to increase wind capacity 2.5 times to replace Pickering given the current capacity factor. There is probably enough natural gas capacity in place to service this, but the economic and environmental costs would be huge. Moreover, one may assume that the best sites for wind are already taken. That means newer sites will suffer a lower capacity factor in operation.
Even if we started today with new generation nuclear plants, the permitting and development time requirements might not deliver replacement generation in time. The green plans, by switching from fossil fuels to electricity in transportation and other uses such as home heating, will at the same time create additional demand on top of the lost supply from Pickering.
I realize that a lot of the section is surmising which I try to avoid. The arguments can certainly be explored with existing data and studies but I don’t have the bandwidth for that myself. So take it as a red flag for the future that there may well be a major economic and social disruption in Ontario and possibly other parts of Canada due to insufficient available energy supply.
- The Big Cover Up: Wind Industry Burying Millions of Toxic Turbine Blades In Landfills. Stop These Things, May 13, 2020.
- Andrew ZP Smith. What does the capacity factor of wind mean? Energy Numbers, September 29, 2014.
- Haley Zaremba. The Renewable Revolution Has A Lithium Problem. OilPrice.com, Feb 12, 2019.
- Irina Slav. The True Cost Of The Global Energy Transition. November 09, 2020.
- The future of Pickering Generating Station. OPG, as of December 09, 2020.
- Terence Corcoran. B.C.’s Site C hydro power boondoggle shows real cost of ‘clean’ energy. Financial Post. January 06, 2021.
- Slav I. Europe’s Unforeseen Renewables Problem. OilPrice.com. January 31, 2021.
- Kennedy C. Texas Freeze Raises Cost Of Charging A Tesla To $900. OilPrice. February 16, 2021.
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- Staff. Texas Failed To Winterize Nuclear Plant Leading To Reactor Shut Down. Zero Hedge. February 18, 2021.
- Cascend: Data Shows Wind-Power Was Chief Culprit Of Texas Grid Collapse. Zero Hedge. February 20, 2021.