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By Russ Finley on Jul 12, 2012 with 26 responses

The Exaggerated Promise of Renewable Energy

The continued existence and expansion of human civilization is wholly dependent on affordable sources of energy. The latest study just released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (an organization that exists to study and promote the viability of renewable energy) suggests that it may be possible to get 80% or so of our electric power from renewable sources by 2050. The study also (inadvertently) provides evidence that renewable energy will be a minority player in humanity’s energy portfolio.

The results may disappoint my fellow solar enthusiasts because it suggests that only 13% of our electric energy will come from solar. Distributed solar enthusiasts (who favor photovoltaic solar panels on rooftops) will be further disappointed because half of that 13% will come from water-sucking centralized concentrated solar thermal power plants, many located in desert ecosystems, leaving only about 6% for solar panels on rooftops, of which many will probably not be on rooftops but in centralized power plants, probably displacing ecosystems or crops.

But electricity represents only 40% of our energy needs. If we hog up all renewable energy sources for electricity, there won’t be any left for the other 60% of our energy needs. In other words, the study tells us that only 32% of our total energy needs can be “potentially” renewable. I.e., it is going to need a lot of help from other energy sources — fossil fuels or nuclear. Liquid biofuels were not part of this study even though they can be used to make electricity or replace oil for transport:

However, the modeled scenarios also did not explicitly assume any competition for biomass resources, including from transportation demand for biofuels

Nuclear & Fossil Fuels as Renewable as Hydro?

The definition of renewable isn’t as clear cut as you might think because it involves the fourth dimension — time. Wind and solar fit the definition of renewable because their power source (the sun) is very long-lived. As long as humanity can keep the panels, turbines, and grid maintained, they will convert solar radiation from a giant nuclear reactor in the sky into electricity in perpetuity.

Corn ethanol is considered a renewable energy source (by its proponents) even though roughly 75% of its energy content is derived from fossil fuels. It is in reality, no more renewable than fossil fuels.

Hydro power, like wind, is also ultimately powered by the sun’s energy, making electricity from the potential energy of stored precipitation. But now the definition of renewable runs into trouble because the machines that extract that potential energy (dams) have limited practical life spans:

You can do just about anything in this world (or other worlds — mining the moon) if you have enough money. However, removing the silt from behind most dams is not considered to be an economically viable option. The cost of decommissioning all of these dams is something humanity will eventually have to deal with. In short, one can easily argue that hydro does not fit the definition of renewable (especially by the year 2050 — the time frame for this study). Removing it from the NREL study, we find that only 68% of our electricity can come from renewable sources (27% of our total energy).

Inversely, one can argue that because conventional nuclear energy can produce just as much energy for just as long as hydro, it fits the definition of renewable as well as hydro does, and to make matters worse, so do fossil fuels (as is argued by Matt Ridley in his latest book).

Land Use Assumptions for Biomass

It gets worse. The study also assumed that a lot of biomass (15% of the energy mix) is going to be burned in place of coal, and further “assumed” that three-fourths of it would not come from dedicated crops like switchgrass.

Nearly three-fourths of the biomass feedstock was predicted to come from wastes and residues (which were assumed to have no incremental land-use impacts), the remaining biomass supply was assumed to be derived from switchgrass.

…requiring an estimated 44,000–88,000 km2 of land …By comparison, the total area used for corn production in 2009 in the United States was about 350,000 km2 (USDA 2010). Because biopower-related land use is estimated to be sizable, efforts are needed to assess the degree to which and conditions under which land is available to support such an expansion without undue competition with food production and other uses

Bottom line; if it were economical to displace a meaningful amount of coal with biomass today we would already be doing so to lower electric bills or increase profit margins. Burning biomass for energy is an idea as old as walking on two legs. The 80% prediction would drop considerably if this assumption turns out significantly wrong because there would not be enough land left to grow any corn (of which 40% is already being turned into ethanol).

Today biomass accounts for about 1.3% of our energy mix. They need it to increase by an order of magnitude by 2050. From an air pollution perspective, biomass has little improvement over coal. And because of land displacement issues, it is also not necessarily much better in the GHG department. From a wildlife habitat displacement perspective, biomass is worse than coal. Recent studies in the journal Nature have suggested that the last thing humanity should be doing is asking more of the biosphere.

Also, like squeezing water from one end of a balloon to another, using biomass for electricity would preclude the increased use of biomass for things like home heating (community boilers) and transportation (assuming that cellulosic ethanol will ever actually become commercially viable), not that using biomass for this is a good idea either.

Removing biomass from the list as well as hydro would drop the percentage of energy for electricity and in total to 53% and 21% respectively.

Projections Without Assigning Probabilities

The study looked at scenarios ranging from 30% to 90% and made no attempt to assign probabilities or costs. In other words, the odds that the 80% 53% scenario will come to fruition may approach zero. The study is largely a wish list of what it would take for this to happen. However, any study that tries to predict what our energy mix will be 40 years into the future has to make a rather large number of assumptions:

 Lastly, as a long-term analysis, uncertainties associated with assumptions and data, along with limitations of the modeling capabilities, contribute to significant uncertainty in the implications reported.

Right …significant uncertainty. To wit, I stopped counting at 500, the instances of the words “assume,” “assumed,” and “assumption” in just the first volume of this four volume study. I also counted over a hundred instances of the words “uncertain” and “uncertainty” and fifty five instances of “likely” or “likelihood” in that first volume.

Over the last twenty years renewable energy has gone from being 11% of our energy mix to 10%. Doing my own study, hang on a minute …a linear extrapolation of that trend would suggest that in 2050 only 8% of our energy will be renewable.

Just about every study I’ve read on this topic over the last decade has suggested that wind and solar combined (cost issues aside) can provide a maximum of roughly 35% of our electric power quite simply because the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow, particularly when we would need them to do so — on windless nights for example.

The NREL study pulled out the stops and managed to increase that commonly quoted 35% potential of wind and solar by roughly 15% for a total of 50%. As I often point out, I’m a big fan of solar so I was a little disappointed to see that wind will be providing about three-fourths of that 50% (wind 37%, solar 13%). This would require an increase in wind energy from about half of a percent to 37 percent in 40 years …a 7500% increase. An increase of this magnitude would have to be done very carefully or it will be a disaster for some bird species. See this recent article in Nature titled The trouble with turbines: An ill wind:

 “There are species of birds that are getting killed by wind turbines that do not get killed by autos, windows or buildings,” says Shawn Smallwood, an ecologist who has worked extensively in Altamont Pass, California, notorious for its expansive wind farms and raptor deaths. Smallwood has found that Altamont blades slay an average of 65 golden eagles a year. “We could lose eagles in this country if we keep on doing this,” he says.

What About Nuclear?

Because this study was meant to see how much renewable energy could be incorporated it did not assume that any new nuclear power would be built. Interestingly enough the study also shows that about forty years from now existing nuclear power plants that have not reached retirement age would still be contributing more power than photovoltaic or concentrated solar. However, because the study did not account for the building of any new nuclear that would replace coal, coal is also still being used, also producing more power than photovoltaic or concentrated solar. It would have been smarter to replace that coal with nuclear. In their 80% renewable scenario, combined, photovoltaic and concentrated solar make up about 13% of the mix, coal and nuclear combined make up about 17%.

The scenarios described above—the Low-Demand Baseline scenario, the exploratory scenarios, and the six core 80% RE scenarios—were based on the low-demand assumptions, with overall electricity consumption that exhibits little growth from 2010 to 2050. To test the impacts of a higher-demand future, a scenario with the 80%-by-2050 renewable electricity generation but a higher end-use electricity demand was evaluated, with demand in 2050 30% higher than in the low-demand scenarios.

Wait a minute. The population of the United States is expected to grow by 37 percent by 2050. Demand for electricity will only grow 30 percent? Holding electric power growth at 30% would preclude the use of electricity (in place of oil and coal) for things like transportation, heating, industry, again squeezing energy from one end of the balloon to the other. I drive an electric car which increased my electric bill about 30%. The Midwest is experiencing record heat waves. Assuming this is going to be a trend as a result of global warming we may experience higher air conditioning loads. My brother, who lives in the Midwest, expects his electric bill this month to top $300. Do the math.

Interestingly enough, the word nuclear was used just over eighty times in the first volume which is surprising considering that the study was about renewable energy. The study claims that this 80% renewable scenario would cost no more than has been predicted by preceding studies about future use of low carbon energy sources …which include nuclear:

 These studies generally considered a portfolio of clean generation technology options, including renewable, nuclear, and low emissions fossil. The estimated incremental price impacts of the core 80% RE scenarios are comparable to these estimates.

But the next quote demonstrates a bias against nuclear:

 The future cost of nuclear power plants as well as power plants using CCS is particularly uncertain.

As if the future cost of renewables is not uncertain? How bizarre to compare an untested hypothesis like coal carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) with nuclear which has a proven track record of producing about 20% of our electricity for about half of a century at very competitive prices. There are also many improved versions of nuclear power in the pipeline that have great potential to reduce its high upfront costs and already unprecedented safety while maintaining its proven long-term cost effectiveness. The future cost is just as likely to go down as up.

As is typical, coal and nuclear are usually mentioned together in the report even though one dumps mountain ecosystems into creek ecosystems and uses the atmosphere as an open sewer, while the other has the same carbon footprint as solar power.

 Achieving 80% renewable electricity would require considerable transmission investment

I strongly suspect that this will prove to be a gross understatement. Cost effectively distributing Southwest sun and Midwest wind to the coasts of the North American continent while integrating it into the grid is not going to be easy or cheap. To get there from here they acknowledge that we will need:

 …increased electric system flexibility, needed to enable electricity supply-demand balance with high levels of renewable generation, can come from a portfolio of supply- and demand-side options, including flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads …

But most of these things would improve the efficiency of conventional power generation as well. Storage will have to increase 400% above their baseline to compensate for wind and solar intermittency. Again, if that assumption turns out to be significantly off, the percentage of renewables takes yet another hit.

The study assumed that nuclear can’t ramp up and down fast enough to compensate for wind and solar. In reality, there is no reason energy from a nuclear plant can’t be stored in a similar manner to wind and solar energy for rapid release when needed when the wind stops or clouds arrive. Energy storage is rarely done today because it is expensive, regardless of whether it comes from wind, solar, or nuclear. If new technology arrives in the future to make storage cheaper, it will enhance nuclear’s cost effectiveness to vary power output as well as other energy sources.

The next time you hear a commenter claim that all of our energy must eventually be renewable because we will eventually run out of fossil fuels and uranium ore, point back to this article and explain that it can’t all be renewable, nor does it have to be. What it has to be is affordable, with enough reserves to last long enough for humanity to find a replacement, oh, and relatively environmentally benign. New hydro (which doesn’t even fit my definition of renewable) and biomass are worse than most fossil fuels when it comes to ecosystem impact.

If it were not for climate change and ocean acidification, fossil fuels would fit that bill. That leaves only three energy sources on the table: wind, solar, and nuclear (baseload, load following, and peaking versions–with storage and air cooled options available at extra cost).

  1. By GreenEngineer on July 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    There is something that is missing from all of these studies done by acronym-bearing institutions.  They project future energy use based on past use, and fail to critically examine the assumption that our energy use can and will continue to grow.

    You are correct that the real issue is not the quantity of energy, but the price of that energy, which is to say, approximately, the EROEI of the energy source.  The essential input to our current system is cheap energy.  But after 10 years in the energy business, I’m convinced that the thing you are looking for, a resource that is  affordable, with enough reserves to last long enough for humanity to find a replacement, oh, and relatively environmentally benign does not exist relative to our current level of energy use.

    Consider: A fit human being has a maximum productive energy output of about 100 watts.  Such a person working for 10 hours provide 1000 watt-hours of energy, which is to say, 1 kWh.  In other words, by working quite literally like a slave, a person can produce about 1kWh per day.  For this we pay $0.05 to $0.25 in most parts of this country.  Granted, that’s provided as electrical, not mechanical energy but my point is to illustrate the enormous gap between the energy intensity that was historically possible, and the energy intensity that we take for granted now.  The extreme cheapness that makes this energy intensity possible is a product of the fact that we are using up a one-time endowment of fossilized sunlight.  It is not something that can be duplicated with a renewable source.

    Nor is it something that we can continue to obtain from fossil fuels for very much longer, even if we don’t care about climate change or ecosystem health.  The cheapest of fuels, coal, comes with a set of fairly immediate externalized costs – if we pursue a coal-based energy system, those externalized costs will accumulate quickly enough to drag us down in fairly short order (though e.g. medical expenses).  The current, temporary glut of cheap natural gas notwithstanding, other fossil fuels will not fill this need either.  There may be “plenty” of oil at $100/bbl, but that abundance will not be sustained at a lower price point – again, a function of declining EROEI.

    What we need to be talking about is first, how to dramatically reduce our energy use, and then secondly, how to provide benign energy at that reduced level of consumption. The good news is, there’s lot of options to do that.  If you look at LLNL’s energy flow maps (e.g., more than half our primary energy goes to powerplant thermal inefficiency.   That energy represents either an enormous untapped resource (cogeneration) or something we can simply avoid using in the first place (PV is not subject to Carnot).

    Even better, much of the energy that is shown as productive in that flow diagram is actually wasted as well.  All the energy used for building HVAC, for example, is treated as productive use.  But in fact, even modern buildings use 2-4 times as much energy for HVAC as they should, largely because the industries that design and maintain buildings are low-margin businesses that largely do not attract or reward high quality engineers or innovative thinking.

    This potential for dramatically used energy use is not anywhere close to being realized, in no small part because of the myopic and largely unquestioned assumption that we can and should try to continue our energy use patterns with either more fossil fuels or with renewables.  That’s not going to happen, and until we accept and embrace that reality, we’re going to continue to shoot ourselves in the foot trying to do the impossible.

    • By GreenEngineer on July 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      That should be “The potential for dramatically reduced energy use” 

    • By tennie davis on July 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      GE, I don’t mean to nitpick, but I thought a human doing heavy work generated about 2400 btu/700 watts. Someone sleeping is about 250 btu/75 watt

      I must say though, I’ve had people work for me, and I swear some of them only put out 100 watts of productivity, so maybe that’s where the confusion lies.

      I totaly agree that buildings can use way less energy, than most do. I think by 2050 ground source heating and cooling  will be commenly used, in conjunction with low voltage DC compressors.

      • By GreenEngineer on July 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm

        The numbers you cite are their total heat generation.  Their actual useful work potential is much lower.  If the system in question is a bicycle, then 100 watts would be the shaft power output, and 700 watts would be the total heat load that your airconditioner would have to remove from the room.

        To be clear, work output can be higher, even on a sustained basis.  Lance Armstrong can supposedly sustain 500 watts on his bike (but I’m not sure for how long; even he could probably not do that for 10 hours).


        Regarding buildings: There is far too much emphasis on technology, and far too little on good design and careful engineering.  In my climate (California) the marginal energy savings for a GSHP takes about 25 years to pay off vs. a water-cooled chiller/boiler arrangement.  They are more appropriate systems for a harsher climate, and are valuable in that context.  But my point is that no technology is really going to help make up for the shortfalls endemic to the design process.

    • By Russ Finley on July 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Really good points. I once modified a similar chart to make a point about nuclear:

      Electrification Nation

      But reducing waste can increase costs until there is a point of diminishing returns. For example, the solar panels on a roof can be viewed as components of your electric appliances, greatly increasing their efficiency …but at what cost? You are right that it comes down to cost, but so does efficiency. We are loathe to spend money up front to save money in the long run because that always entails the risk that you won’t get your investment back.

      Your point is valid though. We should spend just as much to improve efficiency as we spend on our energy sources.


      • By GreenEngineer on July 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

        Understand, though, that any cost effectiveness discussion presupposes a certain cost of energy.  If, as I assert, the price paid for energy is well below its true cost, and its true cost is inexorably rising, it puts a lot of the arguments about efficiency in a different light.


        We are loathe to spend money up front to save money in the long run because that always entails the risk that you won’t get your investment back.

        I think that is what a lot of people tell themselves, but the reality is that efficiency measures which are grounded in good design (rather than in the latest gee-whiz technology) are generally very low-risk investments.  Most new building designs are no where near the true point of diminishing returns as far as opportunities to be more efficient.  The problem is, I think, a combination of owner ignorance and building-industry market forces, within the overarching paradigm of the time-value of money (which is really just impatience, quantified).  As Amory Lovins says, at a 10% discount rate, nothing is worth anything for very long and no one should bother having children.

  2. By Hybrid on July 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I don’t know what the problem with renewables is. Concentrating Solar Power with Thermal Energy Storage, running off a dry-cooled system. (Zero water use, apart from mirror cleaning).

    End of story.

  3. By on July 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    To Hybrid,

    It takes, roughly 4 acres per megawatt(based on eSolar plant in Pasadena) times 8 hours a day equals 8MW*hr/day times 365 days = 2920MW*hr/year

    3,741,000,000 MW*hr/yr USA usage(2009) /2920 = 1281164*4acres =5,124,657 acres needed

    5,124,657 acres equals 8,007 square miles.  This is assuming, unrealistically, that the mirros are all placed side by side with no space.  In realy there is at least a 1 to 1 ratio of mirror to free space.  So you need to double the amount to over 16,000 square milesYou would have to cover an area literally almost double size of New Jersey with mirrors.  

    The above also assumes that the power will be provided countrywide with no associated power loss so add another 9% for system losses.  There also needs to be at least a 20% redundancy capacity (some may argue more , some may argue less) to cover less than optimal days, system maintenance, etc.

    Also, mirror cleaning is a big issue with these systems.  Dust makes a major impact on the overall efficiency.  How much water does it take to clean over 8007 square miles of mirrors on a weekly basis?  No idea, but I’ll make a guess not a small amount.  Maybe there might be a better way such as mechanical dusters, static fields, etc?

    Just pointing out that solar and wind are low density energy supplies that take much, much more area and resources than people give them credit for.



  4. By notKit P on July 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    With 40 years in the power industry, I can assure people that providing the energy civilization needs until our son burns out is not a problem. All the predictions about renewable energy have been wrong from those who do not like how we make electricity with steam heated with fission of fossil fuel.


    Use as much electricity as you need.


    “What we need to be talking about is first, how to dramatically reduce our energy use, ”


    Greenengineer feel free to use less but my goal would be to provide electricity to all on this planet that want it. Look at statistics for dysentery and cholera for third world countries. Producing power is a public service just as utilities that provide safe drinking water and treat sewage. It is not very glamorous work but we take the responsibility seriously.


    “PV is not subject to Carnot ”


    Really! The Carnot cycle is not subject cold winters nights. I have never been impressed with those who claim they make a small amount of electricity on a nice day. I have been a test director to test the ability of a 1200+ MWe nuke when it was 40 F below and a 900+ MWe nuke when it was 117 F.


    “The essential input to our current system is cheap energy. ”


    That is a problem? To produce significant amounts of power in the US require a EIS. The environmental impact of so called ‘clean’ sources is not better than coal. Expensive is not better. That is the fallacy of blaming the limitations of renewable energy on cost.

    • By GreenEngineer on July 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      I must say, your clear command of the English language does great credit to your stated positions.

      • By Robert Rapier on July 13, 2012 at 1:36 pm

        I am just worried about his son burning out.

  5. By Renewable Guy on July 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    This is a very shortened version of a plan if carried out shows that it would only take back up power 6% of the time. WIth experience and commitment to the  different electricity sources and load management. This can be done, but the system has to open up to change for greater efficiencies.



    The conclusion, to summarize, is that a high-penetration solar and wind utility

    system is possible, that it requires supplementation of about 6% of electricity demand,

    from sources now used for peaking purposes. A corollary observation is that the concept

    of baseload generation is more or less irrelevant to its successful operation of such a


    The conclusion, to summarize, is that a high-penetration solar and wind utility

    system is possible, that it requires supplementation of about 6% of electricity demand,

    from sources now used for peaking purposes. A corollary observation is that the concept

    of baseload generation is more or less irrelevant to its successful operation of such a


  6. By Ags Solar on July 13, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Great article and comments thanks for sharing

  7. By M. Straub on July 13, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I’d also argue the studies cannot take into account potential innovations, and new ideas for energy generation that will come along in the future.  Nearly every month there is another potentially earth-shaking idea that will provide reliable power in a way we aren’t currently using.  So often these new ideas do go back to capturing the energy created in the sun.  Take Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) for example.  It creates an endless flow of power from the temperature difference in warm surface water and cold deep water.  OTEC was proven possible decades ago, but is only recently entering into the commercial power production world.  However, it’s a reliable, affordable power source with the potential to dramatically improve the lives of millions around the world.  By 2050 it could be a major players, and has no place in today’s studies.  These are the kinds of ideas that give me hope for what the world will look like in about 40 years, and beyond.

    Lots more on the power of OTEC and how it works at The On Project.


    • By GreenEngineer on July 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      OTEC is also a very high-investment, low output power generation system.  This is inherent in the relatively low delta-T which is available – you have to move a hell of a lot of water to get a reasonable amount of energy out.

      There are no technological silver bullets.  New tech may make the transition easier, but it will never make it EASY.  Easy was living off fossilized sunlight, but we’re about at the end of that road.  What we need now is much better design practices, and an alignment between the price of energy and the cost of energy.  

  8. By mac on July 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Certainly, Solar Thermal has some water issues (versus solar PV)
    And then we have nuclear that makes steam  (from water)

    No water issues for nuclear though……………..

    Well,    Uh….. err…..Duh….  Wait a minute !!!!

    • By tennie davis on July 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      Mac, although it’s possible for a shortage of fresh water to occur in some places, (Ogallala aquifer), it is by no means rare.

      The average price of water in the US is about $1.50 per 1000 gallons, less than a penny a gallon that’s dirt cheap, there are no “water issues”.

      Have you ever wondered why there is just as much water now as there was a million years ago, or why there will be just as much a million  years from now?

      Rain is free and distilled water by it’s nature is clean.

    • By Renewable Guy on July 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm

      Nuclear does have thermal water issues as does all steam driven turbines. They need water to cool them and are limited to how much they can raise the water temperature of the rivers or lakes they are taking it from. During drought in the south the nuclear power plants had to cut back when they were needed the most. The river was low and warmer already from the drought.

  9. By mac on July 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Nuclear fission makes heat that boils water to use in old Rankine cycle steam apparatus. 

    How profound can we get ?

  10. By mac on July 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    When you talk about converting solar photons directly into usable, consumable electrons, then you are talking about something that is profound…… profoundly simple and amazing and useful at the same time.  And the physics is amazing.

    You are talking about solar PV ….. not nuclear.

  11. By mac on July 14, 2012 at 2:37 am

    To Tennie Davis.


    One of the problems has been that the underground aquifers naturally replenish more slowly than we are drawing water out of them.  This is what happened to the the so-called “inexhaustible” geothermal resource at the Geysers in California.  Because of losses from evaporation in the cooling towers, the underground resource diminished and waste water from nearby Santa Rosa had to be piped in to re-inject into the wells because of shortfalls in the natural aquifer.

    Russ makes a good point in mentioning that dams eventually silt up and geothermal wells can run out of water. 

  12. By mac on July 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    To Renewable Guy.

    True enough…… 

    Much of  the water used in nuclear plants is re-condensed and re-introduced into the environment (lakes, streams, underground aquifers, etc.) at elevated temperatures.  This tends to screw up the wildlife. 


    And then there are those plumes coming off nuclear cooling towers ???

    Not to worry,  they are just water vapor.

    Yup, nuclear really does use water.

  13. By mac on July 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Monbiot’s nuclear opinion will become a useless artifact in the nuclear versus solar conversation.


    If you actually take the time to investigate this,  you will see that solar wins hands down.

  14. By Green Steve on July 26, 2012 at 5:57 am

    I think solar will provide much more than that projection owing to the fact that, when people freak out and decide to start producing energy for themselves en masse, rather than depending solely on the grid, solar will be where they turn, not nuclear.

    • By Russ Finley on July 27, 2012 at 12:41 am

       rather than depending solely on the grid, solar will be where they turn, not nuclear.

      Solar panels are worthless unless connected to the grid. The vast majority of the power consumption in a home will occur at a time when the panels are producing little to no power, and most of the power they produce at peak output would be wasted if not sent to a grid because a house can’t use it all at that time.

      A grid consisting of only solar is also next to worthless.

      In any case, your argument is with the NREL. I just highlighted some aspects of the report missing from the report’s summary.


      • By notKit P on July 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

        Many solar advocates are not so much for solar as against nuclear or coal-based generation.


        If you look at LCA, manufacturing of solar is a very ugly process that requires an industrial system with base load power that can not be supplied by solar or wind.


        The benefit of solar is when the equipment is utilized to produce the most power. Utility-scale systems make a lot more sense than politically motivated systems with low capacity factors relative to the capacity factor of utility-scale systems.


        The bottom line is that even if you put PV on your roof 90% of the time you are still depending on your utility.

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