Renewable energy can fail even when it succeeds, and that troubling, seemingly paradoxical fact has prompted the New York Times to do something that must’ve been quite painful: publish a piece critical of wind and solar power, the clean energy darlings. The NYT reports:
Hoping to slow the burst of new renewable energy on its grid, [Germany] eliminated an open-ended subsidy for solar and wind power and put a ceiling on additional renewable capacity…Renewables have hit a snag beyond Germany, too. Renewable sources are producing temporary power gluts from Australia to California, driving out other energy sources that are still necessary to maintain a stable supply of power.
In Southern Australia, where wind supplies more than a quarter of the region’s power, the spiking prices of electricity when the wind wasn’t blowing full-bore pushed the state government to ask the power company Engie to switch back on a gas-fired plant that had been shut down.
But in what may be the most worrisome development in the combat against climate change, renewables are helping to push nuclear power, the main source of zero-carbon electricity in the United States, into bankruptcy.
None of these charges being levied against renewables are new. We’ve long known of the difficulties associated with the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy—that they can’t contribute during windless or cloudy days, or that they can on especially windy or sunny days contribute so much as to threaten grid stability with power surges. And here at The American Interest, we’ve closely followed the lamentable closures of zero-emissions nuclear power plants in Germany in favor of less reliable renewables and coal-fired power plants. Unlike nuclear power, renewables simply can’t be counted upon as consistent suppliers, and that produces a host of problems for producers, consumers, and grid operators alike.
Moreover, these problems grow in magnitude the larger the market share of wind and solar power. Day-to-day renewable power supply variability is a nuisance when wind and solar comprise just a couple percentage points of a national energy mix, but when they start pushing the levels like we’re seeing in Germany, intermittency can become an international problem as neighboring grids feel the ripple effects of a poorly thought-through “green” energy strategy.
It’s a good sign that the Grey Lady is acknowledging these issues, because the sooner we dispense with the facile notion that renewables are somehow an unalloyed environmental good, the sooner we can look at better options, like cost-effective and relatively clean burning natural gas or the world’s real clean energy workhorses, nuclear power plants.