Beware of Dunkelflautes

A couple of right-thinking blokes, Douglas Pollock and Bill Ponton, have gone to some lengths to show the limitations of wind power using arithmetic and algebra. Though, to be fair, Ponton’s exercise is also founded on empiricism using the experience of wind power in the U.K. Personally, I find my arithmetic and algebra easy to understand but other people’s extremely difficult and extremely tedious. Unless I’ve slept particularly well the night before, I am prone to nodding off. A point which is not made entirely idly, as I will explain.

Pollock's analysis, which I covered here in The Pipeline, purports to demonstrate that wind turbines cannot deliver a greater percentage of the power required by a grid than is their ratio of average output to plated capacity. Thus, if turbines on average produce 30 percent of their plated capacity (a good approximation to experience) then they will only be able to provide 30 percent of electricity required by the grid. Clearly this is wrong and takes no account of overbuilding. Nevertheless, it does point to the need for expensive overbuilding. And considerable overbuilding to get the percentage up. Over to Ponton.

Ponton’s analysis (“The Cost of Increasing Wind Power Capacity: A Reality Check”) is far more sophisticated than is Pollock’s. He models the successive doubling of wind power capacity in the U.K.; finding that the incremental increase in electricity generated progressively falls. And towards a limit of providing at most 53 percent of the grid’s needs. It also gets very costly to get anywhere near that, as he shows.

Out of gas.

Are the analyses of Pollock and Ponton useful? Yes and no. Yes, they underscore the limitations of wind power. On the other hand, assumptions plague them both. Pollock abstracts from the possibility of overbuilding turbines. Ponton assumes that gas peaking must operate for a minimum period of time, thus reducing the power outflow from wind. Why he makes this crucial modelling assumption he simply doesn’t make clear. Which brings me to the general question of clarity.

Both analyses are hard to grasp. Hence my reference to induced slumber. They are opaque. Opaqueness is a real problem when you’re competing against a regime that deals in misdirection. Misdirection is its forte.

Claims that renewable energy is the cheapest source of power, might shame Tokyo Rose or Lord Haw-Haw. How about announcements of the installation of a similar megawatt-hour battery as the coal power station being closed down. One lasts an hour; the other operates continuously. They are not nearly the same. But they’re made to sound the same. Grid scale battery storage is perhaps the biggest con since Charles Ponzi entrapped gullible investors. And then there’s the electrification of everything and net-zero. Bigger illusions than anything Harry Houdini could have ever devised.

You can’t compete with this labyrinth of deceit by putting up opaque models. You’ll be ignored and brushed aside by the climate cultists. And you will confuse and confound the populace. It must be kept simple, stupid. My forte.

One simple approach covered here and elsewhere by my friend Rafe Champion, consists of three interrelated self-evidently true propositions. The first is that a modern economy needs an adequate level of continuous power. The second is that wind and solar provide only intermittent power. The third follows from the first two. Storage is required to bridge gaps when wind and solar are providing insufficient and, at times, little or no power at all. Pumped-hydro storage is hard to find and extremely costly to build. Batteries simply can’t bridge gaps beyond a short time.

There’s debate about their frequency and extent, but dunkelflautes most certainly happen and most everywhere. No wind to speak of and dark skies. Take the state of New South Wales (NSW) where I live. According to the Australian Energy Regulator, it consumed 67.5 terawatt hours of power in 2021-22. That comes down to 7,700 megawatts per hour.

The biggest battery in the southern hemisphere is the so-called “big battery” in the Australian state of Victoria. It cost A$160 million and has a capacity of 450 MW hours of storage. Let us suppose a dunkelflaute brownout of a mere 8 hours in NSW. Needed is 8 times 7,700 MWh to provide sufficient power. This equals 53,900 MWh. Or, 120 big batteries at a cost of around A$19 billion. It’s a joke of course.

In theory, it should work...

To go back to the three propositions. They are simple and straightforward and unchallengeable. The man and woman in the street can understand them. Nothing about them is contentious. They are even accepted by those wedded to renewable energy.

Of course there is debate about the potential mitigation of shifting power from one place where its windy to another where it’s not, and about the likelihood of extensive and long-lasting wind droughts. Nevertheless, no one can dismiss the possibility of widespread dunkelflautes occurring. That’s why the Australian government, for example, is sinking billions into a forlorn effort to build the pumped-hydro project Snow 2.0; and is torn asunder by a coincident hatred of “polluting” natural gas while acknowledging its essential role in firming renewable energy. Cognitive dissonance in full display, courtesy of dunkelflautes.

Let’s not be convoluted or algebraic. Let’s be simple. We need power every minute of every day. The sun and wind can’t deliver that. Sometimes they deliver nothing at all. How are we going to bridge the gap? And, how impossibly much will it cost? Aye, there's the rub, as usual.

Canada's New Battery Boondoggle: It Ain't Peanuts

Things have been rough in St. Thomas, Ontario for more than a decade now. Two of the area's major employers -- Ford's St. Thomas Assembly plant and a Sterling Trucks factory -- shutdown for good in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, putting more than a thousand people out of work. And their famous Jumbo the Elephant statue, which commemorates the circus elephant who was struck by a train and killed in the city in 1885, doesn't attract as much business as you might think.

But that's all about to change, says Justin Trudeau. Canada's prime minister has proudly announced that Volkswagen has selected St. Thomas as the site of its brand new “gigafactory,” which will manufacture one million E.V. batteries a year once it's fully operational, and bring “up to 3,000 direct jobs and up to 30,000 indirect jobs” to the area. Speaking at the announcement, Trudeau's Industry Minister, François-Philippe Champagne said,

[This] is a true testament to our highly skilled workforce and Canada’s strong and growing battery ecosystem. Volkswagen’s decision to establish its first overseas gigafactory in Canada speaks to our country’s competitiveness when it comes to attracting major investments. It is also a vote of confidence in Canada as the green supplier of choice to the world.

Which must sound great to a lot of Canadians. But when they look at the details, they might begin to wonder if perhaps Trudeau is selling them a lemon. Or, more accurately, if Volkswagen has sold Trudeau a lemon and he's used their money to pay it off.

It's that simple!

The first tip-off is in the claim that this will bring in "up to 3,000" jobs. As John Robson points out, "the “up to” is a giveaway that these numbers are fantasy." But even if they end up being accurate, they wouldn't be all that impressive considering the price tag. The Trudeau Government is "subsidizing" (that is, bribing) Volkswagen to the tune of $13.8 billion to bring this plant to town. That's a whole lot of loonies! Blacklock's Reporter website comments this "giveaway is nearly triple the average annual cost of all federal aid for all corporations nationwide." And Robson again: "At $13 billion, how much did each [job] cost? A mere $4.3 million per. We’d have saved money by picking 3,000 random Canadians and giving them a million each to stay home."

The Trudeau government has defended the massive outlay, saying that Canada is competing with Joe Biden's America, which allocated hundreds of billions of dollars towards so-called "green energy" projects in the deceptively named Inflation Reduction Act. Indeed, the contract is reportedly written in such a way that leaves Canada on the hook only as long as the I.R.A. remains in force south of the border. So conservatives can dream of a world in which Republicans repeal the act to the benefit of both Canadian and American finances. Extremely unlikely, but theoretically possible.

Of course, their other defense is that this is good for St. Thomas, and its environs. Trudeau & Co claim to have single-handedly brought back those jobs which disappeared after 2008, and then some! Except, this presumes that the bill for that $13 billion will never come due. In reality, St. Thomas is filled with taxpayers, who will have to shoulder the tax burden for this deal alongside their fellow Canadians. They're already paying inflated prices on goods and services due to the Trudeau government's ever-increasing carbon tax, and this type of unprecedented government outlay will have the same effect. For the same reasons, the cost of doing business has been going up in Ontario, and any business that might have grown up organically in St. Thomas -- that is, without being artificially nourished with piles of cash -- will now have a harder time of it, if it gets off the ground at all.

The dream never dies, it just runs out of gas.

Moreover, what happens if, as seems likely, Electric Vehicle numbers don't end up being the sure thing that conventional wisdom seems to think? After all, barely 40 percent of Americans say they'll even consider an E.V. for their next car, a number that's unlikely to go down much in the near term considering that many electric vehicles will soon no longer be eligible for the federal government's $7,500 tax credit. (Funny how governments have to pay companies to build these cars and they have to pay consumers to buy them.) And even the Biden administration's own optimistic projections for E.V. numbers over the next several years don't add up.

If the E.V. industry, which has spent its entire existence coasting on government money, massively under performs, does Volkswagen continue to employ 3,000 Ontarians in St. Thomas? Or does it eventually follow Ford out of town? We all know the answer to that.

The Lefties Doth Protest Too Much

Australia takes a giant stride to save the planet from a fossil-fueled fiery end. The April 28 closure of the Liddell coal power plant in the state of New South Wales (NSW) by Origin Energy brings the amount of coal power taken out of the national electricity market to over 7 gigawatts (≈25 percent) since early 2012. And, we Aussies can say, proudly, not without considerable risk to ourselves. Though those in charge, in whose hands rests our earthly comforts, are forever reassuring us that the power supply is not at risk.

Are they protesting too much? We shall see as the great energy replacement unfolds in the weeks, months and years ahead. Bear in mind that the pumped hydro project Snowy 2.0 and the Kurri Kurri gas plant (which I describe here and here in a past pieces) were supposed to have been completed in good time to compensate for the closure of Liddell. And when will they actually be completed? Who knows? Mañana.

Origin Energy also owns Eraring in NSW, the biggest coal power plant in Australia, supplying close to 2.9 gigawatts of power at full capacity. It was due for early closure in August 2025. Now, as a result of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) warning of potential blackouts ahead, euphemistically described as “reliability gaps,” its closure is bound to be delayed.

The shape of things to come.

Chris Minns, new Labor premier of NSW, would prefer to avoid blackouts in his first term. And Brookfield Corporation, the prospective new owner of Origin’s energy business and therefore of Eraring, has responded by indicating its preparedness to consider delaying the closure. Brookfield is in the business of wind energy. A comparison calls:

Let’s compare one coal power station, Eraring, with the grandiose plans of Brookfield to install 14 gigawatts of wind and (grid-scale battery) storage at a cost of $20 billion in the next decade. Leave aside any questioning of the quixotic plan's practicalities, how does one coal power plant stack up against all these planned turbines and batteries? It’s instructive.

Eraring consists of four 720 MW steam driven units for a combined output of 2,880 megawatts. Coal power can operate at a capacity factor of, say, 85 percent for the purpose of the exercise; note, it was 88 percent in Australia in the halcyon, bygone days of 2008. Hence, a well-maintained Eraring can put out 2,448 megawatts of more or less continuous power. I'll assume (we haven’t been told) that Brookfield’s 14 gigawatt project is broken down into 10 gigawatts of wind and 4 gigawatts of battery storage. The exact breakdown is not particularly material.

A favorable capacity factor for wind in Australia is around 35 percent. The average power output of 10 gigawatts of wind is therefore equal to 3,500 megawatts, more than enough to replace Eraring; on average, that is. Then there are four gigawatts (4000 megawatts) of lithium-ion batteries.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “when fully charged, battery units built through 2020 could produce their rated nameplate power capacity for about 3.0 hours on average before recharging.” On that basis, 4000 megawatts of batteries produces 12,000 MWh. However, I have seen estimates of 4.0 hours; giving, in that case, 16,000 MWh. To be fair, I’ll take the more generous estimate. Note, that would be equivalent to running Eraring for 6.5 hours (16,000/2,448) before the batteries run flat. Adequate, it might be wrongly thought. Think correctly. Factor in wind droughts.

Let a million meters bloom.

Friend of mine and wind watcher Rafe Champion extracted data compiled by AEMO, measuring the output from some 70 wind farms and over 2,000 turbines across South Eastern Australia. He took the month of June 2020 as his sample. He found the following:

Low points [when supply was one tenth or less of plated capacity] lasted for 33 hours on the 5th-6th, 18 hours on the 11th, 16 hours on the 17th, 14 hours on the 26th, 11 hours on the 27th and nine hours on the 28th. There were several other lows of shorter duration, giving total of 13 episodes and much of the time during the low spells the supply was well below 10 percent, with lows of 3.4 percent, 1.1 percent and 2.3 percent during the most prolonged wind droughts.

Take the period when for 33 hours wind provided only up to 10 percent of its capacity. At most, that would mean a stream of just 1,000 megawatts coming from Brookfield’s 10 gigawatt turbine extravaganza. That is 1,448 megawatts short of Eraring’s output, which let’s suppose is needed to keep the lights on. How long would the gigantic 16,000 MWh of battery storage last? Just 11 hours (16,000/1,448). Sadly, unless you have a diesel-powered generator at the ready, blackouts for you ensue for 22 hours.

To be clear about what we have here. One single coal power station occupying 0.6 square miles (total project area 3.6 square miles) bests 10,000 megawatts of wind and 4,000 megawatts of storage. That’s two thousand wind turbines, assuming each has capacity of, say, 5 megawatts (well above average), occupying in the order of 1,000 square miles plus batteries of over thirteen times the size of Australia’s biggest battery, the 300 megawatt battery in Victoria. And all costing, so they optimistically say, $20 billion to build. Including high-voltage transmission infrastructure to carry electricity from far-flung wind farms? Hardly. That’s the taxpayers’ job.

Don’t be nervous. She’ll be right, mate. These environmental blokes from the government are bound to know what they’re doing.

Piercing the Electric Car Fantasy

Electric cars are having a big moment right now, with the supercilious wonderboy of the Biden administration Pete Buttigieg proclaiming last week that we could escape the pain at the gas pump if more people could “access” electric cars (EVs). Very telling that he chose to say “access” rather than “afford” electric cars, because without the $7,500 tax credit, very few middle-class people can afford to buy an electric car. And very few middle-class people do: the lion’s share of “clean energy” subsidies are captured by high-income households.

But press beyond the typical economic illiteracy of leftists like Buttigieg who think having the government pay billions in subsidies makes something “cheaper,” and note that electrons aren’t printed out of thin air by the Federal Reserve like our fast-depreciating currency. With electricity rates rising fastest in those places that have overemphasized “renewable” energy such as California or Germany, it's not clear that consumers will save much by driving a more expensive electric car and paying higher utility rates. And that’s if you can still fill it up with electrons whenever you want to. During recent power crunches, which are threatening to become endemic in the U.S. under the current policies of the Biden apparatchiks, grid operators have asked EV owners not to charge their vehicles in the evening, when power demand is highest and the time of day when most working people will want to charge their cars.

The truth hurts.

Right now, electric vehicles make up about 1 percent of America’s car fleet. If they pose challenges for the electric grid already, what will the challenges look like if the EV fleet reaches 50 percent of the auto fleet as Biden proposes? No wonder Elon Musk says we’ll need to expand electric power generation by 30 percent or more to meet the demand of a larger EV fleet on the road. And yet it is supremely uncouth to point out that electrons for EV batteries are generated mostly from fossil fuels right now, and thus EVs may not deliver a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when a proper life-cycle analysis is done.

Economist Mark Perry notes that nearly two-thirds of current U.S. electricity is generated by coal and natural gas, and the figure rises to 86 percent if you include nuclear power, which environmentalists irrationally hate and are trying to eliminate. When you raise this problem, you are met with a hail of green indignation about how we’re starting on an “incredible transition” to a carbon-free energy future (a phrase Biden and energy secretary Jennifer Granholm have both used repeatedly with the unsettling grin of the chiliastic fanatic). “EVs are just an early step toward the carbon-free nirvana, which is just a few hundred thousand more windmills and square miles of solar power away!”

A recent little-noticed report from Volvo punctures this green myth, even though the very green Volvovians try very hard to obscure this conclusion. The report notes what a number of neutral analysts have pointed out for some time now: EVs are more material-intensive than old-fashioned gasoline-powered cars, requiring more steel, aluminum, copper, and other rare earth minerals and specialty products like magnets that must be mined (which environmentalists oppose) and require an energy-intensive process to manufacture into shiny EVs. And that’s before you get to the huge quantity of lithium needed for the batteries.

Where "clean energy" comes from: lithium mining in Zimbabwe.

Thus it is eye-popping when Volvo admits that the carbon footprint for the manufacturing of its C40 Recharge electric car is 70 percent higher than its comparable internal combustion version of the car (the XC40). But not to worry, says Volvo: you’ll make up the higher manufacturing emissions when you drive the emission-free EV far enough.

How far? Kudos to Volvo for calculating that: at the world’s average electricity sourcing today, a C40 driver would need to drive his car 68,000 miles to reach a break-even carbon footprint with a gasoline-powered model. The average American drives about 14,000 miles a year, and thus would need to drive his Volvo EV almost five years before reaching a lower carbon footprint. What if we had a grid that was 100 percent wind- or solar-powered? Volvo calculates that an EV driver would still need to drive 30,000 miles before reaching a carbon-footprint breakeven point with a gasoline car.

It is all a ruse anyway. If electric vehicles drop in price and effectiveness, which may be possible with enough brute-force engineering, you can expect environmentalists to turn against them, by noting the huge environmental footprint to make them and the human-rights problems of child labor in Africa mining all the cobalt EVs need. They did it before with natural gas, which environmentalists embraced back in the aughts (2000-2010) as a “bridge fuel” when they thought they could bash coal with gas, and turned on a dime when natural gas became cheap and plentiful. They’ll do the same with electric cars someday.

Destroying the Environment to Save It?

The American Left is beginning to wake up to a fact that regular Pipeline readers have known for years, namely that environmentalism isn't all that great for the environment. That was my takeaway from this NBC News article entitled, "How the rise of electric cars endangers the ‘last frontier’ of the Philippines." The piece looks at the effects of a rapidly expanding nickel mine in the rainforests of the Philippines, and the damage it's doing to the local environment and way of life of natives:

[Jeminda] Bartolome, 56, lives in one of the most biodiverse places on earth, a stunning island that draws legions of tourists to its crystal blue waters and pristine nature reserves. But these days, her livelihood, and the ancient rainforest system it depends on, are increasingly under threat. A nickel mine stretching nearly 4 square miles scars the forest above Bartolome’s farmland. The mine, Rio Tuba, plays a vital role in satisfying the global demand for a mineral more coveted than ever due in part to the explosion of the electric car industry.

The raw nickel dug out of the ground here ends up in the lithium batteries of plug-in vehicles manufactured by Tesla, Toyota and other automakers... With the demand for nickel skyrocketing, the Rio Tuba mine is now on the brink of expanding deeper into the rainforest, adding almost 10 square miles to its current footprint. Local environmentalists fear that it will wipe out the forest’s fragile ecosystem and increase toxic runoff into the rivers that flow past the farmland down below, jeopardizing the crops.

The Bartolome family's story is heartrending, and the discussion of the chemicals leeching into local waterways is worse still. Testing has shown that levels of the compound hexavalent chromium now exceed W.H.O. recommendations in local drinking water, and 85 percent of  households report "an uptick in coughs and other respiratory issues" -- a common side effect of hexavalent chromium ingestion --"as well as skin lesions."

But what about hexavalent chromium ingestion?

Still, the overall tone of the article is strange. The authors have apparently never considered the potential for environmentalism -- in this case the money, political pressure, and propaganda campaign all put at the service of the Electric Vehicles industry -- to harm rather than save the environment. They clearly assume that their environmentally conscious readers will be similarly surprised.

And they do their best to make the case for the mine, giving rise to some interesting overlap with common defenses of the oil and gas industry. Their mention, for instance, of the local tribal leaders who support the mine's expansion and the economic opportunities it will engender remind us of the members of Canada's Wet’suwet’en nation who objected to environmental activists attempting to shut down the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their behalf for similar reasons.

And they quote a spokesman for the Rio Tuba mine who disputed the studies related to chemicals in the drinking water, while also contending that the mine's unavoidable environmental impact was at the service of technological innovation, and that all "human development has been a series of trade-offs." It is worth noting that, had similar words been uttered by a natural gas spokesman, he would have been mercilessly vilified for the remainder of the article.

These gestures to the mine's defenders amplify the air of desperation in the closing paragraphs of the article, as the authors struggle to justify the destruction they're reporting on. They seem to settle on an unsatisfying and contradictory one offered by Natural Resources professor Gillian Galford, who says “There's no one technology that's going to solve our climate crisis. We have to deploy as many options as we feasibly can," including replacing traditional cars with E.V.s and "conserving our forests," which absorb and store carbon. No word from the professor about what to do in this case, when those two "options" are in conflict.

Science in search of options.

Still, the authors can't help but give the final word to Jeminda Bartolome, "rice farmer and mother of six," who struggles to understand "why companies that make products used by wealthy people thousands of miles away must source materials from her backyard." It's a good question, and one that should trouble the affluent, overwhelmingly white clientele of electric vehicle manufacturers. "Our luxury goods are destroying the environment and a way of life," they might be forced to say to themselves. "Maybe we're the bad guys?"

Unfortunately for Mrs. Bartolome it's more likely that any pang of conscience felt by the Electric-Limousine Lefties who encounter these inconvenient facts will will have evaporated by the time they're ready to buy their next Tesla. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

Electric Vehicle Fires: Nearly Impossible to Extinguish

Here's something you won't hear much about in the mainstream media -- America's firefighters are struggle to develop procedures for dealing with electric vehicles that have crashed and burst into flame. "The problem," explains Jazz Shaw, "is that despite not having a tank full of gasoline, electric cars burn longer and more fiercely than automobiles with internal combustion engines." Why is that?

Damaged banks of lithium-ion batteries contain a lot of residual energy and can keep driving up the temperature (and reigniting everything around them) for many hours. There is currently no official training for how to deal with these fires. Tesla’s own first responder’s guide only advises firefighters to “use lots of water.”

"Lots" seems like an understatement. Shaw reports that back in April it took eight fireman seven hours to get a burning Tesla under control outside of Houston, and they used roughly 28,000 gallons of water to do it, "more than the [entire] department normally uses in an entire month." And that bit about EV batteries "reigniting" is no joke either -- one veteran fireman likened them to a trick birthday candle, the kind that light up again every time they're extinguished.

So, EVs burn like crazy, they require a massive increase in mining for raw materials like lithium and cobalt which are extremely damaging to a variety of ecosystems, and, since they run on electricity which is mostly generated by fossil fuels, they aren't meaningfully reducing carbon emissions anyway.

Why are nations across the world moving towards mandating them again?