Wednesday, March 22, 2023

CFACT says Net Zero is impossible? Debunked.

I've been arguing again at WUWT. This time is is an article by David Wojick, of CFACT, titled A Simple Reason Why Net Zero Is Impossible. It has an associated report, which in turn is based on a report by Ken Gregory, of Friends of Science. This also has an ancestor, but that is probably far enough back. Wojick describes Gregory's report as "breakthru", so between them they will probably get a lot of circulation.
The basic claim is that if you replaced the total USA48 power generated in 2019 by a scaled up version of the 10% of that which was wind and solar (W&S)), then you would need 250 TWh of storage to make it work, and this is impossible.
It is of course wrong. To explain qualitatively, an issue with both fossil fuel (FF) generation and W&S is that demand varies throughout the year. It is possible to generate just the average required, and use storage to meet the peak. But traditionally, this is of course never done. Enough generation is always provided to meet the peak, so that some is idled at other times. And you would do the same with W&S, with a subtle difference that there is no need to idle outside the peak, since no fuel is required.
What these reports do is to wrongly underestimate the amount of W&S required, so it is not meeting the peak, and so is using storage to cover the annual variation. That accounts for the huge storage estimates. The reason is that they scale up W&S so the average matches the FF average, although I think even then they underscale. But it is the wrong thing to do, because the FF profile was sculpted to match the peaks, by idling at other times. The 10% W&S profile did not have that requirement, and so if you scale it by average, it won't match the peaks.

Quantitative scaling

Ken Gregory has an extensive spreadsheet here which has the basic data I used. It has hourly generation figures of each source for 2019, and also other years, but I'll stick to 2019. Ken calculated a "target" T, which was total generation excluding nuclear and hydro. I'm not sure why the exclusion, but I'll do that too (it isn't much). Then he looked at the difference between this T, and W&S multiplied by a scale factor. I will call the factor H, and the product HW. He used values about H=7. He accumulated the difference HW-T, which became the storage S. He showed that if S has to be positive through the year, then it could rise as high as 250 TWh.
I use a slightly different, and more realistic approach to storage. I specify a maximum storage Sm. Then at each hourly step, the difference HW-T (which might be negative) is added to S only to the extent that Sm is not exceeded. In fact, I set Sm=0, because you can add a constant without changing anything. Then the storage required is the minimum (negative) value reached during the year. Of course, this is the bare minimum for just getting through 2019; a reserve will have to be added to H to allow for less favorable years.
So I did that using various factors H. In fact H=10 is what would scale up W&S to match total demand for 2019. I got the following values for minimum storage required:
HMin storage needed TWh

It is close to exponential decrease. And in my reckoning, H=15 is closest to matching the existing FF build, and 2.4 TWh is not an impossible amount of storage. But building a bit more W&S reduces this a lot further.
Here is a graph of the various cumulative storages. The x-axis is in hours of the year 2019. You can see that at H=7.3 the storage does have to make up for a big change in annual demand, while at H=10, is is only needed to cover the short term changes, since there is enough generation to cover the peak.

I'll show the same on a log scale, same colors. It distorts the annual cycle, but gives a better picture of the higher H storage behaviour.


Ken Gregory, amplified by David Wojick, claim that a simulation of 2019 electricity generation for USA48 with wind and solar only shows a requirement for very large storage (250 TWh). But as siimilarly simulated here, that is because they provided too little W&S, thus requiring storage to cover the annual demand cycle. Doubling the provision reduces storage to 2.5 TWh, with further exponential decrease.
The R code and data used are in a zipfile here

Update - I've added an XL file and a readme.txt to the zipfile.


  1. Nick: Numerous sources agree that 100% renewable electricity that is 99+% reliable will require building generation capacity that is roughly three-fold greater than needed to meet average demand with average output PLUS some storage capacity PLUS a large increase transmission capacity (5?-fold today's). In other words, two-thirds of the electricity that could be generated nearly for free from wind and solar capacity will be wasted, roughly tripling today's levelized cost of generation.

    I first came across this conclusion at ScienceofDoom which discussed this paper by Budischak for a single US distribution area. Other papers since reach the same conclusion.

    Princeton's Net-Zero American plan has a 100% renewable option (E+ RE+) that calls for generation capacity that is 5-fold bigger than today (See page 90). 4.5-X more transmission capacity (page 168) Land Use: Total area spanned by onshore wind and solar farms is ~590,000 sq-km, an area roughly equal to the size of IL, IN, OH, KY, TN, MA, CT and RI put together. (p 172)

    I don't need dubious Info from the Friends of Science. Just read the realistic advocates of 100% renewable. They had an option with lots of nuclear power.

  2. The issue is that the future is royally screwed. Crude oil is a result of many millennia of concentrated solar energy creating a high density and efficient energy source. That's all going bye-bye, even according to the professional petroleum engineers Real-time solar energy does not have the benefit of millions of years of charging. As for wind, can you imagine wind pushing a plane through the air or a propelling a packed freeway full of cars? Batteries may take up some slack but entropy eventually breaks the storage media down so it needs to be reconstituted. Nuclear? We need to kick all Republicans and conservatives out of office cuz they can't govern, as nuclear power will need all the regulation, insurance, oversight, and long-term investment in storage and maintenance that Democrats and progressives excel at. Welcome to the age of limitations,

    1. pp: Sure, its all going away, but when. Peak oil has been in the newsier several decades. Same for natural gas. That was dramatically changed by fracking. There is an enormous amount of coal (and probably oil sands), which most observers now don't assume will be burned in 8.5 emission scenario, but will be utilized in an age of limitations. Coal can be converted into liquid products like gasoline for something like $100.

      And if the Democrats say "welcome to the age of limitations", they will be booted from office.

    2. A USA centric perspective -- The Bakken shale oil formation is already shot after just a few years. That's fracking for you, as in the Red Queen effect, the faster you deplete the faster you need new wells. Re: "booted from office", now you understand why climate change is the smokescreen for the actual existential crisis the world faces. People think that climate change can be addressed, but they will start burning down cities when faced with actual oil shortages.

    3. Good JPT article (I lost my sub when I resigned SPE), but you can reach the same conclusions from business articles about the Permian - as well as from the article you later reference. When the best run outfit in the juiciest CONUS oil play, the Permian - Pioneer Natural Resources - is on track to lose YOY SEC PDP oil and oil associated gas reserves, - for many non 46 DS reasons - we are indeed trans Peak. Not only here, but in the CONUS in toto. Yes, it's been envisioned before, but we're out of tech tricks and we've hollowed out the oilfield service sector. I.e., the 2 processes that put off Peak Oil before. And since the only lands that are more prospective are either in open conflict and/or are run by auto/kleptocrats, we might/should be considering some changes....

  3. I don’t think Gregory or your analysis adequately address my renewable resource adequacy concerns. The first issue is that a reliable electric grid provides adequate power when it is needed the most so renewable resource projections have to address the peak requirements. The ultimate problem stems from the fact that wind and solar generating resources are strongly correlated over huge areas. The particular challenge is that the times when it is hottest and coldest causing peak loads are invariably times when the correlations are the highest. Overbuilding wind and solar to address the peaks and adding energy storage becomes exorbitantly expensive so the projections for the future net-zero energy system of New York call for a new dispatchable and emissions free resource. The proposed place holder is green hydrogen production and storage for the worst-case renewable availability and peak load periods. I am not optimistic that it will work.

    1. Roger,
      The analysis is hourly in time, but does assume that the electricity can be transmitted as required. But the grid will get better over that time.

      I would have thought the saviour of the NY requirement is Quebec Hydro. They will get smart about selling when the price is high, which makes them just the sort of battery NY needs.