Biden’s Power Plans Are Costly—and Harmful – Watts Up With That?

Biden’s Energy Plans Are Expensive—and Dangerous – Watts Up With That?

Reposted by PJ Media


Joe Biden wants the United States' electrical grid to run entirely on energy sources that do not produce carbon dioxide by 2035. In the Unity Task Force plan published by the former Vice President along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), The commitment is that:

Over five years we will install 500 million solar panels, including eight million solar roofs and municipal solar systems, and 60,000 American-made wind turbines.

Overhauling the entire power grid, which some call the largest machine in the world, and converting much of it to wind and solar power is not just a significant task. It's both dangerous and incredibly expensive. The only reason Biden could get away with such an absurd plan is because many people actually believe that wind and solar power are cheaper than fossil fuel production. They conclude that moving to a system powered by wind and solar power will lower consumer costs. Nothing is further from the truth.

Rather than blindly accepting Biden / Sanders' energy fantasy, the public should ask the obvious question: "If wind and sun are so cheap, why do they still need direct and indirect subsidies?"

The fact is, they are not cheap at all when all the costs they put on the electricity grid are taken into account. Let's examine this in more detail.

Wind and solar energy are temporary and unpredictable and must be backed up by existing or new power plants or storage facilities, the performance of which can change quickly to compensate for the fluctuating supplies of wind and solar energy. That usually means natural gas safety stations. Even environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said at the 2010 Colorado Oil and Gas Association annual conference:

With all of these large utility-scale power plants, whether wind or solar, gas is seen by all as an additional fuel. The plants that we build, the wind turbines and the solar plants are (supported by) gas plants.

Other problems include the need for inertia (flywheel effect), which is required to stabilize the system frequency, and voltage support to keep the lights from dimming. Both are supplied by conventional generators, but not wind and solar energy.

For various reasons, 1,000 kilowatts (kW) of wind or solar energy rarely generate more than 800 kW. On average, wind produces around a third of its theoretical energy output (measured in kilowatt hours – kWh) and solar energy less than a sixth. As a result, much more installed capacity and energy storage are required to achieve the performance of a conventional 1,000 kW station. It is the cost of this additional capacity and energy storage that affects the profitability of wind and solar energy.

One way to determine the true cost of wind and solar is to compare the cost of delivering all of the electricity required by a system with no connection to other power systems. Let's consider the cost of delivering all of the electricity required by a power grid with a peak demand of 4,000 megawatts (MW) and an energy demand of 19,000 gigawatt hours (GWh), which is typical of most power systems.

We initially assume that it would take five days of storage to cover a number of cloudy days in winter or five days with little wind. So we need to calculate the costs associated with storage by batteries or by hydro pump storage (where excess energy is used to pump water into a storage tank, which then drains through hydraulic turbines and generates electricity when the primary system doesn't have it has enough electricity to power the grid). It is then discovered that the solar power option would require 16,000 MW of solar capacity + 9,000 MW of battery capacity and the total cost would be US ¢ 38 / kWh. The wind power option would require 7,000 MW wind and 2,250 MW storage capacity to achieve a final cost of 34 ¢ / kWh.

For comparison: the typical North American costs for combined natural gas generation are 5 ¢ / kWh.

The solar option would take up approximately 650 square miles of land and the wind option would take up more than 1,600 square miles. The environmental influences cannot be ignored. In many countries, the pumped storage option is likely to be rejected by environmentalists, and it may not be feasible anyway as there are no locations where two large reservoirs can be placed a short distance apart, several hundred meters apart.

The reality is that Biden's ambitions for large-scale, low-cost solar or wind power may not be able to be achieved by 2035 or even 2050, as a large number of wind turbines and solar parks as well as new transmission capacities would require the very high costs and the associated technical and environmental Problems. Currently, and after spending billions in subsidies, solar and wind power only provide 8% of US electricity.

If governments persist, prices will skyrocket and blackouts will occur regularly. Hospitals, industry and trade would have to install hundreds of diesel generators to keep them running.

The following assumptions are made in order to derive the actual costs for the supply of wind or solar energy with an output of 4,000 MW:

  • A 1,000 watt solar cell has an average output of around 150 W, so 16,000 MW of solar power is required to provide all of the energy required for the 4,000 MW load and to offset the 25% losses in the energy storage system.
  • Since a 1,000 W solar cell rarely produces more than 800 W, the effective maximum output of 16,000 MW solar is 13,000 MW.
  • Since the load of the power grid can only take 4,000 MW, the storage system must be able to take the remaining 9,000 MW.

The storage capacity must be able to provide 264 GWh in winter, when it is expected to be cloudy for five days and the solar output is negligible. At currently USD 200 / kWh, this amounts to over USD 50 billion. For comparison: the world's largest battery in Hornsdale in Australia can store 130 MWh. Two thousand of them would be needed to store the 264,000 MWh needed to reliably supply the 4,000 MW load. This battery capacity corresponds to all batteries in all electric cars in the world.

The conclusion is that approximately 25,000 MW of solar plus storage capacity is required to meet the demand of 4,000 MW! When batteries are used to store five days of storage, the total cost is on the order of $ 70 billion, which explains the very high cost of a reliable supply of solar energy.

Wind power with an average capacity of 35% of the installed capacity is better, but does not lead to a large price reduction, as battery costs dominate.

Solar power with hydropump storage is cheaper – a total cost of 23 ¢ / kWh, but still almost five times the cost in the US for combined natural gas production. However, for the reasons given above, storing hydraulic pumps is impractical in most areas.

From a greenhouse gas perspective, wind and solar power are terribly expensive. Carbon emissions are currently estimated at around $ 30 / tonne, while calculations show that the carbon dioxide avoided by policies focused on wind and solar power would cost more than $ 1,400 per tonne.

When all options are considered, the conclusion is that the best way to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from power generation is to use safe and reliable nuclear power, complemented by a relatively small amount of pumped storage. At least Biden's support for nuclear and hydropower makes sense. However, don't expect anti-nuclear activists on the far left of the Democratic Party to let this happen.

The California power disaster offers a good preview of what America as a whole can expect if Biden achieves his goal of sweeping away fossil-fueled electricity and replacing it with wind and sun. Power outages are now the order of the day in the Golden State, which suffered power outages last summer for the first time in almost 20 years. In fact, California led the nation in this category with 4,297 power outages between 2008 and 2017 (Texas ranked second with 1,603).

Governor Newsom admitted that there wasn't enough wind power to make up for the decline in solar energy due to cloud cover and nightfall. The Los Angeles Times reported:

… Gas-fired power plants, which can ignite when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing, have been shut down in recent years, and California has largely not replaced them …

The result is that California has fallen thousands of megawatts behind its needs.

Joe Biden said in his climate protection plan:

Achieving a 100% clean energy industry is not only an obligation, but also an opportunity. We should fully embrace a clean energy future, not just for all of us today, but also for our children and grandchildren, so that their tomorrow will be healthier, safer and more just.

If Biden actually does what he tells us, life will indeed be bleak for our children and grandchildren. It will be a highly unjust future in which all but the rich lack the energy to be healthy and safe and which simply remains frozen in the dark.

The technical report and data to support our calculations are available on the lead author's website of this article at


Bryan Leyland MSc, DistFEngNZ, FIMechE, FIEE (rtd), MRSNZ, is a power systems engineer with over 60 years of experience in New Zealand and overseas. Tom Harris, M. Eng, is the executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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