Big Fossil Trying to Hold Back Renewable Tide

April 24, 2018


If you saw my cat-scan of an anti-wind fake news release, here – you get it that the fossil industry will go to any lengths to hang on to it’s business for a few more fleeting years, even if it means killing our children’s hopes for a livable planet.

Sad thing is, they are investing in disinformation and lies that are further misinforming a lot of well meaning people, who are so far down the chain that they have no idea who is pulling their strings.
They are going down.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

Not that long ago, calls for a move to wind and solar power were widely perceived as impractical if not hippie-dippy silly. Some of that contempt lingers; my sense is that many politicians and some businesspeople still think of renewable energy as marginal, still imagine that real men burn stuff and serious people focus on good old-fashioned fossil fuels.

But the truth is nearly the opposite, certainly when it comes to electricity generation. Believers in the primacy of fossil fuels, coal in particular, are now technological dead-enders; they, not foolish leftists, are our modern Luddites. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage.


About the technology: As recently as 2010, it still consistently cost more to generate electricity from sun and wind than from fossil fuels. But that gap has already been eliminated, and this is just the beginning. Widespread use of renewable energy is still a new thing, which means that even without major technological breakthroughs we can expect to see big further cost reductions as industries move “down the learning curve” — that is, find better and cheaper ways to operate as they accumulate experience.

Recently David Roberts at offered a very good example: wind turbines. Windmills have been around for more than a thousand years, and they’ve been used to generate electricity since the late 19th century. But making turbines really efficient requires making them very big and tall — tall enough to exploit the faster, steadier winds that blow at higher altitudes.

And that’s what businesses are learning to do, via a series of incremental improvements — better design, better materials, better locations (offshore is where it’s at). So what we’ll be seeing in a few years will be 850-foot turbines that totally outcompete fossil fuels on cost.

To paraphrase the science-fiction writer William Gibson, the renewable energy future is already pretty much here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.

For now, however, the problem isn’t technology — it’s politics.

The fossil fuel sector may represent a technological dead end, but it still has a lot of money and power. Lately it has been putting almost all of that money and power behind Republicans. For example, in the 2016 election cycle the coal mining industry gave 97 percent (!) of its contributions to G.O.P. candidates.

What the industry got in return for that money wasn’t just a president who talks nonsense about bringing back coal jobs and an administration that rejects the science of climate change. It got an Environmental Protection Agency head who’s trying to suppress evidence on the damage pollution causes, and a secretary of energy who tried, unsuccessfully so far, to force natural gas and renewables to subsidize coal and nuclear plants.

In the long run, these tactics probably won’t stop the transition to renewable energy, and even the villains of this story probably realize that. Their goal is, instead, to slow things down, so they can extract as much profit as possible from their existing investments.

Unfortunately, this really is a case of “in the long run we are all dead.” Every year that we delay the clean-energy transition will sicken or kill thousands while increasing the risk of climate catastrophe.


Solar and wind power was responsible for a remarkable 98 percent of all new U.S. power generation capacity that came online in the first two months of 2018.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) latest “Energy Infrastructure Update,” the overwhelming majority of new power plants set up in January and February were renewable energy projects.

As FERC reports, during these two months, 1,568 Megawatts of wind and 565 MW of solar power capacity were put into service — along with just 40 MW of natural gas.

New U.S. generation capacity added in January, February. CREDIT: Renewables Now, FERC

While President Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have been promoting policies that favor fossil fuel generation over renewables, FERC reports that most of the big new renewable energy projects came online in states that voted for Trump.

These projects include the 170 MW Beaver Creek Wind Project in Iowa, the 168 MW Prairie Wind Project, also in Iowa, and the 81 MW Stuttgart Solar Project in Arkansas.

The stunning and ongoing price drops in solar and wind have shifted the economics  of new generation away from fossil fuels.


Dave Roberts in Vox:

I often return to this 2015 post by energy analyst Ramez Naam on the ultimate potential of wind power. “Wind at 60% capacity factor,” he wrote, “even at the same price per kwh of today, would be tremendously more valuable than it is now, with fewer limits to how much of it we could use.

Why is that? Several reasons.

  • The more variable a source is, the more backup is needed to firm it up and make it reliable. (Today, backup is most often provided by natural gas plants, though batteries are creeping up.) By making wind less variable and more reliable, higher capacity factors reduce backup costs.
  • Variable renewable energy (sun and wind) tends to “eat its own lunch.” Because it all produces energy at the same time (when the sun is shining or wind is blowing), the next increment of capacity added has the effect of lowering the clearing price for all the other increments. The more energy comes online at once, the lower the price. By spreading its energy out over a longer period — roughly twice the 32 percent of 2011-vintage turbines — a turbine with 60 percent capacity factor blunts and slows this price-suppressing effect.
  • By extending its hours of operation, a high-capacity-factor turbine is more likely to be producing during demand peaks, when power is most valuable.

A capacity factor of 60+ percent isn’t quite “baseload,” but it sure looks a lot less variable. So turbines like the Haliade-X would be more valuable even if the price of wind electricity stayed the same.

But of course it won’t stay the same; it has dropped 65 percent since 2009. A recent NREL report projected that innovations in wind power technology (of which bigger turbines is one of many) could drive it down another 50 percent by 2030. (Researchers at the University of Virginia are working on a design for an offshore turbine that will tower, no lie, 1,640 feet, higher than the empire state building.)



27 Responses to “Big Fossil Trying to Hold Back Renewable Tide”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Gotta love an economist who quotes William Gibson.

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Global Wind Power Capacity to Increase 56% in Next 5 Years

    * Global wind capacity seen reaching 840 GW by 2022

    * Market to return to growth from 2019

    * China remains largest wind energy market in world

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    “A capacity factor of 60+ percent isn’t quite “baseload,” ”

    Wanna bet? 60% beats the pants off most fossil fuels:

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    “A capacity factor of 60+ percent isn’t quite “baseload,” ”

    Actually, 60% compares favorably with most fossil fuels:

  5. Sir Charles Says:

    Wind Energy’s Swift Growth, Explained

    The wind industry is growing quickly around the world, especially in China and the U.S., where the total amount of electricity generated by wind turbines nearly doubled between 2011 and 2017.

    All told, about 25 percent of global electricity now comes from renewable sources like hydropower, wind and solar energy.

  6. ted knopper Says:

    This blog has all the electrical rates compared along with the various charges which make up those rates for solar and wind and taxes.

    You might disagree with the author on policy. All the sources are shown so you can check the grafts just like I did for accurate representation of the data.

    Conclusion: In europe the higher the solar and wind capacity, the higher the costs.

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