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Artillery Row

The renewables red herring

It is not true that high energy prices are caused by a lack of investment in renewables

I have recently published an article in the Critic explaining how Government plans to race to net zero before the technology exists will require significant lifestyle changes — lifestyle changes that they are not being honest with us about.

We are looking at a world where energy use returns to the pre industrial age: dependent on the weather. People will have to run their lives around when the wind blows or the sun shines, taking society back to a time when the weather ruled over our energy use and life choices.

Today I wish to debunk another establishment fallacy: that high energy prices are being caused by a lack of investment in renewables.

We are constantly being told that the reason energy prices are so high is because we have underinvested in renewables. If only we invested more and more quickly, energy prices would collapse as we moved to a world of clean and cheap renewable energy. A good example of the genre can be found here from the World Bank.

Is this really true?

To find out, I decided to look at the data and forecasts provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which describes itself as being “at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing authoritative analysis, data, policy recommendations, and real-world solutions to help countries provide secure and sustainable energy for all”.

What I discovered was somewhat surprising. In a recent interview with Climate Debate, I asked the presenters Ben Pile (@clim8resistance) and Ed Rennie (@edrennie77) the following question: “How much does the IEA forecast total global renewable capacity to be by 2026 as a proportion of the total existing capacity of all hydrocarbons and nuclear combined which we have spent 100 years plus building?”

I think Ben and Ed’s guess was between 4–20 per cent, but it might surprise you (as it did them) to know that the actual figure is 100 per cent. Yes, that’s right. The IEA forecasts that by 2026 the world will have built as much nameplate renewable electricity capacity as the current total global capacity of hydrocarbons and nuclear combined.

On average, solar fails to generate maximum electricity 91 per cent of the time

I don’t blame them or anybody else for not knowing this figure. I didn’t until I began researching the data. It is hardly being shouted from the rooftops. You can find the details of these forecasts in the December 2021 Renewables report, or you can read the summary in this press release in which the IEA states: “By 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is forecast to rise more than 60 per cent from 2020 levels to over 4 800 GW — equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined.”

I think the fact that the whole world is set to have as much renewable electricity capacity as non renewable electricity capacity, by 2026, is important to know for three main reasons.

First, it belies the argument that the world has simply not been investing enough in renewables. Replicating hydrocarbon and nuclear capacity, which has taken 100 years to build, in a little over 20 years is not a sign of under- or too slow investment.

Second, it helps focus people’s minds on the fundamental issue with renewable capacity. The intermittency of renewable production (with no grid level energy storage — which does not yet exist) requires much higher amounts of nameplate capacity to generate the same amount of electricity.

For example, solar (which is by far the largest component of renewable capacity globally) has a load factor of only 10–21 per cent (IEA’s own figures). Simplistically that means if all renewable capacity were solar, you would need between 5–10 times the amount of solar capacity as, say, nuclear which has a USA load factor of 93 per cent.

This in itself is an underestimate of the true capacity required. The IEA’s global load factor is an average. Within that average are significant periods when the “sun doesn’t shine”, and no electricity is produced. This means either greater capacity still (or grid level energy storage — which does not exist yet) is required.

To make this UK specific, our load factor figures for solar is nine per cent and for wind 25 per cent. On average, they fail to produce their maximum amount of electricity generation between 75–91 per cent of the time.

Third, despite such humongous investment, despite the fact that in just over two decades we have effectively managed to replicate the total nameplate capacity it took us nearly 100 years to build, the IEA still forecasts a global lack of oil and gas supply if the world fails to increase investment in oil and gas exploration and production (E&P).

The reality is that our high energy prices are not a result of a lack of investment in renewable capacity, but a result of a political decision to underinvest in oil and gas exploration and production and nuclear capacity. Renewable energy’s inherent intermittency means it is necessarily more expensive to produce electricity from renewables than from coal, gas or nuclear.

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