I’m a scientist, which means I live and die by numbers and details. There is a lot of truth in the old saying ‘the devil is in the details’ and whenever I hear people talk about renewable energy, it is always very clear to me that they intentionally skip the details to hide from the devil. Yes, I acknowledge our over use of fossil fuels isn’t good or wise, but I also have a some very different reasons behind that which I hope to write about later, but most green people haven’t got a clue as to what replacing fossil fuels with renewables means. Lets dive in and look at a couple of details and why the Devil is living large in those details.
Today is Friday March 22 and it is a beautiful spring day in Calgary, the sun is shining (good for solar but considering its only 9:30 AM and the sun is still low on the horizon still not generating much power), but there is no wind to speak of. There hasn’t been any wind to speak of for the last couple of days and won’t be any in the next couple of days. Looking at the wind forecast for the Pincher Creek area where several wind farms are, its not looking good for power generation.
We see this reflected when we look at the Current Supply Demand Report for Alberta as Wind Power generation is operating at about 13% of its capacity under optimal conditions.
The point is optimal conditions for generating 1,445 MW are rare and most of the time wind power generation is operating under sub optimal conditions, so what does this mean? It means that if we had nothing other than wind generation (not like that would ever happen but to show the point) Alberta would need 124,000 MW of optimal Wind Power Production to generate the required 16,157 MW under the current 13% power production rate we have at this moment. That works out to about 86 times more Wind Power Generation then we currently have. Considering most of the best wind generation sites are already running wind farms, it’s more like 175 times more wind farms are needed. Think that is possible, I don’t and I’ve yet to have a ‘Green’ person explain to me what happens on low wind days. The cost alone is beyond the ability of Alberta to cover (currently only China has this much wind power capacity) never mind the environmental impact this many wind farms would have (bats and bird strikes for example).
The problem is basically that renewal power generation is not consistent or reliable but our demand for power requires both. Even solar in Calgary has huge swings for example the power generation of the Southland Leisure Centre solar PV System for the last five years shows that we would need massive quantities of solar power generation to compensate for the variability of Solar based power production.
Remember I like renewable energy generation like wind turbines (I wish the physics was better for vertical axis as they are quieter and kill far fewer birds and bats etc), but to believe that they are the silver bullet that is going to save us, is just plain ignoring the devil in the details. The biggest devil isn’t in power production, it’s in power consumption, but that is a problem no one wants to tackle, but it is the actual problem we will have to solve.