From the MANHATTAN CONTRARIAN
August 10, 2021 / Francis Menton
A few weeks ago (July 29th) I had a post entitled “A Little Arithmetic: The Cost Of A Solar-Powered Grid Without Fossil Fuel Backup”. In this post, I’ve done some simple calculations based on California’s current power usage and the performance of its existing solar systems to figure out how many solar panels and batteries it would take to survive a low-powered route in winter, with any fossil fuel support. Since for solar energy, the “low output stretch” from September 21 to March 21 is essentially everything, I calculated that you would need about 54,000 GWh of grid-scale battery storage, which is around $ 10 at current prices would trillions – assuming someone in the meantime could invent the grid-scale batteries for this purpose that could store thousands of GWH of energy for up to a full year until they are needed.
In another recent post on the same topic – “California’s Zero Carbon Plans: Can Anybody Here Do Basic Arithmetic?” May 11, 2021 – I did a similar calculation with slightly different assumptions (this time with wind and solar power) and did estimated the cost of additional storage needed to be approximately $ 6.7 trillion. As enormous as these cost figures may be, neither the calculations of May 11th nor the calculations of July 29th took into account the additional costs that would arise from the power failure during storage periods of up to a full year. In addition, none of the calculations took into account a margin that would be advisable in the case of a year with unusually low sun and / or wind.
Now a reader from California writes that he showed my July 29th post to some business partners who are in the process of developing one of the giant battery complexes California is just beginning to build. The reader reports the answer of his battery development colleagues with “his arithmetic is correct”; “However, his assessment does not apply to all of the tools in the toolbox.” For a supposedly more comprehensive understanding, the battery developers provide me with a link to the report of several California authorities from the 15th initial assessment. “
Does the California Multi-Agency Report give rise to the assumption that the California bureaucrats have a good idea on how to get a zero-emission power grid? The answer is no. Let me first note that my contribution of 11 May is already linked to and discussed the same report. After studying this document, here was my conclusion, along with my invitation to readers:
That [Report shows] that California regulators have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Maybe I’m wrong. I invite all readers to check me out and see if I am missing anything.
Nobody responded with anything I missed. The basic “conclusion” of the California Regulatory Report, if you want to call it that, can be found on page 1:
Initial results suggest that the goals of SB 100 [100% zero carbon electricity by 2045] are attainable, although there are still ways to reduce overall system costs. This report presents various scenarios for achieving the goal of 100 percent clean electricity using existing technologies, as well as alternative scenarios that examine additional factors. All of these scenarios require additional analysis. The preliminary results serve as a basis for government planning and are not intended as a comprehensive or prescriptive roadmap through 2045. As discussed in Chapter 4, future work will deepen critical topics such as system reliability and land use, and go further on energy equity and labor needs.
(Emphasis added.). There’s a lot of coverage in there, isn’t there? They essentially admit that they haven’t really looked at “system reliability,” which seems to me to be the most important aspect of the whole undertaking. Here is an elaboration from page 97 of the report:
While the model includes a resource adequacy constraint (a planning reserve margin of 15 percent), a full resource adequacy analysis is required to determine whether the portfolios created meet other established reliability planning standards.
For example, suppose you were tasked with designing a power grid for California that would have “adequate resources” without relying on fossil fuel resources and primarily using intermittent wind and solar power generation using batteries. I assure you that you would quickly realize that there is a fundamental, overarching question that needs to be at the center of your efforts. The question is: How much grid-scale battery storage – measured in gigawatt hours (GWH) – do we need to get us through the winter, and how much will that cost?
This is the fundamental, overarching question, because readily available weather data would tell you that the sun is low all winter and the wind has long calm even in winter. So if you build enough solar and wind turbines to produce the same number of GWHs that California uses in a year, you will have a surplus for much of spring through fall, but from some period in fall to the end of the year Annual deficits have winter until some time in the following spring. In order to design a network in such a way that it will survive a year, you need an exact quantification of this seasonality in order to be able to estimate exactly how many GWHs you need in terms of storage. This is not a difficult calculation. It only requires basic arithmetic and can be done with a calculator (although a spreadsheet program can quickly help do a detailed calculation). A guy named Roger Andrews, who wrote on a page called Energy Matters, did such a calculation back in 2018. I discussed this calculation in detail and linked it in a post in November 2018. Andrews was a retired guy and an amateur (he has since died). I’m not saying Andrews’ calculation was perfect, but at least he addressed the relevant question.
However you do this calculation, it shows you need tens of thousands of GWHs of storage. At current prices, even if you could find batteries that could store such large amounts of electricity for up to a year without significant loss, the cost will run into the trillions.
And here’s what I find incredible: the California regulators’ March report never addresses this question.
Instead, the report deals with a completely different question, namely how much storage, measured in gigawatts (GW), is required. GW is not a measure of how much energy is stored, but is a measure of how quickly stored energy can be discharged from batteries in order to supply the grid. This is also a relevant consideration. However, it is by no means the main cost driver.
Here is the table from the report detailing the resources bureaucrats believe must be added to the grid to achieve 100% carbon free energy by 2045:
Note that the additional storage resources are indicated as GW rather than GWH. Has anyone already bothered to calculate how many GWH storage units are required? You won’t find that here.
Further down, on page 97 of the report, we find a table that shows what the bureaucrats’ analysis of what they call “resource adequacy” of the zero-carbon scenarios. Here is this one:
Here, too, the storage capacity is only measured according to GW, not GWH. In other words, it is assumed that there is essentially an infinite amount of energy stored, and the only relevant system limitation is whether the energy can be drawn fast enough to turn on all the lights at peak demand when no other resources are working.
From page 106 there is a section entitled “New Technologies and Innovation”. Here is an (almost unbelievable) excerpt:
Energy storage technologies – including batteries, pumped storage power plants, hydrogen, and other emerging technologies – are expected to play an important role in balancing the grid when the state introduces SB 100. Storage can help bridge the gap between variable renewable generation and grid energy demand (a role played today to a large extent by natural gas power plants) and quickly provide additional services and capacities to support system stability and reliability. Almost all of the newly procured storage from California utilities, as required by AB 2514, was four-hour lithium-ion batteries . . . . Long-term storage technologies are an important area of innovation. While there are 4.5 GW of pumped storage power plants in California, new longer-term energy storage systems (e.g. 100 or more hours of energy storage) are in the development phase and can be deployed within the next decade with the right market signals.
(Emphasis added.). Storage technologies for “100 hours or more” are “in the development phase”? Little did you know that in order for your system to work you will need tens of thousands of GWH of storage for a full year, ie 8760 hours?
I hope I’m missing something here, but I don’t think so. If so, can a reader kindly point it out?
But if I’m not overlooking something, the question that remains is whether all these knowledgeable bureaucrats in California are either (1) completely unaware of the fundamental and overarching issue, which is by far the main cost driver of this project, or (2) are very aware of the fundamental question, but deliberately do not mention it and hide it from politics and the public?
Read the full article here.