EU physics denial has come home to roost
break the law, go back to the house of pain
there is an old saying among outlaws:
break only one law at a time.
if you’re going to speed, don’t carry contraband.
if you’re going to carry contraband, don’t speed.
this is how you avoid getting into real trouble.
break both at once, and that’s how you wind up in the pokey.
this goes double for laws of nature.
ignoring the laws of physics is bad.
ignoring the laws of economics is bad.
but ignore both at once and no matter how rakish you may feel, you’re headed for clownworld calamity.
there is nothing to save you.
and boy oh boy does europe seem determined.
welcome to the “subsidize demand and arrest anyone who tries to take advantage of the price caps” stage of the greendemic of darkness sweeping the globe as deeply unserious people propose deeply unserious “solutions” to entirely avoidable problems of their own making.
blaming all this on putin and his ukrainian adventurism is just plain wrong. sure, that might have been the snowflake that started the slide moving, but this avalanche has been getting ready to crush the village for a decade because the simple fact is this: “green energy” as currently conceived makes no sense.
it’s not cost competitive. it’s not real baseline energy. it cannot provide reliable power to grids without massive fossil fuel backups, and the more determined we get to implement wind and solar, the fewer real solutions (like nuclear) are possible. it’s a one way ticket to energy insecurity. and it’s entirely avoidable.
i’m not going to get into the “is CO2 driving dangerous global warming?” debate here. it’s too complex, takes 3 months just to understand the data well enough to read it, and no one ever convinces anyone.
let’s assume for a moment that we do care about CO2 levels.
can we at least agree that this is deeply stupid?
40% of EU “renewable” energy is from burning wood.
this is not carbon neutral.
cut down trees that took decades to grow, chip them, often ship this to the EU from america, then burn the wood is a huge loser. wood is incredibly high carbon. burning it produces more CO2 than even coal and the CO2 in a tree is released all at once and takes decades to recapture through regrowth and by then, you’ll have deforested europe. adding 3% to global energy from wood would double global annual forest cuttings from current levels. this is a complete scam and the absurdity of the chemical and eco claims is ably laid out by longtime gatopal™ doomberg.
if you seriously care about CO2, there is a simple way to lower output: go nuclear. nuclear is safe, cheap, reliable, and stable and the new designs are far more so. it produces zero CO2. contrary to popular misconception, the waste is actually pretty easy to handle and far less harmful than the slurries of radioactive mess polluting regions of china the size of many EU countries as a result of mining the dysprosium and neodymium that go into windmill turbine magnets.
sorry, but if you are anti CO2 and not pro nuclear, you’re anti-physics.
this one is truly, no fooling around obvious.
just the mass equations are staggering.
this also means that waste is tiny. the 85,000 tons the US has ever produced sounds like a lot, but it’s not. uranium oxide is 11 grams per cubic centimeter. the 2,000 tons of waste we produce annually is 164 cubic meters. that’s a cube 5.5 meters on a side. it basically fits in 2 40 foot long high cube standardized containers. (not that you would want to as it would go critical)
moving to 10 or even 100 X that is still basically zero in terms of storage capacity and the move to new reactor designs that can use existing waste as fuel just makes this easier.
this is an easy, obvious solution that’s being abandoned for the heinous crime of “actually working” and a bunch of groundless eco-hocus pocus from the 70’s.
it seems to be being avidly abandoned over superstitions about risk, waste, and the pretense of a lack of trade offs. wind and solar are neither clean nor eco friendly (especially if you like bats, raptors, or migratory birds). but they seem to be the chosen darlings of the greens.
unfortunately, there’s a bit of a problem: they don’t work.
and it’s not because, as the EU’s storyteller in chief would have you believe, because peak demand is too high and so (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the curve must be flattened.
the problem is not demand at all. the problem is the kind of power that solar and wind supply and to understand why this is so, we first need to talk a bit about power grids.
some basic salients:
you cannot store power in utility scale quantities using any known, workable technology that is even remotely feasible. this, again, is just physics and chemistry.
you cannot just “add batteries.” the biggest battery system in the US can hold 19 minutes of the full summer output of the palo verde nuclear plant in arizona before being full.
the entire world makes roughly 1,100 gigawatt hours of Li Ion battery storage a year. it used 23,425 terawatt hours of power in 2019. so the entire current output could store ~0.005% of annual use. that’s about 24 minutes
sorry, but this plan is not possible as any sort of meaningful impact. even at 10X battery production even if it were affordable and feasible and we stopped making cell phones, laptops, EV’s, and the rest of it entirely, it cannot be meaningful even if it were ecologically sound (which it isn’t as this whole system would need to be replaced every decade or so).
oh, and seen the price of lithium lately?
and this means grids must be balanced in real time. power out = power in. supply MUST meet demand. this is “law of physics” stuff and barring some massive change in current technology level, it’s non-negotiable.
and this is why wind and solar are NEVER going to work and why they are not only destroying the grids they touch in meaningful size and making them unreliable and failure prone, but why they cannot ever form a foundation of true baseline power. they will always require huge investments in gas and oil burning “fast spin” systems on “rapid ready” to compensate for their inconstancy.
the problem with wind and solar is not that that they don’t make power (though how well they do this is severely exaggerated) or that they cannot cost compete (though they can’t, have much higher all in TCO than claimed, require massive subsidy, and blame the system costs they add on the very modalities they require to back them up). that would, at least, be something possibly fixable through engineering and innovation.
the problem is something altogether more intractable: their output is unpredictable and intermittent and has built in characteristics that tend to make it less available when it is needed most.
solar is simply terrible in this regard. not only is it a product that is not applicable to most regions, especially in winter, but it is also only available a few hours a day. even in excellent conditions, you’re only above 1/2 peak power for about 6 hours a day and are basically running at 0 for 12 hours. add in “partly cloudy” and you can see not only how rapidly you lose 80-90% of output, but how jarringly variable that output becomes. you’re talking about 5X leaps and 85% drops within the hour.
imagine trying to balance that on a grid in utility scale in real time.
so outside of a few niche applications like the american southwest where low humidity and high need for air conditioning during midday when solar is strong, this is not even remotely workable and in most temperate zones where winter heating needs peak at about 7 AM and 7 PM (both times that it is dark) you’re just going nowhere with this. it’s about 5% in the EU and basically only works in the summer. and winter is coming.
wind has taken up more share and is on the order of 15% of the EU grids. and this sort of ~20% total share for “intermittent renewables” (especially wind) seems to be where grids start to get into real trouble. and wind is often even more intermittent and considerably less predictable than solar.
let’s start with some simple physics:
P = 1/2 x ρ x A x V³
P = Power (Watts)
ρ = Air Density (about 1.225 kg/m3 at sea level)
A = Swept Area of Blades (m2 )
V = Velocity of the wind
power over sweep for a wind turbine is a 3rd power function of wind speed and 3rd power functions are incredibly volatile. when you talk about wind power, you talk about “nameplate power” which is the max power at optimum windspeed that a turbine can produce. for the sake of discussion, let’s call that 20 meters/second (about 45 mph).
either too fast or too slow rapidly becomes a HUGE issue. this is easier to see if you plot what a third power function looks like. air density and swept area are pretty much constant, so we need only concern ourselves with wind velocity.
the theoretical curve (blue) is smooth and not limited by turbine capacity of efficiency limits.
but the real curve is somewhat different as below minimum speed, the turbine cannot RPM match and will not cut in. it then takes some time to catch up to peak output frontier. also, when you exceed peak output, you can feather blades to dump wind (or brake on smaller systems) for a bit but then you need to cut out to save the turbine. i have assumed that point at 150% of nameplate and shown it on the green curve which is the output you actually get.
the problems rapidly become obvious. at 20 m/s, you might get 3.5 MW. but a 20% drop in windspeed to 16 m/s drops you to half power.
a drop to 10 m/s loses you 90% of output.
meanwhile, a 20% rise on windspeed also drops you to zero.
see how unstable and unpredictable this system could be? a front moves through and suddenly generation drops 90%. now what? demand is not going to shift in that kind of timeframe and there is just no way to shape it in the 3-6 minute intervals that utilities use.
but you have to balance the grid.
physics is not optional.
so your only choice is to (very, very quickly) find some more power somewhere else. and your options for that are extremely limited.
very few power generation modalities are sufficiently “fast spin” or variable to accommodate this. coal cannot. the boilers are too big to vary output this rapidly. wood cannot either for similar reasons. hydro is barely marginal in this regard, mostly not much help, and highly regional anyhow. and perhaps most importantly, neither can nuclear.
so you are literally left with 2 and only 2 options: oil or natural gas.
if you are determined to go “wind and solar” you are also going to have to go nat gas and oil and you will need 100% backup capacity on the full nameplate of your “renewables” and it will be kicking in and out all the time making it less efficient and require less efficient configurations that use more fuel per MWH.
you literally cannot abandon fossil fuels of you want this faux green CO2 plan of wind and solar.
and if you are committed to solutions like W+S, you will, of necessity, crowd out high function solutions like nuclear because they are incompatible with it. every new MWH of wind you add makes you less able to adopt or add that which would work and more reliant on the fossil fuels you purport to seek to eliminate.
sorry, but it’s true. i don’t make the laws of physics. i’m just describing them because the green grifters are pretending they do not exist and that adding more wind and solar will make the europe “energy independent.”
even leaving aside that all it does is swap one master (russia) for another (china) who makes basically all the polysilicon for solar and rare earths for windmills, it’s just plain wrong. you cannot replace oil and gas with intermittent energy. you will remain dependent.
and this is why the EU’s grand plans for building back better are going to fail spectacularly.
their leadership has badly misframed this issue. the problems the EU is having are not down to peak use being too high, they are down to renewable input being too unpredictable and the backup system being the very system they need russia for.
the new “5 point plan” from european commission president ursula von der leyen is a masterwork of physics and economics denial. we are so far into fantasyland that the land of real little boys and girls sitting in the dark as the power fails cannot even be seen from here. i know you are probably thinking “gee gato, that sounds exaggerated. it cannot be as bad as all that!” well, let’s look, shall we? (because you seriously cannot believe how perfectly wrong every part of this is)
you can read her own words in the link above. i shall summarize:
first: use less power and flatten the curve including mandatory targets to reduce peak periods.
as was covered above, this is the wrong solution to the wrong problem and will inflict meaningful misery while solving nothing. i suspect that the real goal here is to introduce the idea of “mandatory targets for power use established by trans-national entities ” for the long run.
second: a cap on the revenues of companies that are producing electricity at low cost.
this is a truly potent brew of physics and economics outlawry.
not only is she wrong about renewables in terms of costing, but she’s literally taking any advantage they do have from the currently outlandish prices of european nat gas (roughly 12X what they were in 2019 at ~200EUR/MWH) and making it non-economic. if you really wanted to “green the grid” then allowing huge profits is how you do it as it would attract huge investment. “the cure for high prices is high prices.” instead, they impede it.
these are serious economics scofflaws and those laws are no more optional than physics. but hey, at least the major utilities in germany, austria, and who knows how many others have become insolvent, needed massive bailouts, and may be sitting on a trillion in losses on forward contracts. so cut off their revenue to help. well played them!
but this is just the start.
windfall taxes on oil and gas. so apparently, not only shall we impede investment in green, but in fossil as well. because at a time of desperate need and impending rationing, nothing says “we’re dedicated to keeping the lights on” like telling your own oil and gas industry that it cannot make money if it invests to increase production. nosirreebob. truly, the mind boggles, especially when considering that the EU is currently buying every ship full of LNG it can lay hands on, much of it from china who bought it from russia and then marked it way up. “deeply unserious” seems a woefully inadequate term.
so, now that we have broken everything and driven supply down, prices up, and utilities into insolvency, let’s bail them out! huzzah! what a fine plan. we can see the true shape of the clownworld crisis emerging here. this whole situation is deeply out of control.
and while we’re waving magic wands and playing make believe, let us not forget point 5:
this is flat out fabulism. the same people who are literally buying marked up russian gas hand over fist from any middleman willing to gouge them now want to “cap russian gas prices”? to do what? make india and china laugh? to ensure than NORD-1 is never turned back on?
honestly, what is one to even make of this?
these people are either deliberately trying to destroy europe or so dangerously incompetent that no one can tell the difference.
i would have to sit up every night for a week trying to come up with a worse plan than this and even deploying all my malign creativity, i’m not at all sure i could top it.
all in all, this feels like a continent committing some sort of ritual seppuku to avoid having to believe in physics or economics. the level of calamity induced denial and power grabbing going in is truly world class. this is soviet 5 year plan level stuff. and it’s all going to end the same way:
honestly, it’s probably just too late at this point. unless they get incredibly lucky with the weather, the EU is in for a nasty winter that will result in misery, shortages, and a brutal surge in energy and other forms of nationalism when supplies get low and those that have stop sharing. there is just not enough import capacity to offset this and storage, while at 80%+, will only last ~2-3 months.
many small businesses are already in dire trouble over energy bills and many large ones that use gas as an input (like aluminum smelters) are shutting down because it’s cheaper than trying to operate. this is a long term problem as a smelter like that takes 3-4 months to shut down and another 6 or so to restart. they’ll be offline for a year at least.
there is no sweeping this under the rug.
this is going to get seriously bad and if they insist on capping electricity prices, there will be shortages. you cannot print BTU’s or MWH’s and there is only so much you can import (and prices will get savage).
this will, as ever, pummel the developing world that pays the same global prices and oil is likely to rebound hard post US election when we stop pulling ~6% of total US use per week out of the strategic petroleum reserve.
the eurpoean failure to have a real energy policy is going to export brutal times to african and asia.
and it’s worth remembering: this is entirely man made. there are no real energy shortages, only energy policy shortsightedness.
this was the german long term energy plan in 1974.
had they and the rest of the EU followed such plans, none of this would be happening. they’d have high availability, low cost nuclear grids and futures and still can if they ever come to their senses.
this green fixation seems rooted not in desire to drop CO2 but to demolish modernity. it’s either malthusian mischief masquerading as energy policy or it’s full blown cargo cultism.
this is all fixable, but to fix it, one must first properly diagnose and admit to the problem.
so long physics and economics denying solutions to misframed problems remain ascendant, this is just going to keep getting worse and the joke about “what did greens use for light before candles? electricity.” will get less and less funny for hundreds of millions of people.
if we do not get serious, believe you me, the times will.