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Renewables don't work

The message that renewables simply don't work seems to be getting around. John Morgan, an Australian industrial scientist working in the area of grid storage technologies, has been looking at the EROI measure that was discussed at BH a few weeks back and has concluded that there is a bit of a problem with the whole concept of grid storage:

Several recent analyses of the inputs to our energy systems indicate that, against expectations, energy storage cannot solve the problem of intermittency of wind or solar power.  Not for reasons of technical performance, cost, or storage capacity, but for something more intractable: there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.

Given the amount we have lavished on renewables in this country, Morgan's conclusions could be viewed as just more than slightly unfortunate.

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Reader Comments (74)

Wind power can only replace fossil fuels if it can be made 'dispatch-able'. The only way to achieve that is an effective energy storage solution. The current situation in Germany and the UK is that Wind will continue to depend 100% on fossil fuel backup until some magic breakthrough in energy storage is found. Such a breakthrough seems to be extremely unlikely because the up-front energy investment of such a large scale storage system would push EROI down towards 1. The same argument applies to solar energy.

Wind power should remain below 20% of installed capacity to avoid higher carbon emissions and higher costs from the backup fossil power plants. Running such plants in stop go mode decreases their efficiency causing more CO2 emissions and maintenance costs also rise.

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterClive Best

Don't get me wrong. I agree completely with the sentiment Clive (and so many others!) expresses. Dependancy on Wind, Solar, Tidal, and Wave "renewables" is not sustainable.

However, I just wonder if the "elephant in the room" is that those who promote such renewable replacement power sources are also, without saying, accepting that it's ok for the quality of service to be intermittent? That it's ok to live like that?

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

Never mind, Ed Davey will continue to push wind power, regardless. When will Carbon capture and storage get a similar red card.

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

A back of an envelope calculation shows that there is no possibility of reconciling EU targets for decarbonising and realistic energy consumption. I have never seen any evidence to contradict this.
So "against expectations" , comes from where?

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterGordon

An excellent link, my Lord Bishop; thank you. By golly, it's just as well that the global warmongers are wrong, isn't it?

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Thoughtful argument that those at UN meeting would do well to read and absorb. My only issue with it is the talk of un-buffered wind and solar power. The only place you're likely to find this in the UK is on an hippy commune in deepest Wales. All wind and solar power is already buffered by the chemically stored energy that is then burnt in gas turbines so the EROEI quoted for renewables is overstated.

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Re Sep 23, 2014 at 12:20 PM | Rob Schneider

Supply-driven energy has nothing to do with our present civilisation and economy.

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:57 PM | Registered CommenterAlbert Stienstra

How mad can it get?

A useful analysis by Mr. John Morgan but we are dancing on pinheads in a room and around the elephant [again]. Grid storage, like carbon capture is basically an impossibility but it would be totally academic if we had a sane and rational energy policy. Did I say "sane and rational" - therein lies the elephant, notwithstanding the clear fact that whatever Britain does - nothing will change and the whole process is based upon a big lie [mm CO2=warming] - spending £billions we are: to make things worse - that is the very definition of madness.

Well, they've only just started Brothers and sisters - FoE, Greenp&66 run our energy policy by way of the DECC.

Rolling blackouts, brown outs are already being factored in for industrial users of electricity, just not yet for domestic users hence the idiots running the DECC know full well that, their renewable energy policy and all of its attendant idiocies will cause major supply disruption. It is madness and they know it, what is ever more galling, is that they aim is to make it worse - not that they would call it such but industrial suicide is what they purposefully design - and here's me thinking Emma Thompson is bonkers, by comparison she is a harmless pussy cat.

And in the meantime we will pay for this ongoing energy policy disaster - through the nose.

Sep 23, 2014 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Yes, true - there is Dinorvic but that was a bit of genius.

Sep 23, 2014 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.


"Supply-driven energy has nothing to do with our present civilisation and economy."

We know that, but how many politicians do? They will find out the hard way, of course, but it would be nice if we weren't all in the same boat.

Sep 23, 2014 at 1:04 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


Dinorwig is brilliant, but only provides power for a few hours. It buffers nuclear output (which likes to be steady) well, but would be little help for wind or solar. Another one would also require a spare mountain.

Sep 23, 2014 at 1:08 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"against expectations" is a bit odd. Surely it's obvious that it's not viable to create the necessary storage - you'd have to move mountains, literally.

The graphic shows that wind & solar don't work, but nuclear and hydro do. There is another illustration of this here. The EU countries that have significantly decarbonised are those who've gone nuclear (France Switzerland Slovakia) or are mountainous enough for hydro (Norway Sweden Austria Switzerland).

Sep 23, 2014 at 1:47 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

@Athelstan: "...but we are dancing on pinheads in a room and around the elephant"

The trouble with arguing about the Angels dancing on pin-heads, we tend to forget that there is usually a very annoying little pr1ck on the other - quite often making policy while completely blind to elephants in rooms.

Sep 23, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

The comments to the referenced posting are particularly informative, as they degrade into an endless argument about which details of the analysis are valid, and what the values should be, and how to take various factors into account, etc, etc

The best metric is bottom line cost in an open market, without any deliberatly added "forcings". However, this disadvantages the renewables so very much that they have to add carbon taxes and feed-in tarifs, and additional regulatory burdens to "level the playing field". It is quite sad.

Sep 23, 2014 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterrxc

Part of the problem is that the only experience most (middle-aged) UK politicians will have of black-outs is from the days of the ‘oil crisis’ in the 70’s. What they utterly fail to comprehend is that a repeat performance now would/will create a scenario orders of magnitude worse, thanks to our subsequent reliance on computer chips and IT. It is almost impossible to overstate this, yet they and their green chums seem to think that the worst that can happen is a temporary candle shortage!

Sep 23, 2014 at 3:17 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I was only a child at the time, but weren't the 1970's blackouts as a result of industiral action?

Green policy is based around creating some rules (incentive) and the letting the market adjust to the new operating environment. There is something in it of course - it is thanks to CO2 emissions targets that cars have recently become much more fuel efficient, with turbo-charging technology becoming the norm. I expect that car manufacturers had to put R&D money into improving mechanical efficiency instead of making pretty interiors. Would the market have made the same investments in efficiency by itself without the Government incentive? I doubt it. And as a petrol head it means lots more horsepower from the same engine size with improved fuel consumption, so what's not to like?

On the otherside its the same Eco directives that gave us the useless long-life lightbulb. Thankfully LED technology has now caught up and so it is possible to use less power without reducing utility. Another case of Government regulation eventually delivering the goods? Yes I think so.

Sep 23, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR


An astute reference to what is coming, could it be said, that, the western world is far too dependent on computers and software - and for too much, some things - are better on paper? In the beginning [no not back to Genesis] in the 80's computers went down so often many companies [had to ensure that they] could function by using a paper trail - this is not possible now, all paper records unless they are in the British Library etc - have been binned. I ask, have we really progressed and in answer - I think not.
A computer diagnostic every time you run your motor in, now, on board automobile computers can and will monitor your every movement and immediately pinpoint your exact whereabouts - that's not progress - that's eerie - big brother. Think, every mile and every location.............

Sep 23, 2014 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Good point, Jamesp, and one that politicians may well be aware of, thus the possibility of a black-out occurring in a major city will be minimised (perhaps limited to the hopeful thoughts in the politico’s mind; they cannot envisage anything happening that they have not had some control of). What black-outs that might occur this winter will be confined to the provinces, and possibly totally ignored by the national news broadcasters.

Sep 23, 2014 at 3:50 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

The building of enough storage to backup even 50% renewables is so unlikely that only the ignorant and the stupid would think it possible. Unfortunately there is a huge supply of the latter.
The average car battery will store 1kwh of electricity, so for 15GW every hour, the UK would need 15, 000,000,000 batteries for EVERY hour that renewables don't deliver. Assuming 10 batteries per cubic metre to allow connection and heat removal, you are looking at 60 km. square by 100m high for every 24 hours. So for a month of wind not working in winter time all you need is something 100 m high by 180 km wide by 600 km long. Just ask your local renewables supporting MP how he would like that in his electorate?

And just check my maths before that. It's a bit late foe me to be awake.

Sep 23, 2014 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

FarleyR, I think you answered your own question in the sentence following your erroneous answer. Manufacturers constantly vie to make their products more attractive; if the buyer wants a car that has the same (or even more) power yet burns less fuel, then that is what the manufacturer will strive to provide. Government edicts have little say in the rules of capitalism.

Sep 23, 2014 at 3:58 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

UK wind is continuing to demonstrate how un-reliable it is....

Almost 0 wind for the last 23 days.

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

The problem he describes is not a problem of grid storage per se, but a problem of grid storage coupled with pants generation methods such as wind and solar, i.e. an as yet non-existent technology (pumped hydro excluded) coupled with generation methods already known to be borderline uneconomic or worse.

I take all the EROEI calculations with a grain of salt, but we know which ones are clearly "above water" because they were developed without subsidies. The industrial revolution couldn't have happened otherwise.

(For all their inadequacies, bio-fuels would not get so bad a rating for energy storage. A chemical fuel such as vegetable oil can still be stored in large amounts, even if it degrades more rapidly than petroleum products.)

The bigger problem arise when the charlatans and innumerates decide they are going to arbitrarily overturn established economics and include "environmental externalities" which they have defined in their own imaginations according to their own whims and desires, Gordon Brown.

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

FarleyR "weren't the 1970's blackouts as a result of industiral action?" No, it was a shortage of coal. Which is why once the first strikes ended the power stations massively ramped up storage so that when Skargill made more threats the CEGB could shrug and say 'am I bovvered?' Problems like strikes, illness, accidents, supply shortages etc are why it's important to have a mix of energy supplies and some slack in the system. JIT only works if the supplies arrive just in time and not just too late. While people can be persuaded and more fuel supplies can be sourced, we can't implore the wind to blow.

Energy efficiency has its own EROEI and if the efficiencies outweight the rewards, they're not necessarily worthwhile. There are other considerations too which is why the more efficient diesel vehicles are now in the bad books because of their particulates. It's not even like they didn't know about emissions before they made mpg the highest priority. Bold decisions are being made by people with only one agenda in their minds.

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Graeme No.3
So far this year wind has been running at less than 1700 MW for 50% of the time this year. Last value I remember was than there's about 11GW installed, By contrast the French inter connector has been running at over 1700MW for over 70% of the time this year, I don't think anything can cope with a performance like that. So much for the wind will always be blowing somewhere.

Data downloaded from here

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Just heard an interview with some rent seeking american insider who deceived the radio audience by claiming something like ~40% of the newly installed capacity is wind and solar.
Of course he is deceptive because he is hoping no one will notice that the rated capacity of wind and solar is something over 500% of what it actually delivers.
And of course the pretentious fraud went on to speak banally about how fracking has all sorts of problems.......that his people will be happy to see are worked out.
It is all about money. Our money going into the pockets of green parasites.

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

I used to drive past Ratcliffe on Soar Power station on my way to work before, during and after the miners strike. I watched the coal mountain grow in the years preceding the strike and it took even longer to go down afterwards. Rather than power outages my biggest fear was that the coal mountain would spontaneously start burning..

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS


My fear is that someone will look at that wind power figure of 1.7GW and think "how do we get energy use down to around 2 GW?". Rather than saying "wind's not really cutting it".

And the merry-go-round will continue

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

Insofaras the energy policy of the UK and many others make absolutely no sense,
the only possible conclusion (except stupidity) is that the policy is deliberate.
In which case, they know exactly what they are doing and what the implications are for the
general public.

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

SandyS, it probably happened from time to time, the CEGB was certainly aware of the problem. The first fires were probably at pits themselves. From memory (I was a kid at the time) I think I remember talk of rapid redistribution of heaps while at the same time applying lots of water.

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I like to think of myself as an averagely intelligent, fairly well-read individual with a lot of life experience, but I really despair when I come across people who clearly think that renewables are the answer. The following was a comment on an article in the DT about the Rockefeller Foundation dis-investing in fossil fuel:

We need to follow the example set by Germany where 50% of their energy comes from solar photo-voltaic panels.

To state the mostly-obvious, decentralized (produced-by-people) solar power generation:

- Does not produce any carbon, pollution, or chemical by-products
- Is available to anyone to produce, allowing people to be truly self-sustaining and independent of corporate coersion
- Continues to rapidly drop in cost to install
- Does not use up any ongoing natural resources
- Panels can now be manufactured out of sand (this is what Libya had planned to do on a big scale)
- Is now effective even in cloudy, low-light climates
- Is increasingly storable, as new techs develop
- Will be available at least a few billion years.

And there are technologies being developed to minimize and eliminate any issue with dirty electricity, which may arise from the DC-to-AC inversion when feeding into the grid.

It is quite obvious that people like this have never thought about the high power needs of, say, an aluminium smelting plant; or Pilkington Glass. It's enough to make you weep.

Sep 23, 2014 at 5:17 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield


I did put ‘oil crisis’ in inverted commas, as I wasn’t too sure if it was the whole story.. :-)

WRT cars, one of the few things I applauded Mrs T for was her support for ‘lean-burn’ engines rather than catalytic converters, which had already appeared in the US. Although overruled, she was right, IMO, as cats require the burning of extra fuel and only work properly when hot, which takes anything up to 20 minutes to achieve. OK in the States, perhaps, but most journeys here are over before then!

Without them, we'd have even better performance and economy, and I think that improvements in car design proceed more from the marketplace than government edict!

Sep 23, 2014 at 5:28 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


Sep 23, 2014 at 5:32 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


"Is now effective even in cloudy, low-light climates"

Like Wallace's 'Lunar Panels', no doubt. Perhaps someone thought they were real...

Sep 23, 2014 at 5:32 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Perhaps Ed Davey continues to 'push' the wind energy mantra because he's so full of it himself...with lots to spare from what I've heard...

Sep 23, 2014 at 5:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterTux52

Harry Passfield:
I don't blame you for despairing. I note that solar panels will enable people to be independent, but they still have to be connected to the grid. And they think they're made out of sand??? (think chess notation).

And back on topic, "increasingly storable" but not just yet. Is St. Augustine the patron saint of PV panels?

They forgot to claim that the panels are transported by unicorns, installed by yetis (or Big Foot) and paid for by fairies leaving a big bag of money at the bottom of the garden. Or perhaps they just assume all those apply.

Sep 23, 2014 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

A quite astonishing decision by the Rockefeller Foundation. They're withdrawing from a long-term, proven, global and wholly market-driven investment strategy and instead advancing into one almost entirely dependent upon artificially contrived government policy.
Upon a change of government (or policy) or a new technology arriving that really does make 'renewables' look the nonsense they are, then what?!

Sep 23, 2014 at 6:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

Despite its critical role in protecting the Amazon rainforest, Brazil will not endorse a global anti-deforestation initiative being announced at the U.N. climate summit, complaining it was left out of the consultation process.

Sep 23, 2014 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Spence

For a direct comparison of the costs and capacity factors of wind farms and photovoltaics from the USA Germany and the UK see:

Here is an analysis of comparative cost and effectiveness ratios for renewable energy in three major committed nations. Whatever your viewpoint of economics might be, the numbers here don’t lie. Without being propped up by subsidies, solar and wind aren’t even in the race as their competitiveness leaves them at the starting line while cheap natural gas (aided by fracking) runs laps around the race course.

In summary, the figures show that these three major nations of the Western world have spent of the order of about ~$0.5trillion to create Renewable Energy electrical generation capacity nominally amounting to ~5.8% of their total generation.

This capacity could be reproduced using conventional natural gas fired electrical generation for ~$31 billion or ~1/16 of the costs expended.

- See more at:

Sep 23, 2014 at 6:33 PM | Unregistered Commenteredmh

Rob Schneider,

"However, I just wonder if the "elephant in the room" is that those who promote such renewable replacement power sources are also, without saying, accepting that it's ok for the quality of service to be intermittent? That it's ok to live like that?"

I had a conversation with a work colleague a while ago. I pointed out that renewable energy was going to make everything much more expensive - because everything needs energy for its production. He said "Good - I think things *should* be more expensive." He's an anti-consumerist, you see. So he thinks things should be more expensive so that we'll consume less. At that point I gave up on the conversation. There's no getting past that mind-set.

I'm sure I consume less than that chap does. I, for instance, don't have a mobile phone or a playstation. I rarely drive more than the four miles to my work. I buy clothes when the old ones fall apart. I live in the smallest cottage known to man. I don't really buy stuff, except food and a bit of booze.

And I'm pretty sure that when my colleague bought his playstation he didn't volunteer to pay more for it. I'm also pretty sure that if his kids get sick and the NHS can't afford to pay for his kids' treatment because everything's become for expensive, he might be a tad upset.

There really is only so far you can go with logic. Some people love to believe that they are helping to save the world. They like the idea so much that they will let it override any sensible plan for our future.

These people are "right on!" They are right, they are hip, they are cool. They care sooooo much. They desperately want to be part of saving the planet.

And they don't much like evil denialisteriters like you and me.

Sep 23, 2014 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

The renewables built in the next decades are going to be manufactured and installed largely using fossil fuels. So calculations of EROEI that assume that renewables are used for manufacture/installation will be totally wrong. EROEI as reported seems irrelevant.

Sep 23, 2014 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

"We need to follow the example set by Germany where 50% of their energy comes from solar photo-voltaic panels."

This statement is accurate - for ONE hour of ONE day that happened also to be a holiday!

The annual average is 7%.

Sep 23, 2014 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Junkie

"Thankfully LED technology has now caught up and so it is possible to use less power without reducing utility. "

LED's emit light of high intensity at a single wavelength and this causes many of us extreme eye strain problems. "White" light is faked by using three or four wavelengths, but the colour rendition is terrible, as eyes have evolved for a much more uniform spread of wavelenghts, such as we get in sunlight and light from incandescent sources. And you call this "delivering the goods?"

Sep 23, 2014 at 6:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAllan M

In the end it's all green bo88ocks.

LED's may be an improvement on CFL's - granted.

But those traditional light bulbs, like wot we used to have - were better by far. Once more, we move on but have we got any further? LED's a useful technology but we didn't need particularly insofar as domestic lighting was concerned, filament bulbs, Edison bulbs [incandescents] were such a beautifully simple invention and to boot gave up good light [and heat].

We had an example of a commercial firm shenanigans [for want of a more apt descriptor - fraud?] - Dupont and the 'ozone layer hole' - all of a sudden?! In a similar vein, phasing out good light bulbs in exchange for a far inferior product because of some pretext ala mm warming - that's not progress, that's mankind doing something he's very good at: stupidity.

And oh um btw Philips et al made a financial killing -quelle surprise?! EU yessir!

"Progressive"? Those f*****g luddites will lead us back into the dark ages.

Sep 23, 2014 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

following 6:43PM:

Many, if not most, of the improving regulations (such as the recently famous vacuum cleaner specs.) are lobbied for by the industry, probably in the expectation of making money or gaining an advantage over foreign competitors. You would have a lot of trouble convincing me that politicians have the engineering expertise or imagination to dream up any of them.

Sep 23, 2014 at 7:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterAllan M

@ athelstan 7:03pm

Don't be afraid to say what you really think!

I have just finished setting up my alternative energy systems for the coming winter:-

Generator (3Kva will power freezers and boiler and pump plus a light or two) serviced and tested -- Check
Camping gaz lanterns serviced and spare cartridges obtained -- Check
Camping gaz stove serviced and spare cartridges obtained -- Check
Calor gas room heater, replacement cylinder obtained -- Check
Dry logs for woodstove sufficient for whole winter in store under cover -- Check

At risk neighbours noted -- in case of severe loss of power --- Check

Davies and his other useless troughers can go and take a flying **** ( self snip for public decency)



Sep 23, 2014 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered Commentergrumpy granddad

GG, eminently sensible provision - imho.

Sep 23, 2014 at 8:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Room for one more elephant in the room ?

The price of oil has absolutely rocketed since Kyoto was signed. Oil companies have done extremely well during the war on emissions. Without the global financial crash, it was predicted to hit $200 a barrel.

Sep 23, 2014 at 8:54 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Graeme no.3

I think your maths is a bit out (15GW is ‘only’ 15 million kW and you can fit more than 10 car batteries in a m^3) but your point is sound enough - storage grid-level power storage in batteries is bonkers. It’s just about viable for home use, if you don’t require electricity for heating, but those batteries will be expensive and don’t last forever, and you will of course need a hefty oversupply of power to be able to cover the periods of darkness and/or no wind.

Solar and wind are useful if you live where there is no grid and you want to run a laptop and bit of lighting, say, but if there is a grid to hand, it is efficient, cheap and very probably the greenest solution!

Sep 23, 2014 at 9:35 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

"Oil companies have done extremely well during the war on emissions."

esmiff...which companies have done extremely well by your calculations? Just curious since BP and Shell do not seem to be thriving...just running along the floor

Sep 23, 2014 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes


Shell since 2000 - doing extremely well

Exxon - Himalayan share price

Did I mention the global recession (yes) and the BP catastrophe (no)

Sep 23, 2014 at 9:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterE. Smiff

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