Here from today’s Financial Post, Peter Foster on the International Energy Agency, and its report on renewable power sources.
Peter Foster: The International Energy Agency backs unreliable renewables
At the International Energy Agency, ”Variable Renewable Energy” is Orwellian Newspeak for “Unreliable Renewable Energy”
It was depressing to read this week of Caisse de depot head Michael Sabia regurgitating the foundational myths of economic nationalism: that markets are too short-term, and that takeovers by foreign “tourist” corporations should be resisted.
That was the precisely the kind of thinking that, a generation ago, got us PetroCanada and the National Energy Program. Petrocan relentlessly spouted that its perspective was broader and longer than that of its market rivals. The result was a carnival of waste and a gusher of red ink. The NEP got every far-sighted projection dead wrong. Government-promoted takeovers sunk the acquirers, not the targets.
How soon we forget, if, that is, we ever knew. The self-serving misrepresentation of capitalism that was at the heart of both nationalism/fascism and Communism is still with us, only now it’s gone global, is called sustainable development, and is focused on climate change. This allegedly demands a carefully-coordinated decarbonization of the global economy, balanced with wise guidance of poor country development.
How’s that going?
A report this week from the International Energy Agency – The Power of Transformation – Wind, Sun and the Economics of Flexible Power Systems – is a classic example of the immutability of bureaucratic pretension and its infinite ability to explain away failure, even as it promotes more of the same.
Here’s the opening of the report’s Executive Summary:
Wind power and solar photovoltaic (PV) are expected to make a substantial contribution to a more secure and sustainable energy system. However, electricity generation from both technologies is constrained by the varying availability of wind and sunshine. This can make it challenging to maintain the necessary balance of electricity supply and consumption at all times. Consequently, the cost effective integration of variable renewable energy (VRE) has become a pressing challenge for the energy sector.
Translation: renewable energy is a practical disaster.
Everywhere, policies based on subsidization of “technologies of the future” are in crisis. “Variable Renewable Energy,” VRE, is Orwellian Newspeak for “Unreliable Renewable Energy,” URE.
Unintended results have been piling up like a mountain of biomass, hoisting prices, undermining manufacturing, and creating fuel poverty among consumers, including now even those in Germany, which is still Europe’s richest country despite some of the continent’s most perverse energy policies.
As the summary says, wind and solar are obviously unreliable because the wind does not always blow, nor the sun shine. They are also very expensive. Solving the latter problem is always just over the horizon, not least because those short-sighted agents of the market keep coming up with new and cheaper sources of fossil fuel, such as shale gas, a development which far-sighted bureaucrats somehow failed to spot.
So what’s the IEA’s answer to the unreliability problem? Bigger and better-coordinated plans, bolstered by positive verbiage. According to the report, any country can reach high shares of wind and solar power “cost-effectively.” All that’s required is to forget history, economics and, while we’re about it, developments in climate science. The science is settled.
According to IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven “Integrating high shares of variable renewables is really about transforming our power systems.” What is required is a “change of perspective,” which is to say the same old perspective dressed up in new imperial costume. Which is to say, the same old new imperial costume.
You see, the problem was never really unreliability per se, it was that wind and solar were introduced piecemeal on top of all those awful “business as usual” systems. So what is needed is transformation of energy systems “as a whole.” You know, like the Soviets’ Gosplan.
The IEA notes that wind and solar now account for just 3 percent of world electricity generation. However, a few bold leaders generate 10-30% of their electricity, albeit spottily and expensively, from wind and sun. These champions include Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Denmark. All are struggling with policy perversity. Germany’s abandonment of nuclear has – due to aforementioned wind and solar unreliability – led to a boom in one of the “dirtiest” power sources, brown coal.
The IEA grudgingly admits that renewables have wreaked havoc among “incumbent generators.” Where the transformational challenge comes is in working out how to reduce the existing economic part of the system while boosting investment in the new non-economic (not to mention climatically pointless) part. What “flexibility” thus means is the flexibility to accommodate dumb ideas, and in particular to execute the policy pretzel positions necessary to kill those “inflexible” (economic) parts of the system. This will require a “collaborative effort by policy makers and the industry.” Translation: the taxpayer will get screwed. Again.
Still, the important thing is to keep green bureaucratic dreams alive, aided by those positive semantics. The IEA wants the world to deploy wind and solar “in a system-friendly way using state-of-the art technology, improving the day-to-day operation of power systems and markets, and finally investing in additional flexible resources.”
I wonder why they never thought of that before.