Another reason why Ottawa’s Energy Evolution and the plan for 3,200 megawatts of wind to power Ottawa (intermittently) isn’t a good idea. Opinion by Ottawa energy economist Robert Lyman
Putting 700 wind turbines throughout Ottawa’s rural communities will foster energy security, according to Ottawa’s climate change action plan. How is that possible when all the raw materials come from somewhere else? [Photo: D. Larsen for Wind Concerns Ontario]
ENERGY SECURITY – THE UNIQUE PROBLEMS OF WIND AND SOLAR ENERGY
August 1, 2022
The crisis in global energy markets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seized public attention in western countries largely because of its indirect effect on the prices of oil and natural gas, two energy sources of central importance to the world’s economy. In a somewhat perverse way, the crisis may also serve as a valuable reminder of the importance of energy security, a consideration that many governments, in their pursuit of “climate” objectives, have demoted to the second or third rank.
There is another dimension of energy security that does not relate to the threat of oil and gas shortages and price increases but instead to the insecure sources of the materials needed to produce wind, solar and battery equipment. All of these require large imports of critical components or inputs from China.
How big is this problem?
In 2019, China accounted for 68% of global polysilicon production, 96% of global photovoltaic (PV) wafers production, 76% of PV cell production and 71% of PV module production.
The Global Wind Blade Supply Chain Update for 2020 ranks China as the largest producing country for wind turbines. Chinese firms are responsible for more than 50% of global wind blade production capacity. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, China is now the leading exporter of wind-powered generating nets, accounting for about 10% of the market outside of China.
China is also among the leading suppliers of many minerals critical to the manufacture of wind turbines and solar PV. Table 1 indicates China’s share of global supply of critical mineral inputs.
MineralChina Share of Global Supply
Rare Earths 63%
Source: World Bank
Dependence on China for the materials needed for wind, solar and batteries is not the only energy security consideration that should be raised with respect to renewable energy. A far more significant risk concerns the inability of intermittent electricity supply sources to meet electricity demand at all times and in all seasons, especially if left dependent on costly and unproven bulk electricity storage systems.
There is an important geopolitical dimension. China and the West are now locked into an important competition to determine which countries, and which economic systems, will lead the world over the next century. China has shown itself willing to use every policy tool, including widespread industrial espionage and funding of groups that create disharmony and division in western societies, to advance its agenda.
In these circumstances, relying on energy sources dependent on Chinese supplies seems like a very high-risk approach.