Energy inefficiency, illustrated

Read the following disclosure. For all practical purposes, what does this mean?

Solar is an intermittent energy source, and therefore the maximum dependable capacity is 0 MW.

The source of the quote isn’t anti-solar. Far from it. It’s from Strata Solar in its application to build a solar farm on Gov. Roy Cooper’s Nash County property.

But what does it mean? Focus on these three phrases:

intermittent energy source
An energy source that cannot produce a reliable flow of electricity. Its output fluctuates. (Solar’s fluctuations owe to the whims of nature, but it does have a steady and reliable output of nothing from evenings through early mornings.)

maximum dependable capacity
Maximum means the most. Dependable means expected, reliable, and by extension, the amount of energy a responsible utility company could depend upon to be there for households and businesses. Capacity is a certain amount of electricity produced. So this means the most amount of electricity we can rely upon at any point in time.

0 MW
0 is the number 0, zero, a number so important to mathematics and world history that scholars are always searching for who first discovered that nothing could be an important something. MW stands for megawatts, a measure of energy units produced (a million watts). So this means no energy units produced.

Basically, then, what Strata told Cooper is that the most he could rely upon being produced at any time from the solar farm is no energy units at all.

Practical illustrations of zero dependable energy

Mike Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, recently tweeted the following to illustrate the unreliability of solar:

Imagine solar panels powering factories to make solar panels. It would be like a snake eating its tail until there is nothing left.

It reminded me of Paul Chesser’s reporting in 2015 that Apple’s 100-acre solar facility in Maiden, N.C., had gotten permits to install 44 diesel generators for backup power.

Think about that for a second. This is the energy production equivalent of the famous Pepsi-Cola ad about showing the Coca-Cola deliverer buying a Pepsi when no one’s looking (as Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” plays in the background). Except it’s worse, because at least soda companies don’t have a business model that requires ratepayers/taxpayers to underwrite so much of their operation.

Bloomberg Technology provides an interesting contrast in discussing drilling operations for natural gas — an energy source that is very reliable and not intermittent:

For decades, explorers have used massive diesel engines mounted on tractor-trailers to shoot a mixture of water, sand and chemicals down wells and blast open layers of oil-soaked shale rock. That’s changing now that soaring output has crushed gas prices, especially in West Texas’ Permian Basin, where the fuel is a byproduct of crude oil extraction.

Explorers are switching to so-called e-fracking, using gas from their own wells to run turbines for electric motors that power drilling pumps. The move helps in two ways: It cuts about $1 million a month in fuel costs for a set of fracking equipment by 90%, according to Wells Fargo & Co., and it lessens the excess gas burned off at the well site, a practice environmental groups frown upon.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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