This report should be profoundly embarrassing to the government of Justin Trudeau
Amid hundreds of graphs, charts and tables in the latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) released last week by the International Energy Agency, there is one fundamental piece of information that you have to work out for yourself: the percentage of total global primary energy demand provided by wind and solar. The answer is 1.1 per cent. The policy mountains have laboured and brought forth not just a mouse, but — as the report reluctantly acknowledges — an enormously disruptive mouse.
Peter Foster November 22, 2018 12:40 PM EST
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has in recent years become an increasingly schizophrenic organization. As both a source of energy information and a shill for the UN’s climate-focused sustainable development agenda, it has to talk up the “transition to a low-carbon future” while simultaneously reporting that it’s not happening. But it will!
This report should be profoundly embarrassing to the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, which has virtue-signalled itself to the front of a parade that is going nowhere, although it can certainly claim genuine leadership in the more forceful route to transition: killing the fossil fuel industry by edict.
The WEO report, yet again, projects that global fossil fuel use — and related emissions — will grow out to 2040, as oil, gas and coal continue to dominate the energy picture. But it also struggles to put a positive spin on wind and solar. Solar had a “record-setting” year in 2017. The Chinese solar business is “booming.” New wind and solar additions “outpaced those of fossil fuels in 2017, driven by policy support and declining costs.
“Policy support” means subsidies worth hundreds of millions of dollars. As for declining costs, solar is at least twice as expensive a generator as coal and almost twice as expensive as gas.
Finally, and most significantly, the report confirms what should have been obvious from the start: the more “variable” wind and solar are introduced into any electricity system, the more they make it both more expensive and less reliable.
The term Variable Renewable Energy, VRE, could more accurately be described as Unreliable Renewable Energy, URE, due to the terribly obvious fact that the sun doesn’t shine at night, and sometimes not during the day either, while the wind doesn’t always blow. Thus the more that wind and solar are part of your system, the more technical contortions they demand from backup power and the structure of the grid. The efficient part of the system has to twist itself into a technical pretzel to accommodate the inefficient part. Accommodating unreliability has led to outright perversity. The widespread adoption of wind and solar under Germany’s Energiewende (“energy transition”) has resulted in rising overall emissions, mainly from coal-fired backup facilities. Meanwhile the green Godot is battery storage, which is always on the point of turning up, but never quite does. Still, the IEA has a scenario for that: “What if battery storage becomes really cheap?”
Supply isn’t the only area where expensive and unreliable wind and solar need to be accommodated. There is also “demand flexibility.” This includes having solar panels installed on your roof, or adopting — or being forced to adopt — “smart meters,” which can monitor a household’s electricity usage in minute-by-minute detail. According to the report, “The spreading of rooftop solar PV (photovoltaics) and the falling costs of digital technologies, combined with affordable wind and solar power options, are creating a host of new opportunities that enable consumers to take a more active role in meeting their own energy needs.”
But wind and solar are not “affordable,” and few people want to take a “more active role” in meeting their energy needs (That is, unless they are being heavily “policy supported” to stick solar panels on their roofs). They just want to flip a switch.
As for smart meters, the IEA notes that many countries “have successfully rolled out smart meters on a large scale, such as Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden.” Would such success be like the smart meter program in Ontario, which was panned by provincial auditor Bonnie Lysyk for costing an extra billion dollars and not working as advertised, while several thousand meters were found to represent a fire hazard?
Although it mentions nothing of the absurdities attached to Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the WEO report confirms that Canada has the most stringent emissions pricing program in the world, at least out to 2025, at $35 a tonne (in 2017 U.S. dollars), thus cementing its competitive disadvantage. Others, such as the EU and Korea, are prepared to make marginally more self-damaging commitments out to 2040 (at US$43 and US$44 respectively), but these levels nowhere near approach that allegedly required by the beyond-fantasy “Sustainable Development Scenario,” which, for developed countries, is US$63 in 2025 and US$140 in 2040. In fact, those figures, like most of the IEA’s projections, are not worth a solar fig.
The Sustainable Development Scenario not only solves the climate issue, but also takes care of universal access to modern energy and air pollution, too. Even more amazing, it achieves all this via imposing swathes of expensive and unreliable energy, but without the slightest impact on economic growth. How? By simply assuming so.
The report’s solution to policy mayhem is inevitably to call for more — and more complex — policy. “Can an integrated approach spur faster action?” it asks. Since governments have screwed up so badly, might they screw up less if they try to do much more?
At least they are assured of firm support from the IEA.