Solar and Wind Energy Underestimated? Not.

Source: Smil (2012) and IEA

The first part of this post is a report that the IEA is accused of underestimating the amount of solar and wind power in recent years.  The second part presents analyses showing that media hype and misinformation lead the public to routinely overestimate the portion solar and wind contribute to power modern societies.

The IEA is under pressure about their wind and solar energy numbers, as reported at energypost.eu World Energy Outlook 2020: IEA responds to some difficult questions.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds

The IEA has issued an FAQ to try to answer some persistent questions and criticisms about their annual World Energy Outlooks (WEO). How come the growth of solar and wind have been consistently underestimated? When is “peak oil” going to happen? Will the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C this century? Is it realistic? Why has a “Net Zero Emissions by 2050” (NZE2050) pathway been added this year? Do the IEA scenarios rely too much on carbon capture? In this article the IEA forcefully emphasizes that a WEO “…is not, and has never been, a forecast of where the energy world will end up.” It’s to explore pathways. Only governments and citizens can make any of it a reality.

Regarding the NZE2050, “unparalleled changes across all parts of the energy sector would need to be realized simultaneously, at a time when the world is trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic”, something that is clearly not happening, says the IEA.

Q. The WEO has been accused of underestimating the growth of renewable energy technologies such as solar PV and wind. Why is this? And are its latest numbers more accurate?

A. This accusation results from a misunderstanding or mischaracterisation of the WEO’s scenarios, as outlined in the answer above. The spectacular growth of wind and especially solar PV over the past two decades has far outstripped many projections made during the period. This is true for the projections included in past editions of the WEO, which were based on the policies that had been put in place or proposed at the time of publication. Significant new policies that were announced subsequently changed the trajectories of wind and solar by generating new demand and investment, thereby helping foster technological advances and cost declines.

A good example of this is China, where policies and targets for solar strengthened dramatically after 2007, putting China on a path to becoming a driving force for solar worldwide.

The projections in this year’s WEO reflect the continuing technology advances and cost declines of wind and solar. In the STEPS, renewables meet 80% of the growth in global electricity demand to 2030. Solar is the main driver of growth, becoming the new king of electricity markets worldwide as it sets new records for deployment each year after 2022, followed by onshore and offshore wind. The advance of renewable sources of generation, and of solar in particular, is much stronger in the SDS, where solar generates 13 times as much electricity in 2040 as it did in 2019. Growth is even more rapid in the NZE2050.

So IEA answers the criticism by claiming a rosy future for renewables compared to past performance.  Left out is any reference to how small is the baseline, which makes easy impressive growth numbers.  Left out also is any measure of the proportion of total energy supply coming from renewables, specifically wind and solar, despite referring to solar as “the new king of electricity markets worldwide.”  That misleading lack of perspective is addressed in a previous post reprinted below.

Exaggerating Green Energy Supply (previous post)

dave_gangland

As noted here before, public opinion surveys are often “push polls”, raising issues like climate change as part of an effort to promote public concern.  Such surveys also inform activists how successful or not has been the media messaging in generating belief and support for climate policy proposals.

Sometimes the questionnaires are manipulated to show the greatest possible public awareness and support..  For example, see:  The Art of Rigging Climate Polls.

Other times, the survey is used to chide the public for failing to buy into claims and propaganda prominently advanced in the media.  For example, see: “Hottest Year” Misdirection, where mainstream media claims 17 of the last 18 years were the hottest on record, while the public in 37 countries guessed only 9.  After checking the data, the correct answer is more likely 5.

That same survey, Perils of Perceptions, reported that in most countries the public overestimates how much green energy they consume.  That finding is the subject of this post.  As we will see, energy from renewables is perceived to be much higher than numbers from the World Bank. 

And since those numbers are themselves exaggerated, the gap between virtuous green behavior and performance is even greater than stated.

The renewable energy finding from Ipsos (here):

The majority of countries overestimate the amount of energy used that comes from renewable sources in their country. The average guess is 26% when it’s actually only 19%. Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, China and Singapore were the furthest out; some countries, though, actually underestimate how much progress they have made with renewables, such as Sweden and Montenegro.

Now, 19% of energy consumed coming from renewables looks high to me, so let’s explore two of the countries:  Canada and the Netherlands.

First, The Canadian Story on Green Energy Supply

energyuse

Question is Framed to be Misleading

Note that wind and solar power are presented as examples of renewable energy sources, when in reality hydro and nuclear are much larger sources of power (electricity). Note also respondents are led to confuse power with total energy, which is a much larger amount.

What is the Reality of Canadian Energy Supply (Consumption)

World Bank shows 22% of Canada’s total energy consumption was from renewables in 1990 and 2015.

Let’s test that number against the Canadian Energy Fact Book 2016–2017 (which presents 2014 as the latest statistics).  The categories are defined nicely in this diagram:
Energy FlowWorking from the top down, first is the mix of total primary energy supply by source:
Canada Primary Energy Supply
In this fact book, energy supply is equivalent to energy consumed, since it is calculated after adjusting for energy imports and exports. Note that 17.7% is the amount of energy from renewables, and hydro is 11.6%.   Let’s see how much of renewable energy comes from wind and solar:
Canada Renewable EnergySo Canadians actually consume 4.35% of their renewable energy from wind and solar. 92% of Canadian renewable energy comes from the traditional sources:  Hydro dams and burning wood.

Combining the two tables, we see that 80% of the Other Renewables is solid biomass (wood), which leaves at most 1% of Canadian total energy supply coming from wind and solar.

Second, the Netherlands Green Energy Story

According to the Ipsos Perils of Perception survey, respondents from the Netherlands said on average 22% of their energy is Green, while the World Bank says only 6% comes from Green sources.  Last year there was a provocative and entertaining analysis of Dutch perceptions versus green energy realities broadcast on a popular Sunday morning TV show.  The episode was called Green Electrical Shocks, and is provided below for your enjoyment and edification.

Green Electrical Shocks

 

On Sunday Feb.4, 2018, a weekly news program aired in the Netherlands on the titled subject. H/T Climate Scepticism. The video clip is below with English subtitles. For those who prefer reading, I provide the substantial excerpts from the program with my bolds.

How many of you have Green Electricity? I will estimate 69%
And how much nationally? Oh, 69%!
So we are very average, and in a good way, because the climate is very important.

Let me ask: Green electricity comes from . . .?
Yes, electricity produced from windmills and solar panels.
Nearly 2/3 of the Dutch are using it. That’s the image.

Well I have green news and bad news.
The green news: Well done!
The bad news: It is all one big lie.
Time for the Green Electrical Shocks.

Shock #1: The green electricity from your socket is not green.
When I switched to green electricity I was very proud.
I thought, Yes, well done! The climate is getting warmer, but not any more thanks to me.

Well, that turned out to be untrue.
All producers deliver to one communal grid. Green and grey electricity all mix.
The electricity you use is always a mix of various sources.
OK. It actually makes sense not to have separate green and grey cables for every house.
So it means that of all electricity, 69% is produced in a sustainable way. But then:

Shock #2: Green Electricity is mostly fake.
Most of the green electricity we think we use comes from abroad.
You may think: So what. Green is green.

But that electricity doesn’t come from abroad, it stays abroad.
If you have green electricity at home, it may mean nothing more than that your supplier has bought “green electricity certificates”.

In Europe green electricity gets an official certificate,
Instead of selling on the electricity, they sell on those certificates.
Norway, with its hydro power, has a surplus of certificates.
Dutch suppliers buy them on a massive scale, while the electricity stays in Norway.

The idea was: if countries can sell those certificates, they can make money by producing more green electricity.
But the Norwegians don’t produce more green electricity.
But they do sell certificates.

The Dutch suppliers wave with those certificates, and say Look! Our grey electricity is green.
Only one country has produced green electricity: Norway.
But two countries take the credit.
Norway, because they produce green electricity, and the Netherlands because, on paper, we have green electricity. Get it? That’s a nice deal.

More and more countries sell those certificates. Italy is now the top supplier.
We buy fake green electricity from Italy, like some kind of Karma ham.

Now, let’s look again at the green electricity we all think we use.
So the real picture isn’t 69%. If you cancel the certificates, only 21% of electricity is really green.
Nowadays you can even order it separately if you don’t want to be part of that Norway certificates scam.
You may think: 21% green is still quite a lot. But it is time for:

Shock #3: Not all energy is electricity.
If you talk about the climate, you shouldn’t just consider electricity but all energy.
When you look at all energy, like factories, cars, trains, gas fires, then the share of consumer electricity is virtually nothing.
If you include everything in your calculation, it turns out that only 6% of all the energy we use in the Netherlands is green. It is a comedy, but wait:

Trees converted into pellets by means of petroleum powered machinery.

Shock #4: Most green energy doesn’t come from sun or wind, like you might think.
Even the 6%, our last green hope, is fake. According to the CBS we are using more sun and wind energy, but most of the green energy is produced by the burning of biomass.
Ah, more than half of the 6% green energy is biomass.

Ridiculous. What is biomass really? It is organic materials that we encounter every day.
Like the content of a compost heap. How about maize leaves or hay?
The idea behind burning organic materials is that it will grow up again.
So CO2 is released when you burn it, but it will be absorbed again by new trees.

However, there is one problem. The forest grows very slowly and our power plants burn very fast.
This is the fatal flaw in the thinking about biomass. Power plants burn trees too fast, so my solution: slow fire. Disadvantage: it doesn’t exist. So this is our next shock.

Shock#5: Biomass isn’t all that sustainable.
It’s getting worse. There aren’t enough trees in the Netherlands for biomass.
We can’t do it on our own. We don’t have enough wood, so we get it from America.

In the USA forests are cut at a high rate, Trees are shredded and compressed into pellets.
These are shipped to the Netherlands and end up in the ovens of the coal plants.
It’s a disaster for the American forests, according to environmental groups.

So we transport American forests on diesel ships to Europe.
Then throw them in the oven because it officially counts as green energy.
Only because the CO2 released this way doesn’t count for our total emissions.

In reality biomass emits more CO2 than natural gas and coal.
These are laws of nature, no matter what European laws say.
At the bottom line, how much sustainable energy do we really have in the Netherlands?
Well, the only real green energy from windmills, solar panels etc. Is only 2.2%. of all the energy we use.

In Conclusion
So the fact that 2/3 of the audience and of all Dutch people use green electricity means absolutely nothing. It’s only 2.2%, and crazier still, the government says it should be at 14% by 2020.
They promised: to us, to Europe, to planet Earth: 14 instead of 2.2.

Instead of making a serious attempt to save the climate, they are only working on accounting tricks, like buying pieces of paper in Norway and burning American forests.
They are only saving the climate on paper.

Summary Comment

As the stool above shows, the climate change package sits on three premises. The first is the science bit, consisting of an unproven claim that observed warming is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The second part rests on impact studies from billions of research dollars spent uncovering any and all possible negatives from warming. And the third leg is climate policies showing how governments can “fight climate change.”

It is refreshing to see more and more articles by people reasoning about climate change/global warming and expressing rational positions. Increasingly, analysts are unbundling the package and questioning not only the science, but also pointing out positives from CO2 and warming.  And as the Dutch telecast shows, ineffective government policies are also fair game.

More on flawed climate policies at Reasoning About Climate

 

3 comments

  1. Hifast · October 21

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

    Like

  2. Abdellaoui · October 23

    J’aurais souhaité que cette étude puisse parler de l’Afrique et plus particulièrement l’Algérie qui dispose d’une vaste étendue de Sahara qui servira beaucoup au développement de l’énergie solaire dans le monde.
    Réflexion s’impose.
    Par Mr Boubekeur Abdellaoui
    Expert et Consultant en Énergie.

    Like

  3. Ron Clutz · October 23

    Thanks for commenting Abdellaoui. Sure, it seems like a no-brainer to put solar farms in uninhabited desert places. And yet the devilish details undermine the practicality of the idea. For example, the latest high tech solar farm in Arizona is failing for both technical and financial problems. Underachieving Solana Solar Plant Keeps Polluting Arizona’s Air

    Maybe that’s why UAE is adding a new coal-fired power plant to their electrical grid rather than going the solar route.
    Thus far, neither wind nor solar energy plants scale to society’s needs.

    Like

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