Much of the USA has been struck by unusual cold, with freezing temperatures and heavy snow and ice. At least forty people have died. There have been massive electricity blackouts, especially in Texas, which has America’s largest capacity of wind turbines. Electricity prices have soared. For a while I have predicted global cooling if the Sun remains quiet, and I have said that wind and solar are always an expensive failure for grid electricity. Does Texas prove me right?
In the first case, not necessarily. There has been unusual cold in much of the Northern Hemisphere, including parts of North America, Europe and Asia. But the world’s weather system is chaotic, and spells of unusual cold or unusual warmth may not be statistically significant. You need to see a long-term trend to find out whether the Earth is warming or cooling or doing neither.
Maybe the freakish weather in Texas has no more significance than a rank outsider’s winning a horse race, or maybe it portends a long-term trend. We’ll have to wait and see. But it does make nonsense of alarmist nonsense about ‘Our Burning Planet’ and of predictions that snow and ice will become things of the past.
In the second case, yes. There is an iron trend all over the world: the more wind and solar you have on the grid, the higher electricity prices and the more blackouts. Texas is the biggest electricity producer in the USA. In 2019, it generated 483 TWh (Terawatt-hours), over twice the total generated in South Africa. It has the biggest wind capacity in the USA, at 29 GW (Gigawatts).
Bowing to green ideology
This compares with SA’s total electricity capacity of about 46 GW. Texan electricity used to rely on coal and gas, with a small amount of nuclear, but recently, bowing to green ideology and helped by Federal subsidies, it moved heavily into wind, with some solar. Coal plants have been shut down. The gas network has been neglected.
During the freeze, the gas power stations kept operating as long as they had gas, but some of the pipelines supplying them failed in the cold, and some gas stations had to shut down. The coal stations (those that had not been scrapped) kept running. There are two nuclear power stations, with two units each; three of the four kept running but one of them shut down when a frozen sensor sent a false alarm about cold feedwater; this has now been repaired and the unit is running again.
The wind turbines, making up about 25% of generation capacity in Texas, failed horribly and were the main reason behind the blackouts. Had there been no wind on the grid, more nuclear and coal, and the gas system properly maintained, there would have been fewer blackouts if any, despite the freakish weather.
How much money should you invest in insuring against a rare event? This is for actuaries to decide. It would be stupid to make house roofs strong enough to withstand a passenger aeroplane crashing into them but wise to make them strong enough to withstand the strongest likely winds. Gas pipelines can be made to operate in extreme cold; the Russians make them all the time. Should Texas now make them, or should it regard the present freeze as unlikely to happen again?
For South Africa’s electricity supply, the lesson of the Texas freeze is clear: stop using solar and wind for grid electricity. (They are wonderful for off-grid electricity.) The wretched IRP2019 (Integrated Resource Plan of 2019) should be scrapped immediately.
Texas gives a hint
This mad plan gives the legal authorisation for new power stations in South Africa until 2030. It was devised by the Department of Energy and the CSIR, both of whom seem to have been captured by green ideologues and renewable power companies. It is a fantasy, bearing no resemblance to the real world. It asks for a massive switch from coal and nuclear to wind and solar, and completely ignores the staggering costs of incorporating these ‘unreliables’ into the grid. It is a suicide note for South African electricity supply. Texas gives a hint of what it could bring.
IRP2019 says the ‘least cost’ option is solar and wind combined with a ‘flexible’ energy source, meaning natural gas, which we don’t have. Actually it is by far the ‘greatest cost’ option. In Texas, with the greatest capacity of wind in the United States, the price of electricity last week reached $9,000/MWh – or R135/kWh. This is over a hundred times higher than Eskom’s average selling price and over three hundred times higher than the cost of electricity from Koeberg.
Does Texas teach us anything about the future climate in South Africa? I don’t think so, except to reject the alarmist nonsense about runaway warming. Long-term weather forecasts have always been unreliable and always will be. There is nothing to suggest that mankind is changing the unpredictable weather changes that nature has always brought.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
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