You Never Know When They’ll Show Up

Quote I heard recently (not my quote, and I’m probably paraphrasing): “Using renewables is like hiring the alcoholic: you never know when they’ll show up for work!” This is a pretty common argument against wind/solar energy, and it’s the idea that because wind and solar are so unpredictable – you have to have backup generation for those times when the sun is down or the wind is still – therefore the stuff is not necessary.

Those who repeat this idea are only showing their ignorance.

In reality, the utility companies have to deal with generator outages all the time. Any power station can go offline at any time, if something breaks or if the power plant’s controls just trip it off. There had better be backup generation on the utility’s network to pick up the slack, or there could be big problems. Does this mean that the faulty power station was unnecessary because it had to have backup? That’s ridiculous, right? Nobody thinks like that. But people who don’t like renewables have no trouble applying this faulty logic.

Consider the nuclear power plant, producing hundreds of megawatts of power. It’s tough to replace one of those if it goes offline. But it does. Every year or so, that power plant has to go completely offline to refuel or do other necessary jobs. Some other generators have to pick up the slack. Because this power plant has to be shut off every so often and replaced by other generators, does that mean that it is not necessary? Nobody will make that argument.

In true objective reality, data shows that having a mix of solar and wind on a geographically-distributed utility grid is fairly reliable. It’s reliable because it’s aggregated: somewhere the wind is blowing or the sun is shining (yeah, unless it’s night!). And what isn’t producing fully is backed up by other generators.

Just like a fully fossil-fuel grid does today.

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