What Happens Without Coal

By:  Ed Hiserodt and Rebecca Terrell
12/19/2013
       
What Happens Without Coal

It you think that wind and solar electrical power generation can replace all of the electricity now being produced via coal-fired plants, think again.

Wind and solar energy sources can wreak havoc on utility grids. This is because power must be used as it is generated, and generated as it is used. There is no way to store it. As consumer demand increases, so must generation, whether or not the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. As demand drops off — for instance, during mild weather or at night when there is a slowdown in commercial and industrial activity — electricity producers must reduce output to balance production and usage. When demand is low enough, producers must pay to put power on the grid, giving electricity a negative value.

Of course, that isn’t true for subsidized “renewables,” which get priority access to the grid and guaranteed prices for their product regardless of its value. Your tax dollars are going to keep flowing to them in the form of government subsidies even when their continued production is causing major grid problems. You’ll also feel the effect in your monthly utility bill because the situation forces non-subsidized producers, such as coal and nuclear plants, to remain online as spinning reserves to instantly modulate their output in response to vacillating renewable sources, a process that is both expensive and inefficient. The more a grid relies on undependable renewables, the more unstable it becomes and the higher the risk of blackouts and brownouts.

Europe is feeling the brunt of this ludicrous situation, prompting its largest power companies to publicly call for an end to renewable energy subsidies because subsidies are causing crippling utility bills and the threat of continent-wide blackouts. James Conca of Forbes reported that regardless of demand, consumers in France must pay wind generators their guaranteed €83 per megawatt hour ($112/MWh), whereas nuclear power wholesales for about €40 per megawatt hour ($54/MWh).

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