by David Wojick, guest blogger, WattsUpWithThat, ©2020
(Dec. 29, 2020) — The subsidies that never die — for wind and solar power — are back. With Christmas coming on the Lame Duck Congress elected to throw untold additional billions at renewables.
What is amusing is that gas-fired power generation, a fossil fuel with no subsidy, is still growing faster than wind and solar. Far from taking over, wind and solar are actually losing ground to fossil fuels in the American power capacity mix.
The last year we have comprehensive construction data for is 2018, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This was a good year to use because there was a bit of a race on to build renewables before the subsidies stopped, which they were then scheduled to do. (Unfortunately, due to the Lame Ducks this is no longer true.)
First we will look at the basic numbers, followed by some interesting factors. We are talking about what is called electric power generating capacity, which is measured in megawatts or MW for short. This is the ability to generate a million watts of juice. A large power plant may run around 600 MW.
For starters, in 2018 we built about 19,000 MW of gas fired generators, 9,000 MW of wind powered and 7,000 MW of utility scale solar. (So-called “behind the meter” typically tiny solar is not included.)
So right away we built more gas, at 19,000 MW than the 16,000 MW of renewables. Thus wind and solar’s fraction of America’s generating capacity actually went down, not up. Renewables lost ground.
But this is just the tip of the difference. These numbers are just what the generators can produce under ideal conditions, which is called “nameplate capacity”.
For solar these ideal conditions are basically a clear sky, with the sun overhead and no snow or dirt, etc., on the collector. For wind they are typically a sustained air flow exceeding 30 miles per hour or so. Note that these crucial conditions do not occur all that often.
This is why wind and solar are called “intermittent”, because they frequently produce far less power than their nameplate capacity; often they produce none at all. In contrast, gas fired power runs most of the time, although it does need a certain amount of downtime for maintenance.
Read the rest here.