Guest Post by Geoff Russell. Geoff recently released the popular book “Greenjacked! The derailing of environmental action on climate change“.
The Climate Council has a new report out. The Global Renewable Energy Boom: How Australia is missing out (GREB) is authored by Andrew Stock, Tim Flannery and Petra Stock. The lead author is listed on the Climate Council website as a “Non Executive Director of several ASX listed and unlisted companies in the energy sector, ranging from traditional energy suppliers to emerging energy technology companies.” He’s also a chemical engineer.
Page 6 of the report begins by claiming “Globally, renewable energy’s contribution to global capacity and generation has climbed steadily upwards (Table 1)”.
Here’s line 4 from Table 1 except that I’ve added a column in red for 1973 using data from the IEA:
The percentage isn’t so clearly “climbing steadily upwards” now is it?
This table is one of a number carefully chosen or designed to enhance the images of wind and solar power and to misleadingly exaggerate their ability to prevent further destabilisation of the climate.
Page 8 follows with a claim in a large red font: “Global wind and solar capacity is growing exponentially”. This is accompanied by a graph which I’ve repeated here; but with a few annotations … in black. I’ll discuss them later.
Who think the graph supports the claim? It doesn’t. Exponential growth, by definition is growth with a regular doubling time, not regular increments … big difference! Growing exponentially is pretty easy for something trivially small, but it soon becomes hard and the graph shows clearly that both wind and solar are now only growing linearly; after about 2010 for solar PV and 2008 for wind.
The lead author is an engineer, so why call something exponential growth when it isn’t?
As the wind and solar contributions to an electricity grid grow, engineers expect stability problems to which there are currently no answers. AEMO’s 2013 report into 100% renewable electricty in Australia recommended underpinning wind and solar with either a biomass or geothermal baseload system to reduce the volatility; the sudden swings in supply. Germany obviously understands this and is now just burning half her forestry output annually. That’s about 30 million tonnes. This provides more electricity than either wind or solar.
Germany certainly had exponential growth in both wind and solar for some years, but that’s long gone. It took just one year to double the PV output for 2005; but the output from 2011 still hadn’t been doubled by the end of 2014. This slow down is despite solar providing just 6 percent of electricity. The wind power growth slowdown is even more advanced; it took eight years to double the 2004 wind output. Closer to home, South Australia has a higher renewable penetration than Germany, but no biomass baseload component, hence the stability risks which I suspect are behind the back-flip by long time nuclear opponent Jay Weatherill with the establishment of a Royal Commission into (almost) all things nuclear.
Understanding renewable growth
But am I being too cynical? The wind and solar growth lines above still look impressively steep. How can that be when Table 1, in contrast, shows a negligible percentage growth between 1973 and the present?