Renewables won’t keep us warm this winter

The cold snap is exposing the limits of wind and solar – and the insanity of the green agenda.

Ralph Schoellhammer

Topics Politics UK

There are already many German loan words in the English language, but the latest addition should surely be the term ‘Dunkelflaute’. It describes a period of time in which virtually no energy can be generated using wind and solar power. It is a word that captures the grave problem that both Britain and Germany are facing today – namely, that you cannot run a modern economy on renewable energy. Especially during a windless and dark winter.

As real-time data from Electricity Maps shows, electricity production from renewables in Germany and the UK over the past few days has been abysmal. In Germany it is coal that is keeping the lights on, while in Britain it is gas. Falling temperatures are rapidly increasing both countries’ need for fossil fuels. It is not yet clear whether reserves for this winter are going to be sufficient.

Using electricity is a bit like breathing. Even a short break could prove lethal. An economy needs constant access to energy (electricity in particular), or it will collapse. We cannot simply expect households to live without electricity for a few days, unless we are prepared for civil society to break down.

Some may argue that if humanity has lived without modern technology before, we should be able to do so again. Perhaps. But such a transition would be neither desirable nor entirely peaceful. Once the Promethean flame of modernity has been acquired, few will want to give it up.

The fact is that renewables simply do not offer a viable alternative energy source at the moment. The technology does not yet exist to effectively store electricity, meaning we cannot stockpile any surplus produced by wind and solar during summer. So it doesn’t matter how impressively renewables perform between June and August if they provide barely any energy between November and March. To keep an industrialised economy going requires energy all year round.

Most governments are aware of this. Which is why, despite the elites’ lip-service to renewables, both Germany and Britain have maintained a fleet of fossil-fuel power plants to make up for the unreliability of wind and solar. Unfortunately, those fuels are becoming more expensive as a result of the global energy crunch. With no proper alternatives in sight for energy production, it is consumers who increasingly have to pay the price.

And it is not as if this month’s Dunkelflaute is a bolt from the blue. Everyone knew that the current energy crisis was going to hurt us most during winter, when it is cold and dark, and when renewables, especially solar, are barely producing any power.

Yet still, green activists and politicians insist the answer to our energy crisis lies in expanding our use of wind and solar. This is a form of cognitive dissonance. It is like an ancient tribe, disappointed that throwing virgins into a volcano has not led to better harvests, deciding to double down on the child sacrifices. No amount of solar panels will brighten a northern European winter.

On 11 December, for instance, renewables contributed a measly three per cent of electricity generation in Britain – with solar clocking in at an impressive 0.00 gigawatts. The forms of energy keeping Britain going this winter are mostly gas, some nuclear (including imports from France) and even some coal.

In Germany, the situation is even worse. Last week, low renewable generation led Germany to burn more coal than it has in any week since 2019, and to burn more gas for electricity generation than ever before.

The German government has not only committed heavily to renewable energy, it is also determined to switch off its nuclear power plants. Green Party politicians, like economy minister Robert Habeck, have tried to claim that abandoning nuclear power will have no effect on electricity generation. This is despite the fact that during windless nights, Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants contribute more to the grid than all of its wind farms and solar panels combined. This winter, nuclear will play a key role in keeping the lights on. Yet these plants are slated to be decommissioned in April next year.

Greens will no doubt claim that the days when renewables are completely useless only materialise a few times a year – that these Dunkelflaute days are outliers. While that is true to an extent, it is tantamount to a doctor saying that your heart is in good condition, apart from a few days per year when it stops pumping blood through your system. A ‘blackout’ of this vital organ for even a few minutes is usually known as a heart attack. Statisticians might describe such an event as an ‘outlier’, but its consequences would surely be long-lived.

By favouring renewables ahead of more reliable sources of energy, many countries are currently creating all the conditions necessary for such blackouts. Although there are a few laudable exceptions, such as Poland, Finland, Hungary and the Netherlands, which are planning to give nuclear power another try.

It is not only the electricity grid that is suffering from the myopia of our green elites, but our finances, too. UK wholesale day-ahead electricity prices surged to a record high on Monday due to the disappointing performance of Britain’s wind farms.

Activists may claim that a switch to renewable energy is a scientific and moral imperative. But making our energy needs ever more dependent on the whims of the weather is neither scientific nor moral. Higher electricity prices will ultimately lead to higher prices of everything. This will impoverish those who are already suffering financially.

There are signs, however, that outside the minds of pundits and politicians, the hype over renewables is already fading. For instance, the most recent number of new orders for new offshore turbines at the world’s largest producer, Vestas Wind Systems, was the same as Britain’s solar electricity generation while I was writing this article: zero. So perhaps the winds are already changing. If so, it would signal a welcome return to sanity on energy production.

Ralph Schoellhammer is an assistant professor in economics and political science at Webster University Vienna.

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