published in the journal Energy Policy, is clearly a serious work. It has practical guidance as to how New York might proceed with his ideas, but is largely intended, I think, as an explication of its efficacy.
I was amused by a table he created of “plants or devices” needed to achieve his goal – about 16,000 windmills and almost 5 million residential PV systems all told. That’s a lot of windmills that all have moving parts to keep in order. And a lot of buy-in will be required to induce people too install PV systems on their roofs.
But I imagine it could be done.
The real fun comes in how to deal with the intermittency of renewable energy, because it sounds like Rube Goldberg gone berserk. There is no real way to stow significant levels of electricity, which sends Beahan (and Howarth) skittering across the possibilities.
He [Howarth] deals with the problem of variability of wind and sun by building over-capacity and storing the excess energy. It would be stored both where it is produced and where it is used, in batteries, thermal media, pumped water, compressed air, fly wheels, in the batteries of our new fleet of all electric vehicles and in the form of hydrogen for burning where high temperatures are needed.
In bathtubs, crock pots and fish tanks, where ever electricity can be stuffed. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do with the electricity stored in an electric car except use it to power the car, but the other possibilities probably can not get you where you need to go – the technology is all over the place.
Here’s how Howarth presents the same issue:
A) combining geographically-dispersed WWS [wind water sunlight] resources as a bundled set of resources rather than separate resources and using hydroelectric or stored concentrated solar power to balance the remaining load; (B) using demand-response management to shift times of demand to better match the availability of WWS power; (C) over-sizing WWS peak generation capacity to minimize the times when available WWS power is less than demand and provide power to produce heat for air and water and hydrogen for transportation and heating when WWS power exceeds demand; (D) integrating weather forecasts into system operation; (E) storing energy in batteries or other storage media at the site of generation or use; and (F) storing energy in electric-vehicle batteries for later extraction (vehicle-to-grid).
So that’s how you’d use the cars – or perhaps just banks of their batteries. But it’s still an ungainly hodgepodge. Howarth doesn’t describe how all this would be mediated, but it’d be tough. I’d say when you include “integrating weather forecasts into system operation” as a suggestion, you’re not moving forward anymore.
The complete loss of baseload energy is a sort of utopia for a fair number of environmentalists and they should be cheered by Professor Howarth’s work. I’m going to trust that what he proposes can be done, even if in a Rube Goldberg kind of way and even if the main interest here is showing how it can be done not whether it should be done.
Howarth is off the hook, but his report is a trap for the dogmatic. It puts a carbon free utopia on a foundation of sand and fog. Nuclear energy gets you to a emissions free energy profile and you don’t have to put the electricity in a trunk – and renewable energy still has a significant role. It’s not either/or. Let’s call Professor Howarth’s paper a worthy exercise and leave it at that.