Firewood Is 'Cheaper,' Too

Monday, October 19, 2020

Advocates of unreliable wind and solar energy frequently make the claim that these two energy sources are "cheaper" than fossil fuels -- as if countless individuals with power bills would fail to notice. (They do, but not because they are stupid. Read on.)

A recent such claim popped up on a tech news aggregator I frequent, and drew a pretty decent comment in reply.

The reply is, in part:

Image by Annie Spratt, via Unsplash, license.
These comparisons solely account for the production costs and not for the system costs of solar energy and are therefore completely useless.

Solar panels will always require a backup power plant as the Sun isn't shining 24/7 and storing large amounts of electric energy isn't trivial.

I'm really disappointed that this kind of non-sense gets posted on [Hacker News] over and over again.

I'm from Germany, we have 50% renewables in our electricity mix and our electricity prices are the highest worldwide.

France has 70% nuclear and their consumer electricity prices are half of the German ones.

Additionally, France emits only 50 grams of CO2 per kWh while Germany emits 400 grams on average per kWh. [bold added]
The German electricity customer is getting screwed by all this "cheap" energy and in the name of a goal -- a goal which is being missed and is of debatable merit, anyway.

And while, yes, it is disappointing to see the same misleading claim repeated ad nauseam, such repetition means multiple opportunities to spread the correct word.

Indeed, although our German commenter has done a good job summarizing the situation in Germany, plenty of Americans might justifiably believe such claims when they are made about such prices here.

We're a freer country, they might think. They might even recall that American utilities bid for electricity from different producers, and have doubtless heard how well solar and wind do in these markets -- markets which are very unfree as it turns out.

Fortunately for the truth and its power to avert calamity, energy advocate Alex Epstein recently interviewed electricity consultant Tom Stacy on this very subject. Here, briefly, is what you can expect, from the blog at the Center for Industrial Progress:
Tom has been able to explain better than anyone else how electricity markets are "rigged against reliables," so I brought him on this week's Power Hour to break down the issue.

Bottom line: the value of reliability is not priced into today's electricity "markets" -- and it needs to be. [bold added]
The interview is aptly titled, "Rigged Against Reliables," and is worth a full listening. For anyone interested in more detail, Stacy is the author of a study at the Institute for Energy Research concluding that, "Wind [and] solar [are] up to five times more costly than existing coal and nuclear."

The whole way this comparison is usually put also reminds me that I could go out into the woods near my house and gather pieces of wood for my cooking. That's free, but I don't do this.


For very good reasons: Prices are meaningless outside a context. Here, I can see that the price of my free firewood is based on an incomplete accounting for such things as: (a) the ease of obtaining the propane, natural gas, or electricity, I use, instead; (b) the ease of use of any of these over wood; and (c) the amount of time I would lose at first and any other time I chose to cook with a wood fire. This is exactly what the "solar and wind are cheaper" crowd is asking you to do, only they hope you won't do this homework, or realize that they have skipped it themselves.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

What always gets me is that wind and solar power have niches where they do out-perform fossil fuels and nuclear power. Mostly these are small, isolated applications. Look at any picture of a farm from the mid-20th century and you see a windmill, because it was a very practical solution to a real problem (powering pumps in wells, among other things). Today there are people who carry solar power charging stations for cell phones and other electronic devices while hiking or working in relatively remote areas. Nuclear and fossil fuel power only really become viable as you increase scale. Solar and wind power are the reverse: small applications are ideal, while larger applications don't work.

I will believe that Environmentalists are serious about solar power when I see the first solar-powered lawn mower for sale at Home Depot. It would be a simple thing to do--electric lawn mowers exist, you just need to make a solar-powered charging station for the battery. It wouldn't even have to be terrifically efficient, because people only mow once a week or once every other week. The amount of fuel burned to trim grass (not to mention the spills) is pretty astronomical. It would be a clear victory, and one that would likely make the person who did it a fair amount of money. The fact that they don't do this shows they aren't serious, don't understand the conditions they're trying to change, and don't understand the technology they're trying to push.

Gus Van Horn said...


You are correct. My example: Back before computers ate calculators, I used a solar-powered one, and still own it.

A type of hurricane readiness item I have seen on offer is a solar panel. I haven't looked into these much, but IIRC, they're mainly geared towards charging electronics.

Still, it doesn't seem like much of a leap to be able to charge batteries for mowers or power tools with these. Of course, if you have power already, convenience makes it uneconomical except for some niche or emergency use cases...