We all appreciate IKEA for its mostly simple-to-assemble, cost-effective furniture. IKEA almost entirely furnished the first apartment I had back in 2010. It was a quick solution to my furniture needs.
While the furniture I purchased “performed as expected,” it was not the best quality.
It worked fine for a few years but then needed to be replaced with better-quality products. I learned early on that, in my mother’s words, “quality is everything.” It might cost a little more up-front, but investing in better-quality furniture saved me in the long run.
Like IKEA furniture, the same can be said about solar power. Renewable energy advocates and climate alarmists will tout renewables — solar in particular — as the best energy-production answer to climate change and reducing carbon emissions. But, in reality, it is a short-sighted, quick solution that fails the reliability standard.
Solar energy is a non-dispatchable, non-baseload energy source. Simply put, that means it may not be available when you need it, which is different from dispatchable sources, such as nuclear or clean natural gas. Instead, solar relies on externalities, like when the sun is shining, to provide power. Battery storage can assist with this; however, the batteries can only store a few hours of power, and the power quality from those batteries is not as adequate as other sources.
Owing to its intermittency, solar power is unreliable; a reality known well to Gov. Roy Cooper, when a solar facility application on his Nash County property said that “Solar is an intermittent energy source, and therefore the maximum dependable capacity is 0 MW.”
In order to have a secure and reliable grid, we need to have reliable energy sources.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission’s (NCUC) recently published Carbon Plan suggests that they believe replacing baseload, dispatchable coal with solar is going to meet the reliability standards mandated by law. The plan raised many questions with regards to its compliance with H.B. 951.
There is no empirical way that solar meets any reasonable reliability standard. If the NCUC believes that their decision to switch to solar meets the letter of the law as intended by the General Assembly, then lawmakers need to clearly define reliability in statute for the NCUC.
The John Locke Foundation’s director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Jon Sanders, recently wrote on the NCUC’s decision to tack on more solar in the Carbon Plan. Jon’s continued research and analysis on energy policy in North Carolina is vital to anyone interested in understanding its complexities in a well-informed way.
Diversification of the grid (meaning a mixture of different fuel/energy sources) is good for energy efficiency and production. Many solar advocates will use this as a way to justify more solar on the grid. However, in North Carolina, we already have a well-diversified grid. We are third in the nation in installed solar, so we have no reason to be apologetic about renewables. There is no reason to add additional solar to the grid to achieve grid diversification.
The NCUC claims that we need solar in order to achieve the carbon goals in statute, but Locke’s report, which was submitted to the commission as part of the hearing process for the Carbon Plan, demonstrates we do not need new solar to reach the benchmarks. Locke’s plan shows a least-cost, reliable way forward using dispatchable sources.
Renewable advocates will also use cost analysis to make the case for more renewables, stating that installing solar is cheaper than the construction of a new nuclear facility, for example. While that may be true for the upfront costs, much like the IKEA furniture in my first apartment, you get what you pay for. It may be cheaper up front, but the quality of the product is not sufficient. It may be more expensive to construct new nuclear facilities, but the product you receive is more reliable and will last decades longer. Overall, it is a better investment.
One failure in the logic on the “least cost” of solar is that current law does not observe least cost in a vacuum.
North Carolina law requires that the energy sources used to achieve the carbon goals must be the least cost, most reliable options. So, it must be both least cost and most reliable, which solar misses the mark on without question. Also, solar facilities only typical last for 20-25 years. Whereas a nuclear facility’s lifespan reaches closer to 70-80 years. Again, “quality is everything.”
Another miscalculation in least-cost analysis for solar is the excessive costs required for grid modifications. The grid was designed for dispatchable, baseload power sources. The cost of massive grid modifications to bring more solar onto the grid cannot reasonably comply with the least cost framework of current law, especially when coupled with its intermittency, which makes it unreliable.
Solar indeed “performs as expected.” It provides power when the sun is shining and helps with the diversification of the grid. However, in a world where the security and reliability of the grid has become so critical, owing to physical attacks on infrastructure and rolling blackouts, we should not rely on the IKEA furniture of energy production to provide the stability we need for our energy grid.