Renewables Can Carry the Load

According to a report by Chauncey Davis at Ars Technica, a study at the University of Delaware authored by C. Budischak et al. concludes that:

renewable energy sources can, with the help of storage, power a large regional grid for up to 99.9 percent of the time using current technology. By 2030, the cost of doing so will hit parity with current methods. Further, if you can live with renewables meeting your energy needs for only 90 percent of the time, the economics become positively compelling.

While getting to 90% requires large scale, the basic strategy can be implemented at a very local scale, even at a single rural property:

  • When there’s enough renewable energy direct from source to meet demand, use it. Store any surplus.
  • When there is not enough renewable energy direct from source, meet the shortfall with the stored energy.
  • When there is not enough renewable energy direct from source, and the stored energy reserves are insufficient to bridge the shortfall, top up the remaining few percent of the demand with fossil fuels.

Ars Technica should be commended for avoiding the contemptible journalistic practice of not linking to the study. They also link to the press release. Both the article and the press release mention Willett Kempton, who is a coauthor but not the first author, though. Go figure.

I saw a demonstration site in Columbus Texas last week, Industrial Country Market, which runs a sprawling if somewhat peculiar store (this is Texas and people will not shop at a store that is not air-conditioned) and a substantial eclectic hydroponics operation entirely off the grid, mostly with a few yards of solar panels and backup batteries, and a backup generator. Solar panels scale very smoothly and appeal to the redneck self-reliant mentality; the bumper stickers among the shoppers were not particularly left-leaning to say the least.

Take the detour if you’re passing Columbus on I-10, by the way. These guys are a hoot and a half!


  1. If "eclectic hydroponics" is a euphemism, and high-value plants are being grown with grow-lights, I would expect the fuel bill for the "backup" generator to be much greater than the cost of the "few yards of solar panels", which after all would have time-averaged output of a few tens of watts.

  2. No euphemism, by eclectic I meant a wide variety of ornamentals. And not indoor hydroponics as you are inferring, so this isn't about hidden grow lights and contraband at all. That's sort of missing the point though.

    The impressive thing was their air conditioning system, which cooled a large barnlike store. Solar panels are getting cheap and solar flux along interstate 10 is higher than many people in more temperate climes may be familiar with. In fact, if the panels and batteries get much cheaper, labor costs will dominate.

    All of which is why I'm excited about solar-power-to-methane systems, even if expensive at first. Not that it would be cheaper than natural gas, but that it would be a way to store surplus sunlight, and also a way to power vehicles with distributed light industry. Which is something that red America, in particular, would take to with enthusiasm.

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