As of this writing, 21 people have died in weather-related incidents caused by extreme frigid weather and power outages in the United States and 300 people have been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.
I can’t help but think we are glimpsing into our future. This is what the world looks like with insufficient reliable energy. If the greens get their way, we are going to see a lot more of it.
Just two weeks ago, the smart minds and big money met during the World Economic Forum to plan ways to engineer a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy under the Build Back Better slogan.
Let’s not forget what the extreme green vision is. They want to phase out fossil fuels for all uses, including transportation fuels and home heating. They want to put everything on the power grid. And they want the grid to be 100 per cent fuelled by “free” wind and solar energy. Pause a moment to think about what that would mean.
Every year we enter into deep freeze, I make sure to take a look at @ReliableAB on Twitter to get a snapshot of how much power Alberta is generating from each source. Here’s a representative snapshot from mid-day Feb. 10, the coldest day last week: “At this moment 92.1% of Alberta’s electricity is being produced by fossil fuels. Wind is at 17.7% of capacity and producing 3.0% of total generation, while solar is at 8.3% of capacity and producing 0.200% of total generation. At the same time we are importing 814 MW or 7.1%.” This is fairly typical for this time of year. Wind and solar power are less efficient in winter, especially in higher latitudes.
Now imagine if Alberta had to meet all our electricity needs from wind and solar in February. Further, imagine if all combustion engine vehicles were phased out and we all had to plug in our vehicles to receive power from the grid, also powered entirely by wind and solar. Then add to that, phasing out natural gas for home heating, also all powered by wind and solar.
Do you see a problem yet?
While we have a stark reminder south of the border to help focus our collective brains on reality, I would invite you to answer a simple question. When we have endless weeks of -30 C, would you rather have electricity that is renewable or reliable? This isn’t an academic question anymore. If an energy superpower like Texas can be forced into a position of rolling blackouts that have left as many as five million of its citizens without power at any given time, why would we think we are safe from such danger?
It’s been amusing to see the defenders of wind power loudly jump to the defence of their preferred technology. They argue that natural gas generators also went offline and took 30,000 MW off the grid (compared to 16,000 MW offline from wind). That rather misses the point. If Texas had spent its effort in building up reliable energy options instead of intermittent ones, they would have had additional power to call on when the natural gas plants went down too.
I’m just as concerned about a power grid that is over-reliant on natural gas as I am about a grid that’s over-reliant on intermittent power. Natural gas prices surged as high as US$16.00 per MMbtu due to the emergency demand. While that’s been great for our natural gas producers, it’s not great for power consumers.
This is a wake-up call to electric system operators. As we talk about how we are going to diversify our power generation in the future, the discussion needs to be centred on how we can build more reliable power into the grid. If wind and solar want to expand, they should have to show they have battery storage so they don’t leave us in the lurch. When it comes to reliability, small-scale nuclear, run-of-the-river hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass and hydrogen are all better alternatives.
Wind and solar have had their chance to demonstrate they were the only answer. They’ve failed. Now let’s get serious about the real options so we aren’t the next ones worrying about freezing to death.
Danielle Smith is a freelance commentator.