All over the world, consumers are being slammed by soaring energy prices. In Australia, the wholesale cost of electricity jumped by 141 percent in the first three months of 2022. In Britain, residential customers are paying about 43 percent more for their household energy than they were last year, and prices are expected to jump another 65 percent. in October. And here in the US, we’re paying close to $5 a gallon—for the first time in generations. That’s thanks in no small part to the Biden administration, which has restricted oil and gas drilling while continually promoting renewable energy. Among the most recent moves: a pledge to deploy 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
Pushing for offshore wind—one of the most forms of electricity production—may please some of Biden’s supporters, but the latest evidence shows that investing too much in wind energy is terrible for grid reliability, as well as bad for consumers.
Consider the case of Texas. Last month, renewable boosters in the state were crowing about how renewables were “bailing out” the Texas power grid. Yet those boosters have been silent lately. Why? Over the past few days, as temperatures have soared to over 100 degrees and electricity use in Texas has been setting new records, ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, has been asking residents to use less power.
Texas doesn’t have enough juice because at the same time that power demand is soaring, output from the 35,000 megawatts of wind capacity in the state has been falling to near zero.
to data published by ERCOT, on both July 10 and July 11, at about 1 pm, when power demand was rising percent according to that, the output from all of wind capacity was only about 1,000 megawatts or roughly 3 of its potential output. The wind energy was just… disappearing.
Wind energy’s disappearing act is a recurring problem in Texas. During Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, as the state’s electric grid was on the verge of collapse, the output from the state’s wind sector plummeted. As Ed Crooks of the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie noted last December, the long-term significance of the Texas crisis” is “directly connected to renewable energy. The worst of the problems hit during an extended ‘wind drought’ with low wind speeds and power output across a vast area of the US”
When it comes to hot climates like Texas, the times when you need the most energy are also going to be the times when you have the least wind. Wind energy is a losing proposition—especially given that due to population growth and a booming industrial sector, electricity demand in Texas is growing faster than in any other state. And yet, the ERCOT grid isn’t adding enough dispatchable generation capacity to meet demand. Instead, it has been inundated with heavily subsidized wind and solar. That has made the state’s grid far more reliant on weather-dependent renewables.
Wind energy’s vanishing act isn’t a secret. Back in 2011, in a piece for National Review, I pointed out that during an August heat wave, output from the state’s wind turbines was just 1,500 megawatts, or 15 percent of what the state was using. I found that there were three days on which wind energy was able to contribute a scant 1 percent of total demand.
Texas isn’t alone. Dramatic swings in wind energy output are wreaking havoc on the German electric grid, too. Last December, Reuters reported that Europe’s largest wind producers were experiencing similar problems—especially Germany. And this week, Bloomberg reported that German electricity prices had more than doubled due to calm winds and reduced flows of natural gas from Russia.
“Wind power output in Europe’s biggest power market peaked at 8,242 megawatts at midnight and is poised to fall to about 2,000 megawatts on Tuesday,” per Bloomberg.
The lack of wind means Germany and other European countries will have to burn more natural gas. That will result in yet more pain for consumers because natural gas prices in Europe are now about $49 per million Btu or roughly eight times the price of that same amount of energy here in the US
It’s readily apparent that the energy crisis that is engulfing Germany and the rest of Europe is the result of bad energy policy. Over the past two decades, Europe has spent too much money on renewables and too little on hydrocarbons or preserving existing coal and nuclear plants.
The same is true in Texas. Between 2014 and 2020, about 6,200 megawatts of coal-fired capacity in Texas was retired, and despite rising electricity demand, the state has not added any new gas-fired generation over the past two decades. The result is that by the end of next year, the Texas grid could have more weather-dependent generation capacity than it has gas-fired capacity.
The punchline here is obvious: We could cover all of Texas and Germany with wind turbines, but we can’t make the wind blow. Those two provinces are running short of electricity because they have made their electric grids too reliant on weather-dependent renewables.
If climate change means we are going to be facing more extreme weather—hotter summers, colder winters, or both—it is pure foolishness to make our electric grid dependent on the weather. And yet, that is exactly what is happening.
Robert Bryce is the host of the Power Hungry Podcast, executive producer of the documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, and the author of six books, including most recently, A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations. Follow him on Twitter: @pwrhungry.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.