HomeWeather NewsWeekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #544 • Watts Up With That?

Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #544 • Watts Up With That?

The Week That Was: 2023-03-18 (March 18, 2023)
Brought to You by SEPP (
The Science and Environmental Policy Project

Quote of the Week: Cheap renewables are very expensive.”— Power engineers Chris Morris and Russ Schussler

Number of the Week:$35 Trillion


By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

Scope: The following issues will be discussed. Canadian historian John Robson brings up the parable of the broken windows by French economist Claude-Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) in discussing the commitment by the US government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to replace the delicately tuned, well-functioning electric system with unreliable wind and solar power. Some may get rich, while the society becomes poorer.

Power station engineer from New Zealand Chris Morrison and Planning Engineer Russ Schussler discuss problems arising in Australia from efforts in the states of South Australia and Western Australia to transition the electrical grid to Net Zero carbon dioxide emissions. The transition is far from complete, and the problems of providing a stable grid—and its hidden costs—are compounding with no end in sight.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) produced a report on the feasibility of the US grid going to carbon dioxide Net Zero by 2030. The report states: “Clean electricity shares could increase substantially with IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) and BIL (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law), rising from 41% in 2022 to a range of 71%–90% of total generation by 2030.” Interestingly, the report does not discuss costs particularly those of grid stability and costs of backup. No doubt, the authors assume the $430 billion from the ill-named Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) will pay for it all. The experiences in Australia, Germany, and the UK are not very encouraging.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) produced its “Annual Energy Outlook, 2023” which is not as rosy as those of NREL. The costs of going net zero is unknown. There is no successful demonstration project anywhere in the world. There is no successful demonstration project of needed backup anywhere in the world. At least the EIA recognizes there is a range of unknowns and makes crude estimates of high cost and low cost. No one really understands what they may be. Ordering technology that does not exist is not as simple as ordering dinner.

Writing for the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) Michael Kelly, the Emeritus Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the University of Cambridge, produced his estimates of what it will cost the US to go Net Zero. The estimate is staggering and the $430 billion discussed by NREL is a drop in the bucket. It probably will not cover the costs of materials alone.

Francis Menton asks which entity, city, state, or country, will hit the green wall first? He gives his nomination.

The Biden Administration approved Conoco’s Willow Project in the barren tundra of North Slope of Alaska, which was set aside for petroleum development. This approval received condemnation by environmentalist. However, there is no reason to assume that just because the administration granted a formal permit, it will allow the project to develop.

Roy Spencer is developing estimates for the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect with some surprising results.

Atmospheric rivers on the west coast existed before European settlers arrived. Based on contemporary reports, native Americans may have understood conditions that predict their arrival, but no one really knows. There is an effort to establish a scale to measure the intensity similar to measuring the intensity of a hurricane. It is needed.


What Is Seen and Not Seen: John Robson writes:

“Scrapping America’s energy infrastructure then spending trillions to get back to the same level of production will leave the nation as a whole poorer.”

Robson gives a pithy summary of French economist Frédéric Bastiat’s 1850 essay “That Which We See and That Which We Do Not See” when he writes:

“But the simple story is that Bastiat had it right. If you break every window in America then replace them all, the nation will be better off with fixed windows than with broken ones. But it cannot be better off than before the windows were broken because fixing them all only restores the benefits of having the original windows, but all the labor and raw material required to replace them is gone for good.”

America had a solid, finely tuned, robust electrical grid with 99.99% reliability until politicians began adding unreliable, erratic wind and solar on the made-up claim that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels is causing dangerous global warming. As stated in last week’s TWTW, Howard Hayden used the numbers for the greenhouse effect produced in the last full report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Sixth Assessment Report” (AR6, 2021): Making a calculation the IPCC did not make, Hayden found that a doubling of CO2 would increase the total greenhouse effect by 2.3% — a trivial amount. Climate change is mostly natural or from human change of the earth’s surface. See last week’s TWTW and link under Questioning the Orthodoxy.


Driving Up Prices: Australian columnist Jo Nova writes: “Mystery: Australians invest billions in free wind and solar, but prices rise another 20-30%.” She gives a good chart of the “Annual volume weighted average 30-minute prices – regions” on the wholesale markets by the Australian Energy Regulator. It shows dramatically increasing cost of electricity in a country with abundant fossil fuels. The politicians advocating “affordable wind and solar” are incompetent; they have no idea of what they are doing.

TWTW has covered how there is no project in the world that demonstrates how much backup wind and solar require. Green politicians and the bureaucracies that support them ignore this simple fact. The costs of the required backup are unknown.

Writing in Judith Curry’s blog, Climate Etc., Power engineers Chris Morrison and Russ Schussler bring up other unknown costs that are being incurred in Australia and elsewhere when solar and wind replace thermal or hydro power – the costs of stabilizing the grid. Except for straight gas turbines (jet engines) used to generate electrical power for short durations, thermal generators (fossil fuel and nuclear) have massive steam turbines and hydropower uses massive turbines. These turbines are tuned to generate the frequency, voltage, and phase of the electricity being consumed, load. But varying load creates a problem, the engineers write: [boldface added]

“Alternating Current (AC) power generation aims to produce an alternating voltage in the shape of a sine wave, whereby the current has a similar wave at the same frequency. However, the current may not be timed in phase with the voltage. AC power can have three types of load, depending on how it affects the timing of the current to the voltage: resistive, inductive & capacitive. For a purely resistive load, the current and voltage are co-incident. However, this is not the normal case. Electric loads and grids have both inductive and capacitive elements. Inductive elements want to maintain constant current flows, while capacitive ones want to store charge (voltage). Active power is measured in Watts. With AC being a cycle, there is another value orthogonal to it, called reactive power, measured in units of Volt Amps Reactance or VARs.  The diagram below explains the relationship. [Not shown here]

Generators and inverters produce some mixture of “real” and “reactive” power. That is why they and transformers are rated in MVA, not MW like their prime movers are.  Real power, in watts, is the form of electricity that powers equipment and does work. Reactive power, in VARs, is the energy supplied to create or be stored in electric or magnetic fields in and around electrical equipment. VARs are 90° out of phase with real power. Reactive power (inductance) is particularly important for equipment that relies on magnetic fields for the production of induced electric currents (e.g., motors, transformers, pumps, and air conditioning.) Negative reactive power (capacitance) seeks to slow voltage waves by acting as a store for charges. The balance between real and reactive power is adjusted to meet the needed load and grid requirements.

Transmission line elements both consume and produce reactive power. Under conditions of light loads, transmission lines are net producers, and at heavy loads, they are heavy consumers. Reactive power consumption by these loads tends to depress transmission voltage, while production of transmission voltage (by generators, transformers, or synchronous condensers (syncons) or injection (from storage devices such as capacitors) tends to support voltage. Due to the characteristics of components on the grid, reactive power can be transmitted only over relatively short distances during heavy load conditions. If reactive power cannot be supplied promptly and in sufficient quantity, voltages decay, and in extreme cases a ‘voltage collapse’ may result. If there is too much capacitance, voltages rise to excessive levels, damaging the insulation of equipment.

Worldwide, motors comprise about half the load on the grid. Air conditioning loads are almost exclusively motors. As well as needing the active power, motors produce significant reactive power. The distribution Network elements (local ‘low voltage (<66kV)’ lines, transformers, and switchyard components) have to absorb this reactive power, usually by increasing the voltage at the transformers. If the system can’t compensate for the reactive power or has no more capacity, then the voltage starts to drop, while the motors’ current and reactive power increases. This compounds the overvoltage problem – why you get brownout in the suburbs on those muggy hot afternoons.

Because of the lines and transformers in a grid, the VARs at each part, or even at either end of a single transmission line, can be significantly different. That means compromises or corrections need to be made throughout the distribution & transmission network. This is done by modifying generation output settings, changing transformer tap point settings and switching in or out capacitors, inductors and synchronous condensers installed at strategic locations. Grid operators monitor the various parameters, then adjust the settings as the generation source and loads change.

All this explanation and discussion about reactive power may seem esoteric and irrelevant. It isn’t. The large 2003 blackout in the USA/ Canada was caused because they weren’t managing reactive power properly because they had an inadequate system understanding.

The authors go into the problems of siting wind turbines far from where the load is consumed, which requires additional transmission lines and produce unpredictable variability, requiring additional equipment, substantially increasing costs.

“The frequency is the timing between wave cycles in an AC system 60Hz (a Hertz is one cycle per second) and 50Hz in most of the rest of the world. The frequency has to be the same across the whole grid – it is one of the things that defines it.  A stable grid frequency is critical for effective operation. Thermal plants usually provide this by using governor control, whereby the frequency drives the plant output through a negative feedback device. The grid system operators may also run real time or short period dispatch, whereby the plant operators increase or decrease load over short time periods on grid operator’s instructions.

The inertia, provided by the rotating machinery of the generator, serves to slow the rate of change of frequency (RoCoF). The slower the frequency changes occur, the less stress for the plant on governors. And as there is linkage, a small RoCoF in ‘normal’ grid fluctuations will also stabilize the voltage and reactive power requirements.”

The Australian grid is experiencing rapid swings in frequency going outside of control limits.

The cause of the variability observed hasn’t been positively identified but is likely to be uncontrolled solar generation. If that is the case, then it indicates that faster acting and more expensive frequency control services are needed.”

The need to stabilize the rate of change of frequency results in hidden costs that are not charged to the source of the instability, the wind turbines or solar panels, but to the consumer. In discussing battery reserves the engineers write:

“Inertia on a renewables grid can be provided by synchronous condensers or by large battery banks with specialized electronics. Of course, the batteries have to have enough charge in them to function, so they are reserved for just that purpose and thus can’t be used for other purposes like general market dispatch.  However, AEMO does not appear to believe that renewables and batteries are a substitute for the frequency response provided by synchronous units.”

In subsidizing certain generation and implementing mandates, politicians are creating a mess of a scope and the cost of which is unknown. The engineers give further detail then conclude:

“The above is a simplified explanation of what is needed for reliable grid operation. Proponents of renewable energy do not want to discuss concerns of this sort, particularly the costs involved. When forced to address these issues, they rely on magical thinking, advocating for technologies that either do not yet exist or have not yet been proven to work reliably on a grid. The known solutions are expensive, but the renewable sector doesn’t want to pay for them – their mantra remains that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels so the others should pay for them – hiding the expense. Add in the costs from the needed system support requirements described above, then renewables are significantly more expensive (and less reliable) than conventional generation. The extra costs of renewables support are being paid for a deteriorating quality of electricity supply. That is why there is a new industry adage –

Cheap renewables are very expensive.”

See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Energy Issues – Australia and Article #2


A Puff Piece? In sharp contrast to the problems brought up by Chris Morrison and Russ Schussler, the NREL report is a “puff piece” that is excessively favorable towards Net Zero. The $430 Billion from the two bills will solve all problems. After discussing the two bills the summary reads: [Boldface added]

“While the climate and clean energy provisions are numerous and have the potential to impact all aspects of the U.S. energy system from fuel and electricity production to final consumption in industry, transportation, and buildings, the provisions relevant to the electricity sector—in particular the suite of tax credits for clean generation, storage, and carbon dioxide (CO2 ) capture and storage—are expected to be some of the most consequential in terms of emissions reduction and clean energy deployment [References omitted here.]

In this report, we detail the methods and results of a study estimating the potential impacts of key provisions of IRA and BIL on the contiguous U.S. power sector from present day through 2030. The analysis employs an advanced power system planning model, the Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS), to evaluate how major provisions from both laws impact investment in and operation of utility-scale generation, storage, and transmission, and, in turn, how those changes impact power system costs, emissions, and climate and health damages. While not exhaustive in capturing every provision, the analysis estimates the possible scale of power sector impacts that could result from the modeled provisions in IRA and BIL.”

In short, lots of modeling but no examples of demonstrated successes. Further, the report goes into “saving” from avoided climate change, which require exaggerated effects of CO2 emissions as well fictitious modeled health threats from particulate matter, (That will be discussed more fully in the upcoming TWTW.) The report states that the discount rate used for future benefits is 2%, which is absurdly low given the inflation rate is above 6%. Subsequently, it concludes:

“Sensitivities structured to evaluate less favorable conditions for clean electricity deployment, including higher projected costs of clean electricity technologies and barriers to technology and infrastructure deployment, were shown to reduce the level of total clean electricity deployed. However, even in these cases, the IRA and BIL were still found to drive substantial increases in the clean electricity share, reaching over 70%, with power sector emissions falling to 72% below the 2005 level. Nonetheless, the lower rate of clean energy deployment in the deployment constrained and high clean cost cases highlights the potential value of continued research and development to drive advancements in clean electricity technologies as well as actions taken to mitigate existing and developing constraints on deployment of clean electricity, transmission, and pipeline and storage infrastructure.

Finally, while this suite of changes ultimately arise as a result of the overall increase in investment in clean electricity technologies, the increased capital expenditures (and non-fuel operating expenditures) are more than offset by a reduction in fuel expenditures associated with decreased fossil generation and increased value (and scope) of the tax credits. In aggregate, this leads to a net reduction in average bulk power system costs.  Irrespective of future market conditions we find that the IRA and BIL could spur substantial increases in clean technology investment in the U.S. power sector, driving down greenhouse gas emissions, all while lowering electricity costs. Fully realizing these modeled benefits will require action by all jurisdictions of U.S. government—federal, state, and local—the private sector, and civil society to support the beneficial deployment of clean energy technologies.”

It is amazing what you can accomplish when you model benefits but do not include costs. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy.


A Politically Practical Estimate? The “Annual Energy Outlook, 2023” provides a practical example between what we know and what we do not know for politically charged Washington. It explores long term trends, yet recognizes the US nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement which has a target that the US reduce emissions to about 50 to 52% of 2005 levels. It states: [Boldface added]

“Overall, our lower projected U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions are driven by increased electrification, equipment efficiency, and renewable technologies for electricity generation. However, emissions reductions are limited by longer-term growth in U.S. transportation and industrial activity. As a result, these projected emissions reductions are most sensitive to our assumptions regarding economic growth and the cost of zero-carbon generation technology.

Renewable generating capacity grows in all regions of the United States in all AEO2023 cases, supported by growth in installed battery capacity.”

There is no demonstration project of what battery capacity is needed and costs. The report then goes into some highly questionable assumptions.

Once built and when the resource is available, wind and solar are the least cost resources to operate to meet electricity demand because they have zero fuel costs. Over time, the combined investment and operating cost advantage increases the share of zero-carbon electricity generation.

The report makes questionable predictions about expansion of wind and solar then states:

“In the residential and commercial sectors, higher equipment efficiencies and stricter building codes extend ongoing declines in energy intensity. Despite the growth in adopting heat pumps, natural gas-fired heating equipment, including furnaces and boilers, continue to account for the largest share of energy consumption for space heating in U.S. residential and commercial buildings across all cases through 2050. In the transportation sector, light-duty vehicle energy demand declines through 2045 as more electric vehicles are deployed and stricter Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards largely offset the continued growth in travel demand. The energy demand then increases as rising travel overcomes increasing efficiency. Across all cases, light-duty vehicle energy demand decreases by 3% to 28% in 2050 relative to 2022.”

Overall, the report recognizes a range in technology improvements and associated cost. It does not project Net Zero. Further, it recognizes the huge disparity between solar generation and electricity use. Natural gas remains important in electricity generation. The report has a range of emission reduction estimates. See link under Questioning the Orthodoxy and Article # 1.


Hard Nose Estimates? Michael Kelly produced a report on the costs of the US going Net Zero that can be called Hard Nose. He writes:

“Conceit: I imagine that I have been appointed the first CEO of a new agency set up by the Federal Government of the United States of America with the explicit goal of actually delivering a Net Zero CO2 emissions economy by 2050. My first task is to scope the project and to estimate the assets required to succeed. This is the result of that exercise and includes a discussion of some consequences that flow from the scale and timescale for meeting the target.

Executive summary: The cost to 2050 will comfortably exceed $12 trillion for electrification projects, and $35 trillion for improving the energy efficiency of buildings. A work-force comparable in size to the health sector will be required for 30 years, including a doubling of the present number of electrical engineers. The bill of specialist materials is of a size that, for the USA alone, is several times the global annual production. On the manpower front, one will have to rely on the domestic workforce, as everywhere else in the world is aiming for the same target. If they were not doing so, the value of the USA specific target would be moot. The scale of this project suggests that a war footing, and a command economy will be essential, as major cuts to other favored forms of expenditure, such as health, education, and defense, will be needed. Without a detailed roadmap, as exemplified by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors that drove the electronics revolution after 1980, the target is simply unattainable.” [Boldface added]

See link under Challenging the Orthodoxy


Hitting the Wall: Francis Menton writes:

“The race is on to see who hits the green energy wall of impossibility first. California, Germany, and the UK (the “Poseurs”) might seem to have leapt early into the lead positions. But New York is now making a strong sprint to catch and surpass them, so it can be the first to splatter its citizens’ flesh and blood all over the impenetrable barricade.

“We’re about to see thousands of buildings designated as lawbreakers and subjected to punishing annual fines, with no realistic way to get around them.  Let’s see how long this can continue.”

Menton discusses the massive fines apartment owners in New York City, including condominium owners, will face in not meeting energy efficiency standards in 2024. Probably the wealthy in New York will squeal. Will the politicians listen? See link under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Battle Beginning? The Department of Interior issued a Record of Decision on ConocoPhillips Willow Project after nearly five years of effort. If the project goes ahead with three core pads on the barren tundra, it will deliver at least $8 billion to the federal government, the state of Alaska and North Slope Borough communities. Also, it will deliver needed oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). No doubt, Greens will try to think of ways to stop the development. See links under Problems in the Orthodoxy and Energy Issues — US


UHI Effect, Beginning Results: Roy Spencer’s efforts to estimate the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect produced interesting initial results. Starting in the 1880s, he found the effects are weakening over time. He states:

“Eventually, all of this will lead to an estimation of how much of the land warming (say, since 1880) has been spurious due to the Urban Heat Island effect. As I have mentioned previously, I don’t believe it will be large. But it needs to be documented.”

See link under Measurement Issues — Surface


Measuring Atmospheric Rivers: The recent rain and snowfall in California has created a renewed interest in measuring the intensity of Atmospheric Rivers, also called tropical plumes, water vapor surges, cloud bands, Pineapple Express, etc. There is no reason to assume they are increasing in intensity. See links under Measurement Issues – Atmosphere.


Number of the Week: $35 Trillion. Michael Kelly’s estimate of cost of meeting the announced energy standards for buildings in the US. The 2021 US gross domestic product was $23.3 Trillion. See link under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


Government & Media Censorship & Matt Taibbi

By Jennifer Marohasy, Her Blog, Mar 16, 2023

“The ‘Twitter Files’ confirm what many have suspected for years –- that governments and much of the mainstream media actively work with social media giants to censor and deplatform those they disagree with. Journalist Matt Taibbi explained something of the problem last Thursday in testimony to the US House of Representatives.”

The Censorship Industrial complex — the secret cabal of Big-Government, University, Media and NGO’s

By Jo Nova, Her Blog, Mar 11, 2023

Challenging the Orthodoxy — NIPCC

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science

Idso, Carter, and Singer, Lead Authors/Editors, Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), 2013


Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts

Idso, Idso, Carter, and Singer, Lead Authors/Editors, Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), 2014


Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels

By Multiple Authors, Bezdek, Idso, Legates, and Singer eds., Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, April 2019

Download with no charge:

Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming

The NIPCC Report on the Scientific Consensus

By Craig D. Idso, Robert M. Carter, and S. Fred Singer, Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), Nov 23, 2015

Download with no charge:

Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate

S. Fred Singer, Editor, NIPCC, 2008

Global Sea-Level Rise: An Evaluation of the Data

By Craig D. Idso, David Legates, and S. Fred Singer, Heartland Policy Brief, May 20, 2019

Challenging the Orthodoxy

Australian renewable energy transition. Part 3

By Chris Morrison and Planning Engineer Russ Schussler, Climate Etc. Mar 14, 2023

Net Zero could cost Americans more than $50 trillion, new paper warns

By Paul Homewood, Not a Lot of People Know That, Mar 17, 2023

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