Today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work

Not my words, but the words of two highly motivated engineers who did everything they could to find energy cheaper than coal in order to halt climate change.

It seems that those two engineers (Ross Koningstein and David Fork) of the Google project RE<C were coming to this conclusion the hard way: What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change with the subtitle: Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us. So what will?

This is what Google wanted to achieve with the project:

Google’s boldest energy move was an effort known as RE<C, which aimed to develop renewable energy sources that would generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants do. The company announced that Google would help promising technologies mature by investing in start-ups and conducting its own internal R&D. Its aspirational goal: to produce a gigawatt of renewable power more cheaply than a coal-fired plant could, and to achieve this in years, not decades.

They certainly didn’t have a lack of motivation. They are firm believers that rising CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will have catastrophic effects. But nonwithstanding their eagerness to solve this issue, the project didn’t work out and Google stopped it after four years.

As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.

They apparently found out that those renewable sources are intermittent and that this poses a problem in a continuous system. Who woulda thunk?

While a large emissions cut sure sounded good, this scenario still showed substantial use of natural gas in the electricity sector. That’s because today’s renewable energy sources are limited by suitable geography and their own intermittent power production.

[…]

Unfortunately, most of today’s clean generation sources can’t provide power that is both distributed and dispatchable. Solar panels, for example, can be put on every rooftop but can’t provide power if the sun isn’t shining.

The result that shocked them was that even in their most optimistic scenarios, they didn’t see significant emission reductions. However, that the current renewable energy solutions (like wind and solar) aren’t mature enough to significantly cut emissions is not exactly a secret. It has been the subject for many, many posts on skeptical blogs for several years. But nice that they eventually figured it out in the end and acknowledged the issues.

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