Apr 22, 2023Liked by Packy McCormick

So happy to see an agriculture story in the Weekly Dose! 🌱 Lots to be optimistic about in agriculture, especially considering the potential of agriculture to address many of the biggest challenges of our time (climate change, nutrition, labor, immigration, etc.)

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Apr 21, 2023Liked by Packy McCormick

Thanks so much, needed that

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Inspiring, as always. Thank you.

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There is a role for solar power in grid electricity, but it is far more likely a small one. Net Zero is a fantasy.

Let's start with simple math: solar PV averages capacity factor of around 20%.

Capacity factor (cap factor) is what percent of the year that power is actually provided.

Cap factor for nuclear, coal, natural gas or oil (yes there is still oil and diesel fuel powered electricity generation in the United States) range from 60% to 80%.

This means 1 gigawatt (GW) of nuclear/fossil fuel generation must be replaced with 3 or 4 GWs of solar. If this was all that was necessary, no problem. But it isn't.

The other problem is that this solar power is intermittent because it is literally unreliable on hour, day, week and even monthly periods. So not only does the 3GW or 4GW of solar PV produce 3x or 4x more power at peak periods than the 1GW of nuclear/fossil fuels it supposedly replaces, it also doesn't produce even 1GW of power, reliably, for significant and unpredictable periods of time. This means every single GW of solar PV (or wind) must be 100% backed up by something else - which is 100% some form of fossil fuel because nuclear doesn't turn on or off quickly.

LCOE - the supposed equivalent price of solar PV vs. other methods - specifically does not take this 100% required backup cost and expense into account. For small amounts of solar PV or wind - the grid operators can figure it out but this becomes impossible at fairly low levels. California generates only slightly over 5% of its electricity from solar PV but is already throwing away 1.5 million megawatt-hours a year due to the aforementioned over-production "feature".

Clearly Net Zero is impossible with intermittent generation like solar PV or wind unless grid scale battery storage - at an affordable cost and safe profile - is achieved.

Oh but battery tech is advancing rapidly, you say.

Yes and no. Tech is improving - the leading edge lithium batteries are now roughly 2/3rds the energy density of gunpowder. To achieve cost and scale to grid scale storage, the energy density has to increase at least 10x. Just how safe is something that is 6x the energy density of gunpowder where approximately 1.1 million megawatt-hours of electricity is equivalent to an atomic bomb?

Note that the electricity consumption of California for 1 day is about 2/3rds of said atomic bomb so we will require multiple atomic bombs worth of energy stored at high energy density in order to offset solar PV and wind intermittency.

So even if the mineral part is not an issue - which it is - the absolute safety, cost, outright feasibility are issues as well.

From a money-making standpoint - I have no doubt profitable companies will be built involving solar PV and wind. The literal trillions already spent plus new programs like the $591 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act will make it happen.

The notion that this "progress" is actually solving the problem though - delusional.

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