Snappy Answers to Energy Questions

By Alex Epstein

Quick and direct answers to common questions you're likely to encounter about energy technologies.

Q: Aren't solar and wind cheaper than fossil fuels?

A: Solar and wind are "unreliables" that depend on reliable fossil fuels, nuclear, and hydro infrastructure. They don't replace the cost of fossil fuels, they add to the cost of fossil fuels. More solar+wind = higher prices.


Solar and wind are intermittent -unreliable- electricity generators. Depending on the strength of the wind blowing or the intensity of sunshine, they produce either too much or too little electricity for the needs of the electric grid, which needs to be maintained in constant balance between supply and demand for electricity. This problem and related costs escalate with increasing solar and wind on the grid, despite claims that their low marginal and operation cost should make them competitive to coal, gas, and nuclear capacity.

With increasing shares of solar and wind on the grid, Germany’s electricity prices massively increased since 2000, when government support for solar wind was massively expanded.
German household electricity prices have more than doubled to over 0.3€ per kWh ($0.35 per kWh depending on currency exchange rate) since 2000 when the modern renewable energy law started to massively incentivize solar and wind capacity on the German grid. BDEW Strompreisanalyse July 2020 p. 7

Analysis of US policies supporting solar and wind by researchers at the University of Chicago shows the same trend in the US:

“The estimates indicate that 7 years after passage of an RPS program, the required renewable share of generation is 1.8 percentage points higher and average retail electricity prices are 1.3 cents per kWh, or 11% higher; the comparable figures for 12 years after adoption are a 4.2 percentage point increase in renewables’ share and a price increase of 2.0 cents per kWh or 17%.

These cost estimates significantly exceed the marginal operational costs of renewables and likely reflect costs that renewables impose on the generation system, including those associated with their intermittency, higher transmission costs, and any stranded asset costs assigned to ratepayers.”

Michael Greenstone and Ishan Nath - Do Renewable Portfolio Standards Deliver?

Denmark and Germany, the two most aggressive pursuers of solar and wind electricity in Europe, have the highest household electricity prices in the EU according to Eurostat. To a large degree this is driven by subsidies for solar and wind directly impacting the consumer bills but also less directly observable cost solar and wind create on an electric grid. Because of their intermittency, both technologies require additional infrastructure and permanent backup by conventional capacity.

Q: Isn't @Apple 100% renewable? That's what they tell us.

A: Apple is lying to you. They use mostly non-renewable energy, but pay utilities to give them credit for the renewable energy you use--and give you the blame for the non-renewable energy they use.

Reference: The Truth About Apple's '100% Renewable' Energy Usage by Alex Epstein

Q: Aren't the CA wildfires proof that we need to switch to green energy as fast as possible?

A: The CA *blackouts* are proof that we need to *stop* switching to unreliable green energy. CA wildfires are proof that we need to remove huge amounts of excess fuel from CA forests.


Q: Isn't nuclear too expensive?

A: Nuclear costs have skyrocketed despite declining fuel costs because of *criminalization*. If nuclear were decriminalized and held to the same safety standards as other forms of energy it would likely be one of the cheapest forms of energy.


Q: What is the biggest obstacle to low-carbon energy?

A: The green movement, including most of the anti-fossil fuel movement, which opposes reliable nuclear and hydro while insisting on unreliable solar and wind.

Q: What do we do about nuclear waste?

A: We keep storing it safely and compactly. Because nuclear is such concentrated energy its waste is tiny compared to the alternatives. A better question is: What do we do about solar panel, wind turbine, and battery waste?


Quadrennial technology review -> materials