Renewable Irony: Wind, solar facilities not located to displace fossil fuel plants, study says

That is, a California solar farm won’t replace a Pennsylvania coal plant.

Nature reports:

These renewable energies emit less carbon dioxide and air pollution than burning fossil fuels for electricity. But the windiest and sunniest places in the United States — such as the southwestern plains and deserts — are not always the most socially and environmentally beneficial sites for wind turbines and solar panels. The benefits, according to a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, vary depending on what energy sources are being replaced.

New wind and solar installations displace the most carbon dioxide and air pollutants where they replace the coal-fired plants found predominantly in eastern and Midwestern states such as Indiana and Pennsylvania. The benefits are much smaller in California and the US southwest, where cleaner gas-fired plants are more common.

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7 thoughts on “Renewable Irony: Wind, solar facilities not located to displace fossil fuel plants, study says”

  1. The distance from Arizona to Pennsylvania may be too great.

    The cost of transmission depends on capital costs and power losses, both related to distance. The time difference is enough to require consideration of the timing of demand in Pennsylvania relative to the timing of production in Arizona. You can’t just shut down a power plant because you get a few hours of sunshine or a few windy hours somewhere on the grid.

  2. Exactly like Germany, which built a vast solar and wind failure, only to discover they forgot that their ancient grid couldn’t transport the huge surges of electricity to the parts where it was needed forcing them to dump electricity at negative prices.
    Absurd proposals such as using the electric cables from the public railway were even suggested, they are that f’d up, and constructing a new grid is so totally cost prohibitive they build coal powerplants like it’s going out of fashion.
    Why do all government projects have an exponential failure rate put against cost?

  3. Yes, first, CO2 is no reason to affect any policy.
    Coal is abundant in Montana, an area with few people to use it. We have a huge coal exporting industry, though, and a lot of it is shipped as power instead of coal. We burn it here and send it on down the line — to California, among other places.
    If California could produce solar and wind cheaper than buying our coal-fired electricity, it would be a net win to use them. They can’t; even with subsidies and renewable standards, Montana produces cheaper electricity than California does.
    If we could reliably produce cheap energy in Arizona and ship it to Pennsylvania, it would reduce some problems and create others. It might be a net win. But not as renewables stand now or in the foreseeable future.

  4. First, you could argue for renewable power just on the basis of saving non-renewable resources (I realize this is rather lame because coal is domestic and pretty much in unlimited supply). Second, why not induce these West Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio coal plants to switch over to natural gas (I know the answer at the state level — they produce a lot of local coal in those states, so the politics suck). But third and most importantly, since it’s now clear that CO2 is a good thing, not a driver of CAGW,……………..WHO CARES????

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