“Although advertised as ‘free’ energy, wind and solar have always increased the cost of electricity delivered to the end user.”

That op-ed comment in a Virginia newspaper raises to me several issues important to know about energy.

The commentary is titled: Virginia should not rely solely on wind and solar power.

The commentary writer additionally says:

Citizens and businesses need highly reliable sources of electricity. The North American Electric Reliability Corp., or NERC, has started expressing concerns about the effect of renewables that would not provide “sufficient resource adequacy across most of the electric grid for the next decade.”

“There is a growing risk related to the high penetration of renewables in some regions,” NERC continues. “The addition of wind and solar, along with the continued growth of distributed energy resources and the retirement of conventional generation, are fundamentally changing how the grid is planned and operated.”

My points:

Energy diversity builds strength.

The op-ed title is absolutely right. Do not depend on just wind and power. Think about the axiom not to put all your eggs in one basket.

There are smart business and customer reasons for electric generation fuel diversity. “The power business is customer driven: consumers do not want to pay more than necessary for reliable power supply, and they want some stability and predictability in their monthly power bills,” says The Value of US Power Supply Diversity study. “Employing the diverse mix of fuels and technologies available today produces lower and less volatile power prices…”

Energy diversity looks to the future and helps our power transition. “We need to maintain diversity in our energy system – diversity not just in the mix of technologies that we can deploy today, but also in the mix that we can deploy in future. …While diversity alone is unlikely to be a sufficient condition for resilience, it appears to be a necessary condition when thinking about resilience in the long run, particularly in the face of deep uncertainty.” (Source)

That uncertainty, to me, is the changing weather and climate. A 2005 study from the National Regulatory Research Institute made the case: “By its inherent nature, fuel diversity increases flexibility and optionality for an electric power system. With more choices, a utility has better capability to adapt to changed conditions. ‘Better’ implies that if unexpected events occur, the utility can respond more quickly and cheaply, and overall lessen the chances of a high-cost outcome, than if the utility had fewer choices.”

Everything Costs Money

I recall when the prospects of ample nuclear power were that there would be so much energy it would “be too cheap to meter.” That phrase was from a 1954 speech by the then-Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis L. Strauss.

On March 16 I read a column that said, “Once wind turbines are installed, operating them is essentially free.” This column was in response to the Texas freeze.

Of course, that is not true of nuclear, any fuel, or any system that must make and transport power. Or any organization that must research new energy technologies. Sunlight is free, but not the panels, circuits, poles, or wires. Wind turbine maintenance runs about 1.5-2.0% per annum. Maybe 3% for older installations (Source).

Scientific American’s blog says: “We often hear news about the plummeting cost of natural gas, wind, and solar generation (and the poor prospects of coal), but almost no attention is paid to the cost of the grid itself. The wires, poles, substations, transformers, control center operators, utility line workers, and hundreds of other components and individuals that make up the electric grid are absolutely vital — yet their cost is rarely included in critical discussions about the transformation of the electricity sector and pathways to decarbonization.

Infrastructure needs attention. “Over the past three decades, extreme weather events such as hurricanes, ice storms, floods, heat waves, droughts and wildfires have become more common and costly in the U.S. — a shift that’s attributed to the changing climate. Unfortunately, at the same time, the nation’s electrical system has become increasingly susceptible to damage caused by these events, according to Jordan Kern, an assistant professor of forestry and environmental resources at NC State’s College of Natural Resources.”

That’s just weather. Add up the changing technologies that need to be installed. It’s a lot to do.

The Virginia newspaper’s op-ed piece, leaving its political angles aside, are “on the money” in many ways. There’s no free lunch. We need attention to the diversity of our fuel sources and all aspects of grid maintenance and upgrading for a secure future. Utility companies have a lot on their plate to deliver.