The key inefficiency is intermittency. When winds don’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, electricity has to be found elsewhere. In July there was so little wind driving the turbines on which Britain depends for a quarter of its power supplies that they operated at less than 5 per cent of their capacity for 314 hours. We’re told that we’ll eventually have battery farms on such a scale storing back-up energy to overcome the intermittency problem with the renewables that will replace fossil fuels. But the figures don’t add up. A friend who has analyzed them tells me that, using reasonable assumptions, to replace the 1,400 Terawatthours of electricity used in the European Union each year and currently coming mainly from natural gas and coal will require battery storage back-up of some 273 million tonnes of batteries. Assuming battery prices continue to fall, that will nevertheless cost say $8.2 trillion – double that taking into account necessary peripherals -- and need about 25 years’ mining of lithium carbonate. And you’d need to replace the entire stack of batteries every few years as their charge holding capacity erodes. As my friend says: These are “insanely prohibitive costs.” Activists argue that the current energy crisis must be used to intensify the transition to renewables. That is, more of one of the root causes of the crisis. More inefficiency, more malinvestment and more demand for relatively scarce materials such as copper.
The willingness of the environmental lobby to drive investment towards renewables remains unabashed particularly as we look at the verbal commitments being made as part of the COP26 discussions. The viability of these commitments rests squarely on developing new battery chemistries that are more efficient, cheaper and less resource intense. It’s a tall order and, even then, will only form part of the wider energy mix.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top