Energy

This Chart Shows Just How Little Wind And Solar Power Gets Used

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

The world is planning to build a lot of wind and solar power, but only a fraction of this stated amount of green electricity can actually be used, according to a recent report by oil giant Exxon Mobil.

Countries across the world plan to add three times more wind and solar capacity than nuclear power by 2040, according to Exxon, but only a tiny fraction of that added green energy will actually generate power for people.

“Effective utilization rates are essentially capacity factors, or a power plant’s output vs. its nameplate capacity. Wind and solar power are inherently unreliable sources because they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. The wind has to be blowing or the sun shining,” Chris Warren of the Institute for Energy Research told The Daily Caller News Foundation about Exxon’s green energy projections.

“This yields a relatively low capacity factor and is not a very efficient or dependable way to run the grid. The average capacity factors for wind and solar power are much lower than that of baseload sources like coal or nuclear, which can handle round the clock demand,” Warren said.

Globally, less than 30 percent of total power wind capacity and 20 percent of solar capacity are actually utilized; this is because the intermittent and irregular nature of green energy makes it hard to use.

The modest growth of solar and wind power capacity is very different from people actually getting large percentages of electricity from these types of energies. Solar power produced just 0.4 percent of all electricity generated in the United States in 2014 according to the Energy Information Administration. Wind power produced 4.4 percent of electricity generated during that year.

The amount of electricity needed to keep the lights on is relatively predictable, but the output of a solar or wind power plant is quite variable over time and generally doesn’t coincide with the times when power is most needed. Peak power demand occurs in the evenings, just when solar power goes offline. Adding intermittent green power also makes the power grid more fragile.

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