New York City will soon be home to the world’s biggest utility-scale battery system, designed to back up its growing reliance on intermittent renewables. At 400 MWh this batch of batteries will be more than triple the 129 MWh world leader in Australia.
The City of New York’s director of sustainability (I am not making this title up), Mark Chambers, is ecstatic, bragging: “Expanding battery storage is a critical part of how we advance momentum to confront the climate emergency while meeting the energy needs of all New Yorkers. Today’s announcement demonstrates how we can deliver this need at significant scale.” (Emphasis added)
In reality the scale here is incredibly insignificant.
‘Con in Con Edison’
In the same nonsensical way, Tim Cawley, the president of Con Edison, New York’s power utility, gushes thus: “Utility scale battery storage will play a vital role in New York’s clean energy future, especially in New York City where it will help to maximize the benefit of the wind power being developed offshore.”
This puts the Con in Con Edison.
Here is the reality when it comes to the scale needed to reliably back up intermittent renewables. For simplicity let us suppose New York City is 100 percent wind powered. Including solar in the generating mix makes it more complicated but does not change the unhappy outcome very much.
NYC presently peaks at around 32,000 MW needed to keep the lights on. If Mr. Biden makes all the cars and trucks electric it might be closer to 50,000 MW but let’s stick to reality.
This peak occurs during summer heat waves which are caused by stagnant high pressure systems called Bermuda highs. These highs often last for a week and because they are stagnant there is no wind power generation. Wind turbines require something like sustained winds of 10 mph to move the blades and more like a whistling 30 mph to generate full power. During a Bermuda high folks are happy to get the occasional 5 mph breeze. These huge highs cover many states so it is not like we can get the juice from next door.
Energy Shortfall by the Numbers
So for reliability we need, say, seven days of backup, which is 168 hours. Here’s the math:
32,000 MW x 168 hours = 5,376,000 MWh of stored juice needed to just make it. Mind you for normal reliability we usually add 20 percent or so. Did I mention electric cars?
It is easy to see that a trivial 400 MWh is not “significant scale.” It is infinitesimal scale. Nothing. Nada. Might as well not exist.
More specifically, 5,376,000 divided by 400 = 13,440 so only 13,439 more to go.
High Costs for Little Power
On the other hand, this measly 400 MWh battery array may well cost half a billion dollars, which is significant, especially to the New Yorkers who will pay for it. No cost figures are given because the system is privately owned, but EIA reports that the average utility scale battery system runs around $1.5 million a MWh of storage capacity. That works out to $600 million for this insignificant toy.
So what would it cost to reliably back up wind power, at this MWh cost and NYC’s scale? Just over $8,000,000,000,000 or EIGHT TRILLION DOLLARS. I have not seen this stupendous sum mentioned in the media. Perhaps Con Ed has not mentioned it.
Then too, New York State has the same problem. Only much bigger if New York City is included, which it often is.
But hey, maybe the cost will come down a few trillion. Not if we create a seller’s market by rushing into intermittent renewables, which is certainly where we are headed. After all, this is just New York City. Imagine what backing up America with batteries might cost. Don’t bother because it is impossible.
I should also add that we have no idea how to make 5 million MWh of batteries work together. The tiny 400 will be a challenge. It may not be possible.
Maybe fracked geothermal, the reliable renewable, is the answer. Or how about coal, oil, gas and nuclear power? Too bad they are all out of fashion.
‘Battery Backup … Scam’
All of this battery backup hype is a scam, and not just in New York either. The papers are full of this con, from coast to coast. The utilities know perfectly well that these loudly touted battery buys are a hoax, but they are getting rich building the wind and solar systems the politicians are calling for.
The voters are oblivious to these impossible numbers, since they are told that intermittent wind and solar are cheaper than reliable coal, gas and nuclear. Only when the sun shines bright and the wind blows hard, which is not all that often.
Reality is just sitting there, waiting. It can’t work so it won’t work. At this point it is just a question of how and when we find out the hard way.
David Wojick, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science.
This commentary was originally published by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and is reprinted with the permission of the author.