Wind and solar power are driving up electricity prices, expert says

Wikimedia Commons/David Monniaux

Solar panels produce large amounts of energy throughout the day, but are unable to generate power at night when residents are more dependent on electricity to keep the lights on.

By Jason Hopkins

A prominent environmental activist took the unusual road of not only blaming rising electricity costs squarely on renewable sources, but also for deriding the mainstream media for ignoring the connection.

Michael Shellenberger, the president and founder of Environmental Progress, explained in a Forbes blog on Monday how the unreliability of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, is the main reason why electricity bills around the world have been getting higher. Despite renewable energy technology slowly becoming more affordable, Shellenberger notes, electricity costs are still rising because of the unpredictable nature of wind and solar. Both sources produce excess energy when consumers don’t need them, and they don’t produce enough when needed the most.

For example, solar panels  produce large amounts of energy throughout the day, but are unable to generate power at night when residents are more dependent on electricity to keep the lights on. Wind energy is notably unpredictable given how wind fluctuates substantially from day to day. The end result becoming other, more reliable sources of energy are relied upon to churn out power at a moment’s notice when renewables flop. Better yet, regions that produce too much wind and solar power have to pay — not sell — others to take the power off their hands, further spiking costs.

“And unreliability requires solar- and/or wind-heavy places like Germany, California and Denmark to pay neighboring nations or states to take their solar and wind energy when they are producing too much of it,” wrote Shellenberger, taking from examples of states and countries that produce exceptional amounts of renewable energy.

In places where renewable energy is much more prevalent, a sharp rise in electricity prices is apparent. The price to keep the lights on in California rose by 24 percent from 2011 to 2017. Germany — the nation with the most rampant use of solar and wind — saw its electricity bill rise 51 percent from 2006 to 2016.

Quite notably, Shellenberger also derided the media for “misleading” the public by reporting on the lowering costs of renewable energy, but not revealing that the lower prices have resulted in higher electricity bills.

“By reporting on the declining costs of solar panels and wind turbines but not on how they increase electricity prices, journalists are — intentionally or unintentionally — misleading policymakers and the public about those two technologies,” he said. “Normally skeptical journalists routinely give renewables a pass. The reason isn’t because they don’t know how to report critically on energy — they do regularly when it comes to non-renewable energy sources — but rather because they don’t want to.”

While an ardent and longtime environmental activist, Shellenberger also bills himself as a pragmatist on the issue. Unlike other environmentalist, he has been a vocal proponent of nuclear energy, arguing that it is a low emission source for power. He has since taken his activism to the political sphere, where he is currently running to become the next governor of California.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/David Monniaux