It is very simple. The cost of storing electricity is so huge it makes getting through a single windless night under a net zero wind, solar, and storage plan economically impossible.

This is especially true of cold nights where blackouts can be deadly. I recently made a legislative proposal to Pennsylvania along these lines so let’s use them as our example, keeping in mind that this is true everywhere.

Pennsylvania peaks at around 30,000 MW so let’s consider a windless night with a constant need of just 20,000 MW. There should be lots of these, especially in winter. Cold snaps are typically due to windless high pressure systems of arctic air with lots of overnight radiative cooling.

In the world of solar, “nights” are 16 hours or more long since solar systems just generate a lot of energy for 8 hours a day. It is likely less in a Pennsylvania winter where it is dark at 4 pm.

So, to get through the night we need to have stored at least 20,000 MW times 16 hours or 320,000 MWh of juice. For simplicity, we ignore all sorts of technical details that would make this number larger, like input-output losses.

The present capital cost of grid scale batteries is around $600,000 per MWh. Again this ignores all sorts of technical factors that make that number larger, like buildings, transmission, etc.

Simple arithmetic says this works out to an incredible $192 billion dollars just for the batteries. Clearly this is economically impossible. In round numbers two hundred billion dollars just to get through the night! Wind and solar plus batteries simply does not work. Even if the cost magically dropped 90% it would still be an impossible $20 billion just to buy the batteries.

This is so simple one wonders why none of the utilities, public utility commissions, independent system operators, and reliability agencies ever thought of it. Or maybe they did and decided not to mention it.

Moreover, on really cold nights the need for electricity can easily get to peak demand, which would require more like $300 billion in batteries. Then, too, there might be a cloudy or even snowy day pushing the need to 16 + 8 + 16 = 40 hours. Or several cloudy windless days at which point we are talking about a trillion dollars or more.

Clearly these simple numbers make net zero power based on wind, solar and batteries impossibly expensive. Other forms of storage are likely no cheaper. The reality is we are talking about storing an enormous amount of energy which simply cannot be done. The obvious solution is to have lots of reliable generation.

Which brings me to my legislative proposal which is also very simple. It merely requires the utilities to figure out how to meet the need for electricity on brutally cold windless nights that are likely to occur.

You can read it here. The title is “Avoiding deadly blackouts” because in severe cold, a blackout can kill people. In the horrible Texas blackout estimates run to over 700 deaths. Cold kills.

In fact, this is a requirement for today, not just some distant net zero fantasy. We are already to the point where a lot of States could not keep the heat on if they got a severe cold snap like they have already had in the past.

In “Avoiding deadly blackouts” I point out that Pennsylvania and the rest of PJM narrowly avoided blacking out in winter storm Elliot. On paper, they had a 30% margin of safety which was wiped out by the cold. But Elliot was actually mild compared to several earlier severe cold spells. We must prepare for these extreme events.

We use a tremendous amount of electricity which net zero cannot possibly provide on windless nights. But we are already under severe threat. The States must act now to prevent deadly blackouts. Storage is not the answer. We need reliable generation, much of which will be fossil fueled.