The production of green energy, specifically solar and wind energy, is volatile.
This goes without saying: the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow.
This is bad, not just because it increases power costs, but because it puts the grid at risk of systemic collapse.
First, imagine a if the power grid ran entirely on fossil fuels: there would be hundreds of plants each generating power independently for a local region.
If one plant breaks down, what happens?
Probably nothing: power would simply be re-routed from another region and a blackout would be avoided.
The grid’s interconnectivity provides a safety net in case of emergency.
Now if too many plants go down to compensate, then there will be blackouts—local, isolated blackouts.
And at worst, we’ll end up with something like the 2003 Blackout, which left some 50 million people in the US and Canada without power.
This is because the power grid is really a network of individual grids, which can help each other out in case of emergency.
Now let’s look at a situation that relies entirely on solar and wind energy.
In this case, the only way to mitigate the problem of volatility is to fully integrate the network: if the sun’s not shining in New York, it’s shining in Arizona.
This scale irons out the wrinkles caused by green energy generation. But it also creates a new set of risks.
Specifically, a bigger system means a more complex system. A more fragile system: if one section of the grid fails, then the integrity of the entire system is jeopardized—the whole grid could fail, whereas this couldn’t happen in a the isolated coal-based system.
Because of the nature of non-linearities, this is a bad thing. Basically, it’s much worse to have 100 million people lose power all at once, than have 10 million people lose power at 10 different times—society can still function when 90% of people still have power.
It can’t when no one does.
By over-integrating the power grid, green energy imposes on us a new set of risks that we should consider before moving forward—especially since green energy technology is still not viable without subsidies.