Electricity Sales to End Users Dropped Below 2008 Level: What it Says about the Pandemic Economy, Households, Commercial & Industrial Activity, and Public Transportation

In 2020, by source, coal collapsed to record low, natural gas dominated, wind and solar surged, while hydro and nuclear remained roughly flat.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Electricity sales to all end users in the US – households, office buildings, industrial buildings, and the like – have been on a dreary trajectory since 2008 for electric utilities overall in the US, despite economic and population growth, as these customers have invested in more efficient electrical equipment such as LED light bulbs and new air conditioners, and better thermal insulation, while at the same time, more manufacturing has been offshored.

And then came the Pandemic. By customer type, electricity sales show the shifts in the economy as millions of jobs evaporated, and as other jobs were switched from desk farms in office towers to working from home, while many retailers and restaurants closed, industrial plants reduced activity, and usage of commuter rail collapsed.

In 2020, total electricity sales to ultimate customers dropped by 3.9% to 3.66 million gigawatt hours, after having already dropped 1.2% in 2019, according to new data by the Energy Department’s EIA. These two drops brought electricity sales below the 2008 level:

Electricity sales to residential customers ticked up 1.5% from 2019 to 1.46 million gigawatt hours, though they remained a tad below the record sales of 2018. Households who switched to work-from-home and learning-from-home saw the rising number of kilowatt hours they were paying for as they ran their air conditioners, heaters, computer equipment, lights, and other stuff all day long.

And heat played a role, with a number of states reporting a record hot July, followed by the third hottest August on record in the US overall. During that time, people were working at home all day, or were at home not working, and they were running their air conditioners, instead of cooling off at the place of employment. And this caused record spikes in electricity sales during those weeks.

Despite the large variance due to hotter or cooler summers and colder or warmer winters, there has not been much overall growth since 2010:

Electricity sales to commercial customers dropped 6.3%, to 1.28 million gigawatt hours, the lowest sales in many years. The category includes offices, retail, restaurants, and the like. Between 2008 and the record year 2018, electricity sales to these customers grew by just 3.4%, much of which was wiped out in 2019. And then the Pandemic hit:

Electricity sales to industrial customers dropped 8.3%, to 919,533 gigawatt hours, the lowest since the Financial Crisis in 2009, when industrial activity plunged. Among these customers are manufacturers. Before the Pandemic, there had been no growth at all – a result of offshoring and use of more efficient equipment:

Electricity sales to transportation customers plunged 14.4% to 6,532 gigawatt hours, the lowest in many years. This includes subways and other electric rail systems, tramways, the infamous electric trolley buses in San Francisco and elsewhere, and even in a minuscule way the San Francisco Cable Cars, that haven’t run since March, whose cables are powered by big electric motors at the central cable car power house and museum on Nob Hill.

Many of the systems that continued running experienced drops in ridership of 80% or 90%, and they cut their services, but those trains that they do run still consume electricity even if mostly empty. From 2008 through 2019, electricity sales to these customers remained roughly flat:

How was this electricity generated? By major category:

Natural-gas-fired power generation grew further in 2020 and totally dominated. Wind and solar continued to increase their importance, having surpassed hydroelectric in 2016, while hydroelectric and nuclear remained roughly flat, and coal collapsed further and to a record low share. The chart shows electricity generation by source, per year, in gigawatt hours – not “capacity,” but actual electricity generated and used. Details below:

Natural-gas-fired electricity generation rose 2% to record of 1.62 million gigawatt hours in 2020, accounting for a record of 40.3% of all electricity generated. Since 2005, electricity generated from natural gas fired power plants has more than doubled.

Cheap natural gas in the US – an outgrowth of fracking which has made the US the largest natural gas producer in the world and collapsed the price of natural gas starting in 2009 – and the technological innovation and commercialization in the 1990s of the combined-cycle natural gas power plant that reaches thermal efficiencies of around 65% has made natural gas the cheapest fuel for power generation. And coal hasn’t been able to compete for years.

Coal-fired electricity generation plunged by 19.8% to a multi-decade low of 774 gigawatt hours, and accounted for a share of only 19.3% of all electricity generated, the lowest ever. Since the peak in 2007, coal-fired power generation has collapsed by 61%.

Once called “king coal” because it totally dominated the power generation market, it was surpassed by natural gas in 2016 and by nuclear power in 2020. At this rate, it will be surpassed by the combination of wind and solar in two or three years.

Nuclear power generation declined by 2% to 789,919 gigawatt hours, beating coal for the first time in history. It has remained essentially flat since 2004. Its share of total power generated in 2020 ticked up to 19.7%.

Electricity generation from wind turbines and solar soared by 16.7% to a record 470,141 gigawatt hours, and their share in the total mix jumped to a record of 11.7%.

Alone, wind power generation jumped by 14% to 337,510 gigawatt hours, outdistancing hydro by a big margin (16%), after having surpassed hydro for the first time ever in 2019. Wind power’s share of total electricity generated rose to a record of 8.4%.

Solar power generation, including rooftop solar, soared by 24% to 132,631 gigawatt hours, for a share of 3.3%.

Hydroelectric power generation ticked up 1.1% to 291,111 gigawatt hours, for a share of 7.3% of total electricity generated in 2020. Long periods of drought, particularly in the West, can reduce hydro power generation. But that wasn’t the case in 2020.

Geothermal power plants, utility-scale power plants fired by wood, wood-derived fuels, and other biomass, and other sources generated 80,500 gigawatt hours of electricity, roughly flat with 2019.

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  134 comments for “Electricity Sales to End Users Dropped Below 2008 Level: What it Says about the Pandemic Economy, Households, Commercial & Industrial Activity, and Public Transportation

  1. Seneca's cliff says:

    An engineer friend of mine who has spent his career setting up and running Nat Gas Generators and now Wind Turbines says that when synchronizing a grid the output from a Nuclear plant or large coal fired plant is used as the “heartbeat” or base load to synchonize everything else. As we move towards a grid without these big “base generators” it becomes much harder to keep the grid stable and reliable. So in the future we will probably see more Texas style events in varioius grids.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Combined-cycle nat gas power plants make superb base-power generators. Much more cost efficient than coal.

      • c1ue says:

        Natural gas generators are good – until there is an event like the NE Polar Vortex in 2012.
        The crazy prices for electricity in Texas a few weeks ago was only a replay of the crazy prices for natural gas during the previous event.
        As it turns out – the 16000 megawatts of wind power added by ERCOT was offset by 4000 megawatts of base load removed: coal, old natural gas etc. So it does seem that the explosion of subsidized windmills had a direct role in the Texas grid debacle.

        • Escierto says:

          Everywhere else in the world wind generation works fine in frigid temperatures. Only in Texas are there problems because they refuse to winterize! This is the latest big lie perpetrated by republicans eager to goose step back into the past.

        • char says:

          Wasn’t the problem with Texas a gas supply issue which lead to an electricity issue and not so much a generator issue.

          Main problem with Texas is the wrongful assumption than everybody doing what is best for them leads to a situation that is best for all. Better isolated homes etc. would have lead to lower peak demand

        • Fat Chewer. says:

          So you say. The weather itself had NOTHING to do with it. I suppose you have a similar stupid explanation for all of the blackouts that occurred before the invention of the first wind turbine.

        • Ervin Gazy says:

          If there wasn’t any loss of nuclear, coal or gas the load on the system was still too large and blackouts would still have been necessary because of the lack of wind and sunshine during the worst of the freezing.

        • Gandalf says:

          Yes, to repeat, what you just posted was a complete Big Lie, a re-hash of the usual right wing diatribes against clean energy, and a Total Coverup of the real truth.

          According to ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), here’s the break down of electrical energy generation sources in Texas:
          Natural gas (51%)
          Wind (24.8%)
          Coal (13.4%)
          Nuclear (4.9%)
          Solar (3.8%)
          Hydro, biomass-fired units (1.9%)

          An article from the Texas Tribune during the crisis had this explanation of what happened:

          “From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all sources of power generation have faced difficulties during the winter storm. But Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

          Officials for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas [ERCOT], which manages most of Texas’ grid, said the primary cause of the outages Tuesday appeared to be the state’s natural gas providers. Many are not designed to withstand such low temperatures on equipment or during production.
          February Winter Storm 2021

          By some estimates, nearly half of the state’s natural gas production has screeched to a halt due to the extremely low temperatures, while freezing components at natural gas-fired power plants have forced some operators to shut down.”

          So there you have it, straight from the people in charge of the Texas electrical grid. ERCOT said the power shutdowns were mainly to to the loss of the NATURAL GAS generation capabilities of the state.

        • Phil says:

          It’s just a huge mystery how all the northern latitudes (like exotic and remote New England… do they eat reindeer taffy or what?) make it through winter every year, isn’t it?

      • The electric motor puts a draw on amperage at startup, which is why grids which go down have to be restored in increments. Until they come up with a solution to the electric motor design they will continue to need base-power generators.

        • rhodium says:

          They’re called variable frequency drives, but they’re not gonna buy them except for the big motors because they aren’t cheap.

        • Michael Earussi says:

          There are startup capacitors on motors that mitigate the amperage surge. So unless you’re dealing with cheap motors that don’t have them there is no startup amperage problem.

        • fajensen says:

          “They” have already come up with solutions, Regulations and Enforcement of them:

          Pretty much all new electrical motors need to be at IE3 or IE4 efficiency levels. In practice, these will be Variable Reluctance Synchronous Motors equipped with power electronic drives.

          The pay-back time for replacing, f.ex., an unregulated fan motor for building ventilation with a new controllable IE3 one is about two years.

          Motors equipped with drives do not draw the peak currents that the direct-started induction motors will do. The large HV induction motors installed today are equipped with drives.

          Power electronics has been commoditised today. It is cheaper and more efficient to design a motor system based on a power electronic drive, than it is to put fatter, less resistive, windings into motors limited to running at a fixed frequency and a fixed voltage, with 1 or 3 phases only.

          Even the piss-ant Grundfoss central heating pumps come with a built-in drive for efficiency reasons, and this is for a 60W motor and I think it costs about 250 EUR retail, and lasts 20-30 years.


        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          There are high initial inrush currents for all transformers, including every step-down distribution transformer, not just motors.

      • Wes says:

        Mr. Richter, excellent research and factual information. Thanks for taking the time to gather the information and convey it in practical terms.

      • Mike R says:

        Sorry Wolf, but efficiency does not equal reliability, or grid stability, and those combined cycle plants have nowhere near the capability of providing much needed inertia as do coal or nuke plants. They are far better than wind or solar, but they can never ever replace the critical KVAR producing ability of coal or nukes. Very poor substitute in fact, and as the nations grid loses more coal and nuke power, The Texas event will be a year round occurrence in every single state, not just a one time event due to a minor cold snap. Germany is the poster child for this, having nearly cratered their entire grid, and realizing in sheer horror how badly they needed to bring those coal plants back on line, which they did in spades plus built new ones. They got lucky. They had only mothballed most of their coal plants. Our former President fir two terms bankrupted our coal facilities into oblivion, never to return. Meanwhile China wisely keeps building enough coal plants to blow away the entire planets efforts to bring down carbon emissions. But their grid will never go down despite their efforts to also add more solar than every other country combined last year. They GET the importance of coal base load power and the massively beautiful synchronous steam powered generators that can’t be blown off line with the single cough of a butterfly wing, like solar and wing can.

        • ross says:

          Most excellent…Greenies and dogma is a given.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          Do yourself a favor and read my comment just below about Mike R’s nonsense-comparison of Germany to the US. My comment is short. Won’t take much time.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Mike R,

          Germany doesn’t have ANY natural gas. They import it from Russia, Norway, and others, including some LNG from the US.

          Using Germany as an example for electricity generation in the US, the largest natural gas producer in the world, is nonsense.

    • Mike T says:

      What Seneca’s Cliff is referring to is the power system inertia that these large high speed rotating turbine mass/generators provide to power system dynamic stability. The concern is as more smaller DC-AC (PV) or AC-DC-AC (wind turbines) are installed displacing the traditional generators they have no inertia (no rotating mass behind them) and provide no stabilizing support to the power system. Enjoy your current rock solid 60Hz frequency as the future may be very different.

      • Tom Pfotzer says:

        Why not put a rotating mass behind it? Spin some big discs that might be attached or dynamically attachable to generator rotors. They could be distributed across the grid. They might be a very good place to store some energy, too, and smooth out some of the highs and lows of the renewables.

        A few well-spaced capacitors (great big ones – utility-scale) could also be distributed across the grid. Sort of like a motor’s start capacitor.

        This is a layman talking thru his hat. Mike T or others with some utility-power background – care to comment?

        • Mike T says:

          Flywheel storage has been commercialized here but without subsidies the losses exceed the benefits. https://beaconpower.com/

        • p coyle says:

          but that sounds like it might cost money. probably not going to happen, if the recent past is anything to go on.

          as another layman, i hope i am wrong, but have my doubts.

        • Mike R says:

          Nope, capacitors are no substitute at ALL for what coal powered synchronous generators can do, and nuke powered generator can do. Period. Never will be. Grid operators know this. But to keep their jobs, they can’t say this, or the special interests, and climate change green worshippers will get them ousted from their positions. Politics has completely and irreparably harmed our electric grid stability. In fact, it’s REALLY harmed the grids ability to support any more than a fraction of EVs that people envision being able to be charged. The chargers are all inductive loads, and reek havoc on voltage transmission ability, lowering the amount of power that can be sent to the portion of the grid those chargers are on. Especially if they are super chargers. The generators that support those, need to be able to push out more reactive power, to compensate, which nukes can do very easily. Argonne National Labs studied this, and the results showed we need to add a new nuke plant a week, until 2050 to be able to support a full population of EVs if we want to replace all ICE cars. That’s to have sufficient grid support to counter the impact of the inductive loads, and also to replace all the coal plants if we get rid of those too. We will be super green then, while China keeps belching so much CO2 from its coal and industrial plants that not a single one of our green efforts will matter one iota IF we all believe carbon emissions are the monster everyone is claiming.

      • Seneca's cliff says:

        It is looking like in the long term Edison was right and we would be better off with a DC grid instead of the Westinghouse/Tesla ( the real one) AC Grid. An AC grid is ideal for large steam and hydro turbines that turn at a constant speed and transmit power over a long distance. Plus Ac can be stepped up and down using transformers so long haul wires can be at a high voltage to maximize transmission efficiency. But to feed power in to a synchronized AC grid from small turning sources ( wind turbines) or DC sources ( Solar Panels) requires a lot of expense and complexity and even more complexity if you are going to add storage in the form of batteries. We will probably have to abandon the big AC grids at some point and go to more localized DC grids based on wind and solar. At that point we will experience a kind of geographic stratification of uses as things that require high volumes of uninterrubtible AC power like chip plants, auto factories, and aluminum mills will cluster around the main sources of hydro power ( The PNW, BC, Tennesee) and other places will have a more scattered population growing food, doing handicrafts and writing novels and such.

        • Tankster says:


        • VintageVNvet says:

          Some of us might remember the days when our town or county had their own generating facility, usually fueled by oil of one sort/grade or another SC.
          Ours was on the bay front of our small coastal town, and the barges came down the gulf from Tampa, and through a ”New” pass that was kept open by constant dredging to accommodate the barge and the tug. The constant dredging of that pass was discontinued and it was left for the more shallow draft pleasure boaters/fisher folks when the Intra-Coastal waterway was dredged deep enough for the fuel barge to come through that waterway instead of out in the GOM.
          Although hit by storms and hurricanes, it usually only took a day or three for the local power to come back on line, as opposed to the several months downtime as a result of Andrew in 1992 and other hurricanes subsequently taking out major portions of the allegedly improved ”grid”. Power in the tpa bay area was out for as long as 10 days as a result of a ”near miss” by Irma in September 2017, mostly due to the many many trees surrounding the distribution lines.
          Until we go back to an independent local production and distribution model, powered by high temp focused solar AND solar panels AND wind AND local batteries AND small local fuel type turbines for back up, rather than the massive type of very fragile ”grid” system as now, IMO we will continue to have occasional massive interruptions,,, and that does not even consider the huge delta in the possible disruptions due to bad actors hacking away at our grid, as is clearly being done right now.

      • rhodium says:

        They’re called utility scale inverters and they maintain their frequency just fine. You completely misrepresented Seneca’s Cliff’s comment. His engineering friend is referring to the intermittency issue and the need for power storage. It has absolutely nothing to do with frequency and the inertia in a generator.

        • Mike T says:

          Keep in mind you can’t black-start the grid after a blackout from renewable generation sources as they use the grid frequency to synchronize to. The technology is available to do so but there is no requirement or incentive to install the equipment. Black-start will be dependent on fossil fueled or hydro generation to start the system back up.

        • Old school says:

          Just read BRK annual report. They have a 25 year $18 billion project under way to redo the grid in the western part of USA. One problem with renewables is they are not generated in the same area as usage and therefore grid has to change. Takes time and money.

      • K says:

        As to power generation, I would not be so negative, because I doubt that only one power source will be used by any sane state. (That means of course that the Texas leaders will again defy rationality many times again and select only one power source.)

        Solar, for example, can be used locally by each building that generates it and when the sun goes down or it is cloudy, the houses or factories can get power from the varied potential plants that will still be created. The number of choices is increasing rapidly.

        Molten salt thorium nuclear power plants are so far mainly promising not proven. However, such plants might be able to provide base power in the future and maybe, even process our old, tar-baby: nuclear waste. Also, solar electric power plants that heat salts and then use that heat to run turbines even overnight, reportedly can be very efficient and last for a long time because the molten salt retains heat for a long time.

        Even compressed gases or other battery types may be able to still store and provide the solar-generated power after the sun goes down, so only a limited base power system is needed: admittedly, it must be over-built to deal with disasters like Texas’s storm or hurricanes or sun-blocking particles from a volcanic eruption like Krakatoa or crazy state governors.

        Of course, you get thousands of dead birds as they fly into the scorching heat of the solar plant’s mirrors focused onto the central area to heat the molten salt in those types of solar plants and get cooked. While I am an environmentalist and would ordinarily disapprove of that, that is a lesser danger than say, Fukushima’s various radioactive releases, so underplayed that I would never go to the Tokyo Olympics. The over 250,000 TONS of nuclear waste that has to be stored and guarded for over 250,000 years, which is just waiting for some terrorist to decide to make a dirty bomb or dozens of them, also makes such ordinary nuclear power generation very undesirable.

        (You can have a cat food processing plant use the hundreds or thousands of cooked, dead bird bodies from the solar plants and establish bird hatcheries far from the solar power plant to preserve and restore endangered birds. Win-Win. LOL)

        On the other hand, we have bigger troubles. I doubt if the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that just passed will be enough to deal with all of the mortgage and rent arrearages outstanding. See “Mortgage forbearance rate ticks up to 5.49%” in housingwire. That percentage may be right, but anecdotal evidence is that a whole lot more than 5.49% of mortgages are not getting paid: either the forbearance was not yet granted or was denied or else, maybe they are fooling around with the numbers reported.

        Now, I would not like to cast aspersions on the shining reputations of our banks and mortgage servicers, which apparently have not committed any felonies yet in 2021. However, if the numbers are understated and the $1.9 trillion bailout is not enough, (states do not have the funds to help), we are looking at a disastrous situation.

        The sheeple might suffer so much that they may finally get tired of getting what remains after the banksters take the elevator. If their “Federal” Reserve cartel (privately owned through their ownership of the banks that own the shares of its “Fed” district banks) loses control over the economy, their reckoning might finally come.

        Thus, as we struggle to pay our bills when people fail to pay us, as many Americans, struggle to find food, and as many American children go hungry, we should spare a kind thought for the banksters and Wall Streeters. How would you feel if you had lived your whole life as a parasite off of the corruption, US foreign tax income exclusion (so you did not have to pay US Federal income taxes like the sheeple), banks’ organized crime income, and generous “Fed” gifts from Americans’ legal tender THEN faced a possible termination of that privileged status? See “Money laundering, oligarchs, terrorists: How corrupt are the banks?

        (An even half-way complete list of banksters’ crimes would probably consume more pages than would be allowed as any comments, so I will leave it there.) Thus, pity the criminal parasites, the banksters and Wall Streeters, the coming financial collapse may ultimately hurt them the most where it hurts them the most: their wallets and their power.

        Raising heavy taxes on the wealthy has never been so popular.

        FYI: I no longer recommend guillotines for them when they commit major felonies and drive the largest financial institutions into the ground for gambling profits. Just fix them; that worked fine for my dog, who now just sleeps next to the dryer all day.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          + 1,000 x every gazillion out there K!!!

          and, not to distract,,, I just hope the owners wake up and do the right thing BEFORE the pits, cane corsos, rotties, etc., give them what they deserve

      • fajensen says:

        So what? Nobody needs clunky 1950’s flywheel stuff. Today, everyone uses FACTS equipment, based on power electronics. Tomorrow, every little distribution transformer, around 2 MVA, will use a converter pack to control voltage, frequency and phase independently on both sides.

        Except the USA and places like Pakistan. W.T.F. has happened to the USA? Going from the worlds technological innovator to the “Can’t do Nothing”-country!

      • It’s not just literal inertia, but thermal mass and the fact that coal/nuclear don’t spin up/down on demand.

  2. NARmageddon says:

    But that Tesla EV is still running on that coal that has not been shut down yet due to the incremental demand from, you guessed it, Electric vehicles.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yes, hilarious the stuff we keep hearing about this ?

    • c1ue says:

      The Tesla EV batteries were largely manufactured in China in the past – using coal fired electricity.

    • What do you think is more efficient, millions of vehicles running off a high-tech, high-efficiency, constantly-monitored coal facility, or a million gas-burning jalopies that haven’t even seen a Jiffy Lube in 2 years, let alone been tuned up and had leaks stopped.

  3. Wolf Richter says:

    ha, yes thanks.

  4. Russell says:

    Looks like the biggest users overall are residential. I am highly opposed to a carbon tax because it is an extremely regressive tax regardless how it is applied. However, I am all in favor of conserving our resources and am not opposed to adding an excess use tax for residential consumers that pull over ~3000 (pick a number) kwh/month.

    • Paulo says:

      Carbon taxes work awesome. We have had them here in BC for more than a decade….now Canada wide. You want to reduce carbon emissions, you make it more expensive. You want to further lower carbon emissions, you use the ‘tax’ to pay for better transit and other reducing programs.

      This is from a Country that exports 2X our FF production and is the US largest supplier of FF energy. The self sufficiency meme was a temporay blip in the scheme and history of energy consumption/use.

      We are self sufficient in Hydro electricity, fully renewable, and have a tier pricing system to reduce consumption. Tier 1 is $.09 per KwH, which we are well below in our household. If we use more we pay incrementally more. Excess electricity can now be exported to US, or stored behind dams for future use. Regardless, people have to want to save energy use and any incentive is worthwhile.

      I drive ICE vehicles, including a big truck for work, and I have no problem with fuel prices in excess of $5 to curtail waste. Right now our price would be at just over $4 per US gallon, $1.399/litre.

  5. SpencerG says:

    I wonder what the Texas winter storm impact will be. Texas had allowed wind power to become 20% of its electrical generating capacity.

    But as the storm last month showed, the variability of wind and solar is so much larger than that of coal that the entire system is teetering on the verge of collapse. Until the earlier article that WolfStreet posted earlier I had no idea that wind turbines were THAT unreliable. The Texas grid operator EXPECTED wind power to drop by 75% in February… it actually dropped by 80% in the storm.

    We joke about renewable energy not being available “when the sun don’t shine or the wind don’t blow.” And obviously we can figure out to expect that solar will only be available at half of capacity each day of a solar year. But if we will need to build gas turbine plants in any case to make up for an 80% drop in wind power… why build the wind power capacity in the first place? Particularly since a GW of wind turbines cost so much more than a GW of gas turbines to build in the first place.

    Granted we are a rich nation and can afford vanity projects of all sorts… but renewables have been so oversold to the public that it is starting to be a problem. MY guess is that we need a scientific breakthrough of some kind to get renewable energy to make any sense at all. Absent that then fixing the nuclear disposal problem and expanding that sector makes more sense to me.

    • Escierto says:

      Everywhere else in the world it works perfectly fine. Even in frigid conditions. God forbid, Americans embrace the future! Forward march back into the dark ages! I am an old white man and I wonder how long do the youthful generations have to put up with Neanderthal old people?

      • thinkaboutit says:

        The wind still has to blow for the turbine to spin.

      • Ervin Gazy says:

        You have a business and need 30 people but you hire 100. Those extra 70 people never produce anything of value. Nobody on earth would ever do that but If you build a 100 Magawatt wind farm on average it produces 30 Magawatts. The economics are the same. Oh right the wind farm gets free money.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Ervin Gazy,

          Sheesh. You just posted another twisted troll statement, like your statements before. You should know: the “fuel” is FREE with wind and solar. Free! Get it? Yes, you knew all along that the “fuel” is free, and you still post this nonsense.

        • Here’s how the economics are not the same: You don’t hire wind turbines and pay them a salary. Unlike employees, you buy them. and, as Wolf said, get the “work” for free. That’s quite different, wouldn’t you agree?

      • Realist says:

        Usually when it’s cold a high pressure in place causes the wind to be weaker than ordinarily. During those conditions the output of wind turbines might be as low as 10% or less of max output.

        In most places they manage to solve the problem with iced rotors etc one way or another, although sometimes in not too bright manner. A company in Sweden heats over night a huge tank of water with an oil burner, then uses a helicopter to spray the heated water in the morning onto the rotors. FF energy …

        Check out German articles dealing with the state of the Energiewende this winter when they are experiencing a normal winter, especially solar is an interesting topic at the moment ….

      • ross says:

        Is dat you president Xiden?

    • DG says:

      The question you should be asking is why did this only happen in Texas, since the rest of the world does not seem to have these issues when it get a little chilly.

      • Harrold says:

        There’s money to be had when things go hay wire.

        As Jerry Jones said, the snowpocalypse was like “winning the lottery”.

      • Anthony A. says:

        Nah, Texas is in the news all the time because the population is growing from an influx of illegals and Californians. Good press sells newsprint.

      • Shiloh1 says:

        You can say the same thing about winter driving!

    • stan6565 says:

      *Granted we are a rich nation and can afford vanity projects of all sorts*
      Problem is, in USA and U.K. and related places alike, the affordability of vanity projects is declining. Relentlessly, and at an increasing pace.

      The fact is, energy infrastructure is getting worse and worse, and there is less and less willingness and ability on behalf of our voted representatives to put in place measures that benefit the relevant population.

      Energy is getting more and more expensive and after all the money that gets stolen at the point of assignment, what remains can only buy a good campaign of misinformation in compliant media.

      The plebs as ever remain only able to say “ well we thought govment wasn’t sorting this out “.

      • stan6565 says:

        Damn autocorrect.

        The bit,
        The plebs as ever remain only able to say “ well we thought govment wasn’t sorting this out .

        Was meant to read,
        The plebs as ever remain only able to say “ well we thought govment was sorting this out”.

        Apologies to my manager, my media department, mr president, his mom, his dog, my accountant, hmtq, ammm did I forget anyone

      • Old school says:

        According to my son-in-law (Highly educated and highly experienced utility engineer) the US grid is the best it’s ever been. Electrical generation and transmission is a very complex topic that most of us really don’t come close to understanding how it’s done.

        • Seneca's cliff says:

          @Old School, you might want to send your son-in-law a picture of the utility pole outside Wolf’s window to change his mind.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Seneca’s cliff,

          There is a brand-new underground cable on the other side of the street from the infamous utility pole. The brand-new underground cable goes from an underground feeder line along the main street down to a new condo complex, completed about two years ago.

          To replace our utility pole would be a “maintenance” expense that produces no additional revenues in the future and just cuts profits;

          Putting in the underground cable for the condo complex is an “investment” that will generate new revenues for decades.

          The first is accounted for on the income statement as an expense; the second is accounted for on the balance sheet as an asset. That’s why these seemingly inexplicable things are happening that way.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      You REALLY need to read this article (link below) about what caused the Texas electricity fiasco.

      Wind wasn’t the big issue because in February, wind is never a big source of electricity in Texas because there isn’t a lot of wind. And that was calculated into the supply formula. What really happened: Coal power plants shut down, nat gas power plants shut down, and a nuclear reactor shut down. In addition, numerous power plants were down for regular maintenance as they are every February because there is not normally a lot of demand in February (peak demand in Texas is usually in the summer).

      I don’t want to repeat here everything that we already said in our articles. So please read this article:


      • SpencerG says:

        Yeah Wolf. That is the article I quoted. One of the authors even responded to my points.

        I have since found out that El Paso Electric (which is outside the ERCOT grid) currently restricts tis renewable capacity to just 6% of its total capacity. 44% nuclear and 44% natural gas is their base. They did NOT suffer severe blackouts in this storm.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          You need to get off of this ludicrous nonsense that wind power triggered the Texas fiasco. It didn’t, the facts are out there, and we cited some of them. Blaming wind power is total BS.

          I understand that you don’t like wind power, that you think it’s some kind of left-wingy fraud perpetrated in Texas (largest wind power producer in the US) or whatever. But thinking that doesn’t change the facts in Texas.

        • Philip says:

          I am not a supporter of wind and solar. It was mostly not renewables at fault though for Texas. They don’t produce much in the Texas winter. In this instance, even if Texas had no renewables, they would still have had issues. The natural gas lines froze due to the high water content. The nuclear power plant shutdown due to the cooling water intake being frozen. The coal was frozen. Too many plants undergoing maintenance at the time (as usual).

          Essentially the only argument you can make against renewables in this instance is that with a traditional plant you could possibly defer some of the maintenance and get the plant back to operation quicker. With wind and solar in winter…well…no guarantee that they’ll be available when needed even if it peak operating condition. Indeed they were producing slightly less than expected I believe.

          Now, if Texas did not have enough hard dispatchable electricity to cover the shortfall from the renewables because the wind did not blow and the sun was obscured and the lack wasn’t due to insufficient weatherisation of the plants and supplies then you could start making the argument. But they do have enough.

          You can blame expensive electricity on wind and solar, and once there isn’t enough hard dispatchable sources to cover the normal needs, then you can start blaming renewables for the rolling blackouts.

          Please, you’re doing those that don’t like renewables a disservice. We have good reasons, and this is not one of them, why we don’t, as consumers, like it. Were I an investor I’d be quite pleased with renewables.

      • Wolfbay says:

        Texas gets almost 25% of its electricity from wind and some parts of the state are quite windy.

      • Bill MB says:

        Hi Wolf, wind is great in Texas in the summer.

        In fact, there is so much wind in the summer that electrical rates can go negative at night because there is more electricity than can be used. You can do Google searches to ascertain this.

        And of corse, one of the big names behind wind power in Texas is Texas oilman t Boone Pickens.

        They just need to connect their grid. Which would mean following federal regulations.

  6. IanCad says:

    Wolf. You do put out so much useful info. No comment except a “Thank You.”

  7. Seneca's cliff says:

    This is a great article because electricity use is a good proxy for the health of an industrial economy. Most other indicators can be jimmied to make things look rosier than they are, but changes in overall electricity use are hard to hide. The different shares shift around as wolf’s great graphs show, but the link between total electricity use, and the overall health of the economy is very strong. I think this is a cause for worry.

    • Tom Pfotzer says:

      There are a lot of things to worry about, Seneca, but I have to say declining electricity use isn’t one of my top-10 nags.

      Efficiency makes a lot of difference. The household fridge and HVAC systems have really gotten a lot better in the past 2 decades. The EnergyStar programs made a big dent. I hate to be the one to say it, but “the Gov’t done good this time”.

      Really gravels me to have to admit it out loud.


      And for all you gov’t workers who are frittering away Company time while you read this, I say – (drum roll, with cymbals) “Thanks!”.

      One note: the “Gov’t” is us, unless we got co-opted by the Citizens Uniteds and other DC, WallSt & various other centers of parasitical degradation.

      (Tom’s cardboard soapbox finally squashes under the weight of all that BS)

      • David Hall says:

        My 25 yr old refrigerator was estimated to use $200 worth of electricity per year. I bought a 2021 energy star rated refrigerator of similar size. I looked at the yellow tag and saw it is supposed to use $42 worth of electricity per year. A new 10 watt LED bulb produces the same amount of light as a 100 watt incandescent bulb.

        • p coyle says:

          do you think your new refrigerator will be functioning in 2046?

        • p coyle says:

          a-and: was the 25 year old one broken?

        • David Hall says:

          A GE refrigerator was still running after 85 years.

          I replaced mine as it’s $750 cost might be paid for in electric savings ($150/yr) in five years. High school algebra.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        The parasites brought us the riches we all currently enjoy, including solar and wind financed by said parasites. (Yo, Trevon, nice iPhone, and great Nike kicks.) We are now being co-opted by the other party that is simply buying voters wholesale and importing more from the South. But it’s democracy, they have the majorities, they are doing whatever they want. In ten years we’ll see how it works out.

    • Old school says:

      Did you consider that printing money has gotten a lot cheaper? We can digitally print money and hand it out so there is no need to open the factory anymore

  8. We know how electricity is generated and how it is sold, but what about electricty traded for credits (residential solar), and credits which go unused. I recall a few years back Alcoa made the decision to close it’s aluminum plant in the PacNW and sell back the electricity they had contracted to buy, at a profit. Utilities like to break it down by tier, (tier 99 in Texas last month). If utilities are not selling as much electricity, why are they busting their customers chops with peak hour schemes? I will probably give them electricity this year, why can’t I sell it those folks in TX at exorbitant rates? Or this market only deregulated for the producers?

    • Harrold says:

      Unless you live in Texas, there is no way to provide electricity from outside the state.

  9. Ron says:

    If only we were lucky enough to only have hurricanes and tornadoes every thirty years this was a one off incident though devastating it will get fixed politicians to stupid to run these govt run utilities turn over to private sector companies will be much more efficient and reliable

    • Lance Manly says:

      The current incident was closer to a fifteen year cold snap when you look at the data

  10. Yort says:

    It takes very little electric to run an economy that makes money on TSLA calls instead or producing real things. For example, MarketWatch had an article today about a 14 year old who bought a single $72 call option in his moms account, and forgot about it. She later found it and sold it for $78,000. Likely only cost two to three penniest to turn on the computer and hit the sell button to “produce” $78,000. Industry and Manufacturing is so yesterday when you can even a 14 year old can make $78,000 using two cents of electricity…

    I wonder if there will be any long term unintended consequences due to the Fed printing, on human psyche, global warming, everything inflation, productivity, survival of the species, etc…

    History will no be kind if this global Fed centrally planned economy experiment ends poorly…

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Don’t be knocking 14 year olds Y,,,
      Years ago I bought a really fancy modern wrist watch,,, guaranteed ”shock proof” after losing many and equally many pocket watches equally guaranteed due to logging, construction, racing sailing in SF bay, etc…
      Brought it home, threw it against the wall as hard as I could, intending to take it back the next day… it continued to work fine, so I began studying the 60 page book on how to set it; a 14 year old watched for a while and then insisted I give it to him to set, which he did in a few minutes, without reference to the instructions.
      Almost every day these days, I read about some kid of about that age making some serious innovation in various technologies, and not just digital.
      As a now ”old / short timer” hanging on and enjoying life including reading Wolf’s and Nick’s great reports/articles and the commentariat following,,, I am mighty proud for many of our youngsters of all ages.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Yort’s point was phantom production. Would be the same concept if the finder/seller of the option was a 70+ curmudgeon – like a bunch of us here.

  11. Alan Bachers says:

    Electric customers in TX with auto payment option, some of whom had $17K removed from their checking accounts, now have no recourse. TX authorities say they have no way to “unscramble that egg” of those withdrawals. Interesting how they were so adept at removing the egregious amounts of money immediately with no cap and no notice, vanishing it, and can’t undo it. Capital ism at its most ruthless.

    • Anthony A. says:

      Alan, are you talking about households that were billed $17 K or power providers?

      I live in TX and no of no one that I know of paid any crazy bills for last month’s outages. My bill was $89.00 (Entergy Texas) for last month and my daughter’s (Reliant – NRG) was about $139.00. And we were in the Houston area.

      And believe me, if some utility pulled $17 K out of my household checking account for 3/4 a month of power, I would somehow get my money back.

      • Harrold says:

        He is talking about customers of Griddy.

        Griddy customers gambled they would save money by paying wholesale rates. Turns out they didn’t.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Never setup an autopay. It will, at some point in the future, bite you in the ___ when you can least accommodate the loss, as/per Murphy. It’s just not that much work to keep track of the calendar, your bills, and pay online. Better yet, pay with a credit card where you can dispute improper billing before remitting.

  12. Artem says:

    It’s all because of this one guy in the office setting the thermostat to 78 in the winter and 62 in the summer.

    And now he’s working from home due to COVID.

  13. timbers says:

    With our govmit opening boarders to hundreds of thousands/millions of South Americans who presumably like to keep warm in the winter like the rest of us, I’m an worried about some things, but not worried about future energy demand in the US

  14. Augusto says:

    One of the problems with Natural Gas is the lack of storage and extra line transportation when capacity is reached during extreme periods usage, ie heat waves and cold snaps. Underground storage has not grown substantially in North America in20 years simply because the type of geologic formations required are limited, expensive (gas is lost in re-injection) and have their own operational problems . Having backup capacity from other types of power may help, but eventually more above ground liquid storage must be built along with facilities to liquidify and gasify as required. This is very common in Europe, especially the UK. It is also costly, and carries additional CO2 production.

    • Another Scott says:

      Due to the position at the end of the gas line and geological formation, LNG storage is common in New England. One of the largest power plants in the region, Mystic Station, which is located just a few miles outside of Boston, runs on LNG. However, it will close next summer. What will happen to the LNG terminal hasn’t been announced.

      The terminal also provides directly to the gas grid, and many of the other LNG peaker facilities rely on trucks from the facility to either fill or maintain their required levels. One of the LNG storage facilities in Rhode Island was just given approval to implement liquidfication (at ratepayer expense), while the utility in New Hampshire didn’t get enough support and withdrew its application.

      • Augusto says:

        Don’t you guys in New England get most of your LNG via tanker from Texas or overseas? Marcellus Gas from Pennsylvania in a pipeline would be more efficient and produce less CO2. Plus there is shale gas all the way up through Appalachia that is Upper State New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec, Maine, New Brunswick, right into Nova Scotia, but pretty well all these states and provinces have banned new pipelines and gas drilling…..even though it would produce far less CO2 to produce locally or pipeline the gas…go figure.

        • Another Scott says:

          There are three LNG important facilities. The largest is Everett LNG, which is in Boston Harbor. The second is off-shore one in Massachusetts, and the third in Canaport in Saint John, New Brunswick. All of these import LNG from overseas, with Trinidad and Tobago being the largest source, although we did use Russian gas a few years ago (one of the coal plants in New Hampshire also used Russian coal within the past ten years). In addition, there are also smaller amounts that come by truck from liquification facilities in Pennsylvania and Quebec. I’m assuming that these supplies are all North American in origin.

          But many of the peaker facilities can’t convert gas into liquid and rely on trucks of gas, so yes there are truckloads of LNG on the roadways of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. There is talk of another facility (merchant I believe) being built in Central Massachusetts. I’m pretty sure that the ratepayer funded one in New Hampshire wasn’t approved.

          And yes, no one in any state wants to build any pipelines as it’s not as if we don’t have the most expensive gas and electricity in the country.

  15. WES says:

    Well, if you guys and gals should ever need energy from coal anytime in the future, you are plumb out of luck!
    I am not planning on coming out of retirement to provide you with the skills needed to produce coal!

  16. drifterprof says:

    What I wonder about is the exclusive focus on coal-generated electricity. Generation of electricity accounts for about 27% of greenhouse gasses (epa.gov) — compared with 28% caused by transportation, 22% caused by industry, 12% commerical and residential, and 10% agriculture (cow farts?).

    It seems like there should be focus on people buying gas-guzzler automobiles and gratuitous driving (consumer discretionary), as well as other inefficiencies in the transportation system, just as much as on coal generated electricity.

    The exclusive focus on generation of electricity by coal could be considered a regressive tax that hits poor people harder, if one considers the costs of keeping warm (or cooling to a bearable temperature in sweltering weather).

    Additionally, if transportation was suddenly converted to be mostly electric, the electricity demands would be astronomical. Would your average car-centric American tolerate the steep increase in transportation costs?

    • J says:

      Animal Agriculture is more than 10% in most studies.

    • MarMar says:

      The reason transportation is now at the top of the GHG list is because so much coal generation has been displaced over the last few years.

      And obviously transportation won’t “suddenly” convert to be mostly electric. It’s already underway and will continue at an accelerating clip, but it won’t happen overnight.

      • drifterprof says:

        Still, transportation is at the top of the list. So if one is concerned about greenhouse gases, it should be the priority. Not continuing a path that regressiveliy hurts poor people and lets the richer people off the hook.

        • MarMar says:

          If by “continuing a path” you mean getting rid of coal and increasing renewables, that’s cheap and getting cheaper every year. And even just the local emissions from burning coal disproportionately hurt poor people.

          But, yes, by all means, let’s eliminate transportation emissions!

  17. MCH says:

    Kinda weird, as a nation or a society advances and grows, it’s use of energy increases. I wonder what it says about the US that it’s energy use is decreasing.

    Would be curious to see what the world wide consumption of energy was like in the last five years. That would be a good sign of which nation is becoming more stagnant, and which is advancing.

    • OutWest says:

      MCH –

      ” as a nation or a society advances and grows, it’s use of energy increases”

      That’s an interesting assumption that may leave out technical advances that reduce overall consumption.

      The US is the second largest energy consumer so by that measure everything must be OK.

  18. Nathan Dumbrowski says:

    So with the energy sales /consumption at historic lows it seems like the pandemic actually had one impact that followed logic. No WTF here. Less people going out to offices, malls, schools and the multitude of other places. So there was less energy consumption. Now if the charts went the other way it would have been a very bid ? But this follows logic so I like this one much better.

  19. Realist says:

    The viability of wind turbines will be seen at earliest towards the end of this decade.

    Then the first major wind parks will reach the age when gearboxes will begin to reach renewal age and will they be overhauled or will they simply be left until they breaks down ?

    In addition, what to be done with old rotor blades when they have been replaced ? Currently they are being placed in large land fills …

    • A) Wind turbines are not new

      B) They’re constantly being serviced (because we’ve been constantly installing them for decades)

      C) Rotor blades are currently being recycled by Veolia, for starters.

  20. Lance Manly says:

    Wolf, how to they get the figures for rooftop solar? I have a grid tie system and I can see them knowing when I am selling back into the grid. But what about all the energy that I am using that is being consumed directly from the inverters that I would normally have to buy? This is especially true in the summer when peak consumption by air conditioning aligns with peak production.

  21. Brad Tifman says:

    One day just a couple years back, my dad asked me why he keeps hearing or seeing gas electric plants go up in his state and region. He said, “That gas plant over there. New. Seems the more I see wind farms go up, the more I hear about new gas plants. Yet, they say wind is supposed to be about not gas and coal.”

    I had just finished reading Bryce’s “Power Hungry,” and so was able to take him trough the reality. That wind and solar, so-called “Green,” require fast-on peak-plants to back them up. Only gas is a viable fast-on option.

    He then asked, “So, they kill a coal plant or two, pollute thousands of acres with their tower monstrosities, and then build gas plants to make up the difference?” “Yup.”

    All he said then was, “A scam, I knew it.”

    • Anthony A. says:

      But, think of all the new jobs building windmills and natural gas plants creates…..well, lets not worry about the job losses in the mining communities.

    • lenert says:

      The fracking produces the gas which makes the coal un-economical which had already cut thousands of jobs years earlier and polluted everything from the mountaintops to the bottom of the watersheds whenever they weren’t burying miners alive with their greed by scraping out every last bit of carbon holding up the structures.

    • lenert says:

      Nowadays you can’t put out an underground coal fire when your tapwater catches on fire too.

  22. otishertz says:

    If you want to buy super cheap electricity to use for making things there is a place in Oregon called Hood River that has a Co-op which provides power that is almost 100% generated by local microhydro turbines with the remainder from the Bonneville dam.

  23. Yancey Ward says:

    There is a simple fundamental fact- it is almost an iron law of economics of industrialized societies- productive output growth trends with electrical consumption. If power consumption in the US is stagnant or falling with a population that is still growing, then it is literal proof that the country itself is stagnating economically. As long as the Chinese are content with taking our paper for their manufactured goods, it can be hidden. However, that state of affairs won’t last forever, and probably won’t last another decade.

  24. Augusto says:

    I see people both promoting and denigrating wind power. I was involved in this space as an auditor, reviewing operations, especially as it relates to finance. First, it is a totally “subsidized” industry where I am (Alberta). The subsidies are not just all the government incentives to build, produce and sell, but the fact that it gets preference on the grid, regardless of cost, meaning its usage/efficiency/production is artificially elevated/driven by regulation rather than by economics. In fact, other electricitcy, mostly NatGas producers hate it, since they have rev up and down their turbines to give this grid preference. A significant cost, that no one really talks about, is the wear and tear on electric plants and turbines. Plants are designed to work best and most efficiently at a constant rate, so-called boiler plate. If a plant or machinery runs too fast there is excessive wear and tear and too slow the same thing, plus less efficiency (more CO2 per energy in both cases) Kind of like running your car too fast for too long or too slow for too long-both are inefficient. Wind turbine are idle much of the time and have a high variable usage rates….gas powered turbines are forced to cover for this inefficiency. My biggest problem is that much of the cost of wind turbines is hidden-buried in capital rates, grants, tax deferrals, user rates and government entities. Much of the “expensive” wind power in Alberta is purchased by government entities, City’s, public transit companies, but the cost buried in some other format. If people knew the real cost of this would they pay for it…I doubt it. And although it may get “better”, still not sure it will ever produce less overall CO2 using “Full Life Economics” (another term that is banished from the Wind Lexicon), than a gas fired turbine. Sorry for the length of this. Please note, I am not against Wind Turbines, just producing more CO2 and more resources than we need to…after all I thought it was about reducing CO2, not creating some fake industry….but we are dealing with government decisions in the economy here…

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Augusto – thank you very much.

    • I totally hear what you’re saying, and can agree to a large degree, but if gas plants “are designed to work best and most efficiently at a constant rate” when their job is to fire up quickly and fill in when free energy is not available, then their engineers need to be fired and replaced with some who can design to the requirements.

  25. B.A.C.A.H. says:

    Wonder if the bit coin mining is more than a rounding error on the current consumption in the US

  26. MarMar says:

    It is simply stunning to me how much grumpy-old-man nonsense there is the comments. Fossil fuels are bad, mmm-kay, renewables are way cheaper, no, nobody is going to leave broken wind turbines to rot when they are sitting on a fantastic wind resource where – in case you missed it the first eight times – the fuel is FREE.

    Yes, there are issues with intermittency, which to a certain extent are covered now by fast-starting gas turbines. But not 1-1 with previous baseload. And that role can increasingly be covered by storage, including these days storage that is sited with the solar or wind.

    In fact, contracts for storage plus solar or wind are now competitive with new generation of all other types. It’s only a matter of time until new renewable generation plus storage beats not only new fossil fuel generation, but even the running costs of existing fossil fuel plants.

    Renewables are in fact so cheap that one study concluded that the best option was simply to overbuild up to 3x.

    Frequency stabilization is also a role that battery storage can fulfill, very well in fact. This has been the primary role for batteries in the Northeast for years.

    As for jobs, the solar industry currently has 4-5x the jobs that the coal mining industry does. The fastest growing profession in the US is “wind turbine service technician”.

    Continually digging stuff out of the ground to burn it is a ridiculously inefficient way to power a society. Making electricity use more efficient (LEDs, heat pumps, insulation, etc.) and making that electricity from clean, renewable power is a win from almost every single angle.

    • hiroshi says:

      “Renewables are in fact so cheap that one study concluded that the best option was simply to overbuild up to 3x.”

      Maybe that is because of the numbers used in the study to massage those costs.

  27. Swamp Creature says:

    I wonder if there is any market for a coal powered home fireplaces. Seems I once had one in my old 1890 townhouse here. Used some Kennel coal to warm up the place. It worked way better than wood. I need to have a winter backup for our useless utility company (Exelon/Pepco) . The people cannot keep up reliable power on windless sunny days. Their solution to an antiquated electric grid dating back to the 1930’s is a mobile app on your Iphone. We’ve got 300 years supply of coal in the ground in the USA. Why now use it, and keep all those red blooded Americans in VWA employed.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Keep some coal in the ground. We will use it later when all these popular high-tech things don’t work out so well over the long run.

  28. Stonedwino says:

    I love how Wolf just beats down the morons right away…

  29. Augusto says:

    I love how you view wind power as free. Unfortunately, you need a lot of (expensive) equipment, capital and manpower to build and maintain it. Of course, there is nothing new here. Oil and Gas used to be considered free as well…the bounty of the land, just there to be scooped up and tapped into. Farmers used to drill their own wells here in Alberta where I live and heat their barns with gas, later, they just took it from pipelines, did their own taps….it was like taking water…no one owns water right, its free too. What this really is, is nothing more the old fashioned myth of the Perpetual Engine….cars can run on seawater, tital waves can power cities, wind machines will work for eternity like birds flapping in the wind (nah, all those wind farms will have to be replaced in about 20 years, just like other equipment, as to the birds, not much flapping here wind farms are killing lots of those), dilithium crystals make spaceships go across the Galaxy in seconds…its just those evil oil companies, banks and the military industrial complex keeping us from having all the “free” we deserve. Look see, Jed Clampett just put a round of buckshot in them thar hills and up comes a bubbling crude….and he’s rich, off to Hollywood….lets all think happy thoughts…..all so easy and free……

    • Augusto says:

      Oh, sorry, this was in reply to MarMar…..

      • MarMar says:

        At a certain point it gets tiresome to read one disingenuous take after another.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      I love it how you falsify my and MarMar’s words. We didn’t say “wind power” is free. We said the “fuel” is free (the wind). There are no extraction or transportation costs involved in obtaining wind, you don’t need to dig tunnels, remove mountain tops, or drill wells, unlike fossil fuels. The wind gets to the wind turbine on its own, free of charge.

      You need equipment for any and every power plant, and no power plant is more expensive than nuclear. But with a wind turbine, the “fuel” is free. That’s the difference.

  30. Frank says:

    Lots of interesting comments on “supply side” issues. Interesting. Thanks everyone. Thanks Wolf. However, even more attention to the “demand side”, (which creates the “supply side”), would be beneficial, long term. Some of that demand-side reduction is happening: From technology like LED, etc; (good idea imo). And from the de-industrialization of USA, and western economies; (not a good idea imo). However, (world wide), demographics, consumer expectations, regulations (ie construction and retro fitting standards), and other technologies like EV, are adding to the demand-side. At the same time, we are living off of, consuming, a finite amount of, carbon energy, produce by the natural system over billions(?) of years; where as renewable is about living off the sustainable energy, or what is produced, in the moment, from the natural system. And my cautious side, says don’t bet on a 100%, all in, for a technological solution; to what we want now (energy, food, water, etc), not including the plus up expectations for ever more in the future (ie constant infinite growth). The demand-side is a challenging topic, publicly; more messy than the supply-side. But, it is best to start that discuss, as: cheap carbon energy is declining, climate effects are a growing issue, the alternative energy methods have issues to solve, demand-side is a messy conversation, political leadership is mostly without public interest, corporatism is near totally without public interest, and our ability to pay for the transformations is declining, (debt and deficits going vertical; melting up?).

    The demand side issue is a messy topic. But when the “demand exceeds supply, for essential services/products”, (ie energy, food, water, affordable housing?, affordable heath care?), then that is an even messier event.

  31. Greater Foo says:

    Humans have the capability to design and build 99.999% reliable systems but does society have the ability to bear their cost?

  32. The fact that gas is eating coal’s lunch isn’t news, but it’s interesting to see in the chart. One thing that comes to mind is coal gasification. How much of that “natural gas” power was really coal power?

    I’d also be very interested to see breakdowns of energy consumption trends by state or city.

  33. Auldyin says:

    Can’t talk about USA but the idea of massive generator plants delivering over distant grids is not brilliant. It was the product of historical ‘power barons’ who wanted to become rich by spreading tentacles. I2R losses are huge and inescapable, so they use mega high voltages which kill people, have high insulation costs, and have to be stepped down to be safely usable. With led lights, tvs, computers, etc, locally generated 12-50v DC would be very safe and adequate in the home with small scale dispersed ‘pollution’. No queues of trucks and train loads of oil and coal catching fire every year. Cruise liners are ‘towns’ in the sea and don’t have grid connections. In UK we have piped gas to nearly every home, but Govt is talking about phasing out gas boilers which would be missing out on a massive opportunity, in my opinion, to get ‘free’ electricity by having a tiny ‘in kitchen’ gas turbine generating 12-50v battery stored DC and heating boiler water with its cooling system. This could have rendered our national grid redundant for domestic customers years ago but we don’t have many engineers in politics, they’ve got better things to do. There are vested interests in all aspects of everything in ‘developed economies’ paying lip service to efficiency in energy and other things.

  34. John Knox says:

    Is carbon energy doomed to lose in the future? How should I bet?

Comments are closed.