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Beware the Duck!

Summary:
There’s one more problem with solar power: peak electricity use in California occurs in the late afternoon and early evening, when solar power is small or zero. When I taught an energy economics course at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2015, I made that point. One student responded, “Ah, yes, the duck curve.” In response to my quizzical look, he pointed the rest of the class and me to an image like this one. The line showing the supply of electrical power from “dispatchable sources,” which, as a rough approximation, means fossil fuels, traces what looks like the tail, back, neck, and head of a duck viewed from the side. In the early morning, there’s not much power from solar so electricity production from fossil fuels is high: that’s the tail of the duck. During

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Beware the Duck!

There’s one more problem with solar power: peak electricity use in California occurs in the late afternoon and early evening, when solar power is small or zero.

When I taught an energy economics course at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2015, I made that point. One student responded, “Ah, yes, the duck curve.” In response to my quizzical look, he pointed the rest of the class and me to an image like this one. The line showing the supply of electrical power from “dispatchable sources,” which, as a rough approximation, means fossil fuels, traces what looks like the tail, back, neck, and head of a duck viewed from the side. In the early morning, there’s not much power from solar so electricity production from fossil fuels is high: that’s the tail of the duck. During the day, electricity from solar is high and so electricity production from fossil fuels is low: that’s the duck’s back. Then in the late afternoon and early evening, electricity from solar falls to zero but electricity use rises a lot and so we get the high neck and head of the duck. If you ever wonder about the problems with solar, think of the duck and you’ll quickly see the problem.

This is from David R. Henderson, “The California Brownout Disaster is Manmade,” Defining Ideas, September 11, 2020.

Notice that I also use the dreaded 7-letter n-word: nuclear.

Read the whole thing.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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