Batteries Not A Sustainable Backup For Wind And Solar – Part II: Safety, Health And Cost

Posted on Sat 06/13/2020 by


By Dr. Jay Lehr and Terigi Ciccone ~

Joy and Celebration: In his Laudeat et Jubilat, Mozart gave specific instructions to the conductor; Allegro ma non troppo,” or play it happily, but not so much.

In this second and concluding part on backing up inconsistent wind and solar energy with battery storage, we give these same instructions to the Governors, Utility, and Industry captains. They will joyfully receive the mega-billion dollar contracts for the solar and wind plants. They will be supercharged with storage batteries and they will fail with spectacular short falls, short of tripling customer costs. We also extend this warning signal to the delusional virtue-signaling do-gooders and Sierra Club hypocrites in hiding, who are all well over their ski tips on these misadventures.

The government has approved a billion dollar solar energy facility in the Mohave Desert 30 miles from Las Vegas. Warren Buffett has signed a contract to buy the energy from it for his energy company at a price of 4 cents per Kw for 25 years based on the costs estimated for the facility at, $1,000,000,000. When you get to the end of this article and see the costs we estimate for the solar facility, if it is ever completed, (which is doubtful), you will no doubt break out laughing . But the citizens of Las Vegas will not be laughing. They will be crying as they see their electric bills triple.

For the same cost we estimate for the Gemini Solar plant, Mr. Buffett and friends could build a nuclear power plant on less ground in the Mohave Desert that would produce four times more energy that would be fully reliable and the safest for mankind and the environment. Nuclear power plant costs have increased to the level of our solar plant estimate due to the exorbitant costs and risks of decade-long licensing restrictions and litigations. Lithium ion batteries in the desert will never have an equal safety assurance.

In Part I of this series, we demonstrated the planet-scale environmental destruction done in the name ofsave the planet:” first by switching to wind and solar power then made all the worse by the addition of storage batteries. In this concluding Part II, we demonstrate the health and safety risks to the public resulting from the addition of these lithium-ion storage batteries. We also look at their cost impact that the taxpayers and customers will have to bear. Perhaps we can inspire Michael Moore to make a sequel to his outstanding movie THE PLANET FOR THE HUMANS” to bring these real costs out in the open.

Here’s what we are talking about. Figure 1 above is an illustration of a typical electrical generating plant. In item A, we have a fossil plant providing power to the homes and business shown as item D. The idea now is to add a solar or wind plant, item B, to replace a portion of the power when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining, thus reducing” the fossil-fuels burned by item A for a few hours a day. But because solar and wind are intermittent and unreliable, item A cannot be turned off. Instead, it is powered down and kept running on standby in case it has to be brought back to full power in a few seconds to prevent a blackout. In this standby mode, item A is still burning about 90-95% of the same fuel and still producing about the same CO2 and pollutants as if the wind/solar plants were not there.

Now the sought-after goal is to try to eliminate the item A generator altogether and have the sun/wind first charge the item C batteries and, at the same time, produce some electricity for the customers, item D. When they are fully charged, the sun/wind will provide electricity to item D customers. The item C batteries would ideally provide the back up so the fossil plant can be eliminated. But what if there’s no wind or sun for several days and batteries are good for 2, 3 maybe 4 hours a day? Meanwhile. The homes, businesses, offices, hospitals still need electricity to be safe and stay alive. So, we have all of the ingredients for the formerly famous Rube Goldberg to find an engineering solution with one of his strange complex machines.

But it doesn’t end here? Looking at Figure 2 at right, we are reminded of the many warnings we have seen and heard on the use, storage, and safe disposal of electric lithium-ion batteries.

Safety and health concerns. In Engineering school, we were taught about Murphy’s Law! If anything can go wrong, it will, and at the worst time, and in the worst direction. If you need a reminder, here are some headlines from around the world.

· Bloomberg,[ii]Another lithium-ion battery has exploded, this time at an energy-storage complex in the US By Brian Eckhouse and Mark Chediak. April 23, 2019, updated on April 24, 2019: Battery exploded at plant in Arizona; two others were shut. Arizona utility regulator calls for ‘thorough investigation.” “At least 21 fires had already occurred at battery projects in South Korea, according to Bloomberg NEF. But this latest one, erupting on Friday at a facility owned by a Pinnacle West Capital Corp. utility in Surprise, Arizona, marked the first time it has happened in America since batteries took off globally.”

From around the world

  • South Korea: 3-years ago passed new regulation To Strengthen Battery Safety Rules After 7 Fires.” From this one web page, you see the many reports on the fire and explosion records in S. Korea related to Lithium-Ion Batteries. Especially check out the YouTube videos.[iii]
  • Switzerland: [iv] May 17, 2018, Swiss prosecutors investigate fatal Tesla crash, suspect ‘thermal runaway’ of battery.”
  • The USA, some recent events:

Massive Lithium-Ion Battery Fire/Explosion Shows Challenges of Renewable Energy Storage” ( January 29. 2019)[v]

Lithium-ion Battery Energy Storage Systems – The risks and how to manage them.” [vi]

Hearing Aid Battery Technology Advances and Cautions,” [vii] and phones[viii]

Examining Lithium-Ion Battery Explosions, Stamford University, May 26, 2017[ix]

  • Lithium-ion Safety Concerns[x]
  • Safety is a relative term, and in these many articles, it’s used in comparative terms, such as to make it safer,” or to improve safety.” It is repeated so often by the many authors that they seem compelled to convince us that the Lithium-Ion batteries are safe.

Electrical utility storage batteries are not unique, and all are built with the same underlying architecture. For example, the latest/most powerful Tesla battery, 102KWh, is made up of about 8,200 individual batteries, each a bit larger than a standard A-A. They are bundled and sealed into a subunit with a cooling system added for safety. Eight or 12 or any number of these subunits are then stacked and connected to make up the required working units. This illustrative 102KWh Tesla battery measures about 7 foot by 4 foot by 7 inches and weighs about 1,200 lbs.

They are costly. For a typical application, say a 450 MW plant, and 1,500MWh, you would need about 16,000 of these Tesla batteries for a total battery weight of about 10,000 tons plus the housings, structures, connecting, and controlling equipment. Then depending on how they are used/cycled, they may need replacement every 3 to 4 years. If we assume 3.5 services years and a plant is designed for 25-year service life, a total of more than 110,000 of these batteries will be needed. Then comes the question, is Tesla using the Gillette model for the sale of the installation batteries, then make a fortune off the subsequent spare batteries?

Let’s do some arithmetic: using Tesla[xi] and IAEA data, table 5.1[xii] here’s what we get for the estimated 25 year life cycle cost (cost of equipment, installation plus fixed and variable operation and maintenance.).

We could provide the cost of electricity by about $2.5 Billion. Then, if we add the solar panel, the cost increases by a factor of two to $5 Billion. If we then add a battery backup, the cost goes up by more than three times to about $8 billion.

Let’s wrap up this insanity. For this one typical plant, we have more than tripled the cost of electricity so that batteries can be used as back up to solar power for a few hours per day. Our industry leaders have doubled-tripled their sales, our politicians got re-elected, our delusional do-gooders are feeling noble, and what did we get for it?

  • · Maybe, a 0 % reduction in fossil fuel burned
  • · Maybe, a 0 % reduction in CO2 and pollution
  • · We lost about 3,000 to 4,000 acres of farmlands and wilderness
  • · We have increased the strip-mines by a factor of 10
  • · We have increased the environmental damage, reduced public safety, and increased toxicity risk by a factor of 10, or more?

Why? Why the wasted money

Why? The destroyed environment

Why? The increased health and safety risks

Why? Why?

We have all witnessed gigantic cost over runs on government projects, but overrunning the cost 8 fold may be a record. We are quite certain of our numbers.



Here are the back up cost estimates

– Cost of fossil plant $2.5 Billion, baseline costs

– Cost of solar plant $2.5Billion,

– Cost of batteries $3.0 Billion

        Total $8.0 Billion

– Cost of Battery system; We start with a necessary solar plant, at about $130/KWh per KWh, and 1,500,000 KWh – the cost of capital is about $195$ Mil plus 6.15 spares for a total cost of about $1.2 Billion

-When we now add the cost of the battery plant, controls, and management system, and maintenance for 25 years, and demolition costs, estimate a total cost of $2.5 to $3.5 Billion, use $3.0 Billion.

– Now add the cost of a solar PV plant[xiii], at $2,650 per KW, ($1.2 Billion) plus installation, and O & M estimate a total $ 25-year life cycle cost and demolition of about $2.5 Billion

– Cost of a combined cycle gas plant: [xiv] at $1,000 $/KW, estimate cost at $0.45 Billion plus fixed and variable O&M for 25 years; approximately $2.0 Billion, for a total of about $2.5 Billion.

– The total life cycle cost for a combined cycle plant is $2. 5 Billion, then to save about 3.5 hours/day of operation, we add a solar plant, and costs increase to $5 Billion with practically no reduction in O&M cost of CO2 or pollution.

– Then add a battery system as a backup and service, we add another $3 Billion for a total cost of about $ 8.0 Billion.

– Increase the cost of electricity by a factor of 8/2.5= about three times with no significant reduction in CO2, pollution, or fossil fuel.

We have all witnessed gigantic cost over runs on government projects, but overrunning the cost eight fold might be a record. We know of what we speak.


[ii] [ii]











[xiii], Table 1

[xiv], Table 1

Dr Jay Lehr contributes posts at the CFACT site. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition, and he is the author of more than 1,000 magazine and journal articles and 36 books.

Terigi Ciccone is an Engineer, Science Enthusiast and Artist. He loves reading and travel, is a Naturalist, and the Author of the new book “A Hitchhiker’s Journey Through Climate Change.”

Read more excellent articles at CFACT