Background noise in cities like Lagos, Baghdad or Kabul includes the powerful roar of diesel generators, the pitch and volume of which increase when the mains-operated street lights get darker due to equipment failure or lack of fuel.
Another effect of the diesel generators can be seen on global air quality maps, where the low-grid and diesel-intensive cities glow red with pollution.
Now that noise and haze is spreading across America, getting louder and dirtier with the summer heat. This was set to be the green boom year, with union workers pulling out wind turbines, solar panels and massive batteries while environmentally conscious fund managers looked on with satisfaction in overbearing plastic hats.
Well, some people make money. Even if the stocks of alternative energies have been stuttering and drifting down since the beginning of this year, dirty old diesel generator manufacturers are shaping it. Wisconsin's largest manufacturer of all-diesel generator sets, Generac Holdings Inc, has stocked more than 250 percent in the past 12 months and nearly eight-fold in the past two years. It is now trading at a price equal to 58 times its earnings over the past 12 months, a fairly aggressive valuation. That is even with earnings per share up 36 percent in 2020 and sales growth of 12.7 percent.
Obviously people are willing to pay for diesel gensets and the company acknowledges that making the equipment fast enough is difficult. Part of this growth stems from the demand for backup generators for data centers, a rapidly growing application in recent years.
But unfortunately, much of the surge in the diesel business can be attributed to the declining reliability of US power grids, especially in storm-hit coastal areas, inland tornadoes, and more recently California and Texas, which are intensifying renewables.
Both states have moved quickly to install tax-deductible wind and solar systems, but slowly to ensure the flexibility and resilience needed to support intermittent renewables. Texans seemed to believe their fossil-fueled energy would offset fluctuations in wind power, but in February the natural gas pipelines and generators were frozen.
Californians have taken it for granted that their own water supplies, as well as those of their northern neighbors, could offset the huge fluctuations in the state's solar and wind output. Unfortunately, drought conditions have spread across the west and hydropower, even carefully rationed, may not be able to prevent severe blackouts this summer.
Americans who depend on air conditioning and internet access do not want to put up with power outages. So you will be spending $ 15,000-20,000 to buy a diesel backup system at home, or $ 75,000 on one of the new gasoline-powered Ford F-150 pick-up trucks with built-in 7.5kW -Generators.
Hundreds of thousands and likely millions of people and the businesses they depend on are choosing carbon-intensive diesel or gasoline-powered propulsion. This not only poses a threat to air quality, but a breach of the social contract that is the very foundation of the power grid.
Does America really want the flickering lights, suffocating air, and extreme social inequality of the places where the rich have private energy systems to light their guardhouses and outdoor spotlights?
In too many cases, renewable energy is treated as a tax gimmick and political ticking. Solar and wind projects are ready for photo surgery and are easy to monetize. Officials can cast off concerns about the stability and sustainability of the grid by assuming that neighboring regions will supply all necessary imports of electricity as needed.
That explains in part how negligent California has been about the assumptions underlying its green ambitions. But now its neighboring states and power grids have their own drought and generation problems. This is how rural Californians build the order books for Generac and its competitors.
So far, Europe and Great Britain have been spared a forced diesel drive. It was believed that the continent's close connections will enable its grids to absorb the fluctuations in wind and solar generation from supplies of imported electricity from. . . somewhere.
But nuclear and coal exits in Germany in the next few years will make it a steady electricity importer. Great Britain also wants to shut down nuclear power plants early. France partially denuclearizes.
Without grid stability and resilience, the green transformation disappears in a cloud of diesel smoke.
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