Thursday, February 18, 2010


Ethanol and the Intermittency of Renewables

Brazil is importing 2 million barrels of gasoline from Venezuela to make up for an ethanol shortage caused by the effects of poor weather on the sugar cane harvest. We often hear about the effects of weather on the output of renewable energy sources such as wind and photovoltaic. This is commonly called “intermittency” or “variability,” and is a characteristic of many renewables that prevent them from supplying base load electric power. Even normally more stable renewables such as hydroelectric power are susceptible to the vagaries of nature, a current case in point being Venezuela, which is suffering a crippling power shortage owing to insufficient rain.

By contrast, biofuels are often considered to be above this, but here is an instance in which a country that has made itself heavily dependent on ethanol finds itself short of fuel because of uncooperative weather. So here is the intermittency problem appearing where many people seem to have overlooked it.

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