Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Insane Myth of ‘Renewable’ Energy

From John Droz at Pajamas Media:

“Renewable” electrical energy sources are not even remotely equivalent to conventional energy sources, and this is perhaps the most important reality of energy to understand.

Green lobbyists go to great lengths to disguise this. Everything they propagate is based on an “equivalency” between “renewables” and conventional power sources that does not exist in the real world. Even generally objective sources, like the Energy Information Administration (EIA), seriously err when they show levelized cost charts that have wind energy and nuclear power in contiguous columns.

The first problem encountered is the term “renewables.” This word is treated like it is a scientific definition and a homogeneous group of energy sources. This is lobbyist sleight of hand, as neither is true. The definition is very subjective, and there are extraordinary differences between various “renewables.” (See here and here.)

The next hurdle is getting our heads around the fundamental difference between a “renewable” like wind energy, and nuclear power. Let’s look at two types of transportation (a parallel energy sector), using concepts we are all familiar with.

Take a business that repeatedly needs to get 50,000 pounds of goods from New York City to Denver in two days, and cost is quite important. (In the electricity business, this translates to satisfying a demand (load) through dispatchable energy, reliably and economically.)

So who do we subcontract this job to? A good option is to put this merchandise on an 18-wheeler and send it on its way. Will it always get there 100% of the time without fail? No, flukes do happen. However, if this experiment was repeated 100 times, the truck would arrive well over 90% of the time, on schedule and within budget. This is equivalent to using a conventional energy source, like nuclear power.

Now let’s introduce green into the equation, arbitrarily adding the requirement that no fossil fuel can be used: our options are now severely restricted. The parallel choice to using wind energy is to send the merchandise with golf carts (battery powered so no fossil fuel will be consumed during transport). How many golf carts will it take to dependably replicate the performance of one Mack truck?

Let’s say a golf cart can carry 500 pounds (two golfers with sticks). Transporting 50,000 pounds would require 100 golf carts, and as ludicrous as this option sounds, this is essentially the message wind lobbyists want you to buy: approximately 100 golf carts (wind turbines) will do the job of one 18-wheeler (conventional source: e.g., a coal facility).

They want you to blink and move on. Do not look behind the curtain!

But wait! Can the golf carts really get there in two days? Of course not. The lobbyist answer? Add more vehicles: use 1000 carts!

Does this “solution” really solve anything? No, but it further confuses politicians not used to critical thinking. What it also does is insure more profit for the cart industry — which is the only concern of the the lobbyists.

What if the load is a hundred 500-pound pianos? Even though (on paper) a golf cart can carry 500 pounds, can a golf cart transport a piano across the country?

The lobbyists’ answer: disassemble it.

What about the cost of the golf cart option compared to the truck? Just to begin with, you’re hiring 100-plus drivers vs. one — so I think you know the answer, right?

And what else will be needed to support this ”alternative” source of transportation? A lot: like battery recharging stations throughout the country. And who will pay for that? Duh.

And what is the source of the electricity used to charge the cart batteries? Mostly fossil fuels. Oops.

After the business says a resounding no to the golf cart option, the promoters come back with another appeal: just send part of the load with them. But try as they might, the owners don’t see sending any part of their merchandise on golf carts making sense, from reliability, economic, or environmental perspectives. Can you?

In the face of this evidence, the lobbyists and their academic co-conspirators distractingly wave their hands:

Don’t worry about these details. Increase our subsidy and we’ll do a better job. Give us a huge subsidy and we’ll do a great job. Everything will make more sense mañana.

This isn’t how science works!

Before paying them to run this route, these promoters should tell us exactly how many golf carts it will take, and then prove it by actually running this route dozens of times. We would then have real-world evidence of the reliability and cost of their proposal.

This is exactly what we have not done with wind energy. We have skipped right over the proof stage.

It gets worse. The golf cart lobbyists turn to politicians, trying to convince them that businesses have been “resistive” to their product, so they need a law mandating that 20% of all goods from New York City to Denver go the golf cart route!

The claimed benefit of all of this? Economic recovery. There will be lots of new jobs in the golf cart business! What about the economic loss due to the higher shipping cost or the slower, much less dependable transportation?

Don’t worry about it. Come back mañana.

This is the insane path we are now on.

(For a more thorough discussion of this situation, see EnergyPresentation.Info.)

John Droz, Jr. is a physicist and environmental advocate.

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