Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wind vs Coal - Coal Cannot Go Ten Rounds

Subtitle: Coal Fizzles Out in Fifty Years - Wind Blows Forever 
It appears I struck deep at the heart of the anti-wind crowd [on JoNova's excellent blog]. It’s a pleasure to cross swords (or words). I’ll ignore the infantile insults about lawyers – I’m a chemical engineer who also practices law.
Background: on an open thread at JoNova's blog, somebody started a rant on anti-wind and praising baseload coal power.  Not surprising, actually, given the huge coal reserves in Australia (JoNova is in Australia).  Several statements that were mis-direction were made, and I took keyboard in hand to offer a different perspective.  Here is what I wrote for my second comment.  The first is also on display at JoNova's site.   The gist of their argument (several people "down-thumbed my comment!) is that no coal-fired power plant has ever been replaced by a wind-farm.  True, I agree.  But, that is totally irrelevant.   That's like saying no 5-year old who plays Tee-ball in Little League has ever hit a home run in Major League Baseball.  True, but then give him a few years to grow up, get stronger, and more experience.   See what happens then.   Here is the comment:
Wind energy is not designed (yet) to replace any coal-fired plants. I suspect you would not expect a diesel-powered dump truck to compete and win at a Formula One race. The truck is not designed to compete in that arena. Why, then, are wind-energy projects expected to replace a coal-fired plant? The current wind-energy systems do exactly what they are designed to do: they produce power when the wind blows, as efficiently and as economically as their design and location allow. As for requiring fossil-fueled backup, even hydroelectric plants require backup for periods of drought. Should all the dams be torn down and the hydroelectric plants shut down?
The fact is that wind energy is in the teen-ager portion of the life development curve, with unit costs steadily declining as the industry matures, and experience is gained with larger turbines. Capacity Factors are rather good, as I noted above, for recent and future projects.
Costs actually are steadily declining, as Warren Buffett observed when he placed his recent order for $1 billion (US) for wind turbines in Iowa.
Coal may be great (for now), but notice what China’s rapid increase in coal consumption has done to the world reserves. The previous 200-year reserve lifetime has decreased to 90 to 100 years. When China doubles their coal-fired generating capacity, as they intend to, and India also ramps up their consumption, the coal reserves world-wide will decrease to perhaps 40 to 50 years. Sobering, isn’t it? Sure, Australia has much of the remaining reserves, and good on ya for that. Enjoy the sales — for 50 years. After that, what will Australia do for power? Harness kangaroos and make them jump against rubber bands? PETA might have a problem with that.
It would be far, far better to slide off the coal-fired bandwagon and begin cheering for the infinitely renewable side. Those of you who are under 30 years of age will live to see the end of coal. It will not be pretty.
Wind’s problems are already solved. Larger turbines, better sites with stronger and more steady wind, and pumped storage using underwater hollow spheres (the MIT solution) are no pie-in-the-sky, these are realities.
My recent article gives a view of future energy systems, including the integrated wind with storage system:

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

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