Sunday, May 8, 2016

Renewable Energy Point and Counter-Point

Subtitle:  Debating the Merits of Renewable Energy

Recently I once again made a comment or two on Watts Up With That, WUWT, this time on a badly-researched piece involving city of San Diego, California's Climate Action Plan.  The CAP aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and essentially be 100 percent "green."  Installing solar panels is but one item in the list of things San Diego plans to do, but the WUWT article misleads by indicating that all energy would be from solar, all the time.  

A commenter there objected to my statements, and I responded as below.  The commenter, "markl" has his statements below in italics, my responses are in normal face.   This is fairly representative of the anti-renewable group, and it will be interesting if "markl" chooses to respond after being presented with inarguable facts. 

"markl" --  "You would be surprised at how many of us support solar and have panels installed."  -- Not a bit surprised, since the US just celebrated the 1 millionth solar installation.  

" It’s not “anything about renewable energy” I object to it’s the unsubstantiated claims being made and the ridiculous amount of money being thrown (literally) at the industry to make it work and along the way more environmental damage is occurring than what it’s replacing without any concern. Hypocrisy at the max."

Please point out any unsubstantiated claims I have made.   I cannot speak for anyone else, but my statements are based on facts and careful research.    As to ridiculous amounts of money being thrown at the industry, I wrote on this just the other day, showing the minuscule impact of subsidies on wind-turbine projects.  Solar is also subsidized to a minor extent.  The entire point of such subsidies is to provide incentive for private sector to develop, test, and improve the systems until they are economically viable on their own.  This is a legitimate purpose of government.  

As to environmental damage, one could argue that coal-mining creates immensely more damage than do all the wind-turbines in the US.  

 "It’s not about renewable energy but instead about supporting an ideology and eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear. Admit it. "   

I certainly agree that eliminating nuclear energy is a very good thing.  The nuclear industry had its moment in the spotlight, 50 years or more actually, and to show for it they barely achieved 11 percent of world's electricity production.  Nuclear essentially replaced oil-burning power plants.   No argument, that is a fact.   I don't agree that eliminating fossil fuels is a good idea, although I am aware there are people who think it is a good idea.   I am from the oil and gas industry, second generation.  Oil and gas provide irreplaceable benefits in the entire world's economy.   

Back to wind vs nuclear, it is a fact that nuclear energy in 1986, the year Chernobyl exploded and irradiated all of us, provided the identical amount of electricity world-wide as did all of renewable sources in 2014, just 28 years later.  That is a solid fact.  Wind is also the major provider of renewable energy.  In fact, wind-energy in late 2015 provided the same amount of electricity as did all of hydroelectric dams in the US.  Each provided approximately 5 percent of the entire US grid demand.  

"So far the renewable energy produced in the world doesn’t come close to replacing what has been decommissioned on either an energy or reliability basis and no amount of misinformation can change that fact."

Not clear what you mean by that, perhaps nuclear energy from the decommissioned wording.  As stated just above, renewables in 2014 equaled all of nuclear energy 28 years earlier in 1986.  For reference, see my blog post  see link   titled "Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster 30 Years After: Subtitle:  No More Chernobyls - Build Wind-Turbines and Solar Power."   

As to reliability, of course the power flows only when the wind blows.   That is why the present, economic solution is to have gas-turbine power plants operate in load-following mode.  However, as I stated on other comments, grid-scale batteries and the ARES rail energy storage system now provide viable, economic alternatives without many geographic limitations.  

"Used appropriately solar is a good addition to our energy mix but not a viable replacement unless its’ efficiency can be improved by an order of magnitude and stored in a cost conscious manner."

The concept of sole-sourcing energy is simply not valid, unless one speaks of hydroelectricity in a region such as near Niagara Falls or the Bonneville Dam.   On a national basis, we will have a mix of energy sources including hydroelectric, natural gas, coal for a few more years, nuclear for a few more years until the aging reactors are retired for good, and several forms of renewable energy.   It makes perfect sense for the sunny SouthWest to install solar-energy power plants, at large scale to reduce unit costs.  That is precisely what is occurring.   It also makes perfect sense to harvest a portion of the immense wind energy that flows through the middle of the US along the Texas-to-North Dakota corridor.

 "Wind has time and time again proved a failure in energy produced, cost to implement and maintain, and protecting the environment. You can support renewable energy but don’t try to put lipstick on the pig."

The facts show that wind-turbines have done exactly as was predicted: early versions had flaws that were identified, then corrected in later versions.  Today's wind-turbines are far more effective, more efficient, and much more economic than turbines of 30 years ago.  Today's modern wind-turbines achieve a capacity factor of 43 percent as the national average for the month of April (when wind is relatively strong).  The annual average capacity factor in the US is now 34 percent.   That figure will increase over time, just like automobile average miles-per-gallon increase over time, as older units are removed from service and newer, more efficient units are built.    It is also important to note that all natural gas power plants in the US operate at an annual average capacity factor less than that of wind, at 29 percent.  

Costs to operate and maintain wind-turbines are very low for new projects, and increase over time.  The O&M costs are approximately 0.5 cents per kWh in the first year or two, and increase to 2 cents per kWh after 10 years of operation.  You could look it up, or see my post at see link

As for protecting the environment, a wind-turbine does no more harm than a tall tree on a prairie.   A bird or two may get killed, and that is regrettable but so far unavoidable.    There are improved designs in the works that are much more bird-friendly.  I cannot say more on that topic. 

Renewable energy is not a pig in need of lipstick.  It is instead a racehorse that is beautiful to behold.  The systems work exactly as designed, producing power when the wind blows or when the sun shines as the case may be.  There were some poorly-vetted and ill-designed projects such as Solyndra, but Vestas, GE Wind, and Siemens all make very good products.   Billionaire Warren Buffet is no fool yet he spends billions of his dollars on one wind project after another.  

No amount of disinformation or denying the facts will change the facts.  

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

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