Tag: low-carbon energy sources

Renewable energy idealism and reality clash

That’s not me, that’s a NYT Opinion piece by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, titled The Gas Is Greener, and pointing out how fantasy eventually goes south when reality and real science come into play.

IN April, Gov. Jerry Brown made headlines by signing into law an ambitious mandate that requires California to obtain one-third of its electricity from renewable energy sources like sunlight and wind by 2020. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now have renewable electricity mandates. President Obama and several members of Congress have supported one at the federal level. Polls routinely show strong support among voters for renewable energy projects — as long as they don’t cost too much.

But there’s the rub: while energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources — most notably, land. Even a cursory look at these costs exposes the deep contradictions in the renewable energy movement.

First a clarification: no, the reference to “mandates” isn’t about two guys dating, but in this case about a governor’s royal decree. Sorry to disappoint those of you into that sort of stuff. Anyway, here is the killer: renewable energy projects have both a cost and a foot print, and when they replace real and viable technologies that meet real world requirements, the problems become instantly evident. But let me not get ahead of the facts and, man are they fun ones:

Consider California’s new mandate. The state’s peak electricity demand is about 52,000 megawatts. Meeting the one-third target will require (if you oversimplify a bit) about 17,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity. Let’s assume that California will get half of that capacity from solar and half from wind. Most of its large-scale solar electricity production will presumably come from projects like the $2 billion Ivanpah solar plant, which is now under construction in the Mojave Desert in southern California. When completed, Ivanpah, which aims to provide 370 megawatts of solar generation capacity, will cover 3,600 acres — about five and a half square miles.

The math is simple: to have 8,500 megawatts of solar capacity, California would need at least 23 projects the size of Ivanpah, covering about 129 square miles, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan. While there’s plenty of land in the Mojave, projects as big as Ivanpah raise environmental concerns. In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction on part of the facility out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Wind energy projects require even more land. The Roscoe wind farm in Texas, which has a capacity of 781.5 megawatts, covers about 154 square miles. Again, the math is straightforward: to have 8,500 megawatts of wind generation capacity, California would likely need to set aside an area equivalent to more than 70 Manhattans. Apart from the impact on the environment itself, few if any people could live on the land because of the noise (and the infrasound, which is inaudible to most humans but potentially harmful) produced by the turbines.

That bolding is me. Where to begin? So a solar energy project that has the footprint of Manhattan Island will generate ½ of the 1/3 required by mandate (sorry don’t get excited again), at the cost of $46 billion – that’s the $2 billion cost multiplied by 23 to preempt CM’s demands for a dissertation to prove my point – and the environmental impacts be damned! To do it with wind we would need a tract of land 70 times that of Manhattan Island? Do the math to figure out what it would take to produce 100% of the 52K MW Cali is burning right now, then factor in the needed growth to keep up with the economic demands. Don’t bother looking at the cost. Obama already told us it will cost us a shitload more. But it’s for a good cause!

So then I get to something that actually gave me some enjoyment: reality smacking stupid in the face. I got a huge kick form how these watermelons are eating each other up, the greenies are pitted against the animal lovers & eugenicists that think anyone but them should be made to live in caves if not exterminated to save the spotted owl or some other such nonsense. As if nature doesn’t already have a mechanism built into it to make sure that only those that can adapt survive. Anyway, here is the fun stuff.

Industrial solar and wind projects also require long swaths of land for power lines. Last year, despite opposition from environmental groups, San Diego Gas & Electric started construction on the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink, which will carry electricity from solar, wind and geothermal projects located in Imperial County, Calif., to customers in and around San Diego. In January, environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the $1.9 billion line from cutting through a nearby national forest.

Not all environmentalists ignore renewable energy’s land requirements. The Nature Conservancy has coined the term “energy sprawl” to describe it. Unfortunately, energy sprawl is only one of the ways that renewable energy makes heavy demands on natural resources.

Consider the massive quantities of steel required for wind projects. The production and transportation of steel are both expensive and energy-intensive, and installing a single wind turbine requires about 200 tons of it. Many turbines have capacities of 3 or 4 megawatts, so you can assume that each megawatt of wind capacity requires roughly 50 tons of steel. By contrast, a typical natural gas turbine can produce nearly 43 megawatts while weighing only 9 tons. Thus, each megawatt of capacity requires less than a quarter of a ton of steel.

WTF? This stuff isn’t going to magically save Gaia and actually might do just as much if not more harm? Who woulda thunk that? So what then?

All energy and power systems exact a toll. If we are to take Schumacher’s phrase to heart while also reducing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, we must exploit the low-carbon energy sources — natural gas and, yes, nuclear — that have smaller footprints.

Yeah, good luck with that. If this shit was for real we would already be furiously working with these technologies, especially nuclear, which is the only one that is completely CO2 free, but we all know how likely that is to ever really get a shot at anything. Instead what we get is taxation. And don’t worry California! At the rate you are going you probably go bankrupt long before the date Brown has mandated – there we go again – and then you won’t have to worry much about anything like this. That is if the enviromentalists don’t end up at war with each other over all this first.