American Elephants

Sun and Wind and Rainbows and Magic Do Not Power the Planet by The Elephant's Child

A post I wrote back in 2013 is getting another round of attention, as it does now and then. I wrote about abandoned wind turbines, and the misguided notion that wind and sun are free, therefore renewable energy—and to be endlessly subsidized as our most desirable source of power. I hasten to add that I am not a scientist nor do I have any pretense of being one. I was an English major at a time and in a college where the pursuit of knowledge and the critical examination of sources were considered essential.

But I also grew up in the mountains of Idaho on 400 acres with a river running through it, and spent most of my time, winter and summer, outdoors. We had winters with 5′ of snow and winters that were fairly mild. Flood, forest fires, lightning strikes, cougar, bear, lynx and woodrats. (I’m a deadly shot on woodrats. They gather up the cotton from cottonwood trees, store it in the attic of the woodshed and then pee all over it, and have their babies there.) You don’t live outdoors for years interacting with weather, and get all panicky about a few degrees warmer or cooler.

Science is complicated. I just read about a cave discovered in Mexico, a half a mile down, so hot that scientists can only stay for a few minutes, where there are microbes trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old, living on minerals like iron and manganese. Lots left on Earth for us to discover yet, diseases to conquer, unknown territory, they are discovering new species every year. The world economy runs on some form of electric power, and not just for our convenience, light and heat. Transportation, manufacturing, business and government are dependent on electricity and their needs are growing constantly, so the more power we need.

People are frightened by nuclear power after the horrific catastrophe in Japan, and the nuclear accident in Russia. We have dams on most of our major rivers, and environmentalists long for free wild rivers. Power good, but dams bad. Environmentalists say that coal, oil and natural gas are all evil, and should “stay in the ground where they belong.” So it’s unsurprising that there is a fetish for energy from the wind and the sun. Surely with our advanced modern technology we can invent wind turbines and solar arrays to harness the free energy of the wind and the sun. Well, no, no we can’t. Or we can, if we’re content to live in extreme poverty.

The wind is terminally, fatally intermittent. When the wind blows, which is not most of the time, it blows in gusts and wafts or gales. What you need is a steady stream of wind and then you get “capacity,” which is what the manufactures of the turbines promise when they are extolling the virtues of wind. Never happens. In winter, when you are freezing, the wind is apt to not blow at all, and the turbines don’t turn. They have already tried most of the really windy places —Altamont Pass in California, the tip of the Hawaiian Islands, they’ve even replaced a lot of the idle turbines in my 2013 post, so now they are moving offshore. There’s a big offshore farm coming online off our East coast shortly. Offshore turbines take a lot more punishment from saltwater and weather. The life of an onshore turbine is 20 years at best, offshore is a lot less.

The sun, on the other hand, is too diffuse. For real power you need really hot sun bearing down, in a cloudless sky. How many cloudless, sunny days do you get? This is the Northwest, where we get rain all the time, and plenty of clouds. The sun also has a habit of sinking beneath the horizon at night, and even more so in the short days of winter. Elon Musk keeps promising battery arrays to take care of that, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet, and his solar farms haven’t been in the news much. Wind turbines have a nasty habit of chopping up bats and birds by the hundreds, birds of prey as well. What that does to our insect population and rodent population I don’t know, but it doesn’t bode well for malaria and Zika. and other disease.

Both of these technologies demand more and more land each year as the need for more and more energy increases, land in quantities simply unavailable.  Look for Robert Bryce’s book: Smaller, Faster, Lighter, Denser, Cheaper. It’s a clear, simple explanation of why wind and solar will remain interesting, but are not a major source of power except in the remote places where any source of power, however limited,  is a bounty.

The New York Times Continues To Try to Save You from the Horrors of Global Warming. Sigh! by The Elephant's Child
March 5, 2010, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Economy, Energy, Law, Science/Technology | Tags: , , ,

“The Newest Hybrid Model” is the title of a story on the front page of today’s business section of the New York Times.  The article is headed by a dramatic photo of 500 acres of solar panels sitting next to an unimpressive natural gas plant in Indiantown, Fla., owned by Florida Power & Light.

The natural gas plant — which occupies no more than 15 acres — produces 3,800 megawatts of reliable electricity.  The mammoth 500-acre solar array next to it (about 3/4 of a square mile) will produce 75 megawatts of electricity at its maximum — that is, on a hot summer afternoon.  (Fortunately this is the time of peak demand from air-conditioning).

According to the Times:

The solar array…is an experiment in whether conventional power generation can be married with renewable power in a way that lowers costs and spares the environment.

This isn’t quite right. Solar power depends on— the sun.  At night, or when the sky is cloudy, solar power requires backup from a conventional power source.  This plant will dispense with the fiction that solar can stand on its own.  So you have a 500 acre solar array that will add an additional 2 percent generating capacity onto a stand-alone gas plant.  This, the Times claims is a big advance.

The Times enthuses:

The latter is critical if the nation is to succeed in reducing its emissions of carbon dioxide. Power plants account for over a third of domestic greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for global warming.

Why are they doing this when it economically seems to make no sense?  Some state legislatures have decided, prodded by the greens, that “renewable energy” is the future.  And probably more because they know some other state that is doing it, and they want to seem as “forward thinking” as their neighbors.  There is no such thing as “renewable” energy anyway.

This is not science or technology, but politics and hype. With the collapse of the entire “global warming” agenda, and the exposure of the fraud that backed it, it is time for legislatures to catch up and recognize that wasting this kind of money when state finances are in such troubled territory is beyond foolish.  Most legislatures, however, would rather raise taxes.

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