Letter to the Editor

The quixotic myth of 'renewable energy'

Friday, January 18, 2019

You’re wise enough not to buy a bridge in Brooklyn, or sign a deed for ocean front property in Arizona – but siphoning vast sums from the public treasury for a quixotic enterprise? Well, damn, let’s git er done! When it comes to “cheap renewable green energy,” there is no free lunch from the whirling blades of a wind turbine – but plenty of hot air to push this expensive unreliable pipe dream into the stratosphere.

In a 2016 report, the Global Wind Energy Council stated “the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year.” But, in 2014, wind turbines provided less than one percent of the world’s energy consumption. In fact, the combined contribution of wind and photovoltaic power supplies less than one percent of the world energy demand.

For the past 40 years, the growth in global energy demand has equaled about 2 percent per year. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), between 2013 and 2014 that demand grew by 2,000 terawatt-hours (TWH).

However, electrical generation equals less than 20 percent of the world’s total energy production; traditional fuels provide the remaining 80 percent for transport, heat, and industry. According to IEA’s 2016 Key Renewable Trends, wind power accounted for 0.46 percent of total energy consumption in 2014; solar supplied less.

After decades and billions of dollars expended in development and production, the contribution of wind power to the world energy market remains relatively zero.

However, the wind and solar lobby have no incentive to reveal this fact. Their mantra is “14 percent of the world’s energy is renewable;” but in the context of wind and solar energy this is a dishonest figure. Seventy-five percent of that 14 is derived from biomass fuels, such as wood and dung – mostly used for cooking in third-world countries.

Even in wealthy nations, where wind and solar power are subsidized, most of the reliable renewable energy comes from the burning of wood or coal, and through hydro-electric installations. So, let’s look at the unpleasant realities of wind power.

The typical capacity of a two megawatt (MW) wind turbine is 0.005 TWH per year. At two percent growth per year in global energy demand, if these machines were used to supply only that rate of increase, the number required would equal nearly an additional 350,000 units on line PER YEAR!

For the typical “wind farm” the power density ratio is 50 acres of land per one MW of power. 350,000 turbines would require an expanse of land equal to 35 million acres.

That converts to 54,687 square miles – an area greater than two-thirds the state of Nebraska, just to keep up with an annual demand increase of two percent! To put this in perspective: if we were to become the sole supplier of global renewable wind energy, then in 50 years seven-eighths of the continental U.S. would be covered with wind turbines! And this would not include that which would be required to replace fossil fuels!

Wind turbines are dependent on mass airflow, and air in motion is considered a “fluid.” In fluid dynamics, the efficiency of a turbine is determined by the Betz Limit, which sets how much kinetic energy may be extracted from a moving fluid. Modern wind turbines come close to this limit. But the machine’s effectiveness is also determined by available wind – an unreliable uncontrollable variable. Moreover, the lifespan of modern wind turbines is about 10 years, and this is mostly due to gearbox failure. So, while they may be efficient at extracting energy from the wind, in the context of return on investment, wind turbines are hardly a model of economic efficiency – more on that aspect later.

These machines do not magically fall from the sky, ready to use, environmentally pure and ecologically harmless. There are negative consequences: those which we see, such as the danger to migratory birds, the loss of open spaces; and those we don’t see, such as the large quantities of toxic material produced by the mining of rare-earth metals, which are used to manufacture the generator’s magnets.

The moniker that these machines are “clean and green” is disingenuous at best …

The pedestals and turbine units are constructed of steel alloys, and set upon concrete foundations. Steel is a product of coal; used both as an alloying ingredient and as a fuel to refine the iron ore. The cement in concrete is also made using coal. Machinery and petroleum products are required to manufacture, transport and erect the turbines. Equipment is needed to construct roads for site access.

As a total unit, the typical two MW wind turbine weighs 250 tons. Manufacturing one ton of steel requires one half ton of coal. The concrete foundation supporting the tower requires nearly 25 tons of coal to produce the cement. That’s 150 tons of coal to manufacture one wind turbine. At 350 thousand units per year the manufacturing process alone will require 50 million tons of coal per year.

The economics of renewable energy are anything but economical. In fact this “cheap” energy is arguably making electricity more expensive. Firstly, because the unreliable nature of wind requires expensive supplements to the grid: natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, batteries, or other forms of “stand-by” power. Secondly, the cost of transmission line is more expensive for solar and wind power.

Why? Because where one set of transmission lines is required to bring electricity from a typical coal-fired or nuclear power plant, many separate lines are required to carry power from the various locations where the topography is ideal for wind farms – and these are usually much longer runs, as the point of generation is remote from the user. This is not so with traditional power plants. Nor can wind turbines lead to cheaper electricity when these machines are used only part time, and duplicate existing equipment. The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides the following data:

For the U.S. as a whole, electricity prices rose 7 percent, while electricity from solar and wind grew from two to eight percent from 2009 to 2017

In North Dakota, electricity prices rose 40 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from nine to 27 percent between 2009 and 2017.

In South Dakota, electricity prices rose 34 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from five to 30 percent between 2009 and 2017.

In Kansas, electricity prices rose 33 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from six to 36 percent between 2009 and 2017.

In Iowa, electricity prices rose 21 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from 14 to 37 percent between 2009 and 2017.

In Oklahoma, electricity prices rose 18 percent while electricity from solar and wind grew from four to 32 percent between 2009 and 2017.

In Hawaii, electricity prices rose 23 percent, while electricity from solar and wind grew from 3 to 18 percent between 2009 and 2017.

In California, electricity prices rose 22 percent, while electricity from solar and wind grew from 3 to 23 percent between 2009 and 2017.

States that increased their use of solar and wind generation realized a large increase in electricity costs despite a large decline in natural gas prices. If the cost of NG had not collapsed at the same time solar and wind power were scaled up in the U.S., electricity costs in these states would have been far larger. Further, as they assume a greater role in the power grid, the economic value of solar and wind decline. They produce too much electricity when customers do not need it – and not enough when they do.

Another consideration is the amount of raw materials (steel, fuel, glass, concrete, cement) required (Tons per TWH) to fabricate wind and solar power plants compared to more traditional generation methods. Their ranking, from highest to lowest: Solar PV, Hydro, Wind, Geothermal, and Nuclear.

The underlying commonality to all these additional costs is the physical limits in generating electricity from sunlight and wind. Both are dilute and unreliable. Their use requires far greater expanses of land, longer and less-utilized transmission lines, and large amounts of storage.

In the quest for energy independence, of all the resources we could tap to produce cheap, renewable clean energy, the last thing our state and federal governments should expend limited resources on is wind and solar power projects, for reasons of fundamental physical constraints.

The oft reiterated promise of “cheap renewable green energy” is a quixotic myth, fabricated by those who have an economic incentive to lie, championed by those with a political agenda to advance, and believed by those who are too intellectually lazy to do basic research. While there is no “free lunch,” there are practical, cost-effective solutions: natural gas – made plentiful by technological advances in petroleum exploration and extraction – is but one. If not yet technologically feasible, nuclear fusion is worth further study and experimentation. Nuclear fission is also a realistic solution since we now have the ability to make reasonably safe, reliable, cost-effective reactors that produce minimal toxic waste. Americans need to stop chasing a pipe dream and begin making rational policy decisions about energy.

This commentary was compiled using multiple public and private sources.

Bruce C. Desautels

Stratton, Nebraska

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  • Bruce, while it is obvious you have spent a great amount of time gathering info and opinions on renewable energy, your suggestion that nuclear would be a more economical alternative could use more study. The Fukushima plant in Japan shouldn’t be too difficult for most to recall and by some accounts this disaster is thought to be killing the Pacific Ocean(an area that dwarfs the area you claim to be required for wind power). While many will point to the folly of locating a nuke plant too close to an ocean, the fact is that cooling water is a must for these plants. While it is true that placing a plant in Japan has downsides such as proximity to the Ocean and frequent earthquakes should have been given more consideration. OPPD and NPPD found that there are also difficulties involved with inland plants. In 2011, the Missouri River flood threatened the Fort Calhoun power plant and Cooper Station power plants. These two plants were located well inland and a vast amount of resources has been spent in attempting to control Missouri River flooding with the Pick-Sloan act in 1944, but Mother Nature has proven to be quite difficult to tame.

    I suppose it’s it is possible that we could could wake up to the day when the wind no longer blows or the sun no longer rises, but if those things do, occur will electricity be our biggest concern?

    The gist of what I have to say is that everyone should be allowed to have their own opinion, but no one is allowed to have their own facts.

    -- Posted by nebraskamike on Sat, Jan 19, 2019, at 1:04 PM
  • Nebraskamike: You also are not allowed to have your own facts.

    Fukushima didn't injure, make ill, or kill anybody. Read the UNSCEAR report. The aftermath is not "killing the Pacific." Dirt in Fukushima is half as radioactive as dirt in Denver. The 7,000 residents who are living as refugees in their own country could safely return to their homes. Licensed nuclear power plants continue to have a perfect safety record.

    Storage to provide firm power from wind and solar would cost three times US GDP -- EVERY YEAR!

    Links at http://vandyke.mynetgear.com/Nuclear.html

    -- Posted by vsnyder on Mon, Jan 21, 2019, at 2:38 PM
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    Dear nebraskamike,

    Firstly, the Pacific Ocean is certainly not dying by the radioactivity released from one nuclear power plant. Perhaps you should study the history of seismic activity and the geology of plate tectonics in the Pacific. Undersea vulcanism and that upon the various islands and continental land masses of the Pacific rim far exceed, in both emissions and destructive power, anything man could do.

    Secondly, the fact that the Japanese government chose to allow a nuclear plant to be constructed on a seismic zone, and within an area known to be susceptible to tsunamis, has not a thing to do with the safety of modern nuclear power generation. However, it has much to do with the geographical limitations of the Japanese islands, and perhaps, to some degree, with hubris. Neither of those two issues are sufficient reason to dissimulate nuclear power. Every human endeavor has a degree of risk. Unfortunately, we cannot eliminate every risk to zero, but rather must weigh them against the benefits provided by the endeavor.

    As I stated in my letter - there is no "free lunch." Everything comes at a price, and with a level of risk. So-called "clean green cheap energy" has about as much grounding in reality as do Unicorns - that is a matter of demonstrable economic and technological fact, not my opinion. That the realistic benefits and costs of nuclear power far outweigh the myth of "clean green cheap energy" from the wind and the Sun is a consequence of engineering and economic realities, not fancies of opinion. It is simply a matter of living in the real world as it exists, and making logical decisions informed by and conformed to the laws of physics, mechanics and economics - because there is not now, and nor will there ever be a Utopia.

    As to "having a right to my own facts" ... Nothing I wrote was a fabrication of the facts. My research was thorough enough for what needed to be stated. Moreover, I relied upon numerous reputable and reliable sources for my commentary, who are far more informed on the subject matter than either you or I could hope to be. In fact, the information to which I accessed would fill the entirety of one publication of the McCook Daily Gazette, had I the ability to make such claim on the editor! Certainly, there exist more "facts" than I could ever fit into one editorial.

    So, while we do have a difference of opinion on the viability of nuclear power, please do not accuse me of taking liberty with the facts. For, although their impact would not quite suffice to "kill the Pacific Ocean," those to which I have access would be more than sufficient to provide a more productive use of your time.

    -- Posted by Bruce Desautels on Mon, Jan 21, 2019, at 10:46 PM
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    Doggone auto correct! The word in the second paragraph of my response to nebraskamike should be DISSUADE, not "dissimulate,"

    -- Posted by Bruce Desautels on Mon, Jan 21, 2019, at 10:51 PM
  • *

    Dear nebraskamike,



    SOURCE: UNITED STATES ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION (EIA)https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=207&t=3

    How many nuclear power plants are in the United States, and where are they located?

    There are 60 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 98 nuclear reactors in 30 U.S. states (the Indian Point Energy Center in New York has two nuclear reactors that the U.S. Energy Information Administration counts as two separate nuclear plants). Of these nuclear plants, 36 have two or more reactors. The Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona is the largest nuclear plant, and it has three reactors with a combined net summer electricity generating capacity of 3,937 megawatts (MW). The R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in New York is the smallest nuclear plant, and it has one reactor with a net summer electricity generating capacity of 508 MW.

    The newest nuclear reactor to enter service, Watts Bar Unit 2 with 1,150 MW net summer electricity generating capacity, began commercial operation in October 2016.

    Two new nuclear reactors are actively under construction: Vogtle Units 3 and 4 in Georgia.

    FURTHER, FYI ...

    Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors

    (Updated May 2018)


    -- Posted by Bruce Desautels on Tue, Jan 22, 2019, at 2:00 AM
  • Hello again Bruce

    During the initial stages of the Fukushima disaster I happened to have a coworker that had served Naval time as a Navy nuclear submarine technician. We were working in what was considered a mission critical facility that of course had plenty of redundancy involved to reduce the impact of any electrical disturbance involving the local utility company. When I asked for his thoughts on the outcome of the disaster he assured me that there was enough redundancy built into the plant that catastrophic results could be avoided. After the meltdown he relented on that claim and admitted that there should have been better preparation for a worst case scenario. The end result is still being speculated and the plant is still out of service. The total cost is still unknown and Japan has become the second largest importer of fossil fuels. Soon our only hope may be the arrival of the Kanamits and their book "How to serve Man"



    -- Posted by nebraskamike on Thu, Jan 24, 2019, at 4:20 PM
  • *

    RE: nebraskamike:

    My response to the Forbes article ...

    Ignorance may be cured; but stupidity is forever.

    Regrading the "NPR" YT video ...

    NPR? Really? Please. On any subject, NPR - aka LEFTIST Radio, has about as much credibility as Bob Mueller's witch hunt, er "investigation."

    -- Posted by Bruce Desautels on Tue, Jan 29, 2019, at 3:49 PM
  • Like I said Bruce, our only hope May be the “Kanamits”

    -- Posted by nebraskamike on Wed, Jan 30, 2019, at 2:22 PM
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    nebraskamike ...

    RE: “Kanamits”

    Is this a joke?

    -- Posted by Bruce Desautels on Wed, Jan 30, 2019, at 5:31 PM
  • Bruce, google Kanamits Twilight Zone, I find it extremely eerie how little our society has changed since the Cold War era. Serling seems to have turned out to be a very accurate prognosticator. If you happen to be a Netflix subscriber, it’s episode 24 season 3 titled “How to Serve Man”.

    -- Posted by nebraskamike on Fri, Feb 1, 2019, at 12:45 AM
  • Bruce

    Just in case you missed this news.

    The rest of the world is going to leave us in their dust.


    -- Posted by nebraskamike on Sat, Feb 9, 2019, at 7:40 PM
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