Do Renewable Energy Solutions Cause More Problems than They Solve?
A problem with solar energy production is the scale needed to power entire towns or cities. My own system produces about 7 kWh (that’s seven kilowatt hours, or 7,000 watts of usage for one hour) on a continuous basis when the sun is shining. That’s enough to run my house comfortably with sensible lifestyle adjustments to conserve batteries.
The rooftop solar panel systems you see in the suburbs don’t power the homes they’re installed on. They feed power to the grid and the owner gets a credit on his or her electricity bill. (The owner also pays for the system over 10 years and the unpaid costs are a lien on the house in the meantime, similar to a second mortgage.) The output helps but it’s not a solution for a single home let alone a town or city.The point is that the land, expense, and materials in my system power one house comfortably. How much larger would the PV System have to be in order to power a town of 5,000 homes and 20,000 residents? Or a city of 10,000 buildings and one million workers and residents?
The bottom line on solar power is that it’s efficient and can make a valuable contribution to reducing CO2 and CH4 (methane) emissions. It is useful in remote locations and for powering single buildings or complexes where the PV System (with batteries) is in close proximity to the facility.
Use it or lose it is an unreliable dynamic
When used at scale, solar power is an inefficient contributor to the grid. The use it or lose it dynamic is unreliable in darkness or bad weather. When the solar field is producing electricity, it may not match the grid needs at the time. Huge amounts of land are needed to build large-scale fields. Batteries are a solution to unreliability, but they create their own problems in terms of expense, maintenance, and space. Also, the manufacture and disposal of batteries with poisonous chemicals and metals creates environmental problems at odds with the problems it is intended to solve.
What about the wind?
In this segment, we are considering large turbines usually grouped in arrays called wind farms. We are also considering wind turbines in the context of electricity generation.
There is no doubt that wind turbines are capable of generating significant amounts of energy without CO2 and CH4 emissions in their operation. Of course, this ignores the enormous amount of carbon-based energy used in the manufacture, transportation, and installation of turbines. Wind turbines are responsible for a lot of fossil fuel emissions before they ever contribute to a reduction in emissions.
Still, wind turbines today generate over 650 gigawatts of power and 60 GW are being added each year: (1 gigawatt = 1 billion watts). It would take 3.125 million solar panels (3′ x 5′ each) to generate 1 GW. A single wind turbine using the latest technology with a height of about 300 feet can produce 3,000kW; (1 kW = 1,000 watts). To that extent, wind turbines are an efficient substitute or alternative to PV Systems in terms of the amount of space utilised relative to electrical output.
Massive wind turbine projects are moving full speed ahead with the help of the Biden administration. Dominion Energy in Virginia is constructing 180 turbines, each about 750-feet tall, on a site 27 miles off the Virginia coast. This field will generate 2.6 GW. Another field is planned off the coast of Massachusetts that will generate 800 MW. Similar large-scale projects are planned for coastal New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico.
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Wind power is reliable (when the wind is blowing)
Despite the efficiency, wind turbines are subject to the same problems as solar panel systems. They produce power on an intermittent basis. For solar power, that means when the sun is shining. For wind power, that means when the wind is blowing. While engineers will search for optimal locations, it’s the case that the sun doesn’t shine at night or in bad weather, and the wind doesn’t blow at all times, even in the windiest corridors.
This leaves wind power in the use it or lose it category also. Wind power can feed the grid, but it cannot be relied upon by the grid operators. The power cannot be stored without expensive batteries, which are impractical on a large scale.
Sometimes wind power fails on a spectacular and dangerous scale, as happened in Texas last February. A severe winter storm froze wind turbines (and solar panels) and contributed along with inadequately winterised natural gas systems to power shortages, blackouts, and freezing homes. At least 151 people died as a direct result of the failure and over US$195 billion in damages were incurred — making it the most expensive disaster in the history of Texas.
Wind turbines are also unsightly. They despoil landscapes and seascapes, kill birds including endangered species, disrupt fisheries, and are high maintenance. In a word, they are ugly.
Climate alarmist elites always propose wind farms in areas where they do not live or vacation. You won’t find them off the Hamptons or Malibu or in the mountains near Vail. You will find them in more blue-collar stretches of the Jersey Shore or the Appalachians where everyday Americans live. That’s typical of the elite double standard.
A place in the energy mix
Wind turbines produce electricity at about five cents per kilowatt hour, which is lower than solar, hydro, and other renewable energy sources. The turbines produce no carbon-based emissions (ignoring construction processes).
The disadvantages are that the power produced is intermittent and therefore unreliable and the turbine towers themselves are unsightly. It’s often the case that the optimal location for a wind turbine is far from the urban centres that use the most electricity. This adds significant costs for the power grids needed to transfer the electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.
As with solar power, the most that can be said is that wind turbines have a place in the energy mix. Still, wind turbines are not a scalable alternative to the continued use of oil and natural gas.
Stay tuned for next Wednesday’s DR edition, where we explore the above further.
Strategist, The Daily Reckoning Australia
PS: This content was originally published by Jim Rickards’ Strategic Intelligence Australia, a financial advisory newsletter designed to help you protect your wealth and potentially profit from unseen world events. Learn more here.