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Ten years? Balderdash – three centuries would not be enough!
By Steve Campbell February 24, 2019
The details of the term “Green New Deal” change every time the proponents of the GND are pinned down on the definition.
However, the New York Times said this much on February 2, 2019:
“It includes a 10-year commitment to convert “100 percent of the power demand in the United States” to “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources, to upgrade “all existing buildings” to meet energy efficiency requirements and to expand high-speed rail so broadly that most air travel would be rendered obsolete.”
The fact that anyone could list these three concepts as actual goals speaks volumes about how little is understood about energy use in the US.
Allow me to explain.
Energy Consumption in the United States
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories – among many other activities — does an energy audit of the United States every year. In 2017 (the latest complete year available), the United States used 97.7 Quadrillion British Thermal Units – mercifully referred to simply as “Quads”. Please see the 2017 flow chart below.
Figure 1: LLNL flow chart for US energy use in 2017
One Quad is equal to about 170 million barrels of oil. But, do not be distracted by the units. The important concept here is what sources provide what fractions of the total energy budget. Luckily, the amount of energy in quads is almost the same number as the percentage. That information has been collected by your humble narrator and is displayed as a table and pie chart, below.
Figure 2: Comparison of energy sources by percentage. Table and graph by author.
The earlier energy flow charts from LLNL show that “Renewable” sources in the mix have quickly increased by the equivalent of 48 million barrels of oil per year (0.285 Quads) in the last 5 years, thanks largely to generous subsidies, that caused Warren Buffet to observe that: (Quoting “The True Cost of Wind Electricity”)
“….we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit. ”
Doing the Math
This “Green New Deal” only needs multiply Renewable capacity by a factor of nine to replace Oil, Natural Gas, Coal and Nuclear. At the current — heavily subsidized — rate of increase, one might think that only 311 years (88.7 quads to be replaced, divided by 0.285 quads/year growth rate) would be required.
That simple-minded, optimistic estimate would be the case only if green power plants last forever – they don’t. Wind and Solar plants are lucky to last 30 years. Strike out that 311 years and change the date of completion to “never”.
Another problem is that Wind and Solar are intermittent and require 100% backup – by real energy like Natural Gas or Coal. So, Wind and Solar won’t actually “replace” anything. The dirty little secret is that they never have done so.
And as far as Biomass is concerned, it should be mentioned that right now the corn used to make ethanol (in the U.S. alone) could otherwise feed about One Billion People. Do we really want to multiply that number by nine as well?
Hydroelectric dams could actually contribute significant additional energy. But those are no longer considered “Green” and Environmentalists are advocating for their removal. Hydro has decreased in the last 5 years.
Geothermal — with a great deal of expense — could realistically be increased by a factor of 9. At that level, it would not even replace the disappearing Hydroelectric industry.
The idea of replacing airplanes with trains has good news and bad news. The good news is that trains really are electrically driven. The bad news is that their electricity comes from burning diesel fuel in locomotives or (only in big cities) from overhead powerlines, which also need a source of energy. Stringing powerlines almost everywhere on the national railroad grid cannot be done in ten years, either. Like-wise not appearing out of thin air is the enormous amount of additional electricity required to replace the diesel fuel.
The idea that this could be done in ten years is completely, utterly, stupidly absurd – to say nothing of the hideous expense. Yet, people are actually supporting this idiocy with straight faces.
This whole “Green New Deal” relies on “Cartoon Physics”. You know the drill — where Wylie Cayote saws off the tree branch, which stays in place (supporting the Roadrunner) as the tree trunk and Wylie drop away. Or, he hangs in the air until he looks down to see that he has run off the cliff. Then he survives the thousand-foot fall and returns to the cave to hatch a new plan.
Life is not a cartoon. Three centuries of crippling expense, poverty-inducing regulations and forced re-industrialization would not be nearly enough to complete the “Green New Deal”. Even if it were possible, it would have no effect on the alleged Climate Change, whatsoever. Not least because no other nation on Earth would be so irresponsible to its own citizens as to join this complete idiocy.
The Green New Deal is simply a method to multiply taxes and introduce an all-powerful dictatorship of regulations that will make Nicolas Maduro look like a Libertarian.
The word “whence” is a Middle English term that means “from where”. Use of this word has the advantage of eliminating dangling prepositions (as in: Where does electricity come from?) and avoidance of sounding like Yoda (Comes from where, electricity does?).
A great many people have the idea that it is possible to eliminate “fossil fuels” and nuclear power from our energy supplies and that “electricity” is the means by which that will be accomplished. That “Renewable Ideal” is founded upon a grand misconception and a stunning lack of common sense – as will become apparent while we contemplate this question: “Whence Electricity?”.
The Reality as it Exists (2016)
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does a survey of US energy use every year. The results are published in a flow chart that requires considerable snaky-eyed concentration to understand. But, I eyed the 2016 Livermore data for you to make this simple pie-chart of electricity in percentage by source:
All graphs are generated by the author and the numbers are from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories
Note: For purposes of this report, commercial sources of energy are capitalized – as in the graph above.
The most obvious lesson here is that Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear power (with a tiny bit of Petroleum) provide the vast majority – some eighty five percent – of electric generation in the US. The remaining 15% that might be considered to be “environmentally correct” – we will refer to them as “Renewables”.
If you did not know this before, you will be further surprised that the amount of “Fossil Fuel” (and Nuclear) to be replaced in the electric grid is just the beginning of the task.
There are some limitations that characterize the sources called “Renewables” that must be considered.
Hydro-Electric Generation (Hydro)
Hydro is a simple, inexpensive and reliable source of electricity that – unfortunately – has lost its “Green Credentials”. Environmental “wisdom” doesn’t like those dams on rivers and they are now “all-in” on tearing them down. Hydro is dwindling slowly and can be expected to die a slow, lingering death by Green politics. You may think of Hydro as “Renewable” and that’s fine. If you want to claim it is reliable, this reporter will disagree. Your Humble Narrator once visited his in-laws in Bogota, Columbia (he’s a diplomat). They had rolling black-outs because their Hydro projects were suffering from an extended drought (and funds for electrical development that somehow were mis-directed to politicians’ pockets). Blind luck that the Bogota (La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora, Santa Fe de Bogota) has a climate mild enough to do without power at home for 8 hours. Kerosene lamps, candles and propane stoves were enough to get by. Business is another matter and the streets of the Capital were filled with gasoline generators running furiously outside the buildings and snaky extension cords going inside. Hydro requires back-up – even if ad-hoc.
The source of Biomass in electricity generation is mostly industrial and agricultural waste that is burned to generate electricity. Those sources exist because engineers are making efficient use of what would otherwise be an expense nuisance. Most of those opportunities have already been realized, but you may count on that increasing as industry itself expands. Ethanol and biodiesel are generally not used to generate electricity but do make up a small percentage of transportation fuel (which we have not addressed in this electric discussion).
The U.S. has the most Geothermal generation of any country and it is still quite small when compared to the total. It could be expanded, but since it typically involves drilling holes in the Earth, fracturing and using groundwater for a working fluid (unlike petroleum operations), it is also in danger of losing its “Green Credentials”.
Wind is currently subsidized by tax credits and production mandates which make them quite profitable to build. There are major windfarms now under construction. This author has seen fields of hundreds of turbines now being erected in Texas and Kansas – as well as a vast staging yard with parts for hundreds more. Wind provides the dominant part of growth in Renewable generation.
Photoelectric and solar-furnace generation is small but growing, though not as quickly as Wind.
Wind and Solar provide pretty much the only significant growth in Renewables. And that growth amounts to: 0.29 Quadrillion BTUs per year. You see that growth rate graphed as a vertical green bar (i.e., flat green square) next to the orange bar representing 2016 total Conventional electricity capability that the Renewable Ideal would have us replace.
To examine what this “replacement” will require, we will assume that
The graph below shows the timeline for replacement of the Conventional Electric Generation (orange line) and for replacement of both that and the Gasoline and Natural Gas transportation.
The orange line represents total “Conventional” electric generation for 2016 and we have assumed that will not increase. The yellow line is the total of Conventional electric and Gasoline energy expended in the Transportation sector. We have assumed that neither of these will increase. The green line represents Renewable generation increasing at the same rate as the last two years – when it has been quite actively increasing at unsustainable rates. It is assumed that Renewable installations last forever.
In that case, full replacement of Conventional generation can be had by 2109 and replacement of that plus Gasoline and Natural Gas by 2169.
If – on the other hand – it is assumed that such installations last 50 years (a bit more reasonable, but again, overly generous) the years of both “replacement” points can be changed to “never” – as indicated by the blue curve.
There is More
Wind and Solar – which make up the Lion’s share of Renewable growth – are intermittent by their very nature. Solar interruptions are mostly as predictable as the sunset and cause about a 60% full-blown outage every single day. Wind on the other hand, can fail you at any moment – either by calm or storm. Your Humble Narrator has seen whole wind farms in Wyoming standing idle in the fierce winds that frequent that state. They would have been torn apart in the shifting, gusting conditions if they weren’t locked down.
Intermittent energy sources are dependent on other sources of generation. The most clearly relevant of those others are Coal and Gas. Nuclear has so long been long demonized and over-regulated that it will, at best stay constant, and will be of little help in backing up Wind and Solar.
One might come up with the idea of more Renewables as backup. It does not require much thought to see the flaw in that reasoning.
What that means is that Conventional sources of electricity simply cannot be replaced unless you can convince every electric customer to live with intermittent service. That did not happen in the aforementioned Bogota example and will not happen here. However, the attempt would make for Gargantuan sales of home generators – make mine a diesel, please.
So, the “All renewable” points in that graph are nothing less that Absolute Fantasy. Wind and Solar must be backed up completely (that is to say 100%) with Fossil Fuels or Nukes!
Even if we imagine that windmills and solar panels last forever – after 90 to 150 years of hideous expense, there will be just as much “non-renewable” electric capacity as before. The difference will be that the non-renewable plants will mostly be wastefully idling, waiting for the Sun to go down or the winds to calm.
P.S. Some of you are saying, “What about batteries, then?”
First off, you sound like Brits.
Second, I will address this in “Around Robin Hood’s Barn in an Electric Car – Part Two”
“Around Robin Hoods barn” is a euphemism for an unnecessarily long and complicated journey.
This reporter is not an authority on electric vehicles but he did own and drive one for a couple of years. Neither can he qualify as an expert on electric power generation but Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has some of those.
This tale has metastasized into a lengthy discourse and will – of necessity – be serialized.
Baker, Ford, Edison and Electric Vehicles:
Electric vehicles are nothing new. There were electric “carriages” as early as the turn of the nineteenth Century. They were, as a rule – one-off, custom made vehicles and extremely expensive. The Baker Motor Vehicle Company did go into a production line situation and made a virtue of the expense of its product. Thomas Edison apparently bought one. Anyone familiar with Jay Leno’s pastime will not be surprised that he owns a Baker.
Jay also has an Owen Magnetic which was even more interesting and the creation of George Westinghouse..
But, any industrial-scale production would have to wait until some Titan of Industry took up the task, like say…Henry Ford.
Henry Ford (the original) built and tested several prototypes in the early years of the Twentieth Century. There is a fascinating article by Daniel Strohl (2010) that detailed the efforts of Ford in that direction. This piece is spellbinding for anyone afflicted with Nerd-Geek-Trivia Syndrome (NGTS) like yours truly.
I lifted three quotes from this. The first is an understatement of a problem.
Henry Ford: January 11, 1914, New York Times:
The problem so far has been to build a storage battery of light weight which would operate for long distances without recharging. Mr. Edison has been experimenting with such a battery for some time.
Ford recognized the primary problem, alright. In fact, he underestimated the problem because it killed the electric car in Ford’s lifetime and is still the big bugaboo haunting EV’s today.
Rather, as Bryan wrote, the downfall of the Edison-Ford electric car came about because :
“Ford demanded the use of Edison’s nickel-iron batteries in the car, and would have no other battery powering this car. Edison’s batteries, however, were found to have very high internal resistance and were thus incapable of powering an electric car under many circumstances. Heavier lead-acid batteries (which would have made the car too ponderous) were substituted behind Henry Ford’s back, and when he found out, he went ballistic. The program quickly fell to the wayside with other projects demanding Henry Ford’s time. According to The Ford Century, Ford invested $1.5 million in the electric car project and nearly bought 100,000 batteries from Edison before the project fell apart.”
The second quote is one of those over-the-top optimistic things that even very smart people sometimes say.
Thomas Edison, May 1914:
“All trucking must come to electricity. I am convinced that it will not be long before all the trucking in New York City will be electric.”
I drove a truck to New York City just last year. Brooklyn it was. There were plenty of trucks around – illegally double and triple parked (mine among them!). Not one of them was electric.
Such optimism can be forgiven in long retrospect. That sort of thing cannot be helped in uncharted territory of emerging technologies.
According to Click and Clack – the Tappet Bros.
Compared to Car Talk, all other forms of Saturday morning entertainment shrink to insignificance. Tom (RIP) and Ray Magliozzi clowned around while giving car advice on the air. They had some uproariously funny bits and advice not just on cars but in all matters of Human Endeavor. People tended not to take them seriously. But it is important to remember that these two were quite experienced and educated people.
The comment I remember from their show (but cannot track down for a reference) echoed that of Ford, some eighty-odd years before and it went something like this: “The problem with electric cars is – and always has been- the batteries.”
The Jet Electrica
Direct experience is the best method for learning and I can authoritatively state that the battery problem had not been resolved as of the early years of the Twenty First Century.
Around the turn of the aforementioned Century, I was fascinated by the idea of electric vehicles, until I eventually bought one. It was a 1981 Jet Electrica. These things were built on Detroit products called “gliders” which are complete vehicles, including transmission and drive train, but lacking any engine. The idea is that the EV company would provide the electric motor.
I don’t seem to have any photos of my own of the vehicle that took me to work and back for two years. This one was grabbed off the internet and turns out to be from the used car ad that I saw when I bought this vehicle for $1000. I am quite sure that this is the one because after 5 or 10 years, the state of Texas says you need a new license plate (not just “year stickers”) on your car and the one you see on the front in this picture (YZY 11T) is now nailed up on a joist in my garage (this is a tradition in Texas).
That motor is the easy part. It is tiny compared to the Internal Combustion Engine required to move the “real” (i.e., non-glider) model of this vehicle around. It was connected directly to the clutch and the driver would start with his foot OFF the clutch, accelerating rapidly to 5 mph and up-shifting from there. The “acceleration” went flat at about ten mph and I was constantly harassed, passed and hated by cars behind me. In fourth gear, it was possible to careen down a boulevard at 45 mph. Once (once!) I took an on-ramp to Interstate 10 and managed to get the poor thing up to 70 mph. At that time, Scotty called up from Engineering and said, “Cap’n! Ah cahnt gi’ ye waarp five mooch langer! It’ll tear th’ Enterprise apahrt! I took the next exit ramp and never again did the Jet see Interstate pavement. Braking was done in the conventional way, but lacking any benefit from downshifting. The car stops in 4th with the clutch still engaged and the shift to first is made while motionless.
As Ford learned all those decades before your humble narrator, it is the batteries that were the big problem. The batteries in the Jet Electrica were similar to the configuration of Ford’s second prototype and used those same type of lead-acid batteries. There were six six-volt golf cart batteries under the hood. A fat cable connected them to ten more such units under the hatchback, beneath and iron (SIC) cover in what would be the spare tire well and gasoline tank in a normal Lynx. These are directly connected with the passenger compartment, you understand! That’s a bad idea for several reasons. There was a 17th battery – this one a 12 volt – that powered the lights and radio. It was tucked under the left rear fender.
The ten batteries in the back were connected in series by standard battery cables with top-post connectors on each end. There are a grand total of 16 six volt batteries that supplied a 96 volts to the motor. The batteries were “deep-draw” that is they hold a lot of charge and will dump large amounts of current quickly – between 100 and 200 amps. There was more than enough voltage and current to do electric arc welding with just a lead and ground connected to the first positive and last negative terminal of the battery pack. The cable ends tended to loosen as the car’s body flexed when it went over bumps and around turns. The loose connection makes for more resistance and heat is generated. Least you think it might be minor – that welding example needs temperatures of about 1200 degrees F. Eventually, the battery terminal melts off its base and falls through the plastic case. Lead acid batteries generate hydrogen gas and it is ignited by the red-hot electrode and subsequently explodes. This is loud enough to be unnerving and of course breaks the series circuit. Like cheap Christmas lights, when one goes out, they all go out and you’re walking. Unless you happen to be carrying a long spare cable. Then you simply connect the battery before the deader to the battery after same and you drive on with a now 90 volt system. You drive straight home, because another one may blow.
You take the warrantied battery back to Sam’s Club and trade it in for a new one. Shrug when asked what happened and no need to mention that this is not from a piddly little 36 volt golf cart but a 96 volt “compact car” that weighs 3300 pounds with all these packets of lead aboard.
The solution to that particular problem was to tighten all the battery connections each time I wanted to drive somewhere. And while we are at it we can open the 48 battery caps and fill them up with distilled water. Some cells seemed to be “thirstier” than others. And, best to wear a shop apron or change to work clothes for this labor, since the acid fumes eat your clothing in short order. The batteries also outgas what I suspect is some compound of sulfuric vapor. The smell alone was enough to remind me that the batteries contain sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and water (H2O) and chemical reactions going on all the time. A little knowledge is a scary blessing. In the oil industry, there are “sour wells” that contain Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) and the stuff will kill you pretty quickly at very low concentrations. I have no doubt that at least a small fraction of the fumes from the battery pack were this deadly compound. There was an exhaust fan in the rear battery compartment that I never managed to make operate. So, instead I arranged to prop open the hatchback and leave the front windows at least partially down at all times while driving.
The ventilation requirements became a problem in the winter. The car had a heater that made the irony factor go right off the scale. Since heating off the battery bank would potential cut the 40 mile range in half on a cold day, the manufacturers of this electro-mechanical oddity had put in a gasoline burning heater. These are nothing new. My father owned a (conventional gasoline powered) car with such a device in about 1950. So I am told by my Uncle (mother’s younger brother) who was able to borrow that vehicle for cold-weather drive-in movie dates. The gasoline heater was far more efficient than running the engine for heat and made such social functions affordable.
The heater in the Electrica had a two-gallon tank, which was cleverly installed behind the filler for the conventional Lynx tank. The previous owner had not used it and – thinking of all the hydrogen fumes floating around – neither did I. On really cold mornings I ran an extension cord to the Jet and left a hair dryer running for a half hour or so to warm the cab and defrost the windshield.
This Jet company had the audacity to put a battery powered air conditioner under the back seat. As purchased its disembodied motor/compressor unit was on the floorboard and that is as close as it got to ever again attempting to cool the car. Air conditioning in Houston is not for lightweights. In the 1980’s (if I remember correctly) Houston had a new fleet of Grumman buses with their standard air-conditioners. They quickly surrendered to the Texas Summer and were re-enforced with huge roof-mounted units. The previous owner of the Lynx / Electrica lived in Dallas, which is worse. Dallas was enduring a heat wave in the 1990’s and some bus rider with a thermometer complained that the temperature in the bus was 95° F.
The bus driver told him, “Mister, these air conditioners are good for twenty degrees of cooling. It is 119° outside, so you are getting four more degrees of cooling than you have any right to expect. Please go back and sit down”
I have little doubt that A/C would have eaten up the majority of the poor car’s 40-mile range on hot days.
There is a little known aspect of lead-acid batteries that I re-discovered by accident. I mentioned that the lid over the battery compartment was iron. It was a least an eighth inch thick and when I first looked under it there was a big sheet of thick acid-eaten cardboard on top of the batteries, which I removed.
Months later, I was replacing the 12 volt battery and swung the new one up and plopped it down on the iron lid. Something said, “BOOM!”.
It turns out that if you push down hard on the middle of the iron lid (perhaps by plopping a 60 pound battery on it), you can manage to bend it down just enough to put a direct short across the terminals of one of the six-volt batteries. This tries to release all the charge once – with explosive results. The purpose of the thick sheet of cardboard was now obvious. Fortunately, the lid mostly protected the hapless amateur electrical engineer from the ensuing shrapnel.
The Sam’s Club battery guys knew me by this time and asked no question when I turned in the waranteed remains for a new one. The iron lid thereafter had a hole in it and a new sheet of cardboard was atop the batteries.
I tell you all these horror stories not to condemn the electric car but to convey the state of technology at the time. Not necessarily that of the mid 2000’s when I drove the thing, but at least in the early 1980’s when the Jet was new.
I will have to pick up the story later.
Political commentary is not my intuitive arena. However, my time spent in Venezuela – though long ago – was a transforming experience in my life. This fact compels me to express my view of the situation in what was once a free nation. It was far from perfect, as are all such nations. But it was a paradise by comparison to what is left of it – and more so to what it may become if nothing is done.
I will categorize this under “Energy” since that subject is a vital element in the fate of Venezuela. I don’t have a “Politics” category and I’m not sure I want one. The piece was published in American Thinker. Follow the link below.
As you may be aware, I have been studying both “Climate Change” and Energy Policy for decades. I know what I am talking about! I made a YouTube video about 5 years ago about Hydraulic Fracturing that slaps down the slander of the “Greenies” about the subject in no uncertain terms*.
*I don’t want to seem arrogant here so I will quote Walter Brennan from a late 60’s TV show called “The Guns of Will Sonnet” and say, “No brag – just fact!”
It may interest you to know that the “rough” quality of Walter Brennan’s voice was the result of his service in World War I when he was exposed to Mustard Gas.
Steve Campbell November 2015
It is a habit of modern environmental advocates to insist upon doing away with fossil fuels and using only “renewable energy”. Fossil fuels are defined by as “a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.” (1). According to the US department of Energy, renewable energy includes “solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy and water (hydroelectric)” (2).
If asked whether that replacement is possible or practical, most of those same environmental advocates (hereinafter referred to as: “Greens”) would enthusiastically reply in the positive, as if it is an obvious thing. It did not seem obvious to me and so I made an examination of modern energy use in the United States. At some point in the following pages, I will express a few opinions. But, I promise to end with some solidly founded conclusions.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does a yearly assessment of energy use in the United States. It includes sources of energy, amounts of each source and what use is made of it by what sector of the economy. They publish a very interesting summary (3) of the results which you will see in Figure A. The amounts of energy are in Quadrillion British Thermal Units (which are mercifully referred to simply as “Quads”). A Quad is the equivalent of about 180 million barrels of petroleum. But, the important issue in this analysis is the portions that each source contributes to the total.
Figure A: Energy Use in the United States 2014
I will just look at the total energy use for this analysis. The numbers on the left side of the chart are detailed in the table in Figure B, below. The Non-renewables are in blue, the renewables in green. I have included Nuclear with the fossil fuels only because greens are as strongly opposed to that as they are to fossil fuels, if not more so. The table is depicted in a pie chart in figure C.
Figure B: Energy sources and amount contributed to the total
Figure C: Pie chart of values in figure B, labeled by percent of total
The next pie chart in Figure D, has the fossil fuels and Nuclear plotted as blanks to show what needs to be replaced in the “total renewable” scenario. The result speaks for itself. Ninety percent of the current energy use is unacceptable to the Greens.
Figure D: The renewable fraction of US energy use in the US in 2014
So, we are left with these ten percent which must expand to fill 100 percent. The simple idea that we just multiply the capacity for each source by ten will quickly run into some serious problems. I will, of course elaborate upon them next by considering each source individually.
Biomass in the transportation sector is mostly ethanol made almost exclusively from corn or biodiesel from other food crops like soybeans. Both are driving up the global price of food and are not profitable without government subsidies. I would just add that energy is used in growing crops, transportation to factories, fermentation, distillation and transportation of the biofuel to market (in tanker trucks because ethanol corrodes pipelines). Fertilizer is typically manufactured from natural gas. So, unless all that energy use is also converted to renewables, you have not accomplished much change.
According to the New England Complex Systems Institute (4):
“1. The amount of corn used to produce the ethanol in a gallon of regular gas would feed a person for a day,
The US used over 45% of its 2011 corn crop to produce ethanol, up from under 15% before 2005 …–a rise dictated by federal mandate and promoted by federal subsidies. The drought in 2012 is leading to questions about whether using corn for fuel is reasonable while people go hungry due to a world food shortage…
The total amount of ethanol produced in the US in 2011 was 13.95 billion gallons, enough to feed 570 million people that year.” (emphasis mine, SC)
I tried to check these numbers and I keep coming up with 535 million. Until I am able to resolve this difference, I will use the lesser figure. But the difference is small and number is still staggering.
In either case, that number was so staggeringly big that I reviewed the assumptions in the calculations in Albino, et al (4). There are a few mitigating factors. For one, the caloric requirements cited were the minimum for survival. Also, the field corn used for ethanol production is otherwise used for animal feed and for intermediate products like corn flour, meal, starch or oil. In all those cases, the food value ultimately is less than in direct consumption. Nevertheless, the 500+ million figure is still correct. The potential use of the corn produced for fuel could supply that much food.
As I mentioned previously, we are trying to imagine increasing by a factor of ten the portion of energy that is “renewable”. In the case of biofuels, to increase by ten times means that the United States alone would be burning enough food to feed over Five Billion People. That is more than two thirds of the Earth’s population. That is simply not acceptable.
You will note in Figure A that the majority of biomass contribution is not in transportation, but rather in Industry. The burning of agricultural and industrial waste for heat or to generate electricity is a good example. Imagine a sawmill that accumulates tons of sawdust. That waste represents a good deal of energy. You may note from Figure A that Industry is the most efficient of all energy using endeavors. They use biomass because it makes economic sense. I would imagine that most such opportunities are already in use. So, an increase by a factor of ten would seem impossible.
Hydroelectricity is quite efficient, clean and reliable. While it does require a specific sort of geological setting, it could probably be increased a great deal. A factor of ten might be possible, at least in theory. The problem with Hydro is that its Green “credentials” have expired. Greens are beginning to call for the removal of dams from rivers and are not enthusiastic about increasing hydropower. According to the Hydropower Reform Coalition (5):
“There is a place for new conventional hydropower development in our nation’s renewable energy policy, but such development should be limited to projects that use existing water and infrastructure and do not place additional stress on river ecosystems.”
I can only imagine that they are expecting an improved efficiency from “existing water and infrastructure”. Without new infrastructure, there can be no other way to increase production. Figure E shows the Energy Information Agency (EIA) numbers for amount of hydropower in the US over the years 1990 to 2010. While other renewables have increased, Hydro is in a definite decline. Note that the increase of “other renewable” is about equal to the decline in Hydro. This is far from a candidate for a massive increase. We will be lucky to retain what Hydro now exists.
Figure E: EIA graph of hydropower and “other renewable” electricity amounts.
Wind turbines can generate substantial amounts of electricity when the wind conditions are right. Because of government subsidies, wind power has expanded rapidly. As of 2014 Wind represents 2% of the energy mix in the United States. There is room for expansion. However, as it turns out this is a much more complicated subject than the previous energy sources.
The cost of wind power has been claimed by Greens to be less than fossil fuel power plants. This claim is ignoring a multitude of hidden costs, including massive subsidies at taxpayer expense. According to Ed Hoskins’ detailed analysis (6), the cost of wind is at least double that of natural gas. The chart in figure F shows these figures and I have included the Solar photovoltaic numbers to refer back to when I get to that source.
Figure F: Comparison of cost per unit energy for Solar, Wind and Natural Gas electric generation
But the point here is not cost, but rather reliability. Wind turbines have a range of wind speeds. There is a lower limit of wind speed below which the turbine cannot generate power. There is also a high speed limit where the turbine must be “feathered” or turned sideways to the wind to avoid damage to the blades. When those periods occur, the electric demand must still be met and other sources must be called upon to provide the power. There are electric storage systems like flywheels that can store power and smooth fluctuations, but their capacity can be measured only in mere seconds. This means that a coal or natural gas fired power plant has to be kept idling, ready to pick up the entire load with a moment’s notice. Idling is a particularly wasteful thing to do as it burns energy for exactly nothing.
There is one argument to the effect that “It’s always windy somewhere”. By that they mean to say that one windfarm can take over for another. There are regional weather systems where stagnant (i.e., near windless) high pressure sets in across most of the country. This can be during a heat wave or a frigid cold wave where power consumption is already high. The fact that it is windy in Romania is irrelevant. There is no free lunch. Wind power must have a 100% back-up or leave its customers in the dark when the going gets tough.
Now we get to the carnage. These wind turbines are sited in zones of prevailing wind, which by no coincidence are the same zones where birds migrate. Windmills chop up birds at a horrifying rate. The Greens are trying to sandbag this by pointing out that cats kill far more birds than windmills. I expect they are exaggerating, but it does not matter. My cat, for example brought me a few mocking birds and, once a blue jay. But he never dragged a Golden Eagle carcass up to my back door. Furthermore, nobody ever claimed that cats are “Green” as they have claimed about Wind for decades. Windmills do not discriminate and kill many thousands of birds of “endangered species” per year. Certainly they are endangered! Yet, Wind currently has a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” to do so for the next thirty years. They will not be fined.
Then there are the bats. For example, in Central Texas there are large populations of bats. Those flying rodents eat the insects that would otherwise eat our food (and Biomass!) crops. They are murdered by the thousands by the windmills there. You might think that their echo-locating senses would help them avoid the spinning blades. Well, they don’t even have to be struck by the blades. The low-pressure zones behind the blades collapse their lungs. Birds are much tougher, but they never see the blades coming, especially at night. The toll on bats is large – perhaps more than on birds.
While I would never be accused of being Green, I find the situation unacceptable and I object to these bird and bat choppers on environmental grounds. In my humble opinion, Wind ain’t Green. And Greens are starting to agree. They forced a wind farm in California named Altamont tear down their windmills and replace them with larger ones that supposedly kill fewer. I suspect, but cannot prove that the larger mills just throw the dead birds farther away so they are out of sight and not counted as damage.
Solar energy is not a new idea. It has been exploited for longer than human history. I am sure that my Ice Age ancestors dried their meat with Solar. For local reference, my mother used Solar to dry our clothes when I was young. Later, I saw coffee farmers in Venezuela, who to this day use Solar to dry their beans. Solar is respected in architectural and industrial design. In remote locations photovoltaics if properly managed can provide electricity in medium amounts but not continuously.
There is nothing wrong with Solar until someone wants to make it a baseline electricity source. Now we are in trouble – and for obvious reasons! Beyond the totally obvious fact that the sun goes down at night, there are times when the weather will cover the sun and not provide power, neither for photovoltaic, nor for solar thermal plants. You might put these way out in the desert where there are few clouds, but then you must build the powerline infrastructure to get the power to someone who will pay for it. That is far from free.
Now is when I will ask you to look back at Figure F, at that Cyan bar that shows that “Photovoltaics Large Scale” is almost four times the cost of natural gas generation. Looking further than cost, there is reliability to be concerned. In the desert, there might not be much concern about sunlight, but even there, the sun goes down. Storage of electricity is to this day, quite difficult and inefficient. To put it like Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Car Talk) when they speak of electric cars, “It’s all about the batteries and it always will be”. You might imagine that Elon Musk will build all the batteries we need with his mega-plant. You would be wrong. There is a place called Cushing, Oklahoma where there is a great tank farm that is the core of the distribution center of petroleum for the central United States. The reserve of energy in Cushing is such that it would take FOURTY of Elon’s “Super Factories” ONE HUNDRED YEARS to match it in energy storage. Cushing is the largest tank farm in the country, but there are hundreds of others.
(Wikipedia (7)) Geothermal energy is thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is the energy that determines the temperature of matter. The geothermal energy of the Earth’s crust originates from the original formation of the planet and from radioactive decay of materials (in currently uncertain but possibly roughly equal proportions). The geothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface. The adjective geothermal originates from the Greek roots γη (ge), meaning earth, and θερμος (thermos), meaning hot…. …Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries.
Geothermal energy also works well, in appropriate locations. This is another source that could be expanded and maximized. In the US, it contributes 0.2 Quads (far less than 1 %) of the national total. While this analysis is about the United States Energy sector, it is instructive to note other countries’ efforts in this regard. While the US capacity is small, it still represents 29% of the Geothermal in the world! No one else comes close. Figure G (again from Wikipedia) shows the amounts and contributions of geothermal generation of various countries. Of particular note are Iceland, which supplies 30% of their national energy use and also the Philippines with 27% and El Salvador with 25%. These countries have the advantage of local geology that make Geothermal a convenient and cheap source of energy. The US has many such zones that have already been developed to some extent and there should be reason to expect more.
The drawbacks? Well, the first thing they do in geothermal development is to drill holes in the ground and then fracture the rock structure so the water can circulate and pick up heat. While I have no problem with fracturing, an entire radical, hysterical contingent of Greens do have such problems! If they will allow fracturing for geothermal then they are colossal hypocrites.
Figure G: Geothermal generation of electricity by country (Wikipedia)
Question: Can Fossil Fuels be replaced?
Short answer: No!
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