Friday, February 22, 2019

Dumb Energy: A Critique Of Wind & Solar Energy

From the Introduction: The core characteristic of wind and solar is that these are erratic sources of electricity. The supply is randomly intermittent. The wind and solar promoters demand that the grid be reengineered to become a “smart” grid.

The idea is that if the grid is smart enough that will compensate for the dumb wind and solar energy. That’s what they have in mind. The point of the smart grid is to make the grid more agile, the better to follow the ups and downs of wind and solar.

Extracting energy from wind and sunlight is a seductive theory. But, the theory is impractical. The installations are too expensive. The power produced is erratic, changing with the comings and goings of the wind and sun.

Erratic power saves fuel in fossil fuel plants when it arrives, but it does not displace investment in fossil fuel plants. Those plants must still be present as backup for the erratic power.

The renewable energy industry is financed by government subsidies and sweetheart deals that are hidden from consumers. Arguing facts with a believer in renewable energy is often futile.  Rarely will a true believer change his mind because he is presented with facts. Fortunately, most people are not true believers, but victims of propaganda. One can plant a seed of doubt in such persons by presenting facts.

The idea of renewable energy as a reliable, comprehensive solution to future energy needs is an error, resting on these faulty assumptions:

1. We will run out of fossil fuels in the foreseeable future.
2. Burning fossil fuels is dangerous to health and inevitably creates ugly contamination of the atmosphere.
3. Renewable energy is financially competitive.
4. Carbon dioxide emissions will create a climate disaster (But, wind and solar will help prevent the "disaster.").

These dubious assumptions will be disputed in this book. Scientists are a special interest group and their interests distort their scientific conclusions. For certain scientific groups, green ideas and global warming alarmism are the geese that lay golden eggs.

The golden eggs are not just money, but also prestige. Scientists, particularly climate scientists, benefit from global warming alarmism. They are reluctant, individually or as a group, to express skepticism or to critically examine the theories behind global warming alarmism.

Peer pressure to conform is so great, that to contradict the group think is heresy, and likely professional suicide. Global warming has transformed climate scientists, formerly nerdy grinds toiling in an obscure corner of academia, into celebrity scientists. The pull of stardom and money has corrupted the scientific work.

The statements that all climate scientists agree, or that predictions of global warming are absolutely solid – those things are propaganda.

A fundamental fallacy is that cost is the most important thing to worry about when it comes to the delivery of electricity. Not so, reliability and resilience are far more important, because the cost to the economy of an extended blackout dwarfs the cost of providing electricity. In an extreme case millions of Americans would die from a lengthy grid collapse. If the large transformers are destroyed it would take years to bring the grid back.

About 30 U.S. states have passed laws requiring that some percentage of their electricity come from “renewable” sources, mainly wind and solar. The main beneficiaries of these laws are not the public—which pays more for electricity—but green energy companies and their investors, that are benefiting at the public’s expense. Green ideology has an element of nature worship. It assumes that the Earth is sacred and that the Earth is in danger from man.

From Chapter 1: The Economic Argument

Because the duplicate power plants are needed to back up wind and solar there are prohibitive costs. Because wind and solar can’t be counted on, the “rest of the grid” has to be able to stand alone.

To be clear: if wind and solar vanished overnight, the grid would get along perfectly well. Adding wind and solar to the grid does not replace any significant part of the existing grid because the existing grid must be ready to step in when wind or solar is generating little electricity.

An example from Texas illustrates the problem. Texas has a large, 18,000-megawatt, wind generation system, mostly in west Texas. Hour by hour output for 10-days of the Texas wind system is shown in the graph below. Swings in wind power of 30% or 5,000 megawatts in a few hours are not unusual. Those erratic variations in power stress the grid.

The power grid and its equipment were not designed with the expectation of introducing large quantities of erratic power. The political power of the wind and solar proponents forces the issue. The grid operators are adapting the best they can.

According to a year-long, hour by hour record of wind output for the Texas grid, in 2016, wind generation fell to as little as 0.8% of installed capacity. That happened on August 31, 2016 at noon.

Solar generation cuts out just when it is most needed. On September 1, 2017 California experienced an all-time peak load of a little over 50,000 megawatts, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. By 6 p.m. two thirds of solar generation had been lost. By 7 p.m. 90% of solar generation was lost, but demand had only decreased from 50,000 to 48,000 megawatts. By 8 p.m. all the solar generation was lost but demand was still over 46,000 megawatts. The lesson is that solar cannot be counted on when most needed.

The economic benefit of wind and solar - saving a little fuel in the backup plants - is dwarfed by the costs. A natural gas generating plant has both fixed and variable costs. The fixed cost includes capital cost amortized over the assumed life of the plant and the fixed costs of operation, such as the staff salaries.

The variable cost, mainly fuel, depends on the amount of electricity generated. The cost of fuel is about 2 cents per kWh for efficient plants at current gas prices. The only real economic benefit of wind or solar is saving that 2 cents when wind or solar is working.

A true accounting shows that the subsidies for wind and solar are huge and hidden. The financing of renewable energy can be massively complicated, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal fees. The lawyer’s job is to make the project seem to be a regular business rather than a tax dodge. The complicated nature of the financing helps hide the true economic situation from the public.

Wind is subsidized by about 5.1 cents per kWh and solar by about 5.6 cents per kWh. That is the difference between the cost and the benefit of fuel saved. If you allocate the subsidy to the task of reducing CO2 emissions, it can be calculated that it costs around $140 per metric ton of CO2 emissions avoided by using wind or solar.

Avoiding or compensating for a metric ton of CO2 emissions is known as a carbon offset. Carbon offsets are traded, and a carbon offset can be purchased from, for example, for $10 for a metric ton of CO2 reduction. Wind or solar are not efficient devices for reducing CO2 emissions.

From Chapter 2: Propaganda and Greenspeaks

The renewable energy industry has excellent public relations. Much press coverage is fawning and yet ignorant. For example, the New York Times ran a February 6, 2018 op-ed: Why a Big Utility Is embracing Wind and Solar.

The article claims that wind and solar are replacing coal powered plants. But wind and solar don’t replace anything because the conventional grid has to be in place as backup to the erratic output of wind and solar. If coal plants are closed, they are typically replaced by natural gas plants, not wind and solar.

The institutions and leaders that disseminate renewable energy propaganda are themselves influenced by smaller groups with more strongly held ideas and opinions. Not every op-ed writer or broadcaster is a fanatic supporter of renewable energy. Like the public, they are influenced by others, individuals more intensely committed to renewable energy.

Several years ago, I was speaking to a congressman at a fund raiser. I was explaining the case against wind energy and the case against the federal subsidies for wind energy. Another man was quietly listening. After I finished my spiel, I was introduced to the other man who turned out to be a lobbyist for wind energy and a longtime supporter of the congressman. The lesson for me was that it is hard to compete with paid propagandists.

The many causes espoused by the environmental organizations have one thing in common. They alarm the public and get attention, thereby raising money for the environmental organizations. It doesn’t matter if the science behind the cause is junk science, as long as it is scary.

The propagandists for wind and solar use fake photography to give the impression that smokestack of conventional fossil fuel plants are belching toxic black smoke. This outright fakery says a lot about the ethics of the Sierra Club and similar organizations.

The picture is an example that appeared on the Sierra Club website. The smokestack is actually belching harmless water vapor. When the water vapor or steam hits the cool air, it condenses into a white cloud. By photographing with the sun behind the smoke stack, the white cloud of water droplets can be made to appear black. It is revealing that, in the photo, there is no “smoke” immediately above the stack before the water vapor has mixed with the cool air sufficiently to condense.

From Chapter 4: Fake Science and Global Warming

The current global warming scare was largely popularized by one man. James Hansen was the head of a government science laboratory located in Manhattan. Hansen, now retired, is a green ideologue as well as a master publicist. He is shown below at a demonstration opposing coal mining.

Hansen is given to making extreme statements. He compared coal trains to death trains carrying Jews to death camps. He suggested that fossil fuel executives should be put on trial for crimes against humanity. He equated the fight to end climate change to the fight to end slavery.

The fossil fuel industry seems incapable of thinking for itself about global warming, even though it is in the industry’s financial interest to question the current orthodoxy. The people that run these companies are apparently dedicated to the idea that appeasement is the way to deal with your enemies.

These are companies with bank accounts beyond counting. They employ legions of scientists. They could easily defend themselves. But they are afraid to give even small amounts to think tanks that are skeptical of global warming.

It’s hard to see how appeasing the promoters of global warming is in the interest of the stockholders of fossil fuel companies; companies used as punching bags by organizations that think that all fossil fuels should be left in the ground. If the companies took a more aggressive stand the executives would be attacked, but if they are unwilling to take heat in the interests of their stockholders, why are they there? (And why are they paid so much?)

From Chapter 5: Is There a Nuclear Future?

Nuclear energy has great promise. That promise is weakened by aggressive political opposition. There are sincere reasons to be worried about nuclear power – the possibility of a release of radioactivity and the possibility of civilian nuclear power being used as a route to nuclear bombs.

But the usual suspects – environmental organizations and green ideologues – are not interested having an even-handed discussion. The cost of nuclear power has been greatly increased due to political opposition.

From Chapter 6: The Benefits of CO2

Without carbon dioxide in the atmosphere there would be no life on Earth. Plants breathe CO2 and all animal life is ultimately dependent upon plant life. The quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere is very small, one molecule in 2500. Plants are constantly clawing CO2 out of the atmosphere so that they can grow. Adding CO2 to the atmosphere causes crops to grow better and deserts to recede.

From Chapter 8: The Destruction of the Grid

In principle it would be possible for the population to survive an extended failure of the national grid. Certainly, there is plenty of food in the form of corn and soybeans stored in the Midwest. There are also 80 million live cattle. There is potentially enough fuel oil to power trains and trucks to transport critical goods.

It is not trivial to provide food if the electric grid is down. For example, to feed the two million people of Las Vegas would require 20 boxcars per day, coming from the Midwest, filled with corn and soybeans. Even if the boxcars arrived it would still be a problem to prepare food and distribute it to the population. Starving people will not complain about a diet of cornmeal mush.

The problem is that there are inadequate preparations. Emergency generators often only have onsite fuel for only 24 hours. A system for allocating and distributing fuel is needed. There has to be a system for feeding the population when electricity is lost.

Sewer and water systems must continue to work. There must be readily available supplies of food and water stored locally to keep the population fed until rudimentary food distribution can be resumed. The military and police must continue to operate.

There are certain components of the grid that cannot be replaced quickly. The most vulnerable capital equipment are the giant transformers that are needed to transport electricity for long distances. These transformers, often as big as a house, are largely manufactured overseas, and have to be ordered many months in advance.

In March 1989, a strong geomagnetic storm collapsed the Quebec grid. Two transformers were destroyed indirectly by direct current that caused protective devices to malfunction. The failure of a transformer in New Jersey sometime later, was also a consequence of that event.

A nuclear weapon can be used to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that creates a broad spectrum of damage to electrical devices, including damage to long transmission lines and their associated transformers. If a nuclear weapon is exploded in near outer space, say 200 miles above Kansas, it can create an electromagnetic pulse affecting the entire continental U.S. A weapon exploded in outer space will create a flash in the sky, but no shockwave or significant radiation will reach the ground. No person or building will be damaged by the explosion.

But the gamma rays emitted from the weapon will travel toward the earth and interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. The plentiful and energetic gamma rays will knock electrons off atoms in the thin, high atmosphere and impart a high velocity to the electrons. The electrons will travel in a spiral path around the magnetic lines of force of the Earth’s magnetic field. The spiraling electrons will emit a powerful electromagnetic pulse that will travel to the ground.

From Chapter 10: Can the Country Regain its Sanity?

Renewable energy and its companion global warming alarmism have become a religion. There is a great danger that it will become an established religion forced on the people by the government and an elite establishment.

Important believers include dignitaries such as Jerry Brown, the governor of California and Michael Bloomberg, billionaire and former mayor of New York. This is not a quiet religion. The believers don’t meditate. This is an angry religion.

Appendix 1 - Levelized Cost of Energy

This appendix is a more elaborate discussion concerning the cost of various types of electricity. The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is used by various organizations as a way to compare the cost of various types of generating plants.

Simply knowing the LCOE is not a complete measure of the value of a plant. In the real world, many other factors weigh heavily. For example, how fuel is transported to the plant, how electricity is carried to the users, and other more technical problems, such as the need for reactive power.