pageok
pageok
pageok
Why Gore's "Switch" Is Not So Simple:

The Washington Post has an extensive analysis of Al Gore's plan to power the United States with "100 percent clean electricity within ten years," and finds it exceedingly impractical and unrealistic, to say the least.

The answer is simple: This is where Gore must be pulling our collective leg. Because most people who study the country's energy supply say that -- whatever you think of the motives behind Gore's idea -- as a real-life plan, it's a non-starter.

The problem is that, despite the current boom in green power, renewable sources such as the sun and the wind still provide just a tiny fraction of the U.S. electricity supply. The rest is mainly dirty stuff: coal, gas, oil. To replace one with the other over the course of a decade, energy experts say, would make the Manhattan Project look like a science-fair volcano.

And even if we wanted to try Gore's plan, his goal is likely to get more distant every year. That's because, even as Americans demand more action on climate change, their laptops and flat-screen TVs are demanding more electricity every year -- and they're not asking whether it's clean or dirty. . . .

Perhaps the best way to describe the scope of Gore's challenge is to shrink it. What if you wanted to tackle a slice of the problem in just a slice of the United States -- the region around Washington? What if, instead of switching the entire region to renewable electricity, you wanted just enough clean power to meet the increase in electricity demand expected over the next 10 years?

You would need about 3,700 windmills.

Here's the math: Peak demand -- the amount of electricity needed on the hottest summer days -- is expected to grow by more than 5,500 megawatts for the three utilities that serve this area. A megawatt is roughly enough to power 700 to 1,000 homes. So, at roughly 1.5 megawatts per wind turbine -- the current going rate -- you would need 3,700 turbines.

Right now, from the Delaware Coast to the West Virginia mountains, there are 44 turbines producing power on a significant scale. Add in all the renewable energy projects on the drawing boards in this area, including the large wind farm planned off Rehoboth Beach, Del., and . . .

And you're still nowhere close.

Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

"100 percent clean electricity within ten years,"


Because he said so, that's why- meanwhile, lets all of us get cracking while Al thinks up some more stuff for us to do.

It might help if we're issued uniforms, and get kewel government berets to wear.

The man is a menace.
8.31.2008 10:03am
Paul Milligan (mail) (www):
And Blobama has already stated the same thing in his campaign platform. Count on it, if he gets in, Gore will be Sec'y of Energy. And if they succeed in forcing this delusional 'plan' on us, coupled with their equally delusional 'end anthropogenic contributions to global warming' ie Kyoto II etc, they will utterly DESTROY the economy.

We'll end up 'saving energy' and 'saving the environment' because we won't be able to afford any form of power at all.
8.31.2008 10:21am
loki13 (mail):
I think 10 years for all clean energy is unobtainable.

I also think it is a challenge. The 10 years has a mythic resonance, due to Kennedy's moon statement. The point Gore (and Obama, in his speech) are trying to make is to put a serious investment in clean energy on the table, to challenge the nation to take this seriously, to make this a national (in the sense of the nation working together and government science funding) as well ass private (in the sense of profits) project.

It's like dieting. If your obese, you've got to start somewhere. We need to start.

OTOH, you may disagree.
8.31.2008 10:25am
markm (mail):
That math is way too optimistic. A "1.5MW" wind turbine only produces 1.5MW when the wind speed is exactly the maximum the turbine can handle. Any faster, and it shuts down to protect itself. Any slower, and the power drops as the cube of the wind-speed. For example, a 40mph turbine will shut down at 41mph, and only produce half it's rated power at 32mph.
8.31.2008 10:28am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Gore's idea is the Urban Renewal of this century.
8.31.2008 10:29am
genob:
I can't believe the mainstream media isn't calling him out on the part of his speech where he once again takes credit for killing manbearpig. Biased media.
8.31.2008 10:40am
Angus:
loki13 understands what Gore's critics do not. No one believes that total energy transformation is possible in 10 years. Not even Gore, I think. The point is to set very big and short goal so as to reach for it as much as possible.

If, instead, Gore said "50% clean electricity by 2050," a lot of people would shrug and say to themselves: Don't know if I'll even be alive by then, so I don't care. The rest would say: Dang, that's a long way off. I'll start paying attention to the issue in 2045.
8.31.2008 11:07am
SenatorX (mail):
Maybe Obama's "volunteer" children can turn power generating crankshafts for a few hours a day. It will be good for them to learn the importance of volunteering for clean energy and their health will improve too.
8.31.2008 11:11am
DiverDan (mail):
Just remember that Al "Looney Tunes" Gore is the same man that many Dems still insist was elected President in 2000. If Daley, his campaign manager in Florida, had gotten away with the massive vote theft in just three Florida Counties, we might have been stuck with him. I'm no fan of Bush - I think he ruined the Republican Party for the next decade -- but however bad he was, Gore would have been worse.
8.31.2008 11:15am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
I've commented on even Obama's energy plan, which sets significantly lower goals, over at leanleft.com (starting at comment 16, money shot at 20). It's still friggen impossible.

We could take every single solar panel fresh off the production line, every new wind turbine, new hydroelectric dam, every concentrated solar thermal station, every single drop of renewable power being created globally, every year for the next ten years, damn the prices, and we wouldn't get close. Gore's plan at least doesn't leave out nuclear power like Obama's "renewable" energy focus does, but ten years is cutting it short for one nuclear plant.

Even assuming 0 increase in energy use over the next the years, we're talking 3.2 terawatts of power generation with 100% uptime.
8.31.2008 11:21am
The Ace (mail):
So Governor Palin, who has never said anything publicly this stupid is not qualified to be Vice President, but Al Gore was, and could (or should?) be president?
8.31.2008 11:29am
Malvolio:
It's like dieting. If [you're] obese, you've got to start somewhere. We need to start.
I may not be skinny, but I know you have to start by being realistic. Otherwise, in a very short time, reality will start to make itself obvious, and your critics will call you dishonest -- and they might be right.

And, I'm not so convinced to do have to start. As Ronald Bailey wrote, "The Stone Age didn't end because humanity ran out of stones." Most likely, technology and the market will make fossil fuels obsolete, and government intervention probably won't speed that process.
8.31.2008 11:48am
Anonymous #000:
Nuclear. Safe and clean. Fuel is abundant and reusable. Plants could last a century with current technology.

Of course, the type of "green" leftist who protests the fabricated "frankenfoods" concept and nuclear power because of the Chernobyl plant in the socialist wonderland whence they got their orders -- which was poorly built and incompetently managed and the old style of plant that actually can melt down -- would oppose technology that runs counter to the Unabomber mindset.
8.31.2008 11:56am
GeorgeOregon (mail):
The alternative:

Waiting until the country is so poor we cannot afford to much of anything. This is the stark alternative, totally separate from climate change. This is a matter of making the smart choice today to have future. Otherwise get ready for the $100,000,000 note to buy a loaf of bread.
8.31.2008 12:11pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
The Washington Post has an extensive analysis of Al Gore's plan to power the United States with "100 percent clean electricity within ten years

I believe this is the way he plans to do it.




Yes I apologize for linking to this sick commercial.
8.31.2008 12:13pm
Angus:
I may not be skinny, but I know you have to start by being realistic. But the point is to get started and have a goal. Saying "someday we'll have clean electricity" does as much to make it happen as saying "someday I'll lose weight." Someday gets pushed back and never happens.

Anonymous #000, you are going to have to get your talking points updated. Gore himself says that nuclear power would make up around 21% of clean electricity, up significantly from the 6% or so it represents now. Environmental Defense and various environmental groups are pro-nuclear, including the founder of Greenpeace.
8.31.2008 12:24pm
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
Love the spin in the Post piece: 1,500 "windmills" make it sound so old-fashioned, the Holland of Rembrandt. Compare to 1,500 "turbines", which sounds at least late 20th century.
8.31.2008 12:24pm
ZedP:
The estimates from the enhanced geothermal folks is that if they use every feasible site, we have something like 14,000 times as much clean power available from that alone as we need.

Not all clean power is solar- or wind-based.
8.31.2008 12:27pm
Hoosier:
I find myself very frustrated all around on this one.

Some of my fellow conservatives (I don't mean here on VC) react to any new-energy proposals with scorn. As for me, I'm all for weaining ourselves away from over-dependence on oil and coal.

But Gore also has me frustrated. he could actually achieve something valuable if he aimed for a 25% increase in clean energy within ten years. But this plan of his is so impractical that I suspect he is wasting his energy, as well as ours.

Does anyone out there have BOTH a high soapbox AND a significant, workable plan for ten years out?
8.31.2008 12:30pm
Random Commenter:
"But the point is to get started and have a goal."

To use enlarge on loki's diet metaphor, Gore is proposing that we lose 100 lbs in a week. This isn't a goal -- it's stupidity.
8.31.2008 12:31pm
Hoosier:
Bill Harshaw

I'm not sure it's "spin." I'm an advocate, and I say "windmills." But Grandpa V. was a Netherlander, so that's my excuse.
8.31.2008 12:32pm
Hoosier:
loki13--It's good to see that you and I agree on the goal. I just think that a more realistic process would gain more adherents. I mean, we actually DID reach the Moon by the "end of this decade." Clean energy? It depends on too many people all doing the the "right" thing right away.

But, again, I'm a conservative. I believe that humans can be refractory, and even perverse.
8.31.2008 12:36pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Another, slight, very slight, problem is that where you can efficiently put renewable energy sources is not where the people live. If they all want to move to North and South Dakota, then fine. But how does he expect to get the wind and solar power generated there to the east coast?

Transmission capacity, esp. in the eastern part of the country, is apparently stretched to and beyond capacity already. Long distance capacity is worst. And keep in mind that there is a significant portion of our population that absolutely believes that high voltage transmission lines cause cancer and a lot of other nasty things (despite repeated studies failing to show that). So, the NIMBY crowd is invariably out in force whenever there are attempts to run more high power lines, and the they manage to tie plans up for decades at the local permitting level.
8.31.2008 1:07pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Waiting until the country is so poor we cannot afford to much of anything. This is the stark alternative, totally separate from climate change. This is a matter of making the smart choice today to have future. Otherwise get ready for the $100,000,000 note to buy a loaf of bread.


Er, no. Sorry to bust the false dilemma, but there are options between "do nothing til we're broke" and "set stupidly unrealistic goals til we're broke". There are such things as reasonable and viable goals, and while I'm not sure that we need to actually set specific goals given the adoption of solar power already, those can actually be set somewhere that can actually be reached without involving time travel or converting nearly all industry.
8.31.2008 1:07pm
Anonymous #000:
Angus, that still leaves many people thinking otherwise because it fits their anti-technology rhetoric. And 21% is way too low (despite the modernist concrete dreams it tries to embody, France's 80% shows how it could be done).

"Various groups" being "pro-nuclear" makes my head spin. What disadvantages justify that little support in a time when celebrity politicos publish ten-year plans on national energy retooling?

(By the way, the Greanpeace founder is rather reasonable. The thing his creation turned into is not.)
8.31.2008 1:09pm
Malvolio:
The alternative:Waiting until the country is so poor we cannot afford to much of anything. This is the stark alternative, totally separate from climate change. This is a matter of making the smart choice today to have future. Otherwise get ready for the $100,000,000 note to buy a loaf of bread.
Mr Oregon, I'm curious: in your universe, does Spock have a beard?

I wouldn't have though it necessary to explain to any over about 10 years old, but people don't wait until a commodity become absolutely unaffordable. We react to even small price increase by reducing our demand.
8.31.2008 1:19pm
Angus:

To use enlarge on loki's diet metaphor, Gore is proposing that we lose 100 lbs in a week. This isn't a goal -- it's stupidity.
Big goals are rarely met, especially ones this big. So if we assume that any effort will fall short by some percentage, the thinking is to set a goal that is ambitious. So, shoot for 100% in 10 years and settle for 30%. If you had set 25% as a goal, you might have had to settle for 8%.

To carry on the weight loss analogy, assuming two people who need to lose 100 pounds.

Person 1 says: I'll lose 100 pound in a year, but loses only 50 pounds.
Person 2 says: I'll be more realistic and say I'll lose 20 pounds this year, but then loses only 10.

Which one is better off, all other things being equal?
8.31.2008 1:43pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
US energy consumption continues to grow, but that growth is primarily a result of population increases. These graphs from the Energy Information Agency show why. Note that energy consumption per person has been flat since about 1985 at approximately 340 million BTU per person, yet total consumption continues to grow. It's not from more affluence as energy consumption per dollar of GDP continues to fall. I'm going to assume that consumption for electricty follows total energy. Our current electrical consumption is about 4 trillion kWh per year. That's 13,000 Kwh/yr per person. Most US population growth comes from immigration both legal and illegal, which I'm going to put at 1.5M per year. Therefore in 10 years we will need to generate 0.2 trillion kWh per year to keep up with immigration. Currently 30 billion kWh comes from wind power, so that means we would to increase our wind generation by a factor of 6.6 just to keep up with immigration, let alone convert from fossil fuels.

Has it not occurred to anyone that zero immigration is one of the best ways of coping with the energy problem?
8.31.2008 2:03pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Wind examples around DC are not very well chosen. No wind there.

Although production could be increased, at the moment manufacturers are at full capacity for windmill components-- which are not, for the most part, made here.

In my county, wind supplied 10% of kwh last year, although that did not reduce oil consumption by 10%, because in light winds the output gets fluky and the utility has to keep a diesel unit operating in spinning reserve to catch dips and spikes.

The grid is just about maxed out in the proportion of unreliable wind it can take, too. On the Mainland, with really big, extensive wind farms and really big complicated grids, the grid might be able to absorb more than 10% fluky watts -- or not. How often to you want to replace your computers?

Glenn Bowen is right about Gore being a menace.
8.31.2008 2:29pm
Oren:

That's because, even as Americans demand more action on climate change, their laptops and flat-screen TVs are demanding more electricity every year -- and they're not asking whether it's clean or dirty. . . .

This is a ridiculous and utter lie. Americans have been getting far more energy efficient, not less. Modern housing is much better insulated, CFLs make lighting 5x more efficient, appliances are much more efficient and, most damning to your ridiculous assertions, even a 57" LCD uses far less power than a 27" CRT TV and a laptop comes it at a fraction of a desktop + LCD energy use (lets not even think about the extra CRTs replaced).

For instance, refrigerators use up a whopping 17% of our total electricity usage. My GE fridge, a '95 model, uses ~950 KWH/year while a '08 model uses ~550 KWH/year -- more than 40% less. At current rates, if I replaced it now, I'd break even in 4-5 years (but I rent, so that's out of my control). The trend in air conditioners, washers, dryers, water heaters are all quite comparable.

Of course, turnover in home appliances is on the order of decades, so it will take some time for these gains to be realized. That said, it's realistic to think that per-capita energy-use will not rise as fast as it has.

Sources: Usage, refrigerator ratings
8.31.2008 2:47pm
Oren:

How often to you want to replace your computers?

Every decent power supply has over/under-voltage detection and will shut down safely. Tales of computer systems (built after 2004 or so) that die because of bad AC are apocryphal.
8.31.2008 2:49pm
FlimFlamSam:
Environmentalists pretty much start from the premise (and it may be a reasonable one) that any large-scale human activitiy, particularly one relating to energy production, is liable to have significant environmental consequences.

Then why are most environmentalists not concerned with the environmental impact of windmills? Windmills take kinetic energy out of the air and convert it to energy in another form (modern windmills, the type Gore is talking about, convert it to electrical energy). Why are environmentalists not worried about the impact of removing wind energy (kinetic energy) from the atmosphere? They seem like the sort of people who would worry about things like that.
8.31.2008 2:51pm
Oren:
Does anyone out there have BOTH a high soapbox AND a significant, workable plan for ten years out?
Mr Pickens is going to get Texas on 10-20% wind power in the next 10 years. One of the main ingredients is the fact that he has right-of-way to build his own transmission lines. Before we can really work out our energy problems, we need to get our grid into the 21st century. Unfortunately, the whole thing is a ridiculous patchwork of federal, state and private ownership. States with plentiful power have little incentive to build more transmission because it will raise their costs.
8.31.2008 2:54pm
Oren:
FFS, that has got to the be the lamest excuse for a bash on wind power ever. Humans can remove as much kinetic energy from the air as we can possibly use, multiply it by 1000, and it still won't change the atmosphere in any meaningful way. You'd think Gustav (estimated power, 2GW over a mere 25 mile radius) would relieve fools of these sorts of notions.

More pertinently, environmentalists start from the presumption that we ought to use the best science available to evaluate the consequences of human activity, make a reasoned cost/benefit analysis and proceed from there.
8.31.2008 2:56pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Oren, there are a lot -- tens of millions, probably -- of pre-2004 computers out there, including the one I'm using now at home and about 100 where I work.
8.31.2008 3:13pm
Shertaugh:
When conservatives were riding high, their sense of humor about such things as being energy independent was much better.
8.31.2008 3:15pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
If wind power were going to be used in a big way then a windmill farm somehow has to store energy so as to provide continuous on-demand service. In theory a big enough grid might supply continuous power assuming you have enough uncorrelated sources of wind energy. I don't know if anyone has done that calculation. Show me a network of sites and the data to prove that enough energy will be available all the time. Currently we have a system of regional grids, and to install and maintain a national grid would be a monumental undertaking and extremely expensive. It's not going to happen. I will bet anyone that in 10 years less than 10% our electrical energy comes from wind power.
8.31.2008 3:19pm
The Ace (mail):
This is a matter of making the smart choice today to have future. Otherwise get ready for the $100,000,000 note to buy a loaf of bread.

Nice.
I love how the left pretends that if we aren't implementing unrealistic and silly plans, we're doing nothing.

Keep the meme alive!
8.31.2008 3:28pm
Kate S (mail):
To carry on the weight loss analogy, assuming two people who need to lose 100 pounds.

Person 1 says: I'll lose 100 pound in a year, but loses only 50 pounds.
Person 2 says: I'll be more realistic and say I'll lose 20 pounds this year, but then loses only 10.

Which one is better off, all other things being equal?"


Umm The one who deosn't gain it back? :-)
8.31.2008 3:29pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
"[E]nvironmentalists start from the presumption that we ought to use the best science available to evaluate the consequences of human activity, make a reasoned cost/benefit analysis and proceed from there."

Of course, the science is settled and it is what we say it is, and anyone who says otherwise -- no matter what his credentials -- is a holocaust denier who is in the pay of the oil companies. As for cost/benefits: we must fulfill Kyoto, no matter how much it costs, even though when pressed we admit that complete adherence to Kyoto would have nearly no measurable effect. Why? Well it's a "start" or a "framework" or something like that. And anyway, how dare one question the cool, unbiased, scientific professionalism of the environmentalists when, as Gore tells us, "We are facing a planetary emergency which, if not solved, would exceed anything we've ever experienced in the history of humankind."
8.31.2008 3:31pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
The wind power solution also fails on financial considerations. Using Picken's $1 trillion to replace 20% of our electrical capacity, I calculate about $6 cents/kWh as the present value of future energy cost of a wind grid. And that's using a ridiculous low cost of capital of 4%. A figure of 8-12% would be more realistic. Therefore just the capital cost is at least 12 cents/kwH, which is 3 times the cost of coal. And that doesn't include the very expensive maintenance cost for windmills.

Who would invest in Gore's hair-brained scheme? Certainly not the private markets because the consumers can't afford to pay for that high priced electricty. That's leaves the US government which is already deeply in debt. You can't get there from here.

Gore's scheme fails on the physics level, the engineering level and the financial level. But what do you expect from a technical ignoramus who took two watered-down general sciences courses and got a "D."
8.31.2008 3:54pm
Oren:

Oren, there are a lot -- tens of millions, probably -- of pre-2004 computers out there, including the one I'm using now at home and about 100 where I work.

The average use cycle for computer hardware is 3-4 years. Those computers will be gone with the normal churn soon enough.
8.31.2008 4:02pm
Oren:
Zarkov, surely as we build more windmills the cost will come down due to economy of scale!

Also, a decent national grid would be expensive but would also have significant efficiency rewards since peak demand could be more easily filled will far-away energy, thus lowering capital costs.
8.31.2008 4:05pm
Oren:

Therefore just the capital cost is at least 12 cents/kwH, which is 3 times the cost of coal.

Coal is cheap largely because the market cost underestimates the true cost. Once you factor in the large negative externalities at all stages (from extraction to the atmosphere), coal becomes a lot less attractive even before you take into account CO2 and all the controversy on how to price that in.
8.31.2008 4:06pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

"... surely as we build more windmills the cost will come down due to economy of scale!"

I always hear that refrain, but no calculations. You could say the same for reactors. Standardize the design, build a lot of them and enjoy the economies of scale. Someone has to show my why investing in wind is better than nuclear.
"
"Also, a decent national grid would be expensive but would also have significant efficiency rewards since peak demand could be more easily filled will far-away energy, thus lowering capital costs."


I agree and I said that. But I don't think we can afford to build such a grid. But I'm not sure for reasons previously stated that the such a grid would work for wind power.

"Coal is cheap largely because the market cost underestimates the true cost."


Do we know the "true cost?" Is this even a meaningful concept? Using coal for energy is a workable technology, whereas windmills are still dependent on subsidies.

"Coal is cheap largely because the market cost underestimates the true cost."


The AGW theory is fraught with uncertainties. Even if you accept the validity of GCMs, you still have an uncertainly of a factor of 3 on the climate sensitivity because of the cloud physics and other feedbacks. So the "cost" of coal is actually a distribution of costs, and that distribution must be carried through the calculations comparing coal to wind. I've not seen anyone do that.
8.31.2008 4:31pm
libertarian soldier (mail):
Harry Eager:
Wind examples around DC are not very well chosen. No wind there.

Surely you jest; Capital Hill alone has more wind bags and produces more hot air than our total requirements.
8.31.2008 4:34pm
L Nettles (mail):
Let's pretend its 1908, now any thinking person knows that the number of horses we are using is unsustainable, by 1950 we are going to be buried in horse manure and there is not enough pasture to feed them all. We know only government can solve the problem. These newfangled automobiles are dangerous and unreliable, bicycles aren't going to solve the problem. The only possible solution is to shoot all the horses now and put train tracks on every street.

Or we could let the market take a run at the problem.
8.31.2008 4:59pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> Person 1 says: I'll lose 100 pound in a year, but loses only 50 pounds.
> Person 2 says: I'll be more realistic and say I'll lose 20 pounds this year, but then loses only 10.

> Which one is better off, all other things being equal?

Except that they're not equally likely. The 100 pound goal person will likely end up weighing more because in Feb he'll notice that he's not 10 pounds lighter. He redouble his efforts and then quit because he's falling farther behind. The 20 pound person will notice in Feb that he's ahead of goal and will modestly increase his goal for the year, only to "fail" and end up 25 pounds down.

The next year, the 100 pound goal person will try again, starting from a higher base, and fail the same way. Meanwhile, the 20 pound goal person will still be losing steadily and end the next year an additional 25 pounds down. As he loses, he may even decrease his final goal weight because he hit the initial one so easily.

The interesting thing is that both folks had lost the same amount of weight when they checked in Feb.
8.31.2008 5:07pm
Sam H (mail):
"Therefore just the capital cost is at least 12 cents/kwH, which is 3 times the cost of coal. "

It is even worse than that. Since wind isn't dependable, you have to have a conventional power plant to backup the wind energy plant. So the capital cost of the conventional plant has to be added in.

What the wind plant does is offset some of the fuel cost of the conventional plant, it doesn't replace the need for it.
8.31.2008 5:48pm
Mac (mail):
Oren:
FFS, that has got to the be the lamest excuse for a bash on wind power ever. Humans can remove as much kinetic energy from the air as we can possibly use, multiply it by 1000, and it still won't change the atmosphere in any meaningful way. You'd think Gustav (estimated power, 2GW over a mere 25 mile radius) would relieve fools of these sorts of notions.

Oren,

I think FFS was joking.
8.31.2008 5:58pm
Oren:

I always hear that refrain, but no calculations. You could say the same for reactors. Standardize the design, build a lot of them and enjoy the economies of scale. Someone has to show my why investing in wind is better than nuclear.

First, I'm 100% pro standard reactor designs, cutting NRC tape (disclosure: I worked as an NRC-certified operator at a research reactor), and building tons of nuclear plants pretty much wherever there's enough water to cool them.

Second, a reasonable stab in the dark is that windmills will progress like cars -- roughly 150% output increase per 10 years (this varies wildly). The Model T (1930) was 25 horsepower, the 1990 was 150, the 2000 Mustang was ~ 300, the 2008 is 475, so that roughly fits. Of course, that can't go on forever, but the technology is still young, so I assume we can make it considerably more efficient.


Do we know the "true cost?" Is this even a meaningful concept? Using coal for energy is a workable technology, whereas windmills are still dependent on subsidies.
We don't know it exactly because computing all the externalities is not possible. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist (consider all the QFT amplitudes that are computed to some loop-order) -- we can take a decent stab at it.

Furthermore, the true cost is also subjective because we must assign a number to the cost of destroyed mountains, polluted streams and health risks associated with strip mining coal.
8.31.2008 6:03pm
Mac (mail):
Sorry that I can't seem to figure out how to link. This is from the Wall Street Journal and explains who can't seem to accept compromise nor reality. It boggles the mine.
Wind Jammers
August 18, 2008; Page A14
In this year's great energy debate, Democrats describe a future when the U.S. finally embraces the anything-but-carbon avant-garde. It turns out, however, that when wind and solar power do start to come on line, they face a familiar obstacle: environmentalists and many Democrats.

To wit, the greens are blocking the very transmission network needed for renewable electricity to move throughout the economy. The best sites for wind and solar energy happen to be in the sticks -- in the desert Southwest where sunlight is most intense for longest, or the plains where the wind blows most often. To exploit this energy, utilities need to build transmission lines to connect their electricity to the places where consumers actually live. In addition to other technical problems, the transmission gap is a big reason wind only provides two-thirds of 1% of electricity generated in the U.S., and solar one-tenth of 1%.

Only last week, Duke Energy and American Electric Power announced a $1 billion joint venture to build a mere 240 miles of transmission line in Indiana necessary to accommodate new wind farms. Yet the utilities don't expect to be able to complete the lines for six long years -- until 2014, at the earliest, because of the time necessary to obtain regulatory approval and rights-of-way, plus the obligatory lawsuits.

In California, hundreds turned out at the end of July to protest a connection between the solar and geothermal fields of the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles and Orange County. The environmental class is likewise lobbying state commissioners to kill a 150-mile link between San Diego and solar panels because it would entail a 20-mile jaunt through Anza-Borrego state park. "It's kind of schizophrenic behavior," Arnold Schwarzenegger said recently. "They say that we want renewable energy, but we don't want you to put it anywhere."

California has a law mandating that utilities generate 20% of their electricity from "clean-tech" by 2010. Some 24 states have adopted a "renewable portfolio standard," while Barack Obama wants to impose a national renewable mandate. But the states, with the exception of Texas, didn't make transmission lines easier to build, though it won't prevent them from penalizing the power companies that fail to meet an impossible goal.

Texas is now the wind capital of America (though wind still generates only 3% of state electricity) because it streamlined the regulatory and legal snarls that block transmission in other states. By contrast, though Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Ed Rendell adopted wind power as a main political plank, he and Senator Bob Casey are leading a charge to repeal a 2005 law that makes transmission lines slightly easier to build.

Wind power has also become contentious in oh-so-green Oregon, once people realized that transmission lines would cut through forests. Transmissions lines from a wind project on the Nevada-Idaho border are clogged because of possible effects on the greater sage grouse. Similar melodramas are playing out in Arizona, the Dakotas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, West Virginia, northern Maine, upstate New York, and elsewhere.

In other words, the liberal push for alternatives has the look of a huge bait-and-switch. Washington responds to the climate change panic with multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies for supposedly clean tech. But then when those incentives start to have an effect in the real world, the same greens who favor the subsidies say build the turbines or towers somewhere else. The only energy sources they seem to like are the ones we don't have.
8.31.2008 6:04pm
Oren:



It is even worse than that. Since wind isn't dependable, you have to have a conventional power plant to backup the wind energy plant. So the capital cost of the conventional plant has to be added in.

With a decent grid, that plant doesn't need to absorb more than a 4-5% of the total, so it's fairly negligible. Natural gas is a good candidate because it can ramp up and down quite quickly.
8.31.2008 6:05pm
wb (mail):
I'd be interested in how many of those advocating inspirational dieting, have ever used this approach in managing a major construction project. Projects with hopelessly over-ambitious goals or schedules fail miserably and in short order. Aggressive schedules are one thing; impossible schedules are something else. Those who have to execute are much too smart not to know the difference.

(BTW, this is a difference between so-called expertise and experience.)
8.31.2008 6:10pm
AKD:
Great thing about wind turbines: they slaughter bats, and do so in a particularly nefarious away, attracting the bats in and then exploding their lungs.


Better hope no one tries to get some bat species potentially affected by further wind turbine development listed under the ESA.
8.31.2008 9:25pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

"Second, a reasonable stab in the dark is that windmills will progress like cars --"

Like cars wind turbines have been around for a while and we have a good understanding of the design limitations. The Betz limit provides the maximum possible energy an infinitely thin rotor can extract from the wind moving at a specified velocity. This limit functions like the maximum thermodynamic efficiency of a heat engine in that it shows you the best you can do. The theoretical maximum is 0.59 and best designs can achieve about 0.5, which is 80% of maximum. So we are already near the fundamental design limit, and the amount of energy we can generate depends (among other things) on the the square of the blade length. But the mass of the blade is proportional to the cube of the blade length so the strength of materials ultimately limits the size of the turbine. That's why we don't have giant birds. After a certain size a flying bird can't exist because his bones aren't strong enough.

Outside of some breakthrough in materials, we are not going to get much by an economy of scale or better designs. Like cars we have already gone most of the way as far as how much energy we can get from a single wind turbine. At this point the chief limitations are how many sites we can exploit and how to transmit or store the power. The wind speeds at a given site have the Rayleigh distribution which has only one parameter. A national map of average wind speeds should tell us how much energy we can hope to get with this technology. Since the energy is the cube of a Rayleigh distribution, the available power will occur in short spurts. I think with the available information we could calculate how well a national grid would do and whether we would have to fill in in conventional power for the dead times. I don't know if anyone had done this calculation.

At this point the limitations of wind power are primarily economic and political, not technological. We will never build the national grid because it's too expensive and the social barriers too great.
8.31.2008 10:30pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
More pertinently, environmentalists start from the presumption that we ought to use the best science available to evaluate the consequences of human activity, make a reasoned cost/benefit analysis and proceed from there.
Sure wasn't the case with Global Warming. Wonder why you think that this is any different?
8.31.2008 10:38pm
TJIT (mail):
Oren you are vastly misinformed about what is driving Picken's plan. He is using it to drive water sales (he owns massive amounts of water rights), natural gas (he has substantial natural gas holdings), and to get government subsidized transmission lines built to sell his wind power.

The plan is the worst example of corporate rent seeking and abuse of government power to enrich one individual, T Boone Pickens.

You said
Mr Pickens is going to get Texas on 10-20% wind power in the next 10 years. One of the main ingredients is the fact that he has right-of-way to build his own transmission lines.

Here is what is actually happening:

Duncan: Boone Pickens' plans to sell water aren't good for West Texas

The brand-new Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1, acting as an alter ego of businessman T. Boone Pickens and Mesa Power Pampa, LLC, has launched a private venture that may force landowners in 11 counties to submit to the power of eminent domain so they can pump water from the shrinking Ogallala Aquifer and sell wind-generated electricity.

This new governmental entity is composed of only five people, all employees or associates of Mr. Pickens. Mesa is Mr. Pickens' private company - he controls the various corporate shells identified with this project in filings with the Public Utility Commission.

Mr. Pickens' plan is to sell 200,000 acre feet of the Ogallala each year to the Metroplex, ... Such an extensive extraction of water from this area of the Ogallala Aquifer will have a negative effect on natural spring flows and on the Panhandle and West Texas communities that rely on this resource for their future existence.
I am dumbfounded that so many "environmentalists" are cheering on the environmentally destructive plan of Picken's
8.31.2008 11:23pm
TJIT (mail):
Oren,

You said
With a decent grid, that plant doesn't need to absorb more than a 4-5% of the total, so it's fairly negligible. Natural gas is a good candidate because it can ramp up and down quite quickly.
Those gas turbines are a substantial, generally not accounted for obstacle to wind power reducing carbon emission.

Research: Wind power pricier, emits more CO2 than thought
'Windfarm output is never zero. Sometimes it's less'


He says that most people, in allowing for gas backup to wind farms, assume that the current situation of gas-turbine usage applies.

Not so, he says. Gas turbines used to compensate for wind will need to be cheap (as they won't be on and earning money as often as today's) and resilient (to cope with being throttled up and down so much).

Even though the hardware will be cheap and tough, it will break often under such treatment; meaning increased maintenance costs and a need for even more backup plants to cover busted backup plants. Thus, the scheme overall will be more expensive than the current gas sector.

And since people won't want to thrash expensive, efficient combined-cycle kit like this, less fuel-efficient gear will be used - emitting more carbon than people now assume.
8.31.2008 11:30pm
TJIT (mail):
Germany was an early adopter of windpower. Their experience shows that wind is horrendously bad at displacing traditional power generation.

More on Wind Capacity

As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7).

this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms.
This is an even lower substitution factor than I mentioned previously, and is so because this report looks not just at the percent of time wind is blowing at full speed, but also at the peak load conventional power plants that must be kept running on standby due to the unreliability of wind.

At this 24:1 substitution ratio, folks like Al Gore and Boone Pickens will bankrupt us. But of course, their investment portfolios, laden with alt-energy investments, will be paying off.
8.31.2008 11:39pm
digoweli:
I read this whole thread and I find the discussions to basically ignore the problem. As if nothing will work so we just stay the course. Except for the nuclear folks but is there still a 300 million dollar limit on nuclear liability? Years ago at Los Alamos I sat with some scientists talking about this and the basic point was that private enterprise would never enter the arena without substantial protection from the inevitable happening. They all claimed that they could invent a perfectly safe plant but that they could not invent the safe human being to run it and therefore liability was essential. That was behind the demise of Shoreham on Long Island when they listed the problem as "no escape plan." If it is so dangerous then it is not clean, no matter how simple it seems. As for the rest. If you can't come up with a way to saver the world then move over and let the Chinese do it for you. You already are owned you have not ability to own a government yourself.
8.31.2008 11:52pm
Anonymous #000:
They all claimed that they could invent a perfectly safe plant but that they could not invent the safe human being to run it and therefore liability was essential.
Yeah, that's why the automobile never became popular. Insurance companies just didn't want to take the risk, since government restricted their ability to do so. Who knows what it would have been like if that technology had taken off.

Excuse me, my burro is making noise. BRB.
9.1.2008 2:23am
A. Zarkov (mail):
digoweli:

"Except for the nuclear folks but is there still a 300 million dollar limit on nuclear liability?"


The need for a liability limit comes from the imposition of strict liability on reactors. Who would ever want to operate a reactor under unlimited strict liability? Funny thing France has no problem with reactors and generates 80% of their electric power that way. Both France and Japan reprocess spent reactor fuel.
9.1.2008 3:15am
BillW:
Angus: Anonymous #000, you are going to have to get your talking points updated. Gore himself says that nuclear power would make up around 21% of clean electricity, up significantly from the 6% or so it represents now. Environmental Defense and various environmental groups are pro-nuclear, including the founder of Greenpeace.

Gore didn't say anything about nuclear power in his '100% in 10 years' speech. When pressed afterwards, Gore did acknowledge the need for nuclear power. Nevertheless, in his Denver speech, he again somehow 'forgot' to mention it.

I don't know where you got your "6%" figure, but ~20% is the fraction of electricity we get now from nuclear power. See wiki/Energy use in the United States.
9.1.2008 3:22am
Michael B (mail):
Charles Jacobs, in a post titled Citizen Energy, hi-lights an idea from MIT profs Charley Fine and John Sterman that is 1) conceptually simple and practical, 2) represents a sound populist appeal, rather than a reactionary and demagogically based populism and 3) would combine a broadly based public awareness being raised with some immediate, constructive results.

What it additionally does is serve as contrast, imo both a stark and telling contrast, with the recent stimulus package in the form of cash sent out to virtually all citizens absent literally any guidelines or restrictions, i.e. a laissez faire principle taken to an absurdly unprincipled extreme. Excerpt:

"... The idea is simple: don't give people cash that they may or may not spend.

"Instead, mail them the money in coupons redeemable only for energy efficiency products and services: to insulate attics, buy storm doors and windows, more efficient heating systems, refrigerators, laundry machines, light bulbs, even to buy that hybrid car. People uninterested in energy related goods can sell their coupons for cash to someone who wants to insulate his house or buy a Prius.

"The benefits: lower energy bills for individuals and the nation, cleaner air from lowered emissions, more American jobs, less cash for the Wahabi Lobby. Bingo! You've heard of a two-fer. The Fine/Sterman plan is a four-fer. And it appeals to both sides of the American political house: slow the jihadis and clean the air at the same time. It's all good."

Indeed, it's difficult to think of any aspect of it, whatsoever, that is not good.
9.1.2008 2:25pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'I think with the available information we could calculate how well a national grid would do and whether we would have to fill in in conventional power for the dead times. I don't know if anyone had done this calculation.'

Dunno about nationally, but I live on an island (no grid connections) and we have a two-year-old 30MW wind farm feeding a demand structure around 180MW. It enjoys an excellent wind regime (at least as good as West Texas) and was expected to produce about the same annual kwh as an 8MW oil generator. This has worked out in practice, although a deduction for spinning reserve also has to be made. (The utility will not tell me how big a deduction.)

So far the various proposals to make wind power firm (pumped storage, batteries etc.) have all proven mythical.

I don't know anything about Germany's experience, but a 24:1 ratio sounds very high.

You also have to derate wind for the likelihood that the wind blows best at night (most places) when demand is least.

The calculations are not difficult, but they involve a lot of variables that are only vaguely determined.
9.1.2008 2:42pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Harry Eagar:

Some windy locations are ideal for wind-turbine electric power. But what about on a national scale? I have doubt that such a widespread system would be workable. But right now I think the focus on electrical energy is misplaced. The real problem is the tremendous transfer of wealth from the US; we need to stop that. As I've said before, we should get our liquid fuels to run the US transportation system from coal with something like the Fischer-Tropsch process. Then start building breeder reactors for the long term. For the very long directed energy from satellites seems like the best idea at this point.
9.1.2008 3:41pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I do, too. The system operators have a hard time managing the voltage fluctuations from wind. It is not obvious that a big system will be easier to manage than the small one I am familiar with.

Unless very significant gains in process efficiency have been achieved -- and I haven't heard about them -- you're asking to repeat Synfuels. I don't think that works.

Ft. St. Vrain-type reactors are the ones that nuke-promoters should be selling, because, even if they are not the most industrially efficient, they are/could be more salable to the jittery public.

(My county is getting a wave-energy generator, a small one, in the next year or so. That will be fun to watch. The developers, from Australia, have promised me that theirs will not sink. I have been reporting on alternate energy for 35 years now. Baby steps, baby steps first.)
9.1.2008 3:57pm
Toby:
Depending on either livathan, the State or the Regulated Utility to come up with The One Solution is absurd. We need to releese the what the head of the EDF calls the unlimited creative power of entrepeurism. Markets not subsidies.

How?

1) Encourage local storage and conversion of energy. THis means move the reatial market into closer allignment with the spot market.
2) PUC's should get out of the way of direct selection of energy provider. If Everyone in NYC wants wind power from 1,000 miles away, the South Dakota wind farm will get better rprices.
3) Live access, from both sides, to all automated metering information.

THen stap back and let the markets fix things....
9.1.2008 5:12pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'For the very long directed energy from satellites seems like the best idea at this point'

When I first heard of this idea in 1973, it seemed to have only technical hurdles.

Today, I don't think I want to put the national power supply within reach of a Chinese IRBM.
9.1.2008 10:52pm
BillW:
I don't think IRBMs are able to reach geostationary orbit.
9.1.2008 11:55pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Today, I don't think I want to put the national power supply within reach of a Chinese IRBM."


I agree. The Chinese have already demonstrated an ASAT capability. By "very long term," I mean more than 100 years. I think coal, and other fossil fuels plus breeder reactors should sustain us to the next 100 years.
9.2.2008 1:23am
Anony:
Michael B:

I find it hard to think of much about that Fine/Sterman plan that is any good.

There are two gating questions: 1) Where does the money come from? and 2) Who decides what counts as "energy efficient" for the vouchers?

The 2008 economic stimulus plan cost an estimated $152 billion. And that only served to give a few hundred dollars to each family, not enough to "buy... refrigerators, laundry machines,... [and] hybrid car[s]."

The government can't just wave a magic wand and create money out of thin air. It has to come from somewhere, in the form of either a tax increase or a reduction of some other government expenditure.

There's also the second point: who will determine what qualifies for the vouchers? There's great potential for abuse there, as well as an inevitable army of bureaucrats certifying individual products as "voucher-worthy."

Lastly, consider the administrative costs of such a program. The federal government would need to employ people to design the voucher program, determine what products qualify (and handle the inevitable lobbyist avalance that would bring), and administer the voucher distribution and payments to manufacturers/retailers. The 2008 stimulus used an existing administrative apparatus and simply distributed additional checks on top of tax refund distributions. This Fine/Sterman proposal is substantially more complicated.

As with many big-government proposals, what you have here is a combination of good intentions and awful execution.
9.2.2008 4:51pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
It was Mugabenomics, the US government just printed the money.

The only economy that got stimulated was China's. I am sure the Chinese were baffled but happy to take the dollars.
9.2.2008 8:30pm