Wind Energy Charade: Comparing Apples to Orangutans

One of the most important energy matters to accurately understand, is the reality that popular “renewable” electrical energy sources are not even remotely equivalent to our conventional energy sources.

Of course lobbyists don’t want consumers and politicians to think about that fact, so they go to great lengths to disguise it. Everything they propagate is based on an “equivalency” between “renewables” and conventional power sources that does not exist in the real world.

Even generally objective sources like EIA seriously err when they show such things as levelized cost charts that have wind energy and nuclear power in contiguous columns.

The first problem encountered here is the term “renewables.” This is bantered about like it is: 1) a scientific definition, and 2) a homogeneous group of energy sources. This is lobbyist sleight of hand, as neither is true. It isn’t my purpose here to go into the details of this charade but suffice it to say that the definition is very subjective, AND there are extraordinary differences between various “renewables.” (See Renewable Energy R.I.P. and Is Nuclear Power A Renewable?.)

After you’ve grasped those details, the heavy lifting begins. The trick here is to get our heads around the fundamental difference between something like wind energy and nuclear power.

I’m just a physicist and not a professional communicator, so wordology doesn’t come natural to me. However, what I have learned is that most people have a better chance of understanding complex matters when an analogy is used. Let’s try that here.

My suggested comparison is to look at two types of transportation (a parallel energy sector), using concepts we are all familiar with.

Let’s say that we have a business that repeatedly needs to get 50,000 pounds of goods from New York City to Denver, in two days, and cost is quite important. [In the electricity business this translates to satisfying a demand (load), through dispatchable energy, reliably and economically.]

So who do we subcontract this job to? A good option is to put this merchandise on an 18-wheeler and send it on its way. Will it always get there 100% of the time without fail? No, flukes do happen. However, if this experiment was repeated 100 times, the truck would arrive well over 90% of the time, on schedule and within budget. This is equivalent to using a conventional energy source, like nuclear power.

Now let’s say greenologists are introduced into the equation, and they arbitrarily add a new requirement that no fossil fuel can be used in the transportation. Oops. Our options are now severely restricted.

The parallel choice to using wind energy is to send the merchandise with golf carts (battery powered so no fossil fuel will be consumed during transport).

The fundamental question is:
how many golf carts will it take to dependably replicate the performance of one Mack truck?

Let’s say a golf cart can carry 500 pounds (two golfers with sticks). To transport 50,000 pounds that would work out to 100 golf carts.

This is essentially the message that the lobbyists want you to buy: that approximately 100 golf carts (wind turbines) will do the job of one 18-wheeler (conventional source: e.g. a coal facility). They want you to blink, shrug, and move on. Do NOT look behind the curtain!

But wait! Can the golf carts get really there in two days? Of course not. The lobbyists answer is to add more vehicles: use 1000 carts!

Does this “solution” really solve anything? No, but it further confuses politicians not used to critical thinking. What it also does is to insure more profit for the cart industry — which is the ONLY concern of the lobbyists.

What if the load is a hundred 500 pound pianos? Even though (on paper) a golf cart can carry 500 pounds, can a golf cart transport a piano across country? The lobbyists’ clever answer: disassemble it. (Yes they are slick.)

And will the cost of the golf cart option be comparable to the truck choice? Just to begin with there are 100+ drivers vs one — so I think you know the answer, right?

And what else will be needed to support this ”alternative” source of transportation? A lot: like battery recharge stations throughout the country. And who will pay for that? Duh.

And what is the source of the electricity used to charge the cart batteries? Mostly fossil fuels. Oops.

After the business says a resounding no to the golf cart option, the promoters come back with another appeal: just send part of the load with them. Try as they might, the owners couldn’t come up with a plan that sending ANY part of their merchandise made sense from reliability, economic or environmental perspectives. Can you?

In the face of this evidence, the lobbyists and their academic coconspirators distractingly wave their hands and spout such non-sequitors as “Don’t worry about the details. Give us a huge subsidy and we’ll do a great job. Everything will make more sense mañana.

This isn’t how science works!

BEFORE we hire them for this assignment, these promoters should tell us exactly how many golf carts it will take, and then PROVE IT by actually running this route dozens of times. We would then have real-world evidence about the reliability, cost and environmental impact of their proposal. This is exactly what has NOT done with wind energy.

They have not only skipped right over the proof stage, right now the golf cart lobbyists are working on convincing our politicians that since businesses have been “resistive” to using their transportation product, that they need a law MANDATING that 20% of all goods from NYC to Denver go the golf cart route! Senators Kerry & Lieberman are now agents of these lobbyists.

And the claimed benefit of all of this? Economic recovery. There will be lots of new jobs in the golf cart business! (But don’t be surprised to see “Made in China” stamped on many of these carts.)

What about the economic loss due to the higher shipping cost, and the slower, much less dependable transportation? Don’t worry about it. Come back mañana.

Hopefully this analogy makes things clearer, as this is the insane path we are now on. For a more thorough discussion of this situation, see Energy Presentation

John Droz, jr.
physicist & environmental advocate

5/12/10

58 COMMENTS

  1. Given our history of degenerating arguments, I don’t plan to respond to John about this. But I think he needs to consider this Los Angeles Times article about oil company subsidies while he argues against incentives to develop wind power.

    An excerpt:

    At issue was the 2005 Energy Policy Act — the largest energy bill in years. The committee chairman, Rep. Joe L. Barton (R- Texas), a friend of the industry, had saved some big issues for the end: billions of dollars in tax and royalty relief to encourage drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico and other offshore areas. There was even a $50-million annual earmark to support technical research for the industry.At the time, drilling was already proceeding at a brisk pace, and industry profits were setting records. “With all the money they are making,” Markey said to his top energy aide, who recalled the scene, “why does the government need to subsidize their work and their research?”That point of view did not prevail. The bleary-eyed lawmakers wanted no part of Markey’s amendments. The bill was eventually passed in both houses with bipartisan support. Notably, then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois voted in favor.

    Shall we say that those who pump the oil get the grease?

    Fred Bortz

  2. Sir:

    You are welcome to your opinions, but occasionally they ought to be based on facts.

    For example: I am not a “Climate Change Denier”. My website makes it VERY clear where I stand.

    For example: to say “he repeatedly called you unscientific because you didn’t agree with his point.” is totally false. The fundamental issue is about PROCESS, not some “point.”

    For example: to cite some unsigned opinion piece as a “rebuttle” well that is certainly a scientific rebuttal. I’ll have to stop asking for independent science right away!

  3. Fred, you’ve done it again!

    You allowed your good nature to get you suckered into an argument with a climate change denier in environmentalist’s clothing.

    Then you kept going even though he repeatedly called you unscientific because you didn’t agree with his point. You even kept going after he criticized you for having an open mind by considering other sources.

    You came close several times to ending the discussion, but “Energy Expert” suckered you into continuing. I wondered how long it would take you to decide you had enough!

    So you earn a huge Gadfly bite for giving the self-professed expert so much of your time. Next time, Google the guy before entering into a discussion. You would even have found a 2007 blog entry by one of John Droz’s Adirondack neighbors that makes many of the same points that you do.

    CHOMP!

    For the rest of you who may be tempted to read the other comments, don’t bother!

    A word to Faux-EnergyExpert: Attack me all you please, but don’t expect a response. This Gadfly bites once and leaves.

    This bite of reality brought to you by Gadfly.

  4. Fred:

    Since you are against as hominems, I’m sure there is a constructive comment there somewhere.

    The basic, fundamental point you have failed to grasp throughout this extended correspondence is this:

    This is not about the conclusion but the process.

    It is concievable that wind energy may eventually be worthwhile — the odds are very much against this, but it is possible.

    Whether that happens or not is irrelevant.

    What is totally wrong here is the PROCESS.

    1 – Complex technical issues, like energy sources, absolutely should be vetted via the Scientific Method before being forced on the public.

    2 – THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED.

    So if believing in #1, and if being cogniscent of #2, makes me arrogent, and a know-it-all, so be it!

  5. You’re right. You’re brilliant. You only seem arrogant because no one in the world knows as much as you on this subject. You are the only one who knows what true science is.

    Everyone who has come to a different conclusion is deluded, dishonest, or both.

    Grovel, grovel, grovel.

    You may now have the last word.

  6. Fred:

    I stated several points where you were factually wrong.

    To say that this is going in circles is yet another mischaracteriztion.

    I look forward to the day when you contact me with an apology sayinging something to the effect that

    “John, OK, I was wrong. Wind energy was totally misrepresented. We have now spent hundreds of billions of dollars for this product du jour and have been rewarded with a CO2 savings of about 1%. That works out to about $1000 per pound of CO2. I wish I knew that this was such a high cost low benefit idea years ago. Thanks for trying to open my eyes. Sorry for the obstinance.”

    Your friend, Fred

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