The Reality of Green Energy

Something you will not hear much about  in the drive-by media is the failure of “green” power, whether in the U.S. or abroad.

Germany just recently released figures on the actual productivity of the country’s wind power and solar energy over the last ten years.

Due to the inherent intermittent nature of wind, their wind power system was designed for an assumed 30% loan factor which simply means they had hoped to get a mere 30% of the installed capacity versus some 85 to 90 percent for coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric facilities.   For every 3,000MW of wind power, Germany expected to get merely 900WM because the wind does not always blow at the required speeds.

In reality, after ten years, they discovered that they were only getting half of what they had optimistically and irrationally hoped for – a mere 16.3%.

Reality struck again when, after spending billions of Euros on subsidies, Germany’s total combined solar facilities contributed a miserly 0.084% over the last 22 years.  That is not even one-tenth of one percent!

Combined “green” energy was also higher than the cost of coal and nuclear power.  So much for “free” solar and wind.  So much for all the German jobs that depend on reliable access to plentiful and affordable electricity.

As to natural gas produced via hydraulic fracturing, that too is prohibited, even if it is required to back up undependable wind and solar facilities.  Is it any wonder Germany’s natural gas and electricity prices are practically unaffordable.

Germany’s new environment minister, Peter Altmaier has underlined time and again the importance of not further harming Europe’s and Germany’s economy by  the increasing the cost of electricity.  He is also concerned that Germany could become dependent on foreign imports of electricity.  To avoid that risk, Altmaier has given the green light to build twenty-three (23) new coal-fired plants, which are currently under construction.  In mid-August they opened a new 2200WM coal-fired power station near Cologne.

Here in the good ole USA, the extreme greens, including Obama, continue to preach the wonders of life based on “free” solar and wind.  They also bombast us with “sustainable living” and a “sustainable future” and otherwise hydrocarbon-free and a “decarbonized tomorrow.”   Germany has already proved that solar and wind aren’t free and aren’t dependable  so I guess the extreme greens are telling us we need to give up enjoying the lifestyle we are accustomed to and the living standards of a modern world and third world countries must give up any aspirations for getting out of the stone age.

Obama has expressed support for a Federal Renewable Portfolio Standard that will require 25% of electricity consumed to be derived from sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass by 2030.

Last year electricity generated in the U.S. totaled 4.1 trillion kilowatt hours.  Of that amount, wind produced  only 94.6 billion kilowatt hours or 2.3% of total generation.  For wind to expand so that it would supply 20% of the U.S. consumption, would require a nine-fold increase in the size of the wind generation base, which in 2010 stood at about 40,000 megawatts of capacity.  A little reminder –  stated capacity of a wind turbine is about three times what it actually produces.   So to meet a 20 to 30 percent goal would require us to have about 360,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity.  To put that into perspective, the total installed electric generation capacity in the U.S. from all sources, including fossil fuels, is about 1 million megawatts.

Land required for 360,000 megawatts would be substantial.  The Roscoe Wind Complex in Texas, one of the world’s largest wind projects, has a capacity of 781.5 megawatts and covers about 154 square miles.  Using Roscoe as an example, 360,000 megawatts of capacity would require about 72,000 square miles of land covered with wind turbines.   That area, if taken together, would rank as the 17th largest state in the country, just ahead of North Dakota which as 69,000 square miles.  To put it another way, that much land is equivalent to nearly ten New Jerseys.  Few people could live on that 72,000 square miles because of noise generated by the wind turbines.  The deleterious health effects of wind turbine noise have been documented by health professionals in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Even if we assume that the installation of massive amounts of new wind capacity poses no health risks and creates no conflicts with rural landowners, the costs of attempting to achieve the 20 to 30 percent goal will be staggering.  The latest data from the EIA put the cost of installing one megawatt capacity at $2.43 million.  The cost of locating wind turbines offshore will be even higher at $5.97 million.

The U.S. has already spent about $68 billion installing the 40,000 megawatts of wind capacity now in place.  Adding an additional 320,000 megawatts of wind power at $2.43 million per megawatt will cost us about $777.6 billion, or about $44.7 billion every year for the next 18 years.  Of course,  if built offshore the cost would be even higher.   To put that into perspective  –  An allocation of $44.7 billion per year would exceed the current combined budgets of the EPA, Commerce Department, Treasury Department and the Interior Department.

Adding the $68 billion spent on existing wind capacity to the $777.6 billion is a grand total of $845.6 billion.  But that figures doesn’t include any money for the gas fired generation capacity that will be needed to counteract the intermittency of the wind.  Nor does it include any money for the construction of the additional transmission lines that will be needed to carry the electricity from windy rural areas to consumers in distant cities.

So why is Obama doing this?  To hear the extreme greens tell it – its all for the environment – it will remove nearly 825 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the electric sector by 2030.    Sounds good but how does it compare to global emissions?

In 2010, global carbon dioxide emissions totaled 33.1 billion tons.  So, even if we could afford to instantly increase wind generated electricity to 20-30 percent of total consumption, doing so might reduce carbon dioxide by about 2.5%.   It is also unlikely that global emissions will be the same in 2030 as they were in 2010.  by 2030 the International Energy Agency expects global emissions to total about 40.2 billion tons so our reduction in the grand scheme of the thing will only be about 2%.

To justify a total investment of $850 billion in wind, politicians would have to agree that reducing carbon dioxide in the year 2030 is worth spending $1,030 per ton.  Of course that amount would not be spent all at once.  Instead it would be allocated over a set number of  years and would be, in effect, a carbon tax set at about $54 per ton.

Achieving a 20-30 percent reduction will also affect electricity rates.  In 2007 the American Enterprise Institute estimated that a $15 carbon tax would likely increase the cost of coal fired generation by about $0.0163 per kilowatt hour.   Therefore we can assume that a carbon levy of $54 per ton would increase electricity rates in coal reliant regions by around $0.058 per kilowatt hour.  That is a major increase given that the average price of electricity for residential consumers in the U.S. is currently $0.12 per kilowatt hour.

Put another way, if the U.S. were to achieve the 20 to 30 percent goal, residential electric prices in coal dependent regions could increase by about 48% over current levels.

Do you still think wind and solar are free?

Read:  “The High Cost of Wind Energy as a Carbon-Dioxide Reduction Method” for more information.


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