Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why Did Al Fin Change His Mind About Big Wind and Big Solar?

Al Fin has changed his mind on many things over the years. But this is one topic that you can check for yourselves. Do a topic search on "Wind Energy". You can trace the progression of Fin's attitude toward big wind and big solar from "very favourable" all the way to "very unfavourable." What happened? No money changed hands to prompt the transformation. It was merely a question of looking at verifiable facts over time, and being compelled logically to change.

But in the larger world, big wind and big solar still have their champions -- from the US White House to the big money green activist groups to the EU bureaucratic apparatus to big money investors who benefit from government subsidies and tax breaks, such as Warren Buffett.

Now we are being told that "renewable energy" has surpassed nuclear power in terms of "energy generation." Does this mean that big wind and big solar are delivering on their promises? Well, no, not really. Look at the chart below, which breaks down the categories of "renewable energy."
The recent reports that renewable energy has overtaken nuclear power as a source of primary energy for the nation have created the mistaken impression that all the windmill and solar panel construction is having a decisive impact. In fact, as the Energy Information Administration's December Monthly Report reveals, 80 percent of "renewable energy" is still supplied by hydroelectricity, wood and biofuels. Twelve percent comes from wind and 1.2 percent from solar. An additional 6 percent comes from burning waste - which not everyone regards as "renewable" - and 2.5 percent comes from geothermal energy.

...Under this set of definitions, the consumption of renewables actually exceeded nuclear power before 1987, until nuclear gained ground as more reactors were completed. Renewables declined after 2000 while nuclear continued to expand from improved performance by existing reactors, even though no new reactors have been built. The slight ascent in renewables over the last few years has come from the expansion of wood, biomass and wind. _RealClearEnergy
It is important to emphasise that no matter how much big wind "capacity" is built, that is not the same thing as power production. And just as important, one must point out that the wind tends not to blow at the time the power is needed. This is a fatal flaw in the big wind scheme. Not only must expensive backup power capacity be built and kept on constant standby to supply any wind deficits, but if wind power output should happen to be excessive in relation to demand, the utility must find a way to dump significant power. In the US Pacific northwest, federal judges have forced utilities to pay wind developers for power, even if the utility could not use it!

This moment-to-moment unreliability of wind generation has been likened to "throwing a live grenade into the power grid control booth." Wind farms are also harmful to the health of people living nearby, and to birds and bats -- for what that is worth to your tender hearts.

Big solar power has many of the same problems, except it is even more expensive than wind. Mr. Obama invested billions of dollars in US taxpayer dollars into already failed or soon-to-fail big wind and big solar projects. But since the backers of these projects were political backers of Mr. Obama, a few $billion wasted here or there doesn't amount to much.

The Obama administration -- for reasons of its own -- is rather slow at catching on to the ruinous effects of the mad pursuit of big wind and big solar, on the national power system and economy. But the governments of Spain and Japan have already been forced to drop their most of their generous government subsidies for these green wastrels, out of a return to basic economic common sense.

Sharp contraction ahead for solar power industry

Vestas Wind Systems shares lost 92% of value since 2008

General problems with wind power ... articles from Master Resource blog

This slideshare presentation on wind power started the shift in Al Fin's opinion of big wind power

It should be noted that Al Fin took a sabbatical from his day job a number of years ago, in order to get involved in one of his greatest enthusiasms -- renewable energy, esp. wind and solar power. He expanded his knowledge of power systems, electrical engineering, and residential, commercial, and industrial electricity, in order to be able to participate in the installation of renewable power systems. He had a great deal of fun in the process, and felt he was accomplishing some good things.

He had to return to his day job, but he retained his warm feeling toward wind and solar power. But along the way, Fin learned that there is a tremendous difference in justifiability between a small, off-grid wind or solar installation and a giant wind farm or solar plant. With a small installation, one keeps a close watch on his power usage, power generation, and battery storage state. With large wind or solar installations, there is no way to control for intermittency, unreliability, the huge cost of power standby, and many other problems.

And thus was a mind changed. And a voice that had once promoted big renewables changed to one that criticises them quite harshly.

Minds that are incapable of changing, are minds that have passed their due date -- regardless of the age of the individual. The most fruitful way of understanding a controversial field where the opponents are closely matched, is to study the arguments of those who have changed their minds. Sometimes the arguments justify the change, and sometimes not, but they are typically informative and educational both for what they include and for what they leave out.

Trillions of dollars are on the line in connection with the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming argument. If you want to study a high stakes disagreement, that would be an excellent place to start. BTW, Al Fin changed his mind on that topic as well.

This article was first published on Al Fin blog



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