Renewable Wind Energy Charade: Comparing Apples to Orangutans

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

Of course renewable lobbyists don’t want consumers and politicians to be aware of that reality, so they go to great lengths to disguise it. Everything they propagate is based on a fictitious “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.”

After you’ve grasped those details, the heavy lifting begins. The trick here is to get our heads around the fundamental disparity 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 through an analogy. Let’s try that technique 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 heavy merchandise from NY City to Denver, in two days, and shipping cost is important. [In the electricity business this translates to satisfying a demand (load), reliably and economically, through dispatchable energy.]

So how do we ship our products? A superior 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 over 95% 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 (e.g. in the transportation of our goods). Oops. Our options are now severely restricted.

Such an arbitrary restriction is the basis for the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) in many states. This results in wind energy being forced on the public.

In our analogy, the parallel choice to using wind energy is to send our business merchandise with golf carts (battery powered, so no fossil fuel will be consumed during transport). The question is: how many golf carts will it take to 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 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 and move on.

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

Does this “solution” really solve anything? No, but it further confuses citizens and politicians not used to critical thinking. What it also does is increase shipping costs, which insures 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 the country? The lobbyists’ clever answer is to change the customer’s requirements(!): disassemble the load and use more carts. (Yes, they’re slick.)

So will the cost of the golf cart shipping 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?

That assumes that 100 carts will be sufficient, which they won’t.

What else will be needed to support this ”alternative” source of transportation? A lot: like battery recharge stations throughout the country.

Who will pay for that? Duh. And will that extra cost be attributable to the golf cart choice? Not on your life — we needed those recharge stations anyway!

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 proposal, the cart promoters come back with another appeal: just send part of the load with them. Let them be part of an “all of the above” mix. Try as they might, the business owners couldn’t come up with a plan that sending ANY part of their merchandise with golf carts makes 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 20+ years of large subsidies and we’ll do a great job. Everything will make more sense, mañana.”

This isn’t how science works

Before we enter into a contract with them to run this route, these promoters should tell us exactly how many golf carts it will take, and then PROVE that they can deliver our merchandise (on-time, within budget) by actually running this route at least a dozen times. We would then have real-world evidence of the reliability, cost and environmental impact of their proposal.

This is exactly what has NOT been 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 must go the golf cart route! This is the foolishness that a state’s RES does.

The new claimed benefit of all of this? Economic recovery. There will be lots of new jobs in the golf cart business! Oh, they are all made in China, so the jobs are there. And most of our capital costs simply increase our country’s debt. To China.

Don’t forget about the economic loss due to the higher shipping cost, or the slower much less dependable transportation, or the truck drivers who are laid off, or the US Mack truck manufacturing business that closes… Don’t worry about it. Come back mañana and it will all make sense.

Hopefully this analogy makes things a bit clearer, as this is the insane energy policy path we are now on.

For a more thorough discussion of this situation, see EnergyPresentation.info.

Author: John Droz, Jr.
Physicist & Environmental Advocate

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Categories: Business, Politics, Law, Science, Technology

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13 Comments on “Renewable Wind Energy Charade: Comparing Apples to Orangutans”

  1. May 2, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    How would one encourage the development of alternative energy sources to fossil fuels? Particularly high-yield sources.

    This is the first time in human history where we have an abundant source of ready to use fuel with sufficient yield that can be used to power both cars and electronics. I don’t think we are pursuing the next level fast enough- we should have flying cars and energy cannons.

    “Renewables” are not the way to go about this. But what is the best way?

  2. johndroz
    May 3, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Richard:

    The solution is to use science to assess the numerous options we have been presented.

    Based on what I have seen there are some good prospects, like SMRs and geothermal.

    The bottom line is that we should support science-based solutions, not lobbyist-based.

  3. Chuck
    May 14, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    Indeed, we got caught up in the ‘Green Machine’/’Lobby Machine’ lead by our Commander in Chief. Believing what we read about small wind turbines on a company’s website, that one of their units could save us between 30-60% on our household energy needs, we invested in TWO of their wind turbines. I doubt that we’ve saved $10/mo. on our electric bill from each unit.

    Only company trained authorized dealers are allowed to install these units, and they also repeat these outrageous claims. They advised us that we had sufficient wind resources and they performed site selection on our property. The CEO of the company stated in a public forum that they would not install their wind turbine in areas where there was not sufficient wind.

    We are not wealthy people, but rather used funds saved over many years to purchase these units. We did not even quality to take advantage of the $30K federal income tax credit. That tells you something. My advice for all is just don’t believe everything you read of hear. Although I believe there is a place for wind energy, for most small home owners it is rare. We’ll be six feet under for years before our investment ever pays out, and by then these wind turbines will probably be just an expensive yard ornament.

  4. October 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    This is a silly article. I think the title says everything you need to know. You can’t make this comparison, there are way to many differing factors.

    I agree with you that renewable energies, as they stand now, are not sufficient to replace conventional energy methods. I do believe, and feel it is irrefutable, that renewable energies are a way to ‘suppliment’ the over taxed, highly pollutant, methods of energy production we have currently.

    While not perfect, it is a step in the right direction.

    It is humanities nature to sit idly by, while things deteriorate. Yes, we need a suitable alternative to current methods. The only way this can be accomplished is by DEVELOPING a new system. That is what this is about. Humans are in a state of research with their energy production. Everyone should be willing to take part. NIMBYists by damned. This must get done.

    If you like analogies, here is one. What if Henry Ford had given up when his Model “A” wasn’t perfect? What if he didn’t try to make it better?

    • October 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      I do believe, and feel it is irrefutable, that renewable energies are a way to ‘suppliment’ the over taxed, highly pollutant, methods of energy production we have currently.

      The problem with your irrefutable assertion is that it belies a misunderstanding of how baseload power works. Renewable energy cannot substitute baseload power at this time. It is too expensive and too unreliable.

      In fact we have to over deploy “highly pollutant” methods of energy generation to insure against this liability, thereby rendering the renewable energy futile. “Dirty” Power plants cannot simply “ramp down” at the moment in response to more solar power- they have to maintain a certain level of operation to remain functioning or else issues such as transmission losses make the insurance unviable. They also lack the granularity to ramp down in response to renewable sources.

      Renewables are a moral imperative of the green party and environmentalists. Unfortunately, in their current form, they are not viable alternatives. Your belief is irrelevant, but the way you vote matters.

  5. December 15, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I
    clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

    • December 15, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      If it happened to contain multiple links, it might have been caught by the spam filter, I will check. If we have it we’ll publish it. Thanks by the way!

      • December 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

        Hi Andrew,
        I’ve dumped Facebook, but do have Twitter. Just to let you know that these 2 ole men are continuing to live with our 2 $30K yard ornaments (2 of Southwest Windpower’s Skystream Wind Turbines). They promoted and advertised ONE unit to save us from 30-80% of our energy needs. TWO provide us about 7% of our needs! What a rip-off! Take care. ~Charles~

        • December 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

          Hi Charles, can you elaborate for the readers here? Did you pursue them through civil court? What was the story here? Appreciate the comment.

          • December 20, 2012 at 1:12 am #

            Thanks Andrew! In a nut shell, we’re two ole retired TX cowboys, between Medicare and Death, who got caught up in the ‘Green Machine’ too! When we saw Obama promoting Green and even giving federal dollars to some of the solar and wind energy companies, we decided to invest in two of Southwest Windpower’s Skystream 3.7 wind turbines. They advertised that ONE turbine would save the average household from 30-80% of their energy needs. WRONG! Even with two wind turbines, our savings have averaged about 7%. We’ve got the most expensive yard ornaments ever! I’m not sure we’re allowed to post a link here, but if so our complete (and sometimes boring) story can be read on my little website: http://b-d.ranch.tripod.com/twoskystream37installationsgonewrong/
            Thanks for the opportunity to share our story. ~Charles~

          • December 20, 2012 at 3:32 am #

            Hi Andrew,   Our Holiday Greeting to you.           ~Charles L. Bracewell~

            http://b-d.ranch.tripod.com/merrychristmas/

            I’m also proud that my complaint with the BBB played a major part in SWWP losing their accreditation (see attachment)

            ________________________________

    • December 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

      No dice, I’m afraid it didn’t actually save your comment. Sorry Dani! Hopefully next comment you leave we’ll all get to see it 🙂

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