Monday, April 11, 2011

Is green energy unrealistic? - The Paul Paterakis Power Team of RE/MAX Showcase

Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren had a great article in Forbes that helped me “balance” the ongoing conversation and costs of green energy compared to our current structure; wind, solar and biomass presently constitutes only 3.6% of fuel used to generate electricity in the U.S. How much will it cost to go green? Energy expert Vaclav Smil calculates that achieving that goal in a decade would incur building costs and write-downs on the order of $4 trillion; $2.5 trillion just to build the necessary generators alone.

Green energy/economy is old and back in the 13th century it was all they had; it is quite literally the energy of yesterday. Few seem to realize that we abandoned “green” energy centuries ago for five very good reasons.

First, green energy is diffuse and it takes a tremendous amount of land and material to harness even a little bit of energy. Jesse Ausubel, at Rockefeller University, calculates that the entire state of Connecticut would need to be devoted to wind turbines to power the city of New York.

Second, it is extremely costly. In 2016 President Obama’s own Energy Information Administration estimates that onshore wind (the least expensive of these green energies), will be 80% more expensive than combined cycle, gas-fired electricity. That doesn’t account for the costs associated with the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of new transmission systems that
would be necessary to get wind and solar energy which is generally produced far from where consumers/ratepayers happen to live.

Third, it is unreliable. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine when the energy is needed. We account for that today by having a lot of coal and natural gas generation on “standby” to fire-up when renewables can’t produce. The cost of maintaining this back up is not even included in the cost estimates for green energy. It’s no wonder the peasants of the Dark Age could not rely upon the vagaries of the weather.

Fourth, it is scarce. The wind and sunlight are obviously not scarce but the real estate where those energies are reliably continuous and in economic proximity to ratepayers is scarce.

Finally, once the electricity is produced by the sun or wind, it cannot be stored because battery technology is not currently up to the task. Hence, we must immediately “use it or lose it.” Fossil fuels are everything that green energy is not. Approximately 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas (which costs about $4.00) can generate the same amount of electricity as running an average
rooftop solar system for 131 days. It is comparatively cheap, reliable, will burn and produce energy whenever you want it and you can store fossil fuels until you need them.

The federal government once promised that nuclear energy was on the cusp of being “too cheap to meter.” That was in the 1950s. Sixty-one billion dollars of subsidies and impossible-to-price regulatory preferences later, it’s still the most expensive source of conventional energy on the grid. So much for government promises!

The fundamental question that green energy proponents must answer is: if green energy is so inevitable and such a great investment, why do we need to subsidize it? If and when renewable energy makes economic sense, profit-hungry investors will build all that we need for us without government needing to lift a finger. But if it doesn’t make economic sense, all the subsidies in the world won’t change the fact.

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