21 March 2012

Limits to Growth of Green Energy

Despite the best efforts of green thinking politicians, ideologues, and opportunists, there are real world limits to the application of big wind and big solar energy. Besides the exorbitant expense of big green, and the relative short lifetimes of the hardware compared to nuclear and fossil fuel plants, there is the huge problem of intermittency -- which is nowhere near to being solved.

Technology alone won’t help the world turn away from fossil fuel-based energy sources, says University of Oregon sociologist Richard York....Based on a four-model study of electricity used in some 130 countries in the past 50 years, York found that it took more that 10 units of electricity produced from non-fossil sources — nuclear, hydropower, geothermal, wind, biomass and solar — to displace a single unit of fossil fuel-generated electricity.

...For the paper — published online March 18 by the journal Nature Climate Change — York analyzed data from the World Bank’s world development indicators gathered from around the world. To control for a variety of variables of economics, demographics and energy sources, data were sorted and fed into the six statistical models.
Big wind and big solar can not displace fossil fuel plants, because of the need to provide reliable backup power for the inherently unreliable big green projects. The intermittency of the wind and sun assure the need for more reliable power load-following power plants -- usually fossil fuel based -- to remain constantly on stand-by.

But York's analysis of nuclear in this regard is particularly suspicious, since nuclear plants consistently provide a reliable, high capacity factor baseload power. The only sense in which York's analysis can be true for nuclear is if he did not correct for the need for load-following and peaking power, which is separate from baseload power needs. In other words, by providing reliable baseload power, nuclear is not likely to displace load-following or peaking fossil fuel plants -- but that is not their purpose.

The apparent inability to distinguish between different types of power plants, and the fact that neither wind nor solar fit cleanly into the needs of a power grid, is particularly sloppy of York, and calls into question the professionalism of the journal Nature Climate Change.

York further exposes himself as an anti-growth zealot in the U. Oregon news release which discusses the journal article.

York's badly designed and misleading study is particularly counter-productive for society's future, coming at a time when serious choices about energy futures must be made, to prevent the entry into a full-scale economic stasis and stagflation for western economies -- immersed as most of them are in the twin quagmires of debt and demographic decline.

If these societies turn away from reliable and affordable sources of energy, their declining futures will be set in a hardening concrete of dimwittedness and dysfunctional ideology.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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