Watch the video above. It was presented to me as a great David versus Goliath story of “green” energy triumphing over Xcel Energy in Boulder, Colorado.
There are so many problems with the video, I simply cannot address them all.
Starting off, the wildfires in Colorado are presented as if there have never been worse fires. This is a complete falsehood that media outlets are perpetrating due to a lack of historical knowledge. Did you know that wildfires were actually worse before the European settlers? Native Americans intentionally burned large amounts of North America and did it regularly to alter the ecosystem. So much for tabula rasa regarding the indigenous people. Also there is significant evidence for the argument that settlers actually helped reduce forest fires and our movement toward naturalism in our forests have exacerbated the fires.
There are also two primary problems in “clean” energy: what is your definition of clean energy, and is the clean energy proposed a baseload power source. For all that video does to market what Boulder is doing, they ignore that coal plants are only being replaced by natural gas plants due to the reduced cost of natural gas for the power companies. As Michelle Kinman, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment California said on my show, no coal plant has been shut down in California with all of our clean energy mandates.
I suggest the entire environmental movement has been taken by other big money interests as there are hundreds of billions of dollars per year to be made in solar and wind. The subsidies for those industries are enormous and we still don’t have energy storage addressing when the sun isn’t shining and/or the wind isn’t blowing. Let alone the environmental damage happening in China (out of sight, out of mind anyone?) due to rare earth mineral mining, theft of the entire solar panel industry, and the massive pollution due to transportation of those Chinese-made solar panels all the way across the Pacific Ocean to our shores.
That’s right, are you going to turn off your television, computer, refrigerator, power charger, lights, microwave, and more when the sun goes behind a cloud or the wind dies down? This is the elephant in the room regarding non-baseload power sources. Thus we still need coal, oil, and nuclear power plants.
Everyone seems to ignore geothermal as the only clean, baseload power source that emits no pollution at all. And that is because there isn’t enough money to be made from geothermal, unlike solar and wind.
Lastly, none of the above address the fundamental problem of a centralized power grid. Why not move to a neighborhood grid model where neighborhoods are in control and can choose what is best for them? For example, this solid oxide fuel cell could power a whole neighborhood. Or your development might choose solar panels on every roof, a windmill near the community pool, and a natural gas generator behind the pond, without ever connecting to the grid.
Think of the possibilities we can accomplish when relegating stale ideas to the trash bin and begin to creatively approach the problems we face. It is possible to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbons, but blind faith to a dogmatic approach should best be left to religion and not energy policy.
EDIT 09/03/2013 – I almost forgot another major problem with the Chinese stealing the solar panel business, a horrible defect rate of up to 22 percent. So now the environmentally damaging Chinese panels will possibly fail in two years instead of the promised 25 year lifespan. Don’t take my word for it, this information is from the New York Times. Also, those giant solar plants in the desert are not only sucking up preciously scarce water resources, but killing endangered birds. Water birds are turning up dead. Stick with solar and wind for off-grid where buying the battery banks make sense. But grid-interconnect, no.
The Los Angeles Times is trumpeting, “Renewable power trumps fossil fuels for first time.” From the article:
Renewable energy is surpassing fossil fuels for the first time in new power-plant investments, shaking off setbacks from the financial crisis and an impasse at the United Nations global warming talks. Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar- and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.
Much further down is the crux of the issue and why I am presenting this information to you (bold emphasis is mine): The renewables boom, spurred by about $66 billion of subsidies last year, intensified competition between wind- turbine and solar-panel manufacturers, gutting margins from the biggest producers led by Vestas Wind Systems A/S and First Solar Inc.
Humanity will benefit and has always benefitted from renewable, non-hydrocarbon energy sources like hydro power, geothermal, wind, and solar. Historically these were the water mill for milling grain, hot springs, a windmill in the plains for pumping water, and passive solar for heating and cooling. Nowadays it all gets tied to the electrical grid which leads to new and vexing problems. The current problems center around a lack of storage and government tinkering at the behest of profit seeking companies.
The way our electrical grid works is based on a series of complex Alternating Current (AC) electrical grids, with congratulations to George Westinghouse for beating Thomas Edison’s Direct Current (DC) systems. These AC power grids require a constant 60 Hz frequency to operate correctly. As you turn on appliances which are typically measure in watts of electrical consumption, watts equals volts times amps, these take a bit of the electricity on the grid. The grid must always have a certain amount of wattage in surplus to maintain the 60 Hz frequency and voltage to the transformers in your neighborhood.
The problem with wind and solar in particular is that they are inconsistent. The grid needs a baseload power source to function correctly without brownouts or blackouts. Renewable solar and wind can never provide this terrestrially without a method to store large amounts of energy.
As of today there is no storage system in existence that can provide the energy storage necessary to replace hydrocarbon or nuclear baseload sources that provide that consistent energy needed.
Government tinkering in this marketplace is not moving the industry into a place to be free of subsidies. That number of $66 billion above is not going down, and when it goes down the renewable industries collapse. Going back to the post OPEC crisis of the mid to late 1970s the US government tried subsidies under the Carter administration. The industry boomed. The Reagan administration took over and cut the subsidies and the industry nearly failed entirely.
Recently we have observed the same phenomenon in Spain. During financial good times the government subsidized heavily and Spain became a hotbed of solar and wind farms. Then the credit crisis caused a massive cutback of subsidies and the vast majority of the projects in Spain ground to a halt. The industry cannot become successful until they quickly figure out how to become economically competitive.
Finally, we need to focus on geothermal here in the United States. There is massive potential to move to geothermal based on recent information which doesn’t require a non-existent storage location and is a proven technology to replace a large amount of hydrocarbon baseload sources.