ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Friday, March 13, 2009

Doubling of Green Energy

One of Barry's initiatives is to double the amount of energy produced by green technologies. This OpEd in the WSJ from Robert Bryce has been on my mind:

Let's Get Real About Renewable Energy
We can double the output of solar and wind, and double it again. We'll still depend on hydrocarbons.

During his address to Congress last week, President Barack Obama declared, "We will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years."

While that statement -- along with his pledge to impose a "cap on carbon pollution" -- drew applause, let's slow down for a moment and get realistic about this country's energy future. Consider two factors that are too-often overlooked: George W. Bush's record on renewables, and the problem of scale.

By promising to double our supply of renewables, Mr. Obama is only trying to keep pace with his predecessor. Yes, that's right: From 2005 to 2007, the former Texas oil man oversaw a near-doubling of the electrical output from solar and wind power. And between 2007 and 2008, output from those sources grew by another 30%.

Mr. Bush's record aside, the key problem facing Mr. Obama, and anyone else advocating a rapid transition away from the hydrocarbons that have dominated the world's energy mix since the dawn of the Industrial Age, is the same issue that dogs every alternative energy idea: scale.

Let's start by deciphering exactly what Mr. Obama includes in his definition of "renewable" energy. If he's including hydropower, which now provides about 2.4% of America's total primary energy needs, then the president clearly has no concept of what he is promising. Hydro now provides more than 16 times as much energy as wind and solar power combined. Yet more dams are being dismantled than built. Since 1999, more than 200 dams in the U.S. have been removed.

If Mr. Obama is only counting wind power and solar power as renewables, then his promise is clearly doable. But the unfortunate truth is that even if he matches Mr. Bush's effort by doubling wind and solar output by 2012, the contribution of those two sources to America's overall energy needs will still be almost inconsequential.

Here's why. The latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that total solar and wind output for 2008 will likely be about 45,493,000 megawatt-hours. That sounds significant until you consider this number: 4,118,198,000 megawatt-hours. That's the total amount of electricity generated during the rolling 12-month period that ended last November. Solar and wind, in other words, produce about 1.1% of America's total electricity consumption.
That issue aside, the scale problem persists. For the sake of convenience, let's convert the energy produced by U.S. wind and solar installations into oil equivalents.

The conversion of electricity into oil terms is straightforward: one barrel of oil contains the energy equivalent of 1.64 megawatt-hours of electricity. Thus, 45,493,000 megawatt-hours divided by 1.64 megawatt-hours per barrel of oil equals 27.7 million barrels of oil equivalent from solar and wind for all of 2008.

Now divide that 27.7 million barrels by 365 days and you find that solar and wind sources are providing the equivalent of 76,000 barrels of oil per day. America's total primary energy use is about 47.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Of that 47.4 million barrels of oil equivalent, oil itself has the biggest share -- we consume about 19 million barrels per day. Natural gas is the second-biggest contributor, supplying the equivalent of 11.9 million barrels of oil, while coal provides the equivalent of 11.5 million barrels of oil per day. The balance comes from nuclear power (about 3.8 million barrels per day), and hydropower (about 1.1 million barrels), with smaller contributions coming from wind, solar, geothermal, wood waste, and other sources.

Here's another way to consider the 76,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day that come from solar and wind: It's approximately equal to the raw energy output of one average-sized coal mine.

Read the whole thing... but, I decided that, while Mr. Bryce's article presents a compelling argument that hydrocarbons will always be with us, I think it's instructive to put his analysis in a picture - a simple chart showing the energy output by source, all represented in equivalent barrels of oil.

The following chart illustrates Obama's ambition regarding green energy over the next 3 years. Click image for full-size version):

As you can see, even a doubling of our current output will mean that green technology is still a trivial percentage (~0.3%) of our total energy requirements, meaning that the true impact to CO2 emissions, global climate change, etc. will be non-existent.

The question is whether Obama's plans are not only to "double" the output of green energy, but to further reduce the use of all other types of energy.

Or, put another way, to control your use of energy, from dawn to dusk dawn which, in effect, means controlling you.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Comments (2)
RecycleBill said...

There is a greener option than what is currently being promoted.

wc#3 said...

RecycleBill, the problem with both Solar and Windpower is that they kill wildlife faster than burning oil. They're not an option period.