Obama Clueless on Energy – Part 1

According to the White House website, one of the goals of the Obama administration is to: Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.

How feasible is it to generate 10% to 25% of our electricity from renewable resources? According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), electricity generation (in 2007) was as follows (numbers rounded): Coal 49%, natural gas 22%, nuclear 19%, hydroelectric 6%, petroleum 2%, and other renewables 2%.

Total renewable energy consumption (2007), including transportation fuels, represents just 7% of our energy use. According to EIA, renewables break down as follows: Hydroelectric 36%, geothermal 5%, solar 1%, wind 4.6%, biofuels 15%, wood burning 31%, waste 6.5%.

EIA tables show that “other renewables” produced 2.8% of our electricity in 2008. EIA defines “other renewables” as “wood, black liquor, other wood waste, biogenic municipal solid waste, landfill gas, sludge waste, agriculture byproducts, other biomass, geothermal, solar thermal, photovoltaic energy, and wind.”

How much electricity is produced just by wind and just by solar has proven a difficult number to find since it is not explicitly stated. I have made an estimate, by subtracting hydro and transportation fuels from the 2007 data. I estimate that solar constitutes 2% of “other renewables” and wind constitutes 9% of “other renewables.” That means for the politically correct favorite methods of electrical generation: solar produces (0.02 x 0.028) = 0.056% of our electricity and wind produces (0.09 x 0.028) = 0.25% of our electricity. Together, wind and solar currently produce about 0.3% (three-tenths of one percent) of our electricity. Within just four years, Obama is going to increase that to 10%? I’m waiting to see the magic.

Of course, that magic will require massive federal subsidies because these renewables can’t compete economically with coal, natural gas, or nuclear generation. According to a Cato Institute study (Policy Analysis 280), wind generation costs are 6-7¢ per KWh vs. 3¢ for natural gas, 2.2¢ for coal, 1.7¢ for nuclear, and triple the spot market price for surplus electricity.

A wind farm uses about 85 times the area required by a gas-fired plant, often 10 to 80 acres per megawatt capacity. Greens argue that although the turbines are spread out over a large area, the area actually occupied is much smaller, something like 1%, but Greens reject that same argument if they are talking about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Solar is not benign either. The Cato report says, “A 1978 study found that the materials required for thermal-solar projects were 1,000 times greater than for a similarly sized fossil-fuel facility, creating substantial incremental energy consumption and industrial pollution. A major environmental cost of photovoltaic solar energy is toxic chemical pollution (arsenic, gallium, and cadmium) and energy consumption associated with the large-scale manufacture of photovoltaic panels. The installation phase has distinct environmental consequences, given the large land masses required for such solar farms–some 5 to 10 acres per MW of installed capacity.”

Since wind and solar generation plants can produce electricity only intermittently, they need a backup, usually a fossil fuel generating plant.

Michael J. Trebilcock, reports in the National Post, Canada, that “Denmark, the world’s most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power’s unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).”

In Germany, Der Spiegel reports that “Germany’s CO2 emissions haven’t been reduced by even a single gram [by building wind turbines],” and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.

According to EIA, the U.S. government subsidizes wind at $23.34 per Mwh capacity, compared to reliable energy sources: natural gas at 25¢; coal at 44¢; hydro at 67¢; and nuclear at $1.59.

Bottom Line

: Wind and solar electricity generation can never be viable alternatives to fossil fuel and nuclear generation of electricity. The “alternatives” can only be supplements.

Part 2 here


  1. What happened to all the ‘stimulus’ nuclear plants promised by the new pres.? I’m all for it, just that pesky waste to worry about…I got it, annex Cuba and turn it into nuclear waste dump, sorry Fidel…

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