as wind and solar energy are not a feasible near-term solution in the short
time available to deal with the impending catastrophe of global climate change.In debating legislative or other strategies
for addressing the problem, it is pointless to waste time discussing the merits
of renewables alone.
and other renewables combined presently account for only a tiny fraction of
global electricity production, and they cannot be scaled up in time. Wind and solar, while promising, are intermittent in nature. Because of this, they cannot comprise more than 20% of the electrical load for the grid. Constant base load electricity is a necessity which is
principally produced by burning coal and natural gas, both of which emit large
volumes of carbon dioxide, among other pollutants.Therefore, the solution is not to ban coal in
favor of renewables, but to find ways to reduce pollution from coal, including using renewable power to take take care of the carbon dioxide emissions. The whole picture of emissions, in detail, can be found in the EPA's latest U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Reports.
(wind, solar, and all others combined) are less than half a percent of coal.
electric power plants are the worst source of carbon dioxide emissions.Natural gas is also very large.But, as can be seen from the above table,
fossil fuel combustion for electricity is indispensable.Coal is projected to remain the main source
of power for the foreseeable future, especially in heavy greenhouse gas
polluters like the U.S., India, and China.
merits of wind, solar, and other renewable sources of energy, it should be
realized that the demand for electricity is so huge, and the capacity of
renewables is so puny, that renewables are not a realistic near-term solution
to the problem of global climate change.
At the end of
2006, worldwide capacity of wind-powered generators was 73.9 gigawatts, which,
although it dwarfs solar, is a tiny fraction of the world power demand (~
1%).Could wind be scaled up to replace
coal in time to prevent catastrophic global climate change?That’s a vain hope.
Wind is less
reliable than coal.Coal can always
produce power when it is needed.Wind
cannot.In North America, the times of
maximum power demand coincide with times of low wind speed.Storing wind power is an unsolved
Also, there are
significant public policy limitations on new wind installations.The places where sufficient wind is available
tend to be far from the cities where the power will be consumed.Getting environmental approval for new power
lines to connect to the grid is a lengthy and difficult process.Construction of transmission lines costs
about $2 million a mile.The wind farms
damage migrating waterfowl and have proved to be unwelcome neighbors of rich
and litigious environmentalists.
power of installed photovoltaic solar installations was 6 gigawatts at the end
of 2006.That is only 8% of wind, which
is itself only about 1% of world power demand.So solar is not a realistic solution in the near term.
Peak power is
not available at night, and only on clear sunny days.Given the emergency situation of impending
global climate change, with small time left to implement any solution, and the
small present deployment of photovoltaic power as well as its high expense, it
appears to be pointless to debate the merits of photovoltaic solar power.That’s not to say that if we make it to the
next century, solar may not become the dominant form of power production.
largest photovoltaic installation is being constructed at the Solarpark
Waldpolenz project near Leipzig, Germany.It is 40 megawatts (0.04 gigawatts), and the next biggest is the 20
megawatt Solarpark Beneixama in Spain.Germany leads the world, with 2.5 gigawatts installed, followed by Japan
at 1.7 gigawatts.The United States has
only 0.6 gigawatts of photovoltaic power.
troughs, or mirror arrays, concentrate solar energy to produce heat, which in
turn produces power.The worldwide
amount of electricity produced by concentrating solar installations is less
than half of photovoltaic solar, and installations are only economical in
places where abundant sunlight and lots of vacant land are available, such as
the Solar One project 25 miles SW of Las Vegas produces 64 megawatts on 350
acres at a cost of $0.15 - $0.17 per kWh.Also, there is the cost and delay of securing approval for lines to
transmit the power to the grid, as discussed above under wind.
Our house is
burning, and putting out the fire – rather than plans for remodeling – should
be the focus of attention.Pollution
control technologies directed at post-combustion carbon capture should be the
topic for intelligent discussion of global climate change.Alternative energy sources can be considered
once the crisis has passed.