The Great Green Energy Debate
By: Tom Chatham
For years the great debate has raged about the need for Green Energy. The increasing population and the increasing cost of our petroleum based society has brought the issue of carrying capacity to the surface. We need solutions to our energy and pollution problems but they must be realistic. Many environmentalists would have you believe we can instantly convert our society to solar and wind energy based on the use of these energies by remote African villages. Developed nations utilize many more electronic appliances than third world nations so the comparison of energy needs is a stretch to say the least.
To begin with, let me say I love solar and wind energy. I have been interested in alternate energy for over 30 years and I believe they have a place in our society. The problem is that in our current state of development they are a source of energy only in certain circumstances. Just as semi trucks, trains and barges provide superior transportation needs within their own special circumstances, green energy systems can only provide energy within their own special circumstances.
With the current state of technology, solar and wind are great for small, stand alone systems such as off grid homes. They can even be connected to the grid to sell back extra energy but they cannot power the whole grid alone. The fact that they function at the whims of nature means that we would need to produce 3+ times as much energy as the grid needs and the excess stored for times of no sun or wind. Anyone who uses off grid systems can tell you this. It is a fact of life. But unlike off grid homes that can start up a generator if power runs out, a large power plant cannot instantly be switched on to produce power for the grid. It can take hours to get a power plant up and running and if green energy advocates have their way, these plants would not even exist for emergency use.
The need to store this excess power is one of my big sticking points. Exactly where are these giant batteries we would need to store this energy? I have yet to hear anyone explain this little problem in any reasonable way. I have heard some say that having wind plants scattered all over the country would provide wind power on a continuous basis but I am a bit skeptical about that. The further you have to transmit power, the more power you loose and the greater the chance for power lines to fail cutting off power to large sections of the country.
These problems are not insurmountable but we just cannot do it yet without a complete change in the way we live. Solar and wind should be promoted in the area where they are usable, such as individual home use. A program to get more homes off the grid would be a better use of our time right now until technology provides us the ability to reduce our carbon based use of energy. When technology allows us to power office buildings and whole cities with a dependable green energy system, then we can make the slow transition. It is becoming more possible every day but we are not there yet. New types of solar products are coming out every day. It may be possible in the future to install windows in buildings that also produce power in sufficient quantities to power the building and store extra power. This is a defined goal we can work towards.
The other thing we need to keep in mind is the fact that for over 100 years, our society has been built on the use of cheap carbon based energy systems and to suddenly change would create transitional chaos as systems and people are suddenly replaced or eliminated. The rising cost of petroleum fuels make green energy more attractive every day but we are not there yet.
Spain tried to build a green energy economy and it caused an incredible amount of damage leaving many workers unemployed as a result. Spain’s green energy program cost taxpayers $770,000 for every green job created. Wind energy jobs cost $1.3 million each to create. A study showed that for every 4 green jobs created 9 jobs were lost. Every green megawatt created was so expensive that 5 jobs were lost elsewhere in the economy due to rising business costs. Everyone connected with green energy has agreed that electric costs must increase substantially in order for green energy to be viable.
The use of new energy systems is something that must be slowly implemented at a pace that society can handle. It must be planned fully and the plan shared with the population so an orderly transition can be accomplished. It seems the current push to implement green energy is an ill-conceived and hastily constructed plan that will not work as it is and is the reason the public has little information on its implementation. Such a transition must be something all citizens are briefed on to insure all questions and issues are resolved before moving ahead.
A new energy economy is possible and we will eventually get there but we need a clear plan with realistic goals to achieve it. Without a clear plan we can do irreversible damage to our society and cause more problems than we fix. Wind and solar make sense in off grid applications because the users primary concern is to fill a need and not so much cost. In industry, cost and profit are what drives energy production and so far green energy is not cost effective. As the cost drops with advances in technology, at some point green energy will make good sense and will be fully developed, but not before.