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Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

"Inconvenient Fact(s)" Re:100% zero-carbon electricity in 10 years

Bigger picture, Common sense, Energy, Environment, Ethanol, Going Green, Truth

Most of us heard about Al Gore's JFK-like 10 year challenge last week for "America to run 'on 100% zero-carbon electricity in 10 years." Bret Stephens wrote about it and Al Gore in his Wall Street Journal piece, Al Gore's Doomsday Clock. He wrote, "though that's just the first step on his road to 'ending our reliance on carbon-based fuels.'  Serious people understand this is absurd. Maybe other people will start drawing the same conclusion about the man proposing it."

Do read the complete article. Bret Stephens presents many interesting statistics on where we have been and where we are going on our carbon-free electrical journey.

In Mr. Gore's prophecy, a transition to carbon-free electricity generation in a decade is "achievable, affordable and transformative." He believes that the goal can be achieved almost entirely through the use of "renewables" alone, meaning solar, geothermal, wind power and biofuels.
Um, Mr. Gore, last time I looked, biofuel was not zero-carbon. Plants themselves contain carbon in the form of simple sugars (that is what makes them a fuel), emit CO2 at night, and require carbon fueled tractors for cultivating the crop and later transporting crops to biofuel making factories and finally to gas stations.

Here, however, is an inconvenient fact (my emphasis throughout.) In 1995, the U.S. got about 2.2% of its net electricity generation from "renewable" sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. By 2000, the last full year of the Clinton administration, that percentage had dropped to 2.1%. By contrast, the combined share of coal, petroleum and natural gas rose to 70% from 68% during the same time frame.

Now the share of renewables is up slightly, to about 2.3% as of 2006 (the latest year for which the EIA provides figures). The EIA thinks the use of renewables (minus hydropower) could rise to 201 billion kilowatt hours per year in 2018 from the current 65 billion. But the EIA also projects total net generation in 2018 to be 4.4 trillion kilowatt hours per year. That would put the total share of renewables at just over four percent of our electricity needs.

Interestingly, Mr. Gore does not suggest carbon-free nuclear or hydro power,* which are not affected by cloudy or windless days:

Mr. Gore's case would also be helped if our experience of renewable sources were a positive one. It isn't. In his useful book "Gusher of Lies," Robert Bryce notes that "in July 2006, wind turbines in California produced power at only about 10% of their capacity; in Texas, one of the most promising states for wind energy, the windmills produced electricity at about 17% of their rated capacity." Like wind power, solar power also suffers from the problem of intermittency, which means that it has to be backed up by conventional sources in order to avoid disruptions. This is especially true of hot summers when the wind doesn't blow and cold winters when the sun doesn't shine.

And then there are biofuels, whose recent vogue, the World Bank believes, may have been responsible for up to 75% of the recent rise in world food prices. Save the planet; starve the poor.

Stephens concludes with this question, "A more interesting question is why Mr. Gore remains believable. Perhaps people think that facts ought not to count against a man whose task is to raise our sights..." and then he gives "The True Believer" author Eric Hoffer the last word, "It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible."

Don't get me wrong, I am all in favor of more environmentally favorable fuels and methods, as long as they make sense and cents! Fair Oaks Farm manure fueled electricity generators would be a good example of this. SC Johnson Co. (Johnson Wax) is also dabbling in methane from garbage fuel. But even these recycling methods are still carbon based.

Maybe some day, as technology improves, wind and solar might be able to more constantly supply the majority of our electricity. But for right now, we aren't there yet--not by a long shot.


Jay Weber spoke about this today in his 9 O'clock hour. 

*You would think hydro power would be favored by the environmentalists. Not true. While visiting the Grand Canyon 2 years ago, we heard of a movement afoot in the area to allow spring gushes. Seems the regular spring flooding of rushing water scoured the riverbed as opposed to the constant easy flow of a controlled river.


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