b oo n
2009-12-23 05:59:27 UTC
QUOTE: Spain provides perhaps the best lesson. The government there has
spent $43 billion on solar energy projects, yet solar provides less than 1%
of the country's electric power. It was a bad investment.
Earlier this year, Congress approved a scheme to pour $80 billion - on top
of the tens of billions already spent - into renewables.
A government report released last week indicates the money will be wasted.
Renewable energy is the shiny gem that everyone wants but no one can have.
Not even a president. Campaigning last year in Lansing, Mich., President
Barack Obama said that it was his goal for the US to generate 10% of its
electric power from renewable sources by 2012 and 25% by 2025.
But he cannot, by the force of will or executive order, change the laws of
physics and economics.
America has long relied on fossil fuels to power its economy. Oil, natural
gas and coal provide about 84% of the nation's energy.
And for good reason. They are plentiful and typically easy to retrieve, and,
At the other end of the spectrum are renewable sources such as solar, wind,
biomass and geothermal. They supply only about 4% of our energy, the
remainder coming from hydro and nuclear power.
An axis of environmentalists and Democrats want to change this ratio,
because, according to the usual complaint, we depend too heavily on the
fossil fuels that emit CO2.
Trouble is, the market for renewables is poor.
Few want to use the inefficient, unreliable and expensive sources. But that
hasn't slowed the renewable energy campaign, which has succeeded in
persuading the public that renewables are a sensible energy source and
convincing Congress to fund supporters' daydreams.
The government can continue to "invest" in renewables, and the dreamers will
keep using public money to find the magic formula. But little will change
over the next 25 years.
The federal Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook says
in 2035, demand for liquid fuels will increase by almost 10% over 2008
levels, natural gas by nearly 7% and coal by 12%.
While use of renewables will increase as well - by 81%, including
hydropower - they will still be unable to unseat our dominant energy source.
Fossil fuels' share of consumption will fall by only six percentage points,
from 84% to 78% by 2035. Renewables will provide about 8%.
It's clear that renewables, which have benefited from government subsidies
far in excess of what fossil fuels have received, can't compete in today's
market and won't be faring much better a quarter century from now, according
to the government's own reckoning.
It's just as clear that throwing taxpayers' dollars at renewables has
produced little progress.
Spain provides perhaps the best lesson. The government there has spent $43
billion on solar energy projects, yet solar provides less than 1% of the
country's electric power. It was a bad investment.
Chasing the wind is just as ineffective.
When Congress temporarily eliminated wind power credits in 1999, 2001 and
2003, the number of new turbine projects fell sharply. The Texas Public
Policy Foundation says that providing a modest level of wind power in that
state would cost taxpayers at least $60 billion through 2025.
Biomass is also a poor substitute.
It's both primitive - its sources are wood and trash - and an environmental
nightmare, devouring in some cases as much as 10 times the land mass than
needed to create a wind farm. And wind farms themselves are big land eaters.
Geothermal energy, considered "free" energy from the earth, is also a space
eater that requires heavy capital investment, which is often hard to recoup.
In California earlier this month, a geothermal project was abandoned,
despite a $6 million grant from the Energy Department and roughly $30
million in venture capital.
Geothermal has, as well, some environmental drawbacks. The day before the
California project was closed, Swiss government officials permanently shut
down a geothermal project in Basel because, the New York Times reports, "of
the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007."
Maybe some of these renewables will one day be cheap and reliable.
Technological advances will help. But today they are neither cheap nor
reliable, and, based on the government's report, won't be for another
Until they can compete, the country has to rely on proven sources: fossil
fuels and nuclear power. To force cutbacks on these so that renewables can
get a bigger market share, and to continue to fund projects with public
money, is foolish and irresponsible.
"It is a remarkable fact that despite the worldwide expenditure of perhaps
US$50 billion since 1990, and the efforts of tens of thousands of scientists
worldwide, no human climate signal has yet been detected that is distinct
from natural variation."
Bob Carter, Research Professor of Geology, James Cook University, Townsville