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‘Green’ Wind, ‘Smart’ Grid–A Thought Experiment and a Policy Proposal for the Environmental Left

Suppose you began this morning by learning that some investors and developers had stepped forward with a reportedly new type of commercial grade electrical power called “Zephyr Integrated Power” (ZIP). Being clever, they are spending a LOT of time and money marketing ZIP, knowing that this is their chance to break into the grid in a BIG way.

Their message– ZIP is “FREE, CLEAN, AND GREEN”–sounds great! Oh yes, and for good measure, ZIP will create oodles of jobs.

So the basic question is this: exactly what do we do before we allow these people and their new product on the electric grid?

We wouldn’t be so gullible to just take their word for it, would we? Yet this is exactly what we are doing today!

And there is more: our politicians are so enamored with ZIP that they tell these promoters that we will not only allow them on the grid, we will FORCE utilities to use ZIP. (Hmmm. Wouldn’t utilities WANT to use ZIP if it was so great?) How are utilities going to be forced to use ZIP? Lobbyists have sold our politicians a clever tool called the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to do just that.

Yet there is more. Despite the supposed benefits (which a free market would obviously jump on without government involvement), our wise government is going to offer the ZIP promoters billions of dollars of taxpayer money and ratepayer guarantees to support their product.

Remember, all this is without independent proof that ZIP has any real benefits…

Sadly, this astounding state of affairs is how our currently lobbyist-driven system operates.

Policy Proposal for the Environmental Left

The Left looks to government to do good things for the environment. My Pollyanna vision is that complex technical matters should be solved by science. So here is my (government-involved) proposal (with apologies to the libertarian bloggers and readers of MasterResource). It would go something like this…

A. The Zephyr Power promoters would be sincerely thanked for their efforts, and asked to submit their information to a federal energy agency that would be roughly equivalent to the FDA. Let’s call it the EAA (Energy Assessment Agency), which would have some similarities to the former Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The EAA would do one thing: make a scientific assessment as to whether or not ZIP met the standards of our existing sources of electrical power.

B. “Scientific” means that there would be a comprehensive, independent and transparent evaluation of the merits of such proposals, like ZIP.  It would be up to the promoters to provide whatever information is needed for a proper assessment (just like pharmaceutical companies are required to do for the FDA).

C. All new industrial electrical power sources would be scientifically evaluated in three areas:

       1) technology,

       2) economics, and

       3) environment.

Again, they would be compared to verify that they meet (or exceed) our existing options. (Why would anything be approved that was an inferior choice?)

D. If ZIP passes with flying colors, then (and ONLY then) will it be allowed on the grid, and supported (as appropriate) with public funds.

That’s it!

My proposed reform (call it science-and-reality-based) is a radical departure from the politically (lobbyist) driven approach we now use. The end result (assuming good government) would be profoundly different — not only making real contributions to the energy and environmental issues we have, but in truly benefiting citizens and businesses. Yet our current system is so dysfunctional and corrupt that we are supporting sources that fail all three evaluation areas.

For instance, a key consideration in the Technical part, is the impact of any proposed new source on our existing electrical grid.

Carefully consider this question: “Compared to our other alternatives, name one consequential benefit that wind energy provides to our electrical grid.”

I am aware of some serious grid liabilities of adding wind energy, but zero benefits — but please correct me if I’m wrong. So it’s our choice: throw away hundreds of billions to support lobbyist agendas, or take a scientific approach and get an enormously higher bang for our buck.

9 comments

1 Phil Nakata { 02.06.10 at 3:58 am }

When I first caught your reference to Zephyr Power as wind power, I thought you were referring to Zephyr Alternative Power that uses a small bi-directional spool design to create ~50 KW of power, and looks similar to the solar powered sewing-spool-like units powering the sign on Times Square (referencing one of the History Channel’s ‘Life After People’ series).

However, if it is the program referenced by this link (http://www.transcanada.com/pdf/company/Chinook_Zephyr_brochure_LR.PDF), then it is a big windmills project that is really scary to consider, especially as we (the U.S.) are at such a disadvantage from the economies of scale to make it a cost effective solution (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/business/energy-environment/31renew.html).

Think anyone’s interested in really solving the problem? How about another approach? What would you think of a technology that reforms synthetic petroleum counterparts from carbon and water (as H2 and O2, versus emulsification), uses only 6 KW of power, produces no emissions or waste water but only emission-free fuels, and release no free carbon, nitrates, sulfates or chlorides, that are all bound chemically to the mineral of the fertilizer solids – thus also returning the original mineral nutrients to the earth – syngasrefining (.com).

At 10X the productivity and 1/5 the cost of competitive gasifier alternatives that are already well-known to be more efficient than wind or solar – who would vote against something like that and not get in trouble with the public? – if they knew, right?

On the other hand, they (the politicians) did steer everyone away from methanol, saying it was less safe on a political agenda, and everyone bought that one, especially when they said it was also less efficient…. compared to what? It is more toxic than ethanol, but not less than gasoline, and surely less flammable (that why it is required for race cars)… it also does not do so well with aluminum vs. steel tanks …. and yet with more than an abundant supply and a cost between $0.60-$1.00 per gallon, even getting only 70% of the energy or power value, it’s a steal in overall value compared to more volatile and polluting high performance fuels we got sold.

Accordingly, if the combined price of corn (vs. the stock where half the oil and all the minerals are) and the processing of it to make ethanol weren’t sufficiently high enough to be competitive at the higher prices we are seeing today, then I’m sure you’d agree that the energy industry would have found something ‘wrong’ about using ethanol too.

And this is why social media is so important… so people can hear / share from other very knowledgable and reputable people who’ve seen such technologies, and though they may provide different personal explanations for how they think it works, all conclude that it takes a certain output and creates a consistent output of synthetic fuels in this case, that is equal to the combined weight of the organic waste and it’s moisture, while creating no pollution – How else can such ‘disruptive’ technologies like this have any hope of being implemented in time to make a difference?

Thanks John, for your watchdog approach to glossy projects…

2 John Droz { 02.06.10 at 12:42 pm }

Phil:

Thank you for your good comments.

Regarding “Zephyr Integrated Power,” I was trying to avoid attacking a specific company, so made one up.

I like the word “Zephyr”, due to its play on wind energy: “The west wind. A gentle breeze. Something that is airy, insubstantial, or passing.”

In addition I liked the acronym. What better way to describe many current solutions, as providing us ZIP?

regards,

john droz, jr.

3 Jon Boone { 02.06.10 at 1:37 pm }

Of course, ZIP could also allude to VIP, an imaginary product that moved the plot along in the 1961 film, Lover Come Back, where Rock Hudson, to keep his job as an ad man, invents VIP in order to placate an avenging Doris Day. The movie is perhaps the best of this genre and, in my view, a terrific spoof on the way PR works to sell soap, even fantasy soap like wind.

Some years ago, I discounted using “zephyr” because it is a word for light and inconsequential. Instead, I chose “wayward,” which connotes something more sinister, much like how a willful child can disturb an entire community, creating far-reaching ripples while utterly clueless about the consequence of his or her behavior.

Industrial wind, as John suggests, has only negative consequence. Indeed, it is dysfunctional on the whole, since any desultory production must make compensatory systems less efficient, increasing both the financial cost and the thermal activity all around.

It’s the dumbest modern energy idea imaginable.

4 kuhnkat { 02.07.10 at 5:11 pm }

“My Pollyanna vision is that complex technical matters should be solved by science.”

why would you want to leave technical decisions in the hands of people who believe in things like Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Evolution, AGW/GCC…

How about leaving it up to the technicians/engineers who actually build commercial applications??

5 John Droz { 02.07.10 at 5:56 pm }

Kuhnkat:

There are small numbers of scientists that believe in all sorts of far-fetched things.

Engineers, unfortunately, mayhave an incentive to do something for the challange of it.

What I am advocating is to use the scientific method — a PROCESS that is assured of coming up with good answers.

6 Jon Boone { 02.07.10 at 10:30 pm }

There is much make work for engineers with so-called renewable technologies, in the process creating Rube Goldbergesque systems that actually subvert their reason for being. When engineers enable political tree swing “solutions” to appease asinine notions of the greater good, they are no different than plumbers or electricians who inflate their incomes by gerry-rigging byzantine utility systems far beyond what is called for.

Engineers are not scientists. The best of them solve problems with elegant aplomb; the worst create more problems, taking money from both the clients they bilk and the society that hires them to fix the mess they “engineered” in the first place.

7 Aussie Pete { 02.10.10 at 8:00 pm }

Perhaps ZIP is an offshoot of Bernie Maddoff Inc.
I wish I had thought of it myself. Build a couple of wind turbines and sell their output combined with huge amounts of conventional power bought at market prices from other suppliers, (who is going to check?)
The Ecofacists of course will allow you to sell it at a premium, because of your noble intentions, so a nice little earner is created!!! Then add the billion or so stimulus you need to get operational before the whole thing fails, and then scuttle off to join your ill-gotten gains in Switzerland or wherever.

8 Tom Stacy { 03.18.10 at 7:35 pm }

John, I like your fable just fine the way it is. You asked, so I will tell you. There is one benefit to wind power; it’s size. There are way too many other boondoggles in the world that go unnoticed because they are inconspicuous!

9 Scott Brooks { 01.15.11 at 10:09 pm }

Phil;

The link has changed:

http://www.verdereformation.com/

Haven’t figured out how/where they can get all that hydrogen from. Originally the Fisher-Tropsch process got it from coal.

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