Energy Density: Robert Bryce’s Powerful Energy Message
Editor note: Del Torkelson of The American Oil & Gas Reporter covered Robert Bryce’s address talk to the Permian Basin Petroleum Association at its annual meeting in Midland last October. Torkelson’s summary is reprinted with permission.]
“One of the reasons I wrote Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (Public Affairs: 2010) is that our discussions are fundamentally wrong-headed,” author and journalist Robert Bryce told the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.
“Politicians generally do not understand the issues of energy and power, and in particular, the issues of scale.”
Bryce expounded on a number of key themes, including density, the distinction between energy and power, and the future of natural gas and nuclear generation. He also pointed to signals that suggested ordinary citizens were losing patience with green energy sources.
Bryce’s comments touched on topics covered in both Power Hungry and an earlier book, Gusher of Lies. The writer riffed on a number of subjects pertinent to oil and gas producers:
- On his insistence that the density of traditional fuels made them more environmentally friendly than so-called green energy sources, Bryce calculated, “A well producing 60 Mcf a day–by definition a stripper well–has a power density of about 28 watts a square meter, 23 times the power density of a wind turbine. If you start with a source that has low power density, you have to counteract the lower power density with other inputs such as steel, transmission lines, concrete, land and manpower.”
- Regarding the suggestion that natural gas is a bridge fuel, Bryce countered that it was more. “A bridge to what?” he asked. “It is clean, it is domestic, it is relatively cheap. This is the fuel we have been looking for.”
- As for many alternative energy enthusiasts’ insistence that sources such as solar or wind are poised to replace fossil fuels, Bryce suggested their naiveté seemed to confuse energy with power. He observed that energy was measured by volume while power was measured by rate, and used car shopping as an example. “I have not asked once how many gallons of gasoline a car holds. I ask about the rates: How many miles per gallon it travels, how many miles an hour it can go.”
Bryce also maintained that the push-back against green energy was becoming strong in many areas. “I can point to almost any state where local groups are opposing wind energy projects,” he described. “Europe has 400 anti-wind groups. Canada has about two dozen and the United States has 100.”
He went on to point out backlash even in a country with a reputation for embracing green power such as Denmark, and cited reports that the state-owned energy firm had stopped building wind turbines on Danish land, following protests from residents. “The company’s CEO says it is very difficult to get the public’s acceptance if the turbines are built close to residential buildings, and so the company now is looking into maritime options,” Bryce revealed.
But maritime options offer their own challenges, he observed, recalling how the late Senator Edward Kennedy had long blocked efforts to site the Cape Wind project off Cape Cod.
Aesthetic considerations aside, Bryce pointed out that the electricity Cape Wind would generate also would dig deeper into consumers’ pockets. “The initial cost estimates are $0.21 a kilowatt hour,” he reported. “The average residential cost in the United States is 10.5 cents.”
Such a cost difference ultimately will prove green power’s undoing, he predicted. “Because of green energy mandates in Ontario, consumers will see their electricity bills increase as much as 40 percent during the next five years,” Bryce forecast. “The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power told the city council that its pursuit of renewables could raise electricity rates as much as 50 percent during the next four years. I wonder how there could not be a backlash.”
After citing a number of indicators to demonstrate that the economy still was struggling, Bryce posed, “And yet now are we going to raise the price of the single-most important commodity in the American economy: the price of electricity?”
After all, Bryce concluded, while consumers are willing to pay more for products that are tangibly better, green power offers no such demonstrable advantage. “The electricity I would get from wind turbines or solar panels is no better than the electricity I already have been getting, so where is the benefit?” he wondered. “The resistance is there and it will grow.”
Gusher of Lies was reviewed at MasterResource by Jon Boone.