Category — Energy Myths vs. Reality
[Editor's Note: For the next several days, Master Resource will publish a series of posts with excerpts from Alex Epstein's book, Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet.]
“Humans have the untapped potential to radically improve life on earth by using technology, not to “save” the planet but to improve it for human purposes.”
The basic question underlying our energy policy debates is this: Should we be free to generate more and more energy using fossil fuels? Or should we restrict and progressively outlaw fossil fuels as “dirty energy”?
I believe that if we look at the big picture, the facts are clear. If we want a healthy, livable environment, then we must be free to use fossil fuels. Why? Because for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels provide the key to a great environment: abundant, affordable, reliable energy.
We’re taught in school that the key to a great environment is to minimize our “impact” on it. We think of our environment as something that starts out healthy and that we humans mess up. Not so. Nature does not give us a healthy environment to live in; until the fossil-fueled industrial revolution of the last two centuries, human beings lived in an environment that was low on useful resources and high on danger. 
Today’s industrialized environment is the cleanest, healthiest in history. If you want to see what “dirty” looks like, go to a country that is still living in “natural,” pre-industrial times. Try choking on the natural smoke of a natural open fire burning natural wood or animal dung—the kind of air pollution that has been almost eliminated by modern, centralized power plants. Try getting your water from a local brook that is naturally infested with the natural germs of all the local animals—the once-perennial threat that modern, fossil-fuel-powered water purification systems eliminate. Try coping with the dramatic temperature and weather swings that occur in nearly any climate—a threat that fossil-fuel powered air-conditioning, heating, and construction have made extremely rare.
We live in an environment where the air we breathe and the water we drink and the food we eat will not make us sick, and where we can cope with the often hostile climate of nature. That is a huge achievement—an achievement that lives or dies with the mass-production of energy. We can live this way only by getting high-powered machines to do the vast majority of our physical work for us.  [Read more →]
August 27, 2013 Comments Off
Germany is a country that has been a leader in many aspects of “clean” energy development during the past decade. They were among the leaders in establishing pricing mechanisms for wind and solar, phasing out nuclear power and granting incentives to biomass energy producers. Germany has the highest proportion of wind in its generation mix, now around 20%, but is no longer the absolute installed capacity leader behind the U.S. and China.
With a vast investment in above-market generation resources some in Germany are channeling “Mad Man Muntz” of early US television history – “lose money on every sale but make it up with the volume.” It did not work for Muntz TV and it will not work for Germany.
A New Fairy Tale, Starring Wind Energy Generators
Lately, a story has gone round with the following general points:
- Assume that the marginal cost of wind is the lowest of all existing generation plant types;
- Assume that power pools in NW Europe accept generator bids based strictly on the marginal energy cost (MEC)
- Assume that wind can be the marginal generation resource during some peak periods
- Assume further that this MEC sets the price on the pool for those time segments (30 minutes) where wind is the marginal producer, and therefore
- Wind, by setting the MEC during some peak demand periods, will reduce the price of energy during such periods and save consumers money.
In other words, even though wind generators are more expensive to build and require above-market prices to sustain, somehow they are able to reduce prices across the power pool.
This would certainly be a neat trick if someone could do it. [Read more →]
September 3, 2010 12 Comments
In the face of a changing fiscal and political environment, Congress and various states are belatedly rethinking their far-flung efforts to restructure and regulate the nation’s energy markets. The opportunity is to change course and base their actions on facts, not emotion–and slow down and even reverse governmental largesse. The global warming scare has been cut down to size, after all, and the problems of politically dependent energies are more evident than ever.
Too many legislators and interventionists cling to basic energy myths, however. Here are five major ones.
Myth: Foreign Oil Provides Most of Our Energy
According to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration, oil represents less than 40% of our energy use. A full two-thirds of that oil comes from North America, primarily Canada, not the Middle East.
A related myth is that alternative energy sources will reduce the use of petroleum. Such sources may first reduce domestic production, but they will not appreciably affect production in unstable regions.
Renewable technologies are subject to import and price security concerns as well. And the equipment for 65% of the wind installations in the U.S. in the past five years have come from foreign sources, including China. Moreoever, rare earth metal ores such as lanthanum and neodymium are vital to electric car batteries and some renewable energy are concentrated in China, for example, and Beijing favors export restrictions.
Myth: Renewables Will Replace Conventional Energy Sources
A correlated and persistent myth is that increasing wind- and solar-generated electricity will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and thus boost our energy security. Less than 1% of our electricity is generated using petroleum, so any renewable generation will have no appreciable effect on petroleum demand. [Read more →]
February 5, 2010 13 Comments