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Category — Promises versus reality

Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why

[Note: This article has been updated to Twenty Bad Things about Windpower — go here.]

Trying to pin down the arguments of wind promoters is a bit like trying to grab a greased balloon. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it squirts away. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved.

1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning more modern needs of power, even in the late 1800s. When we throw the switch, we expect that the lights will go on — 100% of the time. It’s not possible for wind energy, by itself, to ever do this, which is one of the main reasons it was relegated to the dust bin of antiquated technologies (along with such other inadequate sources like horse power).

2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced by lobbyists that Anthropological Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent threat, a campaign was begun to favor all things that would purportedly reduce CO2. Wind energy was thus resurrected, as its marketers pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 in their generation of electricity.

3 – Of course, just that by itself is not significant, so the original wind development lobbyists then made the case for a quantum leap: that by adding wind turbines to the grid we could significantly reduce CO2 from fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states’ implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) — which mandated that their utilities use an increased amount of wind energy.

4 – Why was a mandate necessary? Simply because the real world reality of integrating wind energy made it a very expensive option. As such, no utility company would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to. [Read more →]

September 20, 2010   40 Comments

Joe (Romm), Where Art Thou? (my peak oil bet deserves an up or down)

In a post on his blog and then again on the Huffington Post, Joe Romm challenged me to a wager on oil prices, claiming prescience concerning the price rise in the past decade compared to my 1996 forecast of low prices for two decades.  He seems to be implying that that I have refused to wager him, having closed the webpage to any further comments.

I find myself taken aback, as my experience with the blogosphere is somewhat limited.  My experience is primarily as an academic, writing articles for refereed journals and books, as well as working papers, with an intention to make them carefully sourced and referenced.  A blog can consist of nothing more than a rant, and the comments appended to them often worse (and usually anonymous).  I will not however yield to the temptation to follow suit (even if our illustrious moderator would permit it, which he won’t).

Having put up approximately 20 posts on the subject of peak oil, it might be thought that Romm is an expert on the subject. But so far as I know, he has a grand total of one article on oil, his famed, “Mideast Oil Forever” Atlantic Monthly piece (co-authored with Charles Curtis), which is the source of his pride on the subject.

A careful reading of “Mideast Oil Forever” shows that his argument was not so much that prices would soar, but that global dependence on Middle East oil would soar, which has not happened.  My argument was that the forecast of rising Middle East market share was likely to be incorrect, and it was (see Figure), so that economic fundamentals would not imply ever rising prices.

Forecasts of OPEC Market Share from 1996/97

Which is a far cry from saying my forecast was wrong and Joe’s correct.  In my testimony, I specifically stated,

“The reality is that prices may go up in the future.  And Persian Gulf oil production and exports will rise.  However, the most likely scenario, given what we know about oil supply and demand and what we have learned about forecasting in the last 10 to 15 years, is that OPEC is going to be under continued pressure for at least the next 10 years, possibly for much longer, that they will be fighting with each other for market share.  And, it’s going to require some very substantial changes in the world to see prices rising.” (See my opening statement on pp. 127-128.)

Arguably, the price collapse leading to the rise of Hugo Chavez, the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, are those ‘substantial changes’.  Certainly, not the soaring Middle East market share predicted by Romm.  (Since he downloaded the transcript of the hearing, it’s not clear how he missed this.) [Read more →]

March 5, 2010   1 Comment

‘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… [Read more →]

February 6, 2010   9 Comments