[Editor note: One of the great energy scholars of our time is Vaclav Smil, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Environment and Geography at the University of Manitoba. This (modified) article remains as fresh today as it was when originally published in 2009.]
President Barack Obama has promised an energy revolution in the world’s largest economy, with renewable sources of power and “green” technologies breaking America’s – and ultimately the world’s – dependence on conventional fuels…. But how realistic is this vision?
Primary Energies: Unchanged
There is only one kind of primary energy (energy embodied in natural resources) that was not known to the first high civilizations of the Middle East and East Asia and by all of their pre-industrial successors: isotopes of the heavy elements whose nuclear fission has been used since the late 1950’s to generate heat that, in turn, produces steam for modern electricity turbo-generators. Every other energy resource has been known for millennia, and most of them were harnessed by pre-modern societies.
The fundamental difference between traditional and modern uses of energy consists not in access to new or better energy resources, but in the invention and mass deployment of efficient, affordable, reliable, and convenient “prime movers,” devices that convert primary energies into mechanical power, electricity, or heat. History could be profitably subdivided into eras defined by the prevailing prime movers. [Read more →]
November 22, 2013 No Comments
Bird Kills: The Evidence and Publicity Mounts (Sierra Club, Audubon must stop deceiving memberships)
“Combined together, these clever [evasive] techniques mean that most carcasses are ‘missed.’ In fact, 90% or more of the slaughter can easily be hidden. This … is certainly not ‘scientific or ‘green.’ But it is certainly effective.”
The Wall Street Journal recently published several letters and articles on the environmental impacts of wind energy, adding to a growing body of reportage of wind power’s cruel, ironic byproduct.
Making the public aware of this extremely important issue is essential, because the wind industry has been using bogus research and other methods to hide its slaughter of millions of birds and bats that are supposedly protected by law, putting some species on a path to extinction.
1. Delayed Search: At Altamont Pass in California, mortality studies have employed 30-90 day search intervals since 1998. These excessively long search intervals ensure that most carcasses disappear before the next search is conducted. In addition, even as wind turbines have grown larger and larger over the years, search areas for carcasses have deliberately been left unchanged. [Read more →]
November 21, 2013 8 Comments
“Speaking subjectively, when we provide natural gas, coal, or nuclear with subsidies, we get thousands and thousands of gigawatt-hours of constant, concentrated, and reliable electricity that drives our economy. When we provide solar and wind with subsidies, we do not get enough electricity to pay back even as much as the initial investment; and that electricity is not constant, not concentrated, and not reliable. In fact it has to be continuously backed up by natural gas, or nuclear, or coal just to keep the lights on.”
- Jerry Graf, Energy Subsidies in the USA (March 2013)
Earlier this week, in commentary under an article on a different site, I was informed that my assertions that current wind and solar technologies were less-than-effective alternative-energy sources were “not true.”
I was asked to search for information regarding “Xcel wind & solar”, and also informed that Xcel’s projects were providing energy with competitive Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) as low as $60MWh. No additional details regarding any specific projects were provided. [Read more →]
November 20, 2013 9 Comments
The international global-warming theater is again in session. The doomed-from-the-start, out-of-time Kyoto Protocol of 2007 (“this agreement will be good for Enron stock!“) was followed by the failure of the Copenhagen Summit in 2009. The frequent flyers are now in Warsaw in hopes of making progress towards the Paris, France finale in December 2015 for a global agreement to–in the United Nations’ formulation–keep global temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
To say that the confab is off to a slow start is an understatement. First, Poland (the sponsoring country) held a two day conference touting its home grown coal industry. Australia is on track to eliminate its “socialistic” carbon tax and cutting ’green’ energy subsidies. And Japan declared its intention to deemphasize its CO2 reduction plans, adding “gloom” to the Warsaw conference.
All this comes on top of an inconvenient truth: European countries have failed to reduce CO2 emissions despite huge efforts that have impoverished electricity users and national treasuries. [Read more →]
November 19, 2013 2 Comments
The Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions (AWED) is an informal coalition of more than 10,000 individuals and organizations interested in improving government energy & environmental policies. Our basic position is that technical matters like these should be addressed by using Real Science. It’s all spelled out at WiseEnergy.org, which is an exceptional collection of helpful resources.
A key element of AWED’s efforts is public education. Towards that end, every 3 weeks we put together a newsletter to balance what is found in the mainstream media about energy and environmental matters. We appreciate MasterResource for their assistance in publishing this information.
Greed Energy Economics:
Turbine Health Matters:
November 18, 2013 6 Comments
[Editor note: Six regulatory personalities related to government intervention in the U.S. oil and gas market (through the mid-1980s) are identified by the author. The reader is invited to add categories or examples of regulators to this list.]
The classical tyrant that has frequented other countries has not been a factor in the U.S. oil and gas experience (or the U.S. economy).  The existence of private property and democratic institutions is the major reason; the moderating influence of the industry over intervention is another reason. Huey Long of Louisiana, who as governor and U.S. Senator, left a controversial mark on oil and gas politics, probably is the closest to being an exception.
Instead of tyrants, hundreds of legislators and regulators have shaped oil and gas intervention at all levels of government. Shades of difference have marked major figures, but one premise has been shared by all — the efficacy of government intervention to achieve economic and social objectives. This can be called the constructivist mentality: government planners substituting their knowledge for that of the decentralized market.
Six categories of the constructivist mentality can be delineated. There is the professional regulator who sees intervention as a way of life and a public duty. Financial well being is secondary to the call of state, and when regulation beckons he is ready. The outstanding example in the petroleum field is Harold Ickes who presided over the industry during the New Deal and in World War II. Mark Requa was in a class with Ickes but got his chance only in World War I.
Next there is the naive idealist [Read more →]
November 15, 2013 4 Comments
“The net subsidies formulation would be the correct standard for comparing subsidies to different energy sources…. Net subsidies would include not only the monetized value of policies that subsidize the relevant industries but would subtract out the monetized value of policies that penalize those industries.”
While a complete accounting might be difficult, this is not a reason for pretending that it is not necessary. Best estimates should be made.”
Consider the following two quite different verdicts on the winners and losers from U.S. energy subsidy policy, the first from a pro-renewable energy organization and the second from a free-market energy group.
The federal government provided substantially larger subsidies to fossil fuels than to renewables. Subsidies to fossil fuels—a mature, developed industry that has enjoyed government support for many years—totaled approximately $72 billion over the study period, representing a direct cost to taxpayers.
- The Environmental Law Institute, Energy Subsidies Favor Fossil Fuels Over Renewables (September 2009)
Solar is being subsidized by over 1,200 times more than coal and oil and natural gas electricity production, and wind is being subsidized over 80 times more than the more conventional fossil fuels on a unit of production basis.
- Institute for Energy Research, EIA Releases New Subsidy Report: Subsidies for Renewables Increase by 186 Percent (August 3, 2011)
Such highly contradictory opinions characterize the energy subsidy debate. Yet the numbers aren’t really in dispute. What is in dispute is what exactly should be measured and compared.
Typically, representatives of the renewable energy industry and environmental advocacy groups cite total dollar amounts without reference to the percentage of total output that the subsidies support (the amount of energy being generated per dollar of subsidy). [Read more →]
November 14, 2013 6 Comments
“An Energy Imbalance Market would mainly have to rely on cheap hydropower in the Western U.S. to offset high green power prices and high peaker power prices during the sunset hours of the day. Ironically, California banned hydropower as “renewable energy” under the California Global Warming Solutions Act …. Now, cheap hydropower has to come to the rescue of the green power grid.”
California is trying to do a quick splicing job to its green energy grid by creating an “Energy Imbalancing Market” to cut off an emerging daily two-hour energy-pricing crisis. The crisis isn’t so much an imbalance of the availability of electrons but imbalanced electricity prices during the sunset hours of each day.
In today’s California energy market, the grid operator must balance loads and resources within its borders. In an Energy Balancing Market, the grid operator schedules resources across regional balancing authorities to balance energy. An energy imbalance is the difference between live demand and prearranged scheduled resources. California is part of the Western Interconnection Coordinating Council (WECC), which includes 33 control areas shown here. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved California’s implementation of an Energy Imbalancing Market by October 2014.
California’s “Duck Chart” Problem Can’t Be Ducked
An emerging problem with California’s new green power grid is how to ramp up enough conventional power each day when solar power is sunsetting and mostly nighttime wind power isn’t spinning enough yet to take over. [Read more →]
November 13, 2013 4 Comments
“Given the current state of climate science, I don’t see evidence that these and other complex interacting factors stand a reasonable chance of being predicted, beyond what is possible through a basic understanding of historical variability.”
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its first major global warming manifesto since 2007. Once again, the IPCC makes dramatic predictions of future warming and catastrophic consequences due to manmade carbon dioxide emissions. Typically, these predictions are reported as proven “findings” that have the same status as the readings of a thermometer.
But predictions are fundamentally different from measurements, and the more complex the system, the more difficult the prediction. The climate is a complicated combination of atmospheric, land, and ocean systems whose dynamics must be pieced together on scales from the size of a single cloud to wind streams spanning continents. Common sense should make us suspicious of any individual or group who claims a high degree of confidence in predicting it decades into the future–especially when that group doesn’t seem to acknowledge what kind of scientific breakthroughs would be necessary for such a task.
Industrial progress over the last 75 years has increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 0.03% to the current value of 0.04%. It is very difficult to determine the exact impact of this change as it melds into the swirl of constant natural variability of the climate system, including changes in the intensity of solar radiation, poorly understood short and long-term thermal phenomena in the oceans, changes in the growth trends of carbon dioxide-sucking vegetation, and fluctuating volcanic emissions.
Given the current state of climate science, I don’t see evidence that these and other complex interacting factors stand a reasonable chance of being predicted, beyond what is possible through a basic understanding of historical variability.
November 12, 2013 7 Comments
[Editor Note: This discussion is taken from chapter 5 of the author’s Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience (Cato Institute: 1996).]
“Allocation regulation, in turn, sought to cure the problems created by price regulation. Government intervention during wartime encounters many examples of regulation begetting other regulation, a major theme of peacetime intervention as well.”
Government direction of economic activities, rare in U.S. history, has typically accompanied wartime situations. In particular, government petroleum planning has occurred during World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict. Standby oil and gas planning also followed the Korean Conflict.
Economic understanding reaches the conclusion that consumers are best served when entrepreneurs are not subsidized or penalized by government involvement. Conceived abstractly, consumers could be a private individual or even a government agency. Furthermore, the conditions surrounding production and consumption are not defined; it could have been during wartime, the aftermath of a calamity, or a period of relative tranquility.
The question is: can the market be relied upon in wartime as in peacetime? [Read more →]
November 11, 2013 4 Comments