Part I of this three-part series set the stage for examining intermittent power sources, especially wind, as viable sources of electricity. Part 2 addresses one of the critical power considerations: power density.
In his MasterResource series, Vaclav Smil compared the power densities of a range of fuels for electricity production, which demonstrates the inadequacies of renewables. David MacKay also makes a useful contribution to this topic.[i] Table 1 summarizes the results, which take into account entire fuel cycles, transportation and transmission requirements for a range of assumptions.
Note that all renewable energy sources are ten to over a thousand times less effective than those serving our needs today, with wind providing one of the poorest performances of the renewable sources shown, outside of wood. Areas required for renewables are large because of the dispersed, and often remote, nature of their energy supply.…
Based on policy pronouncements of governments, the media, and Left environmentalists, one might believe the world is about to enter the renewable energy era. In reality, however, the “new” is about a long gone era that ended before the dawn of the 20th century. Then the primary fuel was wood. Other renewables, including water and wind, were used because they were available and technologically harnessable for some very localized situations.
However primitive, renewables relating to the sun’s flow was the best our ancestors could do.
Will there be a renaissance of this era? Perhaps there will be, but it will be in a significantly different form and dependent upon a vastly transformed world, in both technological and societal terms, which will not be achievable for many generations. The question is: are we as societies and individuals prepared to make the necessary adjustments to realize the potential opportunities, which we do not currently understand sufficiently, that this may present in the future?…
Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of the series that provides an essential basis for the understanding of energy transitions and use. The previous posts in this series can be seen at:
Part I – Definitions
Part II – Coal- and Wood-Fired Electricity Generation
Part III – Natural Gas-Fired Electricity Generation
Part IV – New Renewables Electricity Generation
America’s dominant mode of electricity generation is via combustion of bituminous and sub-bituminous coal in large thermal stations. All such plants have boilers and steam turbogenerators and electrostatic precipitators to capture fly ash, but they burn different qualities of coal that may come from surface as well as underground mines, have different arrangements for cooling (once-through using river water or various cooling towers) and many have flue gas desulfurization to reduce SO2 emissions.…