Sunday, July 2, 2006
Energy folks might be interested in reading this four part series of articles by Michael Kane on Renewable Energy. Kane is a peak oiler with a decidedly pessimistic view of the promise of renewables. Part 1 discusses the problems of centralized power systems. Renewables Part 1 Part 2 focuses on the wind and importance of proximity in renewable energy. Renewables Part 2 Part 3 discusses renewable finance. Renewables Part 3 Part 4 deals with the prospect for replacing oil with solar. Renewables Part 4
[The ironies of the Bush-Cheney energy policy are too many to count, but Mike Kane's research on renewable energy has found a few big ones. For instance, domestic energy demand is growing fast. So are the energy alternatives, but unlike natural gas, coal, and oil, the sun and the wind are not always available. Dependence on renewables will require a back-up system running on the old hydrocarbons, or it will face frequent voltage drops and outages. If demand were to remain static, the old hydrocarbon capacity could serve as the backup; but because demand is surging, wind and solar are just supplements, not replacements. And since the existing hydrocarbon capacity is already in use, new renewable capacity is going to need new hydrocarbon capacity to back it up on windless, cloudy days.
This problem could be solved by a massive decentralization program to replace our national power grid with a multi-centered system that would be much more efficient and therefore less vulnerable to voltage drops (it would allow local consumers to use renewable energy for the actual replacement of hydrocarbon-driven electrical capacity, rather as a mere supplement). And here's another big ugly irony: whereas national rural electrification was achieved through a massive federally funded program comparable to Eisenhower's National Highway System, there is no government left to implement the opposite program which we desperately need for its replacement. As real wages collapse and viable jobs are lost by the millions, a grand-scale public works project would be an ideal way to slow the economic decline before it reaches the point of no return. Such a flicker of rational planning might even restore a shred of confidence in the dollar before that, too, becomes irretrievable. But that, says the devil on the screen, would be Big Government. -JAH]
The problems of centralized power systems
- Can Wind Replace Hydrocarbon Consumption?
- Military & Intel Publicly Back Renewable Energy
- Proximity & Money
March 18, 2005 1200 PST (FTW) – Wind turbines are being built at an accelerated rate across the globe, in Europe, North America, China and other Asian nations. Hydrocarbon depletion will be felt sooner rather than later largely due to politics, and the planning elites are well aware of this.
Many wind farms are currently in operation with plenty more planned to come online within the next three years. Renewable energy is certainly important for sustainable energy systems, but no one - including the environmentalist community - seems to be scrutinizing the social facts surrounding this fairly recent boom in renewable energy projects.
Can Wind Replace Hydrocarbon Consumption?
The answer is no. Not even close.
In fact, renewable energy is not being looked upon as a means to replace or even move away from hydrocarbon consumption. Rather it is being utilized to supplement growing demand. This will ultimately result in the burning of more hydrocarbons than we currently consume.
Why is that?
Germany is further along in utilizing wind energy than any other nation. A report from E.ON Netz - Germany's second largest private energy provider - on the country's total wind capacity recently concluded 60% to 80% of Germany's energy must come from traditional sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric) to ensure there is enough supply to meet demand. Windmills don't always spin, which leads to voltage fluctuation, and that will make any centralized grid unreliable. 1
To keep a centralized grid running, a constant and ever expanding stream of hydrocarbon and nuclear energy is required no matter how many windmills come online.
Centralized grids waste energy.
Sending energy over long distances consumes energy in the process just to keep the grid functioning. This is called 'reactive power.' Additionally, the gigantic grid system that connects all of America - with one sub-national grid for the West, one for the East, and, remarkably, one for Texas - often experiences congestion and bottlenecking resulting in energy loss. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), transmission bottlenecks cost consumers more than $1 billion in the summers of 2000 and 2001 alone. 2
Let's analyze one American state leading the renewable energy wave, New York. Governor Pataki has set a goal for 25% of New York's energy to be renewable by 2013. 19% of the state's energy already comes from renewable hydroelectric power, much of which will be included in New York's RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standards). 3
There is limited additional capacity to increase energy production in that area, so wind turbines are hoped to fill the bulk of the 6% gap. They currently produce a total of 49 megawatts in all of New York, while NYC alone requires a constant stream of 5,000 to 10,000 MW of energy.
Regardless of the Governor's fairly realistic goal, as more wind turbines come online an increase in hydrocarbon consumption will be required to ensure the reliability of our inefficient centralized grid as demand grows. As wind turbines approach 30% of New York's energy supply, more hydrocarbon resources will be needed to avoid voltage fluctuation. That is why both an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) storage facility and new wind farms are currently being considered as projects for Long Island Sound. New York needs both of them to continue its massive, and increasing, over-consumption. As these projects are completed, the grid will need upgrades starting with new, expensive, transmission lines.
- The perverse and unfortunate reality is that, provided that overall energy demand rises as it is projected to do, additional wind turbines will require the burning of more hydrocarbons and the production of more nuclear power over time to ensure the grid continues to run efficiently. Most likely, within the context of hydrocarbon depletion, this will lead to the eventual downfall of centralized power systems.
Since 1970 America's energy consumption has grown 30% in little over 30 years. Now our consumption is expected to grow a whopping 20% in only 7 years - between 2003 and 2010. 4Our grid is not equipped to handle this, and has led many individuals in the wind energy boom to say an overhaul of the grid needs to happen simultaneously with new turbines coming online.
The only solution that will be sustainable and palatable for everyone is to reduce consumption in a coordinated national program before the effects of hydrocarbon depletion worsen. There is no "renewable fix" to our energy problems without massive conservation efforts. Such a program should have begun long ago. But with Dick Cheney stating, "The American way of life is not negotiable," it is clear that over-consumption will remain America's national energy policy. As George W. Bush has plainly stated: "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption."
Meanwhile George W. has a PV solar system on his Texas ranch whose rain run-off is used to water the surrounding garden. Think about that for a minute.
It's up to individuals to learn and teach about renewable power systems that can be sustained. Renewable energy sources offer solutions in small cooperative settings, but not within a big centralized grid of over consumption. Decentralized power structures - in every facet of human life - are crucial for a sustainable, survivable future, and no one is going to do it for you. While there have been government funded grants for the study of decentralized micro-grids, there's little evidence of the political will to build them. And given the current administration's will-to-disaster, that particular snowball in hell has just about melted.
Perhaps America's "solution" will be the continued exchange of our youth's blood for the blood of mother Earth, as we are unsuccessfully attempting to do in Iraq. That game can't last. But it won't stop anytime soon, because the military-intelligence complex regard renewables as a way to cope with surging demand while avoiding conservation efforts - and peace.
© Copyright 2005, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted, distributed or posted on an Internet web site for non-profit purposes only.
Military and Intel Publicly Back Renewable Energy
Small cooperatives aren't on the minds of renewable energy's newest public supporters. On December 6th and 7th, 2004, in Washington, D.C., the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) held a conference where the American Military and Intelligence community came out in unprecedented support of renewable energy sources. Only a few renewable energy press wires reported the event, and the mainstream media has thus far remained completely (and eerily) silent about this high profile conference. A summary of the event can be read here:
Speakers included Frank Gaffney and Bud MacFarlane - both former NSA Advisors to President Reagan, as well as Admiral Dennis McGinn and James Woolsey. Woolsey is a former CIA Director under Bill Clinton and VP of the military industrial giant Booz Allen Hamilton. Woolsey is chairman of the advisory board for both the Clean Fuels Foundation and the New Uses Council; he is a member of the National Commission on Energy Policy; and he sits on the advisory board of ACORE.
At the conference, Woolsey stated that a major component in the war on terror is oil.
"I fear we're going to be at war for decades, not years," Woolsey said. "It will last a long time and it will have a major ideological component. Ultimately we will win it but one major component of that war is oil." 5
Woolsey drives a hybrid-electric Toyota Prius and has a PV solar system on his home. In his speech, he stayed away from the cruel myth that hydrogen technologies create energy and instead focused on ethanol and biodeisel. According to Woolsey, if a new generation of electric cars could plug in, they would be able to take advantage of solar and wind energies on the grid.
But plug-in cars will further drain our already over-used grid requiring not only more renewable, but more non-renewable consumption as well. Within the reality of a centralized power system this will cause an increase in hydrocarbon consumption for every windmill and electric plug-in car brought on line. Not to mention the fact that windmills and cars are made with two main ingredients - steel and oil.
Woolsey is also an advisor to "Changing World Technologies," a company that can make anything into oil in a process called thermal depolymerization. If you put something in one end of this machine, it comes out the other as oil. For example, if you were to put a 175 lb man in, he would come out the other end as 38 lbs of oil, 7 pounds of gas, 7 lbs of minerals, and 123 lbs of sterilized water. 6
The Military and Intel "coming out party" for renewable energy is designed to stimulate Wall Street to invest in this direction. While this has the appearance of being a good initiative, the question we need to be asking is who is going to pay for the energy, and who is going to benefit from it?
Proximity and Money
Electricity travels the path of least resistance, which means it flows to the closest and easiest destination possible.
Our grid has no storage capacity. It is designed only to transport and consume energy.7 This is relevant to individuals with PV solar systems on their homes that are hooked up to the grid. When their PV systems produce more energy than they consume it is not stored for a rainy day when the sun doesn't shine. 8It's sold off through the grid, and because less travel distance means less energy loss, the additional energy sold will go to the nearest users - likely a neighbor.
In other words, whoever is closest to the electricity, gets it.In Cape Cod the nation's largest off shore wind farm is being planned. The wind rating in the Cape and Islands area is among the highest in the nation that can be commercially utilized. The proposed project by Cape Wind Associates would consist of 130 wind turbines with a total maximum output of 420 MW - enough to provide 75% of the Cape and Islands power needs. This includes one of the Clintons' favorite vacation spots, Martha's Vineyard.
Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates, told FTW that the energy produced by Cape Wind would flow only to the Cape and Islands. When asked if it was possible in case of an emergency to divert the energy elsewhere, Gordon responded, "No, there would have to be some type of transmission trick to do that, and I just don't see that happening."
So it will be the residents of this predominantly rich area who will have renewable wind energy running into their homes. The Cape project is unique in that it sits entirely on federal land, so State oversight has been minimal. The Army Corp of Engineers is in charge of the project.
Cape Wind Associates is taking advantage of a tax credit offered by the federal government to encourage renewable energy projects. Federal funds come from all taxpayers, but only those close to the projects will consume renewable energy. In a natural gas and/or oil crisis, proximity to renewable energy sources would make the difference between having power and getting blacked out.
Another source of funding for these projects are green credits, or REC's (Renewable Energy Credits). These are purchased by consumers and represent nothing more than your support for the concept of renewable energy. On the energy bill of those who participate, a charge is placed for the REC purchased, and is given to the renewable energy provider of your choice. This does not mean you are purchasing renewable energy - not at all. The only way that can happen is if you are located close to renewable energy sources, being fed by a substation collecting that energy.
So these green credits equate to paying for other people's energy.
There are those who argue if enough REC's were purchased, every home would be consuming renewable energy within a decade. That has been proven false by the recent report out of Germany cited earlier showing the more renewable energy utilized, the more non-renewable fuel is required for a centralized grid to function properly.
The REC concept is billed as a socially responsible one. You can become the "proud owner" of green credits. "Offset up to 100% of the emissions from your home by buying REC's."
This is claimed to be a way of increasing the demand for renewable energy. But in reality, your home never sees one single watt of renewable energy, unless it is near a substation supplied by renewable sources. But what if we hit the natural gas cliff and oil prices spike? Will that "green credit" keep your home warm? No. That green credit will have already gone to a renewable producer - likely far away from your home producing energy for other people.
Is this yet another form of economic warfare?
ACORE purchased enough green credits to cover the amount of hydrocarbon emissions produced by their D.C. conference, including hotel accommodations for guest speakers. This was an obvious PR stunt, intended to portray green credits as the way responsible citizens counterbalance the carbon emissions produced by their oil and gas consumption.
But REC advocates never address the fact that increasing renewable energy sources will require more coal, oil, gas and nuclear consumption to sustain a centralized grid as demand escalates. Until a policy of decentralized energy cooperatives is implemented, renewable energy will only increase the consumption of, and reliance on, finite resources. In some remote corners of the globe decentralized cooperatives are already the norm, and these are the models FTW will be looking at as this series continues.
Meanwhile, those who can afford to build renewable energy projects are doing so, as close to their own living space as possible.
1"Wind Report 2004," published by E.ON Netz GmbH
/ene_windenergy_eng.jsp FTW was able to obtain an English translation of this report.
2"Energy Infrastructure: Electricity Transmission Lines," Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, March 2003 http://www.yourenergyfuture.org/docs/sheet-infrastructure.pdf
3"New York says Yes to Hydropower," press release from the National Hydropower Association (NHA) http://renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/market/business/viewstory;
4Ibid: citing the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Annual Energy Outlook 2003, DOE/EIA-0383 (2003), January 2003.
5"National Security to Lead Renewable Energy Deployment," RenewableEnergyAccess.com, Jesse Broehl, December 14, 2004 http://renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=19841
6"Anything Into Oil," by Brad Lemley, Discover Vol. 24 No. 5, May 2003 http://www.discover.com/issues/may-03/features/featoil
7 The fact that centralized grids are designed only to transport and consume energy leads renewable energy sources feeding the grid to cause voltage fluctuations. The amount of energy consumed by the grid must equal that which is being provided to it at any and every moment in time; otherwise blackouts can result. Renewable energy sources produce energy at inconsistent rates, depending upon variables such as sunlight and wind velocity. This is why 60% to 80% of energy fed into the grid must come from traditional sources, which do not cause voltage fluctuations.
There is an evolving computational method called "grid computing" that is speculated to be a possible solution to voltage fluctuation problems caused by renewable energy sources feeding a centralized grid. Such a system is currently being worked on, funded by the European commission and led by the Italian academic institution INFN and other organizations such as IBM Israel. Researchers say they may have a product ready for demonstration in two years. FTW will be watching developments in this area.
8 Battery systems can be installed in homes to store solar energy instead of selling (all of) the excess energy off to the grid