Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Beware renewable energy sprawl.
In order for California to meet its mandated goal of generating one-third of its electricity from renewable resources, predominately wind turbines and solar panels, quite a bit of land and natural resources are going to be required in order to achieve that.
California's peak usage is 52,000 megawatts, so one-third of that is 17,000 MW. Let's assume for the sake of simplicity that wind and solar will split production of that 17,000 MW 50/50.
On the solar side, producing 8,500 MW of electricity will require 129 square miles of solar farms, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan. Good thing we've got such a big state, huh? We can park these farms out in the middle of nowhere (which is another problem in of itself which we will address later). Unfortunately, nowhere, like the Ivanpah farm out in the Eastern Mojave had its construction shut down out of concern for the federally-protected desert tortoise.
Wind energy is even worse: in order to produce that 8,500 MW, you would need the equivalent of 70 Manhattans, again, out in the middle of nowhere with the incumbent transmission (loss) problems. Also, wind turbines require about 200 tons of steel each, the production of which has its own sizeable carbon footprint. Contrast that with a natural gas turbine which weighs about 9 tons and there is a 200-1 difference in the the MW generated per ton of steel between the gas turbine and the wind turbine.
And all this time, we thought the green mantra was: Small is beautiful.
Then again, this may all prove to be a moot point since China sits on most of the rare earths required for wind and solar technology and we're supposed to run out of lithium by 2050 anyway.
When thinking of our head-long rush into green energy, we are reminded of China's Great Leap Forward and their head-long rush to become an industrial power. Starting in 1958, 90 million rural peasants were submitted to "backyard steel mills" but with no iron ore or pig iron to throw into their crude smelts, they instead grabbed anything they could; shovels, hoes, picks, axes, pipes, crow bars, wagon hubs and even their own small tractors... any and all iron on the farm. After all, their were mandates and quotas to be met! Suffice to say, the steel produced was virtually useless. And besides worthless steel, what did the central planners of the Chinese communist party have to show for it? Depending upon who you are listening to, between 20 and 30 million dead Chinese.
We're in the best of hands.