A recent discussion with a commentor to this blog got me thinking. And after some thought, I still stand firm on my initial reading of Obama's proposal for alternative energy production over the next 3 years. Hhowever, I can also see where the commentor was coming from. I was coming from a logical perspective, while he was coming form a politician's vocabulary (politik-speak) perspective.
Let's view Obama's statement again.
* Double renewable energy generating capacity over three years.
It took 30 years to reach current levels of renewable energy production. This package will double that level over the next three years – enough to power 6 million American homes.
To me, that read that after the doubling there will be enough alternative energy to power, what could be considered, 6 million homes. The commenter believes that the doubling itself could power 6 million homes, thus doubling the initial amount. Adding those two values together we come to a much bigger value of 9 million homes. And to me, a much bigger problem. For Obama.
There are approximately 128 million homes in the USA. Three percent of all our electricity generation comes from non-hydroelectric renewable (green) energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. Three percent of 128 million is 3,840,000 homes. That's not 3 million. If you double 3.8 million you get 7.6 million, not 9 million.
Anyway, that is a dead and bloody house .. err.. horse now. Let's work on some of the facts.
Let's just say that he wants to double the current green energy production. What would that look like? Let's start with the current breakdown of energy production in the US. According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, there were 17,342 generators of electricity in America in 2007 (latest data). Of those, nearly 1,500 are coal fired generation plants. The rest break down like this:
Natural Gas 5,439
Hydroelectric Conventional 3,992
Other Biomass 1,299
Wood and Wood Derived Fuels 346
Pumped Storage 151
Other Gases 105
Solar Thermal and Photovoltaic 38
Hmmmm. Let's see if we can find Solar on that list? Waaaaay down at the bottom and even below something called.. "other". Other is deemed: Batteries, chemicals, hydrogen, and pitch. The number of solar installations is below ... PITCH?!!?
Here's another thing to note too. For all those whining about why don't we get off the dependence of coal and use natural gas, you can clearly see that we have nearly 4 times as many natural gas facilities than we do coal. We are using natural gas. And yet, we have a greater abundance of cheap coal in America than we do natural gas.
Ok, now let's look at the electric production capacity by generator for these facilities. Stay with me here, cause, I do plan to make a point.
Natural Gas 449,389
Hydroelectric Conventional 77,644
Pumped Storage 20,355
Wood and Wood Derived Fuels 7,510
Other Biomass 4,834
Other Gases 2,663
Solar Thermal and Photovoltaic 503
Hmm, look at that. The amount of electricity produced by coal and natural gas are nearly the same. Even though there are 4 times as many natural gas facilities than coal powered facilities? Interesting. Does that mean we get more power from coal than from natural gas?
Where is solar power on that list? oh..ohhhh. It is at the bottom once again. Hmmmm. Even with all those "jobs" created with all those billions and billions of research dollars?
OK, let's get down to doubling that renewable energy capacity. Add up all those "alternative" energies and you get 56,560. Doubling that you get all the way up to 113,120 Megawatts. Wow. That might equal the power of nuclear's output.
Let's look at power output per facility. There are 104 nuclear plants producing 105,764. That's 1,017MW per plant. (Seems some plants are not producing energy like they should. Thank you GreenPeace.) Now, let's look at renewables. There are 1,399 facilities producing said 56,560MW of energy. That's 40MW per plant.
All that money being thrown, subsidized, confiscated and taxed for alternative energies. To double it? Double what?!?!!?
Obviously, no matter how much research dollars you put in to solar, it really isn't going to take off without some really strong ideas. You know, with all of my balking at solar, if the government would just put up some smart plans, America would get behind them.
For example, I would be perfectly OK with constructing a MASSIVE solar panel field in the Mojave desert, or any desert. But, then the greenies would not like that. Oh no. But then you also have the problem of distribution of that power. All the power would be gone by the time it got back to the liberals in Washington. But you see, that would be something at least.
Instead of paying pinheads to do further and further research, or forcing utility customers to pay extra in order for generators to put up peasly little sites up in the northern latitudes of some northern state, build these solar plants in the most sunny places we know and do it up big. America got behind the Interstate Highway Project. They will get behind the Interstate Solar Project. Think about it, a solar field two states wide providing power to the night-golfers in Florida. Granted we will also need to double the efficiency of current solar panels as well.
Ok, let's get back on track. Let's say that you wanted to double the production output from those facilities that produce energy from alternative sources. How much would that take? (Remember, we are not talking hydroelectric.) Is it feasible?
One thing to note here is that the data above is just capacity generation. What are the different sites capable of producing? If you look here, you will actually see the actual megawatthours output by the fuel type. This is where the meat of electrical generation is.
Notice that coal produces about 50% of ALL electricity produced in the US. It is actually down a bit in 2008, and even more with the closure of the large 1,580 Megawatt Mohave Station. A station constructed in the desert that powered 1.5 million homes by itself.
Summing up the renewable energy sources (B12+B13+B14+B15+B16+B18(not B11 because it sums individual values)), gives us 110,573kMW or 2.67% power from non-hydroelectric renewable fuel sources. Of those, biomass can't really increase that much more. What you burn you can't recycle and you can't cut down more trees. Geothermal has been stagnant for the last 10 years. And that is basically only done in southern California. That basically leaves us solar and wind as the potential recipients of Obama's largess.
Quick Facts to Remember:
The shutdown of the Mohave Station that provided 1,580 Megawatts of electricity? That single facility alone provided 3 times the output, BY ITSELF, of the electrical output of ALL the solar generation facilities in the US.
I'm just sayin'.
Anyway, ... so, what would doubling the number of wind generation facilities look like? How about this? And you thought the hills of Bakersfield looked bad now? If you double that, you double the danger. And, wouldn't twice as many shown here just make the scenery, along Highway 58 in CA, that much better?
What impact upon our energy production would doubling wind generation have? Hmmm. Let's see. Right now, wind power alone only produces 0.83% of all electricity produced. Hey, at least by doubling it you could get in to the single digits!!
What kind of hit did we take by losing that one lone Mohave power generating station? 1.12%
There are nearly 400 windfarms in production right now producing 0.83% of our energy and those windmills are a blight right now. Yeah, let's double that visage.
Oh yes, wind power is much cleaner. Absolutely no pollution from the creation of windmills either. Just don't ask anyone how they make them.....
Some suggest that if you wanted to replace one coal generation station, it would take a 110 mile long stretch of the regular sized windmills. If you use the newest and largest ones, then that line stretches for over 200 miles.
Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! Thwap!
Solar is even worse. The percentage of power that we get from solar alone, after 4 decades and billions of research dollars, billions of government subsidies, and years and years of media hype is only 0.015%. We produce 612,000 Megawatthours (or 612 kMWhrs) from solar. Compare that to coal's 2,016,456 kMWhrs of electricity. (2 million thousand equals 2 trillion)
Now can you understand the magnitude of what Obama is saying when he wants to close down coal-fired electrical generation plants?
Here is one example of why solar, while useful, just won't take off. This site will take up 6 square miles to power 140,000 to 300,000 homes and produce 246,000 Megawatthours. Recall, that the closed Mohave Station was powering 1.5 MILLION homes by itself? Unfortunately, this solar plant project is now closed due to "environmental" and "historical lands" concerns. This one plant would have provided as much as 30% of our CURRENT solar energy production. But, environmentalists killed it.
(To understand this math, know that each home uses approximately 1,100 watts of energy (1.1 Kw or 0.0011 Megawatt), then a 400 Megawatt facility would be able to power approx. 363,636 homes.)
So, to sum this all up. What does it really take to go alternative?
We used 4 TRILLION Megawatthours (MWhrs) of energy in 2007. Coal provided half that energy. If Obama wants to bankrupt and close coal power generation plants, then he has to figure out a way of making up 2 TRILLION MWhrs of energy. Solar and wind production comprises 35,000 kMWhrs of energy in 2007. That would mean solar and wind would have to increase by a factor of 5,614%.
The release of energy from splitting a uranium atom turns out to be 2 million times greater than breaking the carbon-hydrogen bond in coal, oil or wood. Compared to all the forms of energy ever employed by humanity, nuclear power is off the scale. Wind has less than 1/10th the energy density of wood, wood half the density of coal and coal half the density of octane. Altogether they differ by a factor of about 50. Nuclear has 2 million times the energy density of gasoline. It is hard to fathom this in light of our previous experience. Yet our energy future largely depends on grasping the significance of this differential.
One elementary source of comparison is to consider what it takes to refuel a coal plant as opposed to a nuclear reactor. A 1000-MW coal plant – our standard candle - is fed by a 110-car “unit train” arriving at the plant every 30 hours – 300 times a year. Each individual coal car weighs 100 tons and produces 20 minutes of electricity. We are currently straining the capacity of the railroad system moving all this coal around the country. (In China, it has completely broken down.)
A nuclear reactor, on the other hand, refuels when a fleet of six tractor-trailers arrives at the plant with a load of fuel rods once every eighteen months. The fuel rods are only mildly radioactive and can be handled with gloves. They will sit in the reactor for five years. After those five years, about six ounces of matter will be completely transformed into energy. Yet because of the power of E = mc2, the metamorphosis of six ounces of matter will be enough to power the city of San Francisco for five years.
(Read this whole article and you will get a great understanding of E=MC2. You will learn how it impacts energy production.)
If environmentalists were all about efficiencies, land usage, clean energy, long term production, meeting our nation's energy needs in the future, providing cheap energy and broad energy distribution, then, there is no other alternative but ...
Why spend the billions on doubling expensive, inefficient and land-unfriendly energy sources when the most logical choice would be to restart our nuclear program.
If we are allowing Iran (who is our enemy and a terror supporter may I say) to build and use nuclear power, then why can't we?