Thursday, August 23, 2012

When Was a Child, I Held Childish Ideas

You've no doubt seen them. A kid comes on your televison, is playing on the beach on a sunny day, while explaining to you that solar energy is good for the environment etc. etc. blah, blah, blah. I could not find the specific ad on YouTube, but it hits on all the points that this ad hits. Namely that we could be more environmentally friendly if only we would give up nasty fossil fuels and instead use so-called "renewable" energy.

I really don't like such ads. First of all, a child is not going to know these things on his own, but will have to have been indoctrinated. I don't like using children using children to score political points for an adult's agenda that the children themselves do not yet fully understand. I look upon ads that use children and I see blatant manipulation. After all, who has the guts to call out a child. Even I, a grumpy curmudgeon, will not do that. But I will call out the people who made such an ad.  They are cowards using their children as human shields.

First, look at and learn from other countries' mistakes. Every nation doesn't have to stick its metaphorical fingers in the empty lamp socket to learn that it hurts. We can look to Denmark for a good lesson on wind energy production. Go and read the article. Rising electricity prices, depressed property values, noise that prevents people from sleeping at night, huge tax subsidies such that nobody knows the real cost of wind. Then there is this:
Except with hydropower, electricity cannot be stored in large quantities. The power companies have to generate it at the moment you need to use it. But wind's key disadvantage – in Denmark, as elsewhere – is its unpredictability and uncontrollability. Most of the time, the wind does not blow at the right speeds to generate electricity. And even when it does, that is often at times when little electricity is needed – in the middle of the night, for instance.
"I would interpret the [export] data as showing that the Danes rely on their fossil-fuel plants for their everyday needs," says John Constable, research director for the London-based Renewable Energy Foundation, which has commissioned detailed research on the Danish experience. "They don't get 20 per cent of their electricity from wind. The truth is that a much larger unit, consisting of Denmark and Germany, has managed to get about 7 per cent – and that only because of a fortuitous link with Norwegian and Swedish hydropower."
You see, the math doesn't work. Yes, the wind blows, and there is a huge amount of power in it that blows by and is lost to entropy.  If we could take advantage of it, it would free us from using as much fossil fuel as we do. But nobody has figured out how to get that power out of the wind. I would note, though, that if someone ever does figure it out, others would be claiming that people were changing the climate, because taking power out of the wind would lessen the effects of planetary warming and cooling. But forget I mentioned it, as nobody is likely to discover how to use wind energy soon. For now it is science fiction, the stuff of childrens' dreams. As adults, we should put away childish ideas and embrace the world as it is.

In the same vein, the solar energy companies point out that the world receives something like 1 kw/square meter over the earth's surface.  It would be all the energy we needed, if we could capture it.  But here's the catch: photovoltaic cells are notoriously inefficient. at between 15% and 20%.  Factors such as dirt on the panels, snow, cloud cover, and so forth bring that figure even lower.  So, now 1kw/sq meter theoretical insolation turns into perhaps 100 watts/square meter.  Your average house uses 2000 watts.  Of course, solar power is also very expensive compared to fossil fuel, and prices of solar panels are not coming down.  Now, solar power is useful in some places, and for some things.  But like wind energy, the idea that we can get away from fossil fuels is a children's dream.  Adults should put away such ideas, and confront the world we live in.  

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