[Note: National Wind Watch does not take a stand on solar energy.]
Did you know that there’s enough wind energy every day across the planet to power all human needs? Ditto for solar energy.
Knowing that I know this, what I say next may seem illogical: Wind and solar energy are not viable energy alternatives to power our country and likely never will be.
Don’t believe me? You really need to know only two facts to realize this statement is correct:
During large parts of the year, neither the sun nor the wind is available to generate power within the United States. And, during those periods, power must be generated from conventional means – in the U.S., that mainly means coal or nuclear power.
Energy expert Ed Hiserodt explains: “The weather in the United States is often dominated in both summer and winter by what is known as a ‘dome of high pressure.’ Such a condition leads to winds that are ‘light and variable’ – certainly not of a quality to turn a wind turbine. …
“Most of our country is tied together in (an) electrical grid so that power can be routed from one area to another as demands change from place to place. Electricity is not stored on the grid. If a portion of the power comes from wind generation, there must always be a backup in the event this drops significantly – like perhaps to zero.
“These backup plants must be kept running, as it requires hours, if not days, to bring them up to a level where they can provide power.”
These “spinning reserves” lead to a question: If the conventional plants are running anyway, why not get our power from them?
Because there are interruptions in the constancy of the sun’s rays – caused by nighttime, precipitation and clouds – the same holds true for solar power.
The only way around the power-outage problem is to find an efficient means of storing the “renewable power” for future use when the plants are not generating electricity.
But there’s a problem. Though there’s been a concerted effort by countries around the world for more than 30 years, such a means has not been found – except in the rare areas of the world where something called “pumped storage” is practical – because the physics behind the problem make its solution virtually impossible.
Even if this technology were available, wind and solar energy have other drawbacks.
Again, let’s look at wind power. A GE 1.5 megawatt wind turbine is said to produce enough electrical energy for 1,200 homes, but this figure only holds true under ideal wind conditions – wind speeds of 26 to 55 mph. If wind speed falls, power falls.
Hiserodt explains: “The amount of electrical power generated by a wind turbine is a function of the cube of the wind speed. If the speed drops by one half, then the generating capacity falls to one-half cubed or one-eighth.”
So, to more accurately determine a turbine’s true power output, we must use its average output for a year. This is called the “capacity factor.”
In Hiserodt’s home state of Arkansas, the capacity factor is well under 15 percent. But even figuring a 15 percent capacity factor, the number of houses powered drops to 180 – meaning each state would need many wind turbines.
Again, even this number of households powered would only hold true if renewably energy could be efficiently stored, which it can’t.
The House of Representatives recently passed a measure that would require at least 11 percent of our national power to come from renewable energy – meant to be solar and wind – by the year 2020.
Taking into account average yearly power increases, the state of Arkansas, which uses about 1 percent of the nation’s power, would need 3,516 wind turbines. The price? In Arkansas, $7.9 billion. Nationwide, $790 billion. All this to achieve virtually no net benefit.
Again, solar has similar handicaps. For instance, solar power plants’ advertised power is usually vastly overstated – again, because the plants are rated at peak possible power, not average power.
Wisconsin’s yearly average insolation – the amount of the sun’s energy that hits the ground – is roughly 160 watts per meter squared.
Since Wisconsin uses in the ballpark of 80 billion kilowatts per year, to get Congress’ 11 percent renewable through solar, we’d need 412 square miles of photovoltaic arrays to generate the required renewable power.
The House didn’t pass an energy bill. It resorted to the worst sort of political pandering. Please call our senators to stop this boondoggle.
September 26, 2007
Kurt Williamsen is an Appleton resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.