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Renewables can’t meet world’s demand, says Bryce

KEARNEY – Robert Bryce is a true believer that renewable resources cannot meet the growing global demand for energy.

Density – the ability to generate a lot of power on a small footprint – is critical, he said, and wind, solar, biofuels and similar industries don’t fit that blueprint.

Bryce, an Austin, Texas-based journalist and author, spoke this week in Kearney at the Nebraska’s Energy Future program hosted by the Platte Institute for Economic Research.

He worked 12 years at the Austin Chronicle and has written about energy issues for many national publications. His “corn ethanol scam” essay was part of the 2009 book “Food Inc.” published in conjunction with a documentary of the same name.

“Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy, and the Real Fuels of the Future” is his latest book and was published in 2010.

Bryce dismisses statements in former Vice President Al Gore’s award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and by other green energy proponents that carbon emissions can be reduced to zero. He said it’s impossible, given the growing energy demand in developing countries such as Vietnam and China and the outcry after recent blackouts in India that affected 600 million people.

He also argues that people who think carbon dioxide is bad haven’t answered the “then what?” question or described where to find enough carbon-free energy to meet world demand 365 days a year.

Even if U.S. emissions dropped by 4.4 percent, Bryce said, world levels would be up 7 percent. “Why would the United States, on its own, impose a carbon tax or a carbon-use limit?” he asked.

He said annual global growth in energy demand equals “one Brazil.”

Bryce said if wind turbines were used to meet that growth, there would have to be 35,000 square miles of them erected every year, or 100 square miles worth a day. Even then, peak wind production rarely is at the same time as peak demand.

Solar is a better time match, but it also requires large land masses for small amounts of power. “Scale, scale, scale,” Bryce said, is the key to energy production that makes sense.

Everyone wants power 24/7, and most people don’t care what form of energy is used to produce it, he said. They care a lot if they don’t have power.

Similarly, Bryce said he’s concerned about what happens when he steps on his car’s accelerator, but doesn’t care what he has to put into the gas tank. The same is true when people turn on a light switch.

“Energy and power are not the same thing,” he said, so what looks like a lot of wind energy doesn’t mean there’s a big boost in power production.

“I’m not a fan of wind energy. … In my view, no industry has had more special treatment,” Bryce said. He wants to see Congress allow the wind production tax credit to expire at the end of the year. He’s also no fan of renewable fuel standards.

Bryce said a serious discussion of U.S. energy policy will require basic physics and math.

“High yields are the best friend of nature. … We should be doing more with less,” he said, and that means using resources with smaller footprints than wind, solar and biofuels.

“Why is this (renewables) being promoted by the green left?” Bryce asked. “Energy sprawl is not what we want.”

He explained that big oil companies use drilling platforms in oceans because they get a huge energy yield from a relatively small space. “It’s the marine equivalent of the space program, all with private funding,” he said.

Nuclear reactors have similar benefits.

Calling ethanol a farm subsidy, not an energy program, Bryce said it looks like “Enron accounting” when U.S. ethanol production and gas exports triple at the same time.

“If you hear anybody use the line ‘energy independence,’ grab your wallet,” he cautioned, noting that the ethanol industry uses the term all the time to promote biofuels.

Bryce sees good news for U.S. energy in the development of shale oil and natural gas resources. He said that with oil and natural gas, “the more we find, the more we find.”

“If you are anti-CO2 and opposed to nuclear, you are pro blackout,” Bryce said.

The Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused some European leaders to phase out their nuclear plants. Bryce said Germany’s alternative is to build huge plants that burn cheap high-polluting coal.

He said the world is at the beginning of the nuclear age, relatively speaking, with coal, oil and natural gas not much older, so there is room for advancements.

“We have to get good at nuclear, and we are,” Bryce said.