TCS Daily


Five Myths About Green Energy

By Robert Bryce - April 25, 2010 12:00 AM

Americans are being inundated with claims about renewable and alternative energy. Advocates for these technologies say that if we jettison fossil fuels, we'll breathe easier, stop global warming and revolutionize our economy. Yes, "green" energy has great emotional and political appeal. But before we wrap all our hopes -- and subsidies -- in it, let's take a hard look at some common misconceptions about what "green" means.

1. Solar and wind power are the greenest of them all.

Unfortunately, solar and wind technologies require huge amounts of land to deliver relatively small amounts of energy, disrupting natural habitats. Even an aging natural gas well producing 60,000 cubic feet per day generates more than 20 times the watts per square meter of a wind turbine. A nuclear power plant cranks out about 56 watts per square meter, eight times as much as is derived from solar photovoltaic installations. The real estate that wind and solar energy demand led the Nature Conservancy to issue a report last year critical of "energy sprawl," including tens of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines needed to carry electricity from wind and solar installations to distant cities.

Nor does wind energy substantially reduce CO2 emissions. Since the wind doesn't always blow, utilities must use gas- or coal-fired generators to offset wind's unreliability. The result is minimal -- or no -- carbon dioxide reduction.

Denmark, the poster child for wind energy boosters, more than doubled its production of wind energy between 1999 and 2007. Yet data from Energinet.dk, the operator of Denmark's natural gas and electricity grids, show that carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in 2007 were at about the same level as they were back in 1990, before the country began its frenzied construction of turbines. Denmark has done a good job of keeping its overall carbon dioxide emissions flat, but that is in large part because of near-zero population growth and exorbitant energy taxes, not wind energy. And through 2017, the Danes foresee no decrease in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation.

2. Going green will reduce our dependence on imports from unsavory regimes.

In the new green economy, batteries are not included. Neither are many of the "rare earth" elements that are essential ingredients in most alternative energy technologies. Instead of relying on the diversity of the global oil market -- about 20 countries each produce at least 1 million barrels of crude per day -- the United States will be increasingly reliant on just one supplier, China, for elements known as lanthanides. Lanthanum, neodymium, dysprosium and other rare earth elements are used in products from high-capacity batteries and hybrid-electric vehicles to wind turbines and oil refinery catalysts.

China controls between 95 and 100 percent of the global market in these elements. And the Chinese government is reducing its exports of lanthanides to ensure an adequate supply for its domestic manufacturers. Politicians love to demonize oil-exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, but adopting the technologies needed to drastically cut U.S. oil consumption will dramatically increase America's dependence on China.

3. A green American economy will create green American jobs.

In a global market, American wind turbine manufacturers face the same problem as American shoe manufacturers: high domestic labor costs. If U.S. companies want to make turbines, they will have to compete with China, which not only controls the market for neodymium, a critical ingredient in turbine magnets, but has access to very cheap employees.

The Chinese have also signaled their willingness to lose money on solar panels in order to gain market share. China's share of the world's solar module business has grown from about 7 percent in 2005 to about 25 percent in 2009.

Meanwhile, the very concept of a green job is not well defined. Is a job still green if it's created not by the market, but by subsidy or mandate? Consider the claims being made by the subsidy-dependent corn ethanol industry. Growth Energy, an industry lobby group, says increasing the percentage of ethanol blended into the U.S. gasoline supply would create 136,000 jobs. But an analysis by the Environmental Working Group found that no more than 27,000 jobs would be created, and each one could cost taxpayers as much as $446,000 per year. Sure, the government can create more green jobs. But at what cost?

4. Electric cars will substantially reduce demand for oil.

Nissan and Tesla are just two of the manufacturers that are increasing production of all-electric cars. But in the electric car's century-long history, failure tailgates failure. In 1911, the New York Times declared that the electric car "has long been recognized as the ideal" because it "is cleaner and quieter" and "much more economical" than its gasoline-fueled cousins. But the same unreliability of electric car batteries that flummoxed Thomas Edison persists today.

Those who believe that Detroit unplugged the electric car are mistaken. Electric cars haven't been sidelined by a cabal to sell internal combustion engines or a lack of political will, but by physics and math. Gasoline contains about 80 times as much energy, by weight, as the best lithium-ion battery. Sure, the electric motor is more efficient than the internal combustion engine, but can we depend on batteries that are notoriously finicky, short-lived and take hours to recharge? Speaking of recharging, last June, the Government Accountability Office reported that about 40 percent of consumers do not have access to an outlet near their vehicle at home. The electric car is the next big thing -- and it always will be.

5. The United States lags behind other rich countries in going green.

Over the past three decades, the United States has improved its energy efficiency as much as or more than other developed countries. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, average per capita energy consumption in the United States fell by 2.5 percent from 1980 through 2006. That reduction was greater than in any other developed country except Switzerland and Denmark, and the United States achieved it without participating in the Kyoto Protocol or creating an emissions trading system like the one employed in Europe. EIA data also show that the United States has been among the best at reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per $1 of GDP and the amount of energy consumed per $1 of GDP.

America's move toward a more service-based economy that is less dependent on heavy industry and manufacturing is driving this improvement. In addition, the proliferation of computer chips in everything from automobiles to programmable thermostats is wringing more useful work out of each unit of energy consumed. The United States will continue going green by simply allowing engineers and entrepreneurs to do what they do best: make products that are faster, cheaper and more efficient than the ones they made the year before.


This article first appeared in the Washington Post.

Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His fourth book, "Power Hungry: The Myths of 'Green' Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future," will be out Tuesday, April 27.

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20 Comments

Watermelons
Watermelons: Bloated commie red on the inside, covered by a thin veneer of green on the outside. And not very difficult to slice entirely through to see it all, either.

I don't like the new James Bond flicks much. For one thing, all the cool gadgets and toys aren't in it. Nevertheless, I did finally see Quantum of Solace and was amazed that Hollywood would portray the antagonist via Al Gore & Shysters as they truly are. It was awesome to see.

And the Emmy goes to Barack Hussein Obama
Right now it seems we are living in one of those shoddy Hollywood re-make sit-coms given a left wing face lift,
produced by Hugo Chavez and directed by Oliver Stone. The theme never changes.. Government Knows Best.

"Deeply dishonest", would be, nay is, my two word review.

Hold to you gas can
Cause' this oil spill is going to give FUEL to the greenies like nobody business. And they will be right. It is possible that the cost of this spill will be far greater then the oil we can get out of that hole in the ground.

The Oil Spill Show
I expect the Oil Spill Show and the spill off trials to be a big hit with the dominant media and to tail in nicely with the elections this November sweeps.

Not so. Because Team Obama told us they where ready for this on Day One, remember?
...

Low Quality
So called alternative energy is simply "low quality" energy. The heat that a fuel unit can make is low. Fossil fuels and nuclear are "high quality." Writing a whole book to define a term is a bit much.

The problem is not energy. The problem is too many people on the planet.

Low quality systems work just fine with lower population.

Yes...and the Left wants our population to fall
...

Low quality systems work "just fine"? Zimbabwe?
3rd world countries have suffered, starved and remained in dark ages cultures all along while modern economies have thrived ...largely due to their low quality low reliability energy systems. High energy pretty much allows societies to buffer the elements and vicissitudes of life better than low level ones.
California is about to hit the wall with the low energy, low quality, low growth... low expectations model. Unions of course have also put the state in a $500 billion dollar hole. Opposing business growth while stuffing ballot boxes for Liberal spending pols only works till the bills start coming due.

More to the point.. President Obama's science advisor John Holdren has co-authored a book with Paul Ehrlich on coercive population control techniques governments could take. It appears the murderous progressive ideas of HG Wells and GB Shaw... Fabian socialists.. coming back in fashion. As one progressive in this forum recently said ... we must get rid of the excess underemployed and unemployed. SHADES of bloody Nazi economic and social control notions.
These progressives really have no argument with the Nazi position.. they just don't have the guts to examine its and their own roots. They are the same. They are now part of the Green Machine, as far as I can tell.

Yes... another crisis the socialists won't waste
Wasting American's monies and freedoms don't bother them.. Wasting a crisis does.

To address Atilla's "problem"
Atilla.. you think too many people are the problem. Too many you say. I would say the problem is low quality thinking leading to an either fascist or nazi or progressive conclusion.. People are to blame.. change or eliminate the problem.. People.
Capitalism of course sees people as having individual capital (ideas, enterprise, goals) leading to wealth creation. Wealth creation leading to ever more choices and wealth spilling over... among more resiliant growing societies.. which tells us also how numbskull socialists and progressives get their funding to tear it all apart.

Hi Joanie
Yep.. I had a long round and round with the other progressive in TCS .. leftist... whatever, about the same grand vision and inclination on the greenies and leftists parts for the last 100 years. Seems they have a little (a lot of) trouble recognizing their own historical roots.. and even less discernment when it comes to seeing it all as dangerous, fascistic anti-human nonsense or worse. To these guys, economics is just a handmaiden to controlling other people and destroying freedom and limited self governance. They don't seem to have read much of anything and all seem to have college educations. A curious mass man if you ask me, but not historically unknown. I imagine pre-socialist Russia Cambodia and China had their hardcore leftist true believers leading the charge. They seem to think of themselves as somehow being passed over by their leaders and planners and will not be winnowed out. They are a sorry bunch. China is reaping its harvest by allowing them to get a stranglehold on people's lives.

Some questions
You mention the convenient timing of the spill. Do you think the Gulf oil spill was a manufactured incident? Or just an accident?

Do you think damage to the fishing industry and the environment in general has been overplayed (by the "dominant media")? Underplayed? Played just about right?

Do you think the media should be giving more attention to the incident? Less attention? Or is it just about the right attention?

I'll answer my own question
All this is for you is just some crisis the socialists won't want to waste? Maybe that's because you've been functioning in a low-information environment. Your well-placed criticisms of what you call the "dominant media" reveal that you haven't heard much in the way of actual information about this spill-- and about the similar, previous ones. The only sources you've watched have probably been FoxNews and maybe CNN. And while they've dutifully entered the incident into their 24-hour news cycle, they actually have given out almost no real information about it. It's just empty talk and the same pictures, over and over again.

Ever heard of the West Atlas spill, in August of 2009? There are some curious similarities between the two incidents.

http://blog.skytruth.org/2009/09/timor-sea-drilling-spill-worse-than.html

First off, both blowouts occurred within hours of the newly drilled sites being sealed by cementing. As is usual with most marine blowouts, defective cementing was the proximal cause of each accident.

Second, both cementing jobs were done by the same company.

Third, both blowouts resulted in spills in sensitive wildlife areas. The area in the Timor Sea (site of the West Atlas spill) is a major migratory pathway for fish and marine mammals. The region in the Gulf is at the center of the area's shrimp and oyster grounds.

Fourth, despite such a miserable track record, BP was given a waiver from Obama's Secretary of the Interior from having to comply with EPA-written environmental impact guidelines or conduct studies. He relied on their statement that the likelihood of such an event (a major blowout at depth) would be "minimal or nonexistent".

http://www.counterpunch.org/wharton05122010.html

The whole mess would appear to be a direct result of the government's failure to properly regulate drilling activities under their legal mandate. Should this failure to supervise drilling operations continue (as is highly likely) such catastrophic blowouts will in time occur in EVERY area where offshore drilling has been authorized.

I don't see that we can come to any other conclusion-- providing we actually look at the available evidence and don't just watch the brain-mush being offered on cable television.

Regulatory capture
"At any rate, she was talking to someone last night (can't recall her name) who said that the agency that is responsible for hauling in the money from the oil companies is also the same agency that is responsible for oversight. Needless to say, that is a conflict in interest which needs to be addressed."

It's an index of how little actual information we get on cable that most people have never even heard the term 'regulatory capture'. That's the process by which the companies being regulated hire ex-regulators to show them how to get inside government-- and then send their employees in to undo the system from the inside. The other term they use for this is the Revolving Door. The defense industrialists and energy producers have been doing this for years. Obama's administration is as thoroughly infiltrated with these self servers as was the last administration.

But I think you pose exactly the wrong solution to the problem, here: "I think that libertarians would tell you that it would be better if the government got out of the way, and simply sold the property rights to the oil companies."

What would that do? Eliminate the cops? That would make the robbers have what, less overhead? This looks like a central problem with libertarian thinking, the idea that if there were just no rules to the game, everyone would act nobly and work in the best interests of society.

Society's needs and the ends of profit-oriented individuals rarely coincide-- and when they do, it's only fortuitous. It's not some part of God's magnificent plan, that letting greed rule the day results in some more glorious future for all.

We've just seen what happens when the companies doing extractive work that's potentially catastrophic to the world we live in are allowed to operate without oversight. That's just what's happened here. In your perfect world, there would be no government, and BP could operate freely, without constraint. While in the real world, the government exists but does nothing, and BP has a free hand to operate without constraint.

Watch how this mess gets handled. There'll be much fuss and banging of fists upon the table on cable telly, as the supposed watchdogs demand that BP pay "every penny". And mortified BP executives will appear on camera to solemnly swear they will pay up. And as the news cycle replaces this crisis with the next one-- a super-sports hero molesting some underage female, or a missing child somewhere-- all collective memory of this incident will be wiped from our television-softened brains.

And if by chance you should recall the great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 next year, you'll find that very little was ever done beyond the initial cleanup. And the bills will all still be outstanding. That's what's happened to the Valdez Spill of 1989. The oil's still on all the beaches along the south coast of Alaska. Really.

"I think it's safe to say that a pattern is emerging and that it would not be unreasonable to 1) blacklist that contractor from performing additional work on any rigs where oil companies hold leases with the U.S.; and 2) find out if that contractor has performed the same operation on the rigs of any other oil companies with whom we currently have leases."

That would indeed be very reasonable. But our world runs on the desires of investors wanting large returns, not on reason or sense. So it will no more happen now than it ever did in the past. That's why this spill is a nearly exact replay of last year's spill out in the Timor Sea. And why offshore drilling will continue. And why there will be more spills-- until one day we have no more viable fisheries, and our beaches will mostly be gooey and unusable.

It's very good for business to ignore these expenses, and brazen it out until the dumbfounded public forgets. If they actually had to pay the costs they'd find it cheaper to prevent spills, not just PR them out of the public mind.

Watch this
Click on this Peter Maass interview, where he describes the way oil exploration actually works:

http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/10/peter_maass_on_crude_world_the

The program was available to anyone who has DirectTV, and tunes to the Free Speech channel. But safe to say, not one in a thousand Americans has seen it. Probably not one in ten thousand. It's very informative.

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