Friday, December 30, 2011

Pentagon's Love with Helios and Anemoi

In an Opinion Article (An unfair fight for renewable energies) appeared in Washington Post on 5 October 2011, former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger argues that “More energy from the sun hits Earth in one hour than all the energy consumed on our planet in an entire year.” Apparently this statement doesn’t seem absurd to him.

But he adds that “It is absurd that our federal government spends tens of billions of dollars annually subsidizing the oil industry, which pulls diminishing resources from underground, while the industry focused above ground on wind, solar and other renewable energies is derided in Washington…. We need a level field on which the United States allows renewable energies to develop by the same rules as oil.” No, Mr former governor, all subsidies should be eliminated in a free market economy.

What really absurd is his following argument: “When the oil, gas and nuclear industries were forming, federal support for those energies totaled as much as 1 percent of federal spending. Subsidies available to the renewables industry today are just one-tenth of 1 percent.” This twisted logic reminds me of the DoD budget talks. Remember, the Pentagon officials have been saying that the DOD budget represents only 4% of the US Gross Domestic Product.  Right, only $700 billion dollars.
By the way, Helios and Anemoi are the Greek Gods of the sun and wind.
I am quite surprised to see solar energy being promoted as a miraculous solution. For instance, I suppose you heard already that Project SolarStrong is worth more than $1 billion under which developer SolarCity will install, own, and operate rooftop solar systems on up to 160,000 privatized military residences on as many as 124 military bases across 33 states. The project would double the current number of residential rooftop solar systems in the U.S. It calls for installing a total of 371 megawatts of solar PV systems on military housing. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the offer of a conditional commitment for a partial guarantee of a $344 million loan to help secure financing for the project. Unfortunately, in no such news you read anything about the backup system.
Moreover, supporters of a “green” military often claim that it will lead to the creation of jobs and reduced expenditure on imported fossil fuels. In other words, they misplace hopes that “green” energy will produce “green” jobs.
This is said to justify the massive state handouts to renewable energies. Subsidies, grants, tax exemptions, feed-in tariffs with state guaranteed prices, and other aids such as renewable fuel mandates have nothing to do with the free market.

Andrew Barr says “In reality, renewable fuel mandates are little more than subsidies to a select group of companies (with governmental connections like SunRun, Solazyme and Solyndra) that are often long on promises but short on results.”
For two more recent critics see the latest DoD Inspector General’s report which mentions that The Department of the Navy Spent Recovery Act Funds on Photovoltaic Projects that Were Not Cost-Effective, Geothermal Energy Development Project at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, Did Not Meet Recovery Act Requirements.

Kevin Rosner recently published an excellent article (Post Mortem on Germany's Nuclear Melt-Down). Below I repeat two good examples from Kevin.
According to a 2009 study since the year 2000 renewable subsidies have created less than 50,200 jobs in Spain. The average subsidy per worker added in these three sources of renewable energies [mini-hydro, wind, and solar] is more than half a million Euros (€571,138), ranging from €542,825 per worker added in or by the mini-hydro sector and two-thirds of a million Euros per worker added in or by the photovoltaic sector, to well over €1 million per worker added in or by the wind industry.

The UK’s experience with wind-power in December 2010 is another example. In December the UK’s 3,153 turbines produced a mere 0.2 % of the needed power during a time of bitter cold. Operating at peak efficiency the turbines should have been able to provide almost 10% of the needed power, but unreliable wind had the turbines functioning at less than 2.5 percent of their capacity. Germans might want to consider this experience as potentially part of their own Nein Danke nuclear future.
In sum, Pentagon energy officials must learn that solar and wind systems cannot provide reliable, base-load electricity. These systems have to be supported by the backup baseload, provided by fossil fuels or nuclear. So much with the zero net installations! Pentagon officials must also keep in mind that we waste much of the electricity we generate because we do not have the sufficient technology to store all the electricity generated. This is why we need more R&D and innovation for energy storage solutions. In the absence of a storage solution, installations will continue to rely on civilian grid (unless power is generated by small nuclear plants inside the installations). I hope before the New Year starts all senior DOD energy officials will find some time to read more on basics of energy. My reading will be on gardening.

A happy, healthy and peaceful new year!

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