Transport Technology: Electric Cars and Alternatives

Scientific Alliance Newsletter (UK)- June 26, 2009

A few years ago, the hydrogen fuel cell was widely seen as the favoured way to replace the internal combustion engine. The selling point was that only water vapour would come out of exhaust pipes; cars journeys would have zero carbon emissions. Reality, as always, was rather more complex. Despite the perceived advantages, hydrogen-fuelled cars face enormous challenges if they are ever going to move beyond the demonstration stage.

Generating, distributing and storing hydrogen on a large scale is horrendously difficult, and the infrastructure investment necessary is mind-boggling. And, above all, hydrogen is simply a carrier of energy, which must be produced using low-carbon sources of power to offer any advantage in overall emissions reductions. This itself means a huge investment in (intermittent) solar, wind, tidal or wave power, in new nuclear capacity, or in coal stations fitted with (as yet unproven) carbon capture and storage systems.

Not surprisingly, battery-powered cars have gradually become the preferred option. They of course also only become a low-carbon option if appropriate power generation systems are in use. Looking at the bigger picture, the inefficiencies and losses at each stage of the system – electricity generation, transmission, battery charging, car use – make the argument for moving to electric cars less attractive. It is only if carbon reduction rather than overall saving in energy use is the main driver that a concerted move in this direction makes sense.

The other main issues with electric cars are their range and affordability. It is certainly possible to make a high performance battery-powered car with a reasonable range (the Tesla Roadster), but the cost is high and this is hardly for the mass market. All other current or close-to-market models have a very limited range, making them really only suitable for urban use. And the UK government would not be offering purchase grants if they were economically competitive.

But let’s not be too negative: this is a new technology (well, actually improved, as some electric vehicles have been with us for many years) which deserves to be given a chance. And that’s exactly what is happening with a new scheme just announced by Paul Drayson, the UK science minister. About 340 electric vehicles will be leased to members of the public in eight places around the country. The stated intention is to encourage R&D by car companies to kick-start widespread adoption of the technology which, say the government, could cut the 22% of national carbon dioxide emissions generated by road transport by half.

Maybe, but there is clearly a long way to go yet. Charging infrastructure is one big issue, with public charging points being installed in some of the trial areas. A spokesperson for Mini UK, one of the car suppliers, also pointed out that charging from a normal household power point would take over 10 hours (and anything with a significantly longer range would need much longer) so they are hoping to get the local electricity company to install a 32 amp supply in the homes of participants. This is only possible for houses with fairly modern wiring.

But the challenges to a substantial rollout of electric cars in towns seem more readily overcome than those impeding a similar introduction of hydrogen as a motor fuel. In the meantime, though, what would be the costs and savings in energy and carbon dioxide emissions if all road vehicles were to be powered by the latest generation of highly efficient diesel engines?

Tilting at Green Windmills

By George Will, Washington Post, June 25, 2009

The Spanish professor is puzzled. Why, Gabriel Calzada wonders, is the U.S. president recommending that America emulate the Spanish model for creating “green jobs” in “alternative energy” even though Spain’s unemployment rate is 18.1 percent—more than double the European Union average—partly because of spending on such jobs?


Calzada, 36, an economics professor at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, has produced a report that, if true, is inconvenient for the Obama administration’s green agenda, and for some budget assumptions that are dependent upon it. Calzada says Spain’s torrential spending—no other nation has so aggressively supported production of electricity from renewable sources—on wind farms and other forms of alternative energy has indeed created jobs. But Calzada’s report concludes that they often are temporary and have received $752,000 to $800,000 each in subsidies—wind industry jobs cost even more, $1.4 million each. And each new job entails the loss of 2.2 other jobs that are either lost or not created in other industries because of the political allocation—sub-optimum in terms of economic efficiency—of capital. (European media regularly report “eco-corruption” leaving a “footprint of sleaze”—gaming the subsidy systems, profiteering from land sales for wind farms, etc.) Calzada says the creation of jobs in alternative energy has subtracted about 110,000 jobs elsewhere in Spain’s economy.

The president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked about the report’s contention that the political diversion of capital into green jobs has cost Spain jobs. The White House transcript contained this exchange:

Gibbs: “It seems weird that we’re importing wind turbine parts from Spain in order to build—to meet renewable energy demand here if that were even remotely the case.”

Questioner: “Is that a suggestion that his study is simply flat wrong?”

Gibbs: “I haven’t read the study, but I think, yes.”

Questioner: “Well, then. [Laughter.]”

Actually, what is weird is this idea: A sobering report about Spain’s experience must be false because otherwise the behavior of some American importers, seeking to cash in on the U.S. government’s promotion of wind power, might be participating in an economically unproductive project.

It is true that Calzada has come to conclusions that he, as a libertarian, finds ideologically congenial. And his study was supported by a like-minded U.S. think tank (the Institute for Energy Research, for which this columnist has given a paid speech). Still, it is notable that, rather than try to refute his report, many Spanish critics have impugned his patriotism because he faulted something for which Spain has been praised by Obama and others.

Judge for yourself: Calzada’s report can be read here. And you can find similar conclusions in ”Yellow Light on Green Jobs,” a report by Republican Sen. Kit Bond, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee’s subcommittee on green jobs and the new economy.

What matters most, however, is not that reports such as Calzada’s and the Republicans’ are right in every particular. It is, however, hardly counterintuitive that politically driven investments are economically counterproductive. Indeed, environmentalists with the courage of their convictions should argue that the point of such investments is to subordinate market rationality to the higher agenda of planetary salvation.

Still, one can be agnostic about both reports while being dismayed by the frequency with which such findings are ignored simply because they question policies that are so invested with righteousness that methodical economic reasoning about their costs and benefits seems unimportant. When the president speaks of “new green energy economies” creating “countless well-paying jobs,” perhaps they really are countless, meaning incapable of being counted.

For fervent believers in governments’ abilities to control the climate and in the urgent need for them to do so, believing is seeing: They see, through their ideological lenses, governments’ green spending as always paying for itself. This is a free-lunch faith comparable to that of those few conservatives who believe that tax cuts always completely pay for themselves by stimulating compensating revenue from economic growth.

Windmills are iconic in the land of Don Quixote, whose tilting at them became emblematic of comic futility. Spain’s new windmills are neither amusing nor emblematic of policies America should emulate. The cheerful and evidently unshakable confidence in such magical solutions to postulated problems is yet another manifestation—Republicans are not immune: No Child Left Behind decrees that by 2014 all American students will be proficient in math and reading—of what the late senator Pat Moynihan called “the leakage of reality from American life.” See post here.

A New Paradigm in Energy Innovation: Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes

By Jesse Jenkins & Teryn Norris

In an in-depth proposal for new energy innovation, the Brookings Institution calls for an “order of magnitude increase” in federal energy R&D and the establishment of a new network of regionally-based “Energy Discovery Innovation Institutes.”

The Brookings Institution officially unveiled a new proposal yesterday calling for “a new paradigm in energy innovation” at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The proposal, which was developed for over a year and is one of the most in-depth proposals for new energy R&D out there, calls for an “order of magnitude” increase in federal energy R&D investment and proposes a new model for clean energy technology research and commercialization: establishing a national network of regionally-based “Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes” (e-DIIs) to serve as hubs of distributed research linking the nation’s best scientists, engineers, and facilities and effectively combining the forces of academia, government and industry.

The report, prepared by Brooking’s Metropolitan Policy Program (Metro) concludes:

This report urges two major changes in U.S. energy policy. First, it calls for an order-of-magnitude increase in federal investment levels for energy R&D, as a necessary step to matching the enormous scale of the nation’s energy problem with massive efforts to develop market-ready technological solutions. Second, it argues that the complexity of the nation’s energy challenges require that the nation make use of decentralized, multidisciplinary, collaboration-oriented new research paradigms better able to integrate scientific research, technology development and commercialization, and the production of human resources across a broad range of scientific, technological, economic, behavioral, and public policy considerations.

More specifically, the report proposes augmenting expanded energy R&D programs across the nation’s range of national laboratories and industrial research centers with a new research paradigm proposed by the National Academy of Engineering: a national network of energy discovery-innovation institutes (e-DIIs). Decentralized, multidisciplinary, and applications oriented, the proposed e-DII network would link together a new regionally grounded, “bottom up” drive to accelerate the commercialization of breakthrough technological advances in many domains. When completed, the new network would consist of 20 to 30 e-DIIs, with interagency federal funding building to a total level of $5 to $6 billion a year.

In this video, Mark Muro, a fellow and policy director at Metro and co-author of the new report speaks about energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes and their potential to transform both our nation’s energy sources and the economies of metropolitan areas.

Read more here.

Energy Present and Future

By Robert P. Smith, Ph.D., P.E.

This paper is about energy: how much there is, what types there are, how much is being used, who controls it, and what options are available to Americans. The 2008 oil price spike sparked debate on the entire spectrum of energy alternatives. We are approaching the end of an era, and profound changes lay ahead of us. This paper summarizes facts about energy that can give us a better understanding of what we can expect in current and future energy options and what we should be doing to effect good energy practices and government policy.

Executive Summary

• Despite the recent fall in oil prices, the era of cheap oil is over. Nevertheless, the U.S. has extensive reserves of coal, shale oil, and nuclear fuel, and these can provide reasonably priced electricity and liquid fuels for at least the next 200 years; nuclear power even longer. Natural gas reserves are once again rising because of new technologies in extraction.

• The U.S. has abundant supplies of non-conventional oil. Shale oil and coal-to liquids technology can produce gasoline and diesel fuel in the $3 per gallon range for many decades, with at least a 200-year supply.

• Conservation and utilizing energy efficiencies are always good practices. The U.S. is already becoming more energy efficient every year – and without mandated restrictions.

• The U.S. must have a reliable and affordable energy supply as a matter of national security. Economic growth will require adequate and economical sources of energy. Though well-intentioned, many environmentalists and certain congressional members are blocking practical energy alternatives simply because they are not perceived as “renewable,” without fully understanding the harmful consequences of this obstruction.

• The theory of man-made global warming is not based upon thoroughly vetted science. Data over the past decade indicates that no warming has occurred since 1998, and 2007 and 2008 are two of the coolest years in the past fifty. Historical and sunspot data indicate temperatures will decline over the next twenty years.

Faced with mounting opposition from thousands of scientists citing fact-based research, global warming advocates are now adopting the term “climate change.” Public policy formulated with global warming as its premise could be extremely counter-productive to economic growth.

• A new generation of more fuel-efficient vehicles will be on the market in 2010 and thereafter. Longer term, plug-in electric hybrids built from composite materials that can routinely achieve over 60 mpg will be safer and better alternatives for the future.

• Wind energy can provide a portion of electrical power, but its potential is limited. Wind is unreliable: it only generates electricity when and where the wind is blowing. Wind energy requires backup, such as coal, nuclear or gas turnbine, to make it reliable.

• Solar energy will have a place long term, but faces major challenges. Development of a cheap and efficient photovoltaic cell is needed, although Thin Film Photovoltaic technology shows promise. Large-scale solar power is unreliable – nights and cloudy days yield no power – but Solar Tower Power technology may be viable in the long term. The intermittent nature of both solar and wind power currently limits their reliability and hence their cost effectiveness.

• The U.S. Congress is blocking energy initiatives that could help the U.S. in cost and supply. These include:

o Domestic oil exploration offshore, in Alaska, and on federal lands;
o Coal-to-liquid fuels for secure military and domestic supply;
o Permitting for shale oil development and recovery in western states;
o Fast track permitting for nuclear plants.

• Carbon taxes and caps, combined with mandated requirements for “alternative energy” sources will drive up the cost of fuel and electricity. This will increase the cost of food, fuel, and utility bills. These higher costs will cause disproportionate hardship on those who can least afford it: middle class and lower income citizens.

Paper Format and Sources
The writing style of this paper is intended to make it as readable to the ordinary person as possible. The format often poses a question followed by an answer. This is not an academic paper. There are no footnotes or citations. The sources were authoritative books and technical papers on related subjects (listed at the end of paper); articles and publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Dallas Morning News and The Economist; and energy reports, technical papers, data sources obtained (and cross-checked) through the Internet from sites such as the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the International Energy Agency. Read full paper at


Changing the Climate with White Roofs

Guest Post by Dr. Anthony Lupo

For those who are proponents of the idea that humankind is harmfully warming the climate by adding greenhouse gasses to the earth’s atmosphere, it is also an article of faith that we can engineer our own solutions through policy prescriptions or burdensome regulations. So it is with Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu who claimed that we can offset a large part of the expected human-induced warming by changing roofs to white and urban surfaces to a lighter, more reflective color. 


There are many real climate scientists out there who question such silly statements and are not afraid to point out that trying to modify urban areas on such a grand scale would be a very expensive endeavor while delivering a small payoff. Dr. Roy Spencer[1] convincingly demonstrates that such a prescription would offset only a very small portion of the expected CO2 emissions, and thus probably not make much of a difference in global temperatures. Dr. Lubos Motl[2] also performs some back-of-the-envelope calculations to demonstrate that the impact of Steven Chu’s prescription might result in a global temperature change on the order of 0.01o C or less.  

My own critique of Dr. Chu’s statement has come a bit slower as I am generally a step or two behind many of the skeptics like those cited above. One also might ask the question; what would be the real impact of brightening urban surfaces on the current climate and even the weather. After reading Chu’s statement, I was reminded of an experiment that I’d done with a simple climate model some 15 – 20 years ago in a graduate class back at my alma mater. After doing some digging, I found this report and the data, and then reviewed what was done.  

In this experiment, a statistical-dynamic climate model (SDM) was used [3]. A statistical-dynamic model is much simpler than the general circulation models (GCMs) used today (see [4] for a discussion of GCMs on this website). The SDM uses the same mathematical core that a GCM uses, but only yields two-dimensional solutions of climate that are steady-state (can be used to diagnostically). The GCM by contrast can yield fully three-dimensional solutions that can vary with time (or be used as a forecast model). Additionally, the SDM has simpler versions of all the critical physics of a GCM, so the advantage is that the computer program is only about 1% as long as a GCM.  It can give nearly instantaneous results compared to the GCM. These advantages were big at the time when computer space was at a premium.    

In one experiment, the SDM model was used in which the earth’s surface albedo, or the amount of reflected radiation, was decreased for all the land on earth by about 2.5%. Keep in mind about 30% of the earth’s surface is land-covered. The global temperature was increased by about 0.04o C. These numbers are consistent with the numbers quoted on the two blogs cited above. In fact, using the numbers presented in [1], [2] is the equivalent of reducing the albedo over the entire land surface of the planet by less than 1%. This is less than half the amount of reduction done in the SDM experiment described above.

The implied changes to the earth’s general circulation were negligible, in other words, there was no detectable change in the strength or location of the jet-streams, or the storminess in either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. This was true for both the warm season and cold season. Note that the storminess is a quantity that measures the combined impact of changes in the number and intensity of mid-latitude cyclones.

One experiment was run in which the entire United States was given the same albedo as that of a parking lot (as suggested by a Joni Mitchell song?). In this experiment, the climate of the Northern Hemisphere was changed substantially as the jet stream was pushed farther toward the North Pole, and temperatures were increased appreciably.

It is well known that cities, and therefore people, can have a significant impact on the local climate through the heat-island effect [5]. But their impact on global climate is demonstrably small. Thus, policy-makers should be more careful about proposing solutions that would require substantial costs and drastic changes in lifestyle, when there is no research to back up the solution.

[1] Spencer, R., 2009: White Roofs and Global Warming

[2] Motl, L., 2009: Steven Chu will paint the world white

[3] Oglesby, R.J., and B. Saltzman, 1990: Extending the EBM: the effect of deep ocean temperature on the climate with applications to the cretaceous. Paleogeo., Paleoclim., Paleoec., 82, 237 – 259.

 [4] Lupo, A.R., 2007: The complexity of Atmospheric modeling.

 [5] Huff, F.A., and S.A. Changnon, 1973: Precipitation modification by major urban areas. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 54, 1220 – 1232.

The Answer, My Friend Is Not Blowing in the Wind – Part II

By Joseph D’Aleo

Recently we hasd to suffer through Green Week on NBC, the GE network. GE has created a cleantech empire, having bought its way into wind, solar, and water in a big way with a belief that global warming offered a “huge opportunity”.  Don’t expect objective reporting from NBC or the GE owned Weather Channel on either climate change or energy. Their CEO Jeff Immelt is a member of the Obama administration as an advisor, a fact which will ensure the erroneous claim that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant despite all the evidence emerging to the contrary. It will likely be worse than the ethanol debacle under Bush.

Though there is a place for renewables like solar and wind and geothermal, except for a few special places globally (like Iceland and maybe Yellowstone for geothermal, and the desert southwest for solar and wind), they are no more than supplemental sources.

I have for decades been a strong believer in conserving energy. I am all for innovation and cleaner burning fuels. I am old enough to recall the soot from burning coal in the big cities and the morning mixing down of sooty pollution from incinerators when the first mixing of the new day took place. We often had to brush the soot and particulates off windshields. I remember when cars gave off choking levels of hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide as well as particulates and we yearned for the day the internal combustion engine would burn clean and only gave off harmless water vapor and carbon dioxide. We got there. Then suddenly carbon dioxide was demonized thanks in part thanks to the efforts of ENRON looking for the next big opportunity after in the early 1990s Enron had helped establish the market for, and became the major trader in, EPA’s $20 billion-per-year sulphur dioxide cap-and-trade program, a story for another day.

The quest to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and greater efficiency led us to the ethanol debacle. California is now stopping the use of ethanol in their gasoline and that will gradually spread. It turns out, in addition to driving up the prices of food, it actually nets out less efficient than plain gasoline when considering the entire end to end processing and total emissions are up not down. 

I support solar and understand the technology has improved to provide more energy from the sun even on partly cloudy days but it is expensive and though it makes a lot of sense in the desert, can be nothing more than a part-time supplemental energy source in the north where there is little sunshine in fall and winter and of course, the sun doesn’t shine at night.

Today we are going to compile recent findings about another of the renewables – wind power, potentially another very expensive boondoggle, despite the T. Boone Pickens and GE hype.


The administration regularly mentions Spain as the model for where they want to take our country in terms of wind energy and “millions of green jobs”. Countries in Europe moved to wind energy faster so we can learn from their experience.

Very instructive is the study by Dr. Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at Juan Carlos University in Madrid that found for every green job you create, you can count on 2.2 lost real jobs. AND only 1 in 10 green jobs are permanent. The study calculated that, since 2000, Spain spent $774,000 to create each “green job”, including subsidies of more than $1.3 million per wind industry job. It found that creating those jobs resulted in the destruction of nearly 113,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy, or 2.2 jobs destroyed for every “green job” created. Principally, jobs were lost in the fields of metallurgy, non-metallic mining and food processing, beverage and tobacco.

“The loss of jobs could be greater if you account for the amount of lost industry that moves out of the country due to higher energy prices,” Dr.Calzada said recently in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Ironically, as noted recently by the Institute for Energy Research, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has calculated that Spain’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by nearly 50 percent since the launch of the subsidized “green jobs” program as conventional fossil fuel energy sources were needed in ready back up mode to keep electricity flowing when the wind abated. Wind is a very unsteady force.

“The price of a comprehensive energy rate, paid by the end consumer in Spain, would have to be increased 31 percent to begin to repay the historic debt generated by this rate deficit mainly produced by the subsidies to renewables, according to Spain’s energy regulator. Spanish citizens must therefore cope with either an increase of electricity rates or increased taxes (and public deficit), as will the U.S. if it follows Spain’s model,” the study found.

In the Wall Street Journal report here tilled Green Joblessness, they conclude: Spanish policy shows that green dreams like renewable energy are achievable only through massive transfers of money from productive sectors to those seeking to get rich quick thanks to government mandates. And that the few jobs created greatly depend on maintaining impossible levels of growth. Even in Mr. Obama’s Washington, you can’t print enough greenbacks to pay for these green jobs.

Wind power operates at 20% efficiency, Shell oil found before they abandoned their offshore wind project off the UK. That compared to 85% for coal, gas, nuclear.

Britain’s wind farms have stopped working during the January 2009 cold snap due to lack of wind, it has emerged, as scientists claimed half the world’s energy could soon be from renewables. The Met Office said there has been an unusually long period of high pressure across the UK for the last couple of weeks, causing the cold snap and very little wind.


For weeks, much of the country suffered sub-zero (C) conditions with frozen rivers and lakes and even the sea in the south of England, at Sandbanks in Dorset. In the last few days temperatures in southern England plunged as low as 17.6F (-8C). Sources in the energy industry say that the lack of wind has caused the country’s wind farms to grind to a halt when more electricity than ever is needed for heating, forcing the grid to rely on back up from fossil fuels or other renewable energy sources.

 Liverpool turbines

Wind turbines near Liverpool, UK

John Constable, director of policy and research at the Renewable Energy Foundation, a think tank, said wind has been generating at a sixth of total capacity for much of a couple of weeks, dropping to almost zero at times.  “This shows that wind provides very little firm, reliable capacity,” he said. “At times of high demand in cold weather there is a tendency for there to be no wind.” Power generator E.On said wind energy supplies dipped 60 per cent in the last couple of weeks, when compared to the last fortnight in December.

A spokesman said: “As a country we need to keep the lights on, reduce our environmental impact, and do that in the most affordable way for our customers. Sadly there is no single miracle cure to do that. “Renewables, such as wind, have a big part to play now and in the future but in order to guarantee a secure electricity supply it’s clear we need a mix of power stations including cleaner coal, new nuclear and gas.”

 A UK Telegraph story in early December reported a report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), published in late fall in the UK, maintained that wind farms could play a major role in helping Britain cut its harmful carbon emissions by 34 per cent in 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.

John Constable challenged this and said: “To generate 30 or 40 per cent of our electrical energy from wind power would present unmanageable and unaffordable difficulties at the present.

“The CCC’s assertion to the contrary is simply out of step with the state of theoretical and empirical knowledge in the field. Betting on very heavy commitment to wind for carbon reduction is irrational and will result in the inevitable failure of our climate change policy. Wind has a role, but this role will be modest in scale.”

A report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, published last month, also cast doubt on the merits of wind turbines.

The committee, headed by Lord Vallance of Tummel, said the Government was relying too heavily on wind to help it meet an EU target for the UK to generate 15 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The peers’ report states: “An over-reliance on intermittent power generation, in pursuit of the target, could prove both costly and risky.”

Instead, the report favoured the expansion of nuclear power and the development of carbon capture technology to allow “clean” coal fired power stations.

We have found the same here in the United States in areas that have tried wind power early. An Investor’s Business Daily editorial reported  “Because of the intermittent nature of wind, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas uses a figure of only 8.7% of wind power’s installed capacity when determining available power during peak periods.”

On cloudy and windless days, solar and wind are useless and require conventional power sources as backup. Output is not steady and cannot be increased on demand. You can’t make the sun shine brighter or the wind blow harder during peak periods.

A February 27, 2008 Reuters story illustrated the point. Headlined “Loss Of Wind Causes Texas Power Grid Emergency,” it told of an electric grid operator forced to curtail 1,100 megawatts of power to customers on just 10 minutes’ notice. The wind simply stopped blowing.

Wind turbines generally operate at only 20% efficiency compared with 85% for coal, gas and nuclear plants. A single 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant would generate more dependable power than 2,800 1.5-megawatt, occasionally operating wind turbines sitting on 175,000 acres.

Nuclear power is clean energy, and you wouldn’t have to wait for a sunny or windy day to plug in your electric car. And the cost is another major issue.

A just published study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “Texas Wind Energy: Past, Present and Future,” says that to achieve even modest amounts of wind energy would cost rate payers and taxpayers at least $60 billion through 2025. That includes transmission costs, production costs, subsidies, tax breaks, economic disruption costs and grid-management costs.

Here in the United States, the night it was -50F in Maine, a new all-time state record for cold and tying the record for New England this past winter, the wind was calm. Often the hottest summer days find light or calm winds.


 This National Post story reported Denmark most wind intensive country with 6000 turbines generating 19% of electricity from wind power. However, they have not been able to close A SINGLE fossil fuel plant AND to their dismay, 50% more electricity was needed to cover wind’s unpredictability. Oh and CO2 emissions rose 36%.

Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark’s largest energy utilities) tells us that “wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that “Germany’s CO2 emissions haven’t been reduced by even a single gram,” and additional coal and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.

Vaclac Klaus from the Czech Republic in his book “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” asked the question “Could the Czech Republic replace the power output from the Temelin nuclear power plant by wind?” Using conservative estimates the answer is yes but it would take 7,750 wind turbine power plants requiring 8.6 million tons of material and would cover a 413 mile long line of turbines 492 feet high, corresponding to a distance from Temelin in the southern Czech Republic to Brussels in Belgium or in the US, the distance from Concord, NH to Washington DC.

 Speaking of New Hampshire, Dr. Fred Ward has calculated you could put a wind turbine on every hill in NH and not get half the power of one nuclear power plant.

 Also on the negative side of the environmental ledger are adverse impacts of industrial wind turbines on birdlife and take a major toll on bats, veracious insect predators. Some environmental groups are fighting wind farms based on this issue, one in Georgia has fought an off-shore wind farm based on the threat to whales. In Oregon, some environmentalists are fighting getting transmission lines from the wind turbines to the grid because of disruption to the environment.


They oppose fossil fuels insisting on renewables but then fight their implementation. With regards to solar, you may recall recently Senator Diane Feinstein joined conservationists in opposing the Mohave Desert solar project because of what it might do to the aesthetics of the region and its tortoise population. 


The wind doesn’t always blow nor does the sun always shine. Renewable energy like wind or solar is not produced when needed, so storage is needed, and this is expensive. All the promoters of renewable energy ignore the need for storage. What is needed is a large-scale, efficient, low-cost technology that can store huge amounts of electrical energy for weeks or months. No suitable technology exists or has even been contemplated. Hydro-pumped storage is the best we have. 

It is expensive – at least $1500 /kW – and requires two very large storage lakes not far from each other and with one lake something like 700 m higher than the other. The losses are 25%. The cost, the losses, and the difficulty of finding a suitable site are insuperable barriers to large-scale adoption of hydro-pumped storage. So people who tell us that it is possible to run modern power systems from wind power, solar power and marine energy are not telling the truth.

The Single Minded Stupidity of Energy Policy

By Mac Johnson, Energy Tribune

The biggest problem in energy supplies today is that politicians think it is a problem with a solution. And by that I mean they seem to think it has exactly one solution.


We can’t drill in the Arctic because the solution is conservation. We can’t build nuclear because the solution is solar. Offshore is not needed because the solution is biofuel. Natural gas, clean coal, coastal wind, oil shales, tar sands, tidal turbines, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric – all in turn are argued against, because something better, or bigger, or cleaner, or cheaper, or more philosophically correct can be supported instead.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of our current energy “shortage” is the sheer number of options we have available to us – none of which is apparently the one perfect solution, and so all of which are delayed and obstructed.

America’s leaders and wouldbe leaders are pursuing our future energy policy with all the finesse of a child who believes the game must be won by a single home run. Who needs base hits? Because of this, America may be the first country in history to run out of energy due to too many options.

A rational approach to energy would be simple: it’s good, so let’s have more of it. But then nobody would be able to take credit for making the grand choice, would they? So instead we have an interminable debate over what best form energy should take.

That we have a small number of people making the choice at all is an even bigger problem. If energy were treated as an economic issue, rather than a political or moral one, the exact modality used to power any region or industry would be left to those actually using the energy. This is known as “the free market.” In its place, a system of energy evolves that is allocation by grand national committee.

The most frustrating thing about a democracy in which government plays a huge role in energy policy is that no portion of the solution can proceed until a majority in Congress says it’s OK. So little is done.

If market forces were given more weight, we could drill for oil wherever it’s found. We could build a wind farm wherever it’s windy. We could ship natural gas wherever it’s needed. We could install solar panels wherever they are profitable, guaranteeing them a deserved place on calculators and satellites.

Instead, we sit famished at a feast in which some group has a grievance against every possible dish. And since we can’t just eat individually, we starve as a group. Imagine Thanksgiving being run the same way: We can only eat cranberry sauce! No, the solution is stuffing! But turkey has always been the mainstay. Are you mad? Turkey causes global napping we’ll all die if we don’t transition to tofurkey. And we certainly can’t baste our way out of this! Meanwhile, the food gets colder and colder and the guests get hungrier and hungrier. Eventually some will tire of the whole thing and just outsource the meal to the Chinese restaurant down the road.

Beyond the egotistical need of politicians to be great deciders, there’s a second reason markets are currently restricted: many would be deeply unhappy with the obvious winners chosen by the marketplace.

Biofuels, solar, and the like are all touted as ways to save us from high oil prices. But even with oil at $120, these technologies cannot compete without steep subsidies. The supporters and beneficiaries of these technologies may feed the public a line about fighting high oil prices, but they know better than anyone how cheap oil is, compared to their alleged bargains.

It’s true that there is not enough oil in the Arctic to solve all our energy needs. There is not enough gas off the coast of Florida to solve all our energy needs. Neither can our needs be filled with nuclear or coal or wind alone. And yet all these facts are beside the point.

The solution to our energy needs is to stop looking for a grand solution to our energy needs. If we just let the market find many small solutions to many small problems, we will find the larger problem brought down to size.

The Answer, My Friend is NOT Blowing in the Wind – Part I

By Jay Dwight and Joe D’Aleo

Many states and the Federal Government are putting a lot of faith in renewable energy sources especially wind and solar as solutions for our energy independence and future cost reduction. However, unlike other energy sources such as natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear, tidal, geothermal and to a large degree hydro, wind and solar are much less reliable and cost effective, requiring heavy subsidization. See how Shell Oil just announced today it is backing off its wind and solar efforts as they found them to be not cost effective.

In fact of the primary energy sources, wind power is the most expensive:

Wind = 21.97 cents per kwh
Gas and oil = 12.28 cents per kwh
Nuclear = 11.06 cents per kwh
Hydro = 7.60 cents per kwh

Believing in wind is a fool’s errand. The reasons are simple. Wind is costly, inefficient and erratic.

The New Hampshire Climate Action plan to be released on March 27th by Governor Lynch like the one in neighbor state Maine relies heavily on wind power. Dr. Fred Ward using the NHDES’s own calculations, found you could put a wind power turbine on every hill in the state and yet get at most half the electricity that one single nuclear power plant could deliver.

Vaclac Klaus from the Czech Republic in his book “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” asked the question “Could the Czech Republic replace the power output from the Temelin nuclear power plant by wind?” Using conservative estimates the answer is yes but it would take 7,750 wind turbine power plants requiring 8.6 million tons of material and would cover a 413 mile long line of turbines 492 feet high, corresponding to a distance from Temelin in the southern Czech Republic to Brussels in Belgium or in the US, the distance from Concord, NH to Washington DC.

Even if, under ideal conditions, wind could provide a substantial portion of the energy needed for a state or region, you would have to have a back-up permanent and reliable source to turn to when the wind fails. See examples of how the wind has stopped when needed most here, here and here. In other words, hydro, gas, oil, nuclear, or coal turbines must be available and in ready back-up mode at all times. If the ‘shovel ready’ sources are at a much less expensive cost, why waste money on an unreliable source? Ask Arnold how the enviro inspired government programs are working so far in his state, which he proudly announced was leading the nation.

Wind energy can be a ‘supplemental’, but is will never be a reliable ‘primary’ supply of electricity on a large scale. Solar and wind both may have greater potential regionally, say in the deserts of the southwest, the intermountain and the high western plains, but that generated energy must be carried to the national grid and the transmission lines often meet resistance from the same environmental groups pushing the wind and solar as the solutions. Also wind turbines kill birds and bats in large number, upsetting other environmental groups.

Wind and solar power are kind of like dealing with a bi-polar friend. You never know when he’ll be on or off, moderate or wild. And he is always off his meds. There is just no prescription to ensure the wind will blow or sun will shine. The governors, state legislature even congress and the administration can’t mandate the wind blow and sun shine, like they can and do control virtually every other aspect of our lives. They brush this off with talk of a smart grid, but while that is necessary, energy storage is just as important, and that has gotten little attention.


To summarize, wind power has half a dozen major problems: erratic behavior, system load problems, dependency problems, need to transmit the energy usually long distances from remote locations, energy must be stored and merged with other sources and the technology requires heavy taxpayer subsidy.

We certainly support conservation and energy innovation but we believe all sources of energy must be pursued including (as Obama called for during his campaign in coal states) clean coal, drilling for oil and gas offshore near the Gulf and in ANWR, extracting oil from tar sands and oil shale, a second generation nuclear, geothermal, tidal, solar and wind. If we don’t let the environmental lobby control our future using a failed theory to focus all attention on the carbon dioxide boogeyman and restricting our choices for future energy sources, we CAN be energy independent and have the future we all envisioned possible not too many months ago.



Wind is not the lowest cost. It is the highest. As the following figures for kwh and formulas prove.


Reprinted here with permission of Carroll R. Lee P.E. Energy and Business Consultant, Brewer, ME

Wind = 21.97 cents per kwh
Gas and oil = 12.28 cents per kwh
Nuclear = 11.06 cents per kwh
Hydro = 7.60 cents per kwh

The formula can get very complex, but I will provide a simplified version:

For nuclear:

Annual fixed charge (cost of capital, depreciation, taxes)=15% (this is an annuity over 35 years+/-

Installed cost=$4000/kw

Annual fixed charges=.15(4000)=600/kw

Annual capacity factor=85%

Annual fixed cost/kwh=600/(.85)(8760)=$0.0806/kwh

Annual operation and maintenance (O&M), including fuel=$0.02-.03/kwh (a range, depending on size)

Total cost=.0806+(.02-.03)=.1006-.1106/kwh

For gas (oil would be similar):  

Installed cost=$800/kw

Annual fixed charge=.15(800)=120/kw

Annual capacity factor=60% (lower than nuclear because of higher fuel cost)

Annual fixed cost/kwh=120/(.60)(8760)=0.0228

Annual O&M plus fuel=.10/kwh (assume fuel cost of $10/Mmbtu, heat rate of 7500 Btu/kwh, O&M
of ..025/kwh)

Total cost=.0228+.10=.1228/kwh


Annual fixed charge=14% (lower than others because of longer life)

Installed cost=$2500/kw

Annual fixed cost=.14(2500)=$350/kw

Annual capacity factor=60%

Annual fixed cost=350/(.60)(8760)=.066/kwh

Annual O&M=.01/kwh

Total cost=.066+.01=.076/kwh (note: to be fair, I believe the federal production tax credit and many state renewable credits-send wind below- also apply to hydro-so need to add .08/kwh to get consumer cost)


Installed cost=$2500/kw (on-shore wind with typical transmission interconnection)

Annual fixed cost=.15(2500)=$375/kw

Capacity Factor=33%

Annual fixed cost/kwh=375/(.33)(8760)=.1297

Annual O&M=.01/kwh

Federal production tax credit=.02/kwh

State renewable energy credit=.06/kwh

Total cost=.1297+.01+.02+.06=.2197/kwh (note-this does not include cost needed to back-up wind when wind does not blow-could be another .01/kwh +)

You can change the assumptions, particularly cost of capital and installed cost, and get results for particular projects. The O&M and fuel costs can be more complicate-depending on efficiency, fuel costs, etc.).

Carroll R. Lee P.E.
Consultant, energy and business
25 Locksley Lane
Brewer, Maine 04412
(207) 989-6539

J Dwight
President & Chief Investment Officer
Dwight Investment Counsel
120 Orchard Dr.
Wilton, ME 04294


Former EPA Chief: Building 100 More Nuclear Reactors Is Doable

By Ucilia Wang, Greentech Media

Nuclear power is like the black sheep of the clean energy family. It gets some acknowledgement but not a warm embrace in public discussions about building fewer coal-fired power plants and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

But supporters are making a big push to get nuclear power into center of the family portrait. Just yesterday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander renewed his call for doubling the number of nuclear reactors – or building about 100 of them – over the next 20 years.

Does that sound like a realistic goal? Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman thinks so. 


“The industry has done that. It built four to five reactors a year in the ’60s and ’70s,” said Whitman during an interview with Greentech Media this morning. Whitman now co-chairs of a nuclear power advocacy group CASEnergy Coalition in Washington, D.C.

“People shouldn’t base their information on nuclear on Bart Simpson. That’s just not reality,” said Whitman, referring to the popular cartoon character, whose father works as a safety inspector at a nuclear power plant. Read full post and comments here.

Tidal Power

Among the alternative to fossil fuels, tidal power is among the most promising and reliable for coastal areas where tides are large as in the northeastern United States and southeast Canada and in the Pacific Northwest.  

Though the costs for set-up are initially high, the maintenance costs are very low.

Whereas wind power requires the wind to blow, and solar power the sun to shine, and wave driven turbines both wind and wave action, tidal turbines require only the tides, which dependably cycle twice daily with water on the move in a significant way at least 10 hours a day. 


Tidal power technologies include the following:

  •  Barrage or dam

A barrage or dam is typically used to convert tidal energy into electricity by forcing the water through turbines, activating a generator. Gates and turbines are installed along the dam. When the tides produce an adequate difference in the level of the water on opposite sides of the dam, the gates are opened. The water then flows through the turbines. The turbines turn an electric generator to produce electricity.

  •  Tidal fence

Tidal fences look like giant turnstiles. They can reach across channels between small islands or across straits between the mainland and an island. The turnstiles spin via tidal currents typical of coastal waters. Some of these currents run at 5–8 knots (5.6–9 miles per hour) and generate as much energy as winds of much higher velocity. Because seawater has a much higher density than air, ocean currents carry significantly more energy than air currents (wind).

  •  Tidal turbine

Tidal turbines look like wind turbines. They are arrayed underwater in rows, as in some wind farms. The turbines function best where coastal currents run at between 3.6 and 4.9 knots (4 and 5.5 mph). In currents of that speed, a 15-meter (49.2-feet) diameter tidal turbine can generate as much energy as a 60-meter (197-feet) diameter wind turbine.

 Ideal locations for tidal turbine farms are close to shore in water depths of 20–30 meters (65.5–98.5 feet).


It is estimated that tides can meet up to 20% of Great Britain’s needs. The first turbines are in place. And New Zealand’s Northern Advocate reports that a US $402 million (NZ $600m) proposal to generate electricity with 200 tidal-powered turbines submerged at the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour could get under way next  year. The harbour is one of the largest in the world. The tidal energy is expected to get the turbines generating 200 megawatts of power – enough for 250,000 homes.

 There is a testbed project underway in New York Harbor by Verdant Power which has plans for other states even in California where the water flow through canals may be used.


The eventual field of underwater turbines, in NY’s East River, will have a capacity of up to 10 MW. The Company’s business partner is the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), which has invested more than $2 million to date in the RITE Project. New York University has identified nearly 600 MW of potential kinetic hydropower in the State of New York. NYSERDA has identified a potential of more than 1,000 MW of capacity. The Company has targeted half of this potential, or about 500 MW, for development in New York State.

 This site has some excellent information on tidal energy and other alternative energyources.