By Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren, Forbes
“Green” energy such as wind, solar and biomass presently constitute only 3.6% of fuel used to generate electricity in the U.S. But if another “I Have a Dream” speech were given at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, it would undoubtedly urge us on to a promised land where renewable energy completely replaced fossil fuels and nuclear power.
How much will this particular dream cost? Energy expert Vaclav Smil calculates that achieving that goal in a decade–former Vice President Al Gore’s proposal–would incur building costs and write-downs on the order of $4 trillion. Taking a bit more time to reach this promised land would help reduce that price tag a bit, but simply building the requisite generators would cost $2.5 trillion alone.
Let’s assume, however, that we could afford that. Have we ever seen such a “green economy”? Yes we have; in the 13th century.
Renewable energy is quite literally the energy of yesterday. Few seem to realize that we abandoned “green” energy centuries ago for five very good reasons.
First, green energy is diffuse, and it takes a tremendous amount of land and material to harness even a little bit of energy. Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment and senior research associate at Rockefeller University, calculates, for instance, that the entire state of Connecticut (that is, if Connecticut were as windy as the southeastern Colorado plains) would need to be devoted to wind turbines to power the city of New York.
Second, it is extremely costly. In 2016 President Obama’s own Energy Information Administration estimates that onshore wind (the least expensive of these green energies) will be 80% more expensive than combined cycle, gas-fired electricity. And that doesn’t account for the costs associated with the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of new transmission systems that would be necessary to get wind and solar energy–which is generally produced far from where consumers happen to live–to ratepayers.
“If and when renewable energy makes economic sense, profit-hungry investors will build all that we need for us without government needing to lift a finger.” But, but, but…the Algoreans won’t get
Third, it is unreliable. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine when the energy is needed. We account for that today by having a lot of coal and natural gas generation on “standby” to fire-up when renewables can’t produce. Incidentally, the cost of maintaining this backup generation is likewise never fully accounted for in the cost estimates associated with green energy. But in a world where fossil fuels are a thing of the past, we would be forced–like the peasants of the Dark Age–to rely upon the vagaries of the weather.
Fourth, it is scarce. While wind and sunlight are obviously not scarce, the real estate where those energies are reliably continuous and in economic proximity to ratepayers is scarce.
Finally, once the electricity is produced by the sun or wind, it cannot be stored because battery technology is not currently up to the task. Hence, we must immediately “use it or lose it.”
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