Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Crazy World of Green Energy

 The world is full of ironies. And nowhere are they more abundant than in the wacky world of clean energy.  

Like the Omanis using solar power to recover oil from the desert. That’s right. Green energy is being used to produce a fuel that is anything but green.

Shell and Total, a French energy firm, are installing a 1,000-megawatt solar unit to generate steam for thinning Oman’s heavy oil, making it easier to recover.

Such enhanced-recovery techniques are old hat, but using the sun to coax out more oil is not. The Omani experiment is being closely watched. A cost-effective outcome will almost certainly spawn other “hybrid” operations. (Even super-green California is using solar in its oil fields, albeit on a small scale.)

Then there are the windmills, those large, noisy bird killers that blight the landscape. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders wants to cover the country with them, tens of thousands of gigantic wind machines.

National Geographic reported that meaningful conversion from fossil fuels would require 156,000 offshore windmills and 328,000 land-based turbines, occupying a space the size of North Carolina.

That’s a lot of acreage and, not surprisingly, there’s been pushback. Here’s the irony: Nowhere is the pushback greater than in Sander’s home state of Vermont, where officials worry that a proliferation of the huge turbines will kill the tourist industry. Vermont State Senator John Rodgers, a Democrat, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “Destroying the environment in the name of climate change is moronic.”

And speaking of climate change, the recent Paris conference produced its own set of ironies. Many of the same countries that offered to cut greenhouse emissions are racing to install coal-fired power plants.   
·      China added a remarkable 39 gigawatts of coal capacity in 2014.
·      The Philippines is set to open 23 coal-fired plants by 2020.
·      India is expanding coal usage at a steady 5% a year.
·      Vietnam plans to double its coal plants by 2022.
·      Japan is building scores of new coal plants in the aftermath of Fukushima.

And how about our local situation? Florida is called The Sunshine State but ironically generates nearly all of its electricity from hydrocarbons. The Solar Choice constitutional amendment, which would have cleared the way for free-market rooftop installations, never made it to the ballot.

In the meantime, the utilities are adding more gas-fired plants, the latest a $1.3 billion installation in the Okeechobee area. And they’re doubling down by building pipelines to bring in more natural gas. Florida sunshine is apparently for suntans, not photovoltaic power.

And what about stripping the Amazon rain forest to grow more corn for ethanol? After all, burning ethanol is good for the environment.

My favorite irony is electric cars. The self-righteous claim they are saving the environment by driving electric cars. There are no exhaust fumes, right? The cars run on batteries. But the energy in the batteries has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is, for the most part, coal. Coal still provides nearly 40% of America’s electricity.

So my tree-hugging friends are, in fact, driving coal-powered cars!

What’s next? Maybe windmills to power fracking or tidal energy to run offshore oil drilling? It’s a wonderful world of ironies.


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