Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day: That's A Lot of Wind

In an oft-cited essay Stanford professor Mark Jacobson and UC-Davis scientist Mark Delucchi claimed in 2009 that it is technologically feasible that
100 percent of the world’s energy, for all purposes, could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources, by as early as 2030.
The writers should be allowed some liberties because the article is in the nature of a thought experiment, and advances in wind/water/solar (WWS) technology since the article was written have only buttressed their primary thesis.

In my humble opinion, however, they make major assumptions that are very difficult to believe:

1) Worldwide maximum power consumption, which in 2009 was 12.5 terawatts (TW) and is forecasted to grow to 16.9 terawatts by 2030, will decline to 11.5 TW in a world without gasoline-powered cars because "electrification is a more efficient way to use energy".

2) Half the world's power would be supplied by an additional 3.8 million large wind turbines. Yet alternative-energy advocates can't even get a mere 130 turbines approved in Cape Cod, home to wealthy environmentalists.

3) Of course, 3.8 million turbines can't all be bunched together:
When the needed spacing between them is figured, they would occupy about 1 percent of the earth’s land, but the empty space among turbines could be used for agriculture or ranching or as open land or ocean.
One percent of the earth's land mass is roughly equivalent to two Texases, and it's hard to imagine that environmentalists would allow new power lines and windmills to be built over open spaces, not to mention all the birds and animals that would be killed.

It's been said before and bears repeating:
From coast to coast, efforts to build everything from wind farms to solar plants has run afoul of local environmental groups and the “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) phenomenon.
Altamont pass near Livermore, CA (SF Gate photo)

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