(Part one of a three-part series on energy)
Barack Obama must be thrilled with fellow Nobel Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore and his just-published book, Our Choice, A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. In it, Gore sings the liberal refrain that big government can save the world.
Gore, who is making the rounds touting his book this month, argues there are economic as well as political reasons to be green.
"There is a common thread running through the discussion of climate, (national) security, and the economic crisis, and that is our ridiculous dependence on foreign oil and coal," Gore said.
In other words, clean energy will bring us peace, prosperity and respite from that “End of Days” scenario known as global warming.
Gore thinks we can have peace because America will no longer be dependent on Middle East oil. As a result we can pull out of the region lock, stock and no barrel.
That will save hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on Arab oil. Best yet, that money can be invested into clean technologies—a super-grid to capture and transport wind and solar power.
Gore’s vision is for America to become a world leader in clean technology and export it around the world, correcting one last annoyance—our staggering trade deficit.
Gore’s utopia is green. Soon we can sleep easy in our lavish solar homes with our electric cars plugged in.
If it sounds too good to be true there is a reason for that—it is.
Jousting at Windmills
If you have ever been to Palm Springs, Calif., and driven west you can’t help but notice the forest of wind turbines that pockmark the desert landscape.
As we drove along Interstate-10 years ago my wife Angela said, “How come the windmills aren’t turning?”
“No wind,” I said.
That sums up the problem with wind power, a system that currently produces about 1 percent of America’s energy needs.
When the wind blows you get electricity but when it doesn’t blow you get nothing. That is because it is impossible with current technology to store alternating current. Direct current wind power can’t be stored in batteries. As a result consumers need redundant power plants.
Then there is a question of cost and space.
Last year in England, former Industry Secretary and current Labour MP John Hutton announced the British government should build a huge array of giant windmills to meet the country’s future energy needs.
The Energy Tribune said Hutton’s plan would literally change the face of Britain. That’s because Hutton wants the government to build 7,000 turbines—or one every half-mile around the entire coast of Britain.
It’s interesting that as much as the greens hate to spoil the environment they embrace wind power. Turbines not only kill tens of thousands of birds but also use up more space per unit of capacity than any other power source. According to the U.S. Department of Energy each wind turbine requires 40 acres.
Physicist Howard Hayden at the University of Connecticut sums up the situation: “Imagine a one-mile swath of wind turbines extending from San Francisco to Los Angeles. That land area would be required to produce as much power around the clock as one large coal, natural gas, or nuclear power station that normally occupies about one square kilometer.”
And wind turbines don‘t come cheap. One commercial 2 megawatt turbine costs about $3 million installed.
According to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), “At a time when America needs large amounts of low-cost reliable power, wind produces puny amounts of high-cost unreliable power. We need lower prices; wind power raises prices.”
The Sun of All Things
My experience with solar power dates back to that time we drove past the motionless windmills. It was the early 1980s and we were buying our first house. The 1970s energy crisis was still lingering and since real estate was cheap in Spokane, Wash., we decided to spend some extra money and buy a brand new solar home.
It was a nice enough berm house if you didn’t mind dirt piled up against the sides and the back of it. As for the solar panels, they collected energy to beat the band in the summer, which was too bad since we didn’t have an air conditioner. As for its use in the winter, we were in the rainy Pacific Northwest so our solar panels were practically useless.
Nearly 30 years later solar power meets about 1 percent of America’s electricity needs. And solar is still an incredibly costly proposition. It costs up to $80,000 to put in solar technology that would meet the electrical demands of a modest home.
Green Econometrics did the math. In a 2007 article they calculated that solar energy is 10 to 20 times more expensive than fossil fuels for power generation (see graph below). You can read the story at: http://greenecon.net/understanding-the-cost-of-solar-energy/energy_economics.html.
Beam Me Up Scotty
To better understand how ridiculous the prospect of solar energy is, consider a press release sent out by Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation (PG&E) (NYSE: PCG) this past spring.
PG&E announced that it had requested approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to enter into a power purchase agreement with Solaren Corp. in Southern California.
Under the plan Solaren would deploy a solar array into space—yes space—to beam an average of 850 gigawatt hours (GWh) for the first year of the term, and 1,700 GWh per year over the remaining term to PG&E customers.
According to Solaren it has even had talks with Lockheed-Martin and Boeing to build the solar plant and the rockets needed to send it into orbit.
All of which prompted Energy & Capital to write: “The press has gushed about the ‘next frontier’ of solar power, which would collect power ‘24 hours a day’ from the far brighter solar radiation available above earth’s atmosphere from a low-orbit. The energy would be transmitted to a receiver based in Fresno, Calif.”
Meanwhile, it was revealed that the Pentagon had done its own study on space-based solar power. Their report said that a $10 billion program could create a measly 10-megawatt pilot satellite.
The scale of the PG&E project is out of this world. Their satellite would have to be hundreds of times bigger than the International Space Station, which can barely sustain itself with solar energy.
Just one final detail: nobody—not even a Nobel Prize winner—has yet figured out a technology that will actually transfer the sun’s rays.
The fundamental truth is that we will, for decades longer, continue to rely on fossil fuels.
Next week, in Part Two of this three-part series, I will touch on more earthly problems, including America’s all too real oil crisis and one rock solid industry that will help ease America’s energy pains and earn you gusher-type profits.
Yours for real wealth and good health,
Myers’ Energy and Gold Report