Green Fantasy: The GND and Renewable Energy

Those who support the Green New Deal (GND) claim that renewable energy sources will save our planet from the ravages of fossil fuel-induced climate change.

According to climate change zealots, there is only one possible solution to the problem of man-made global warming: eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Warmists insist that climate-destroying fossil fuel pollution can be terminated forever if the world switches its energy production from fossil fuels to green energy, which is claimed to be environmentally friendly and produces no pollution.

The three renewable energy sources most widely touted are solar, wind, and biofuels.  However, unbeknownst to the public, the real motivation of the climate-change lobby is a complete government takeover of the energy industry. By definition this is a move toward socialism, which is the clear goal of the Green New Deal.

With the exception of hydropower, all renewable energy is expensive and inefficient. In fact, renewables only become possible through massive government subsides, which come courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. Consequently, no one knows the actual costs of wind, solar, or biofuels.

To make this point more relevant, let’s consider U.S. energy demand and how difficult it would be to supply with solar energy. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) Lawrence Livermore Laboratory notes that as of 2015 the total energy consumed in the United States was equivalent to 17 billion barrels of oil or the use of 4,000 100-watt light bulbs per resident.

Of this total energy consumption, DOE says 38 percent is used for electricity, 29 percent for transportation, and the remaining 33 percent as onsite power for business and industry. Only 11 percent is used domestically. Fossil fuels provide 82 percent of that power, nuclear 9 percent, and hydropower 2.5 percent. 

Of the renewable energy sources preferred by the GND, biofuels such as ethanol in gasoline provides 5 percent, wind power 2 percent, and solar less than 1 percent. However, in light of this government generated data, the GND calls for all fossil fuel burning power plants to be shut down over the next 12 years. Worse yet, it also calls for the shuttering of all nuclear power plants because anything radioactive is considered inherently evil. Further, it demands that as many hydroelectric power plants as possible be closed to protect fish spawning grounds. The GND would also eliminate gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric cars and public transportation.

According to the 2017 Solar Electric Handbook, the maximum amount of sunlight hitting one square meter (roughly a square yard) of the Earth’s surface delivers 1,000 watts of power (10 100-watt bulbs). But the shifting angles of the sun drops that number to 600 watts. Commercial photovoltaic cells can only harvest 15 percent of that energy, dropping us to only 90 watts under ideal conditions -- enough energy for about one 100-watt bulb.

But the sun does not shine at night, so we are down to 45 watts. And solar collectors only take up a little over 50 percent of the land area of a solar farm, which brings us to 25 watts. After we account for average clouds, smoke, and dust -- we could drop all the way down to zero watts. As of now, the national average for solar facilities is between 5 and 7 watts per square meter. Is the picture getting clear? But wait there is more.

According to the U.S. Energy Administration, photoelectric cells used to create electric energy consume more energy in their production than they collect. The complex process required to create raw quartz used to eventually make the wafers that become the collector’s surface, requires 3,370 kilowatt hours of energy per square meter of collector material produced. At an efficiency of 7 watts per square meter harvested it would take 50 years to break even on energy out versus energy in and no solar collector has or will ever last 50 years.

But wait, there is still more. Solar energy can’t be turned on and off to meet swings in energy demand. The sun shines during the day but power demand peaks in the morning and evening.  Less energy is collected in winter than summer due to shorter days and lower sun angles. One solution is to have backup fossil fuel power plants. But then we are paying for two energy systems and the use of fossil fuel continues. The other solution is to store extra energy in batteries. A typical lead-acid car battery has a storage capacity of one kilowatt hour, according to McGraw-Hill’s Handbook of Batteries. A total replacement of fossil fuels by solar energy and a battery storage component would require 15 trillion of such batteries. Lithium batteries would offer more storage but at double the cost.

Also, the land area required for solar farms is extraordinary. Using the most generous capacity numbers for photovoltaic cells in the sunniest areas, a 1,000-megawatt solar farm (the standard output of most fossil fuel plants) would require 51 square miles, which is the approximate area of San Francisco. Where is the land to be sacrificed in the name of the GND to come from? In fact, there is not enough land in the United States to harvest the necessary amount of solar energy to come even close to meeting the nation’s current energy consumption.

Although a solar farm can be built anywhere, sunny areas of the country are not evenly distributed. This means long transmission lines from the sunniest area to the less sunny areas are required across the nation. As the distance increases the cost of solar skyrockets.

Solar energy is way too expensive for most countries or individuals. The World Bank says that more than 1.5 billion people live without electricity. Although coal is vilified for producing a third of the world’s energy, its use continues to increase because it is reliable and costs only 7 cents a kilowatt hour. Natural gas costs even less at 6 cents a kilowatt hour. The costs reported for solar operations have dropped to 16 cents a kilowatt hour, but government subsidies come to 24 cents a kilowatt hour giving it a real cost of 40 cents. Few Americans could afford this to save the planet, let alone people living in poorer countries.

As of now, widespread solar energy and the Green New Deal are but a fantasy of those who truly wish to destroy the United States as it was envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

Portions of this article have been excerpted with permission of the publisher and author of the 2018 book The Mythology of Global Warming by Bruce Bunker, Ph.D. Publisher: Moonshine Cove. The authors of this article strongly recommend this book as the very best source of detailed accurate information on the climate change debate.

Jay Lehr (jlehr@heartland.org) is the science director at The Heartland Institute. Tom Harris (icsc.tom.harris@gmail.com) is executive director of the International Climate Science 

Those who support the Green New Deal (GND) claim that renewable energy sources will save our planet from the ravages of fossil fuel-induced climate change.

According to climate change zealots, there is only one possible solution to the problem of man-made global warming: eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Warmists insist that climate-destroying fossil fuel pollution can be terminated forever if the world switches its energy production from fossil fuels to green energy, which is claimed to be environmentally friendly and produces no pollution.

The three renewable energy sources most widely touted are solar, wind, and biofuels.  However, unbeknownst to the public, the real motivation of the climate-change lobby is a complete government takeover of the energy industry. By definition this is a move toward socialism, which is the clear goal of the Green New Deal.

With the exception of hydropower, all renewable energy is expensive and inefficient. In fact, renewables only become possible through massive government subsides, which come courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. Consequently, no one knows the actual costs of wind, solar, or biofuels.

To make this point more relevant, let’s consider U.S. energy demand and how difficult it would be to supply with solar energy. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) Lawrence Livermore Laboratory notes that as of 2015 the total energy consumed in the United States was equivalent to 17 billion barrels of oil or the use of 4,000 100-watt light bulbs per resident.

Of this total energy consumption, DOE says 38 percent is used for electricity, 29 percent for transportation, and the remaining 33 percent as onsite power for business and industry. Only 11 percent is used domestically. Fossil fuels provide 82 percent of that power, nuclear 9 percent, and hydropower 2.5 percent. 

Of the renewable energy sources preferred by the GND, biofuels such as ethanol in gasoline provides 5 percent, wind power 2 percent, and solar less than 1 percent. However, in light of this government generated data, the GND calls for all fossil fuel burning power plants to be shut down over the next 12 years. Worse yet, it also calls for the shuttering of all nuclear power plants because anything radioactive is considered inherently evil. Further, it demands that as many hydroelectric power plants as possible be closed to protect fish spawning grounds. The GND would also eliminate gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric cars and public transportation.

According to the 2017 Solar Electric Handbook, the maximum amount of sunlight hitting one square meter (roughly a square yard) of the Earth’s surface delivers 1,000 watts of power (10 100-watt bulbs). But the shifting angles of the sun drops that number to 600 watts. Commercial photovoltaic cells can only harvest 15 percent of that energy, dropping us to only 90 watts under ideal conditions -- enough energy for about one 100-watt bulb.

But the sun does not shine at night, so we are down to 45 watts. And solar collectors only take up a little over 50 percent of the land area of a solar farm, which brings us to 25 watts. After we account for average clouds, smoke, and dust -- we could drop all the way down to zero watts. As of now, the national average for solar facilities is between 5 and 7 watts per square meter. Is the picture getting clear? But wait there is more.

According to the U.S. Energy Administration, photoelectric cells used to create electric energy consume more energy in their production than they collect. The complex process required to create raw quartz used to eventually make the wafers that become the collector’s surface, requires 3,370 kilowatt hours of energy per square meter of collector material produced. At an efficiency of 7 watts per square meter harvested it would take 50 years to break even on energy out versus energy in and no solar collector has or will ever last 50 years.

But wait, there is still more. Solar energy can’t be turned on and off to meet swings in energy demand. The sun shines during the day but power demand peaks in the morning and evening.  Less energy is collected in winter than summer due to shorter days and lower sun angles. One solution is to have backup fossil fuel power plants. But then we are paying for two energy systems and the use of fossil fuel continues. The other solution is to store extra energy in batteries. A typical lead-acid car battery has a storage capacity of one kilowatt hour, according to McGraw-Hill’s Handbook of Batteries. A total replacement of fossil fuels by solar energy and a battery storage component would require 15 trillion of such batteries. Lithium batteries would offer more storage but at double the cost.

Also, the land area required for solar farms is extraordinary. Using the most generous capacity numbers for photovoltaic cells in the sunniest areas, a 1,000-megawatt solar farm (the standard output of most fossil fuel plants) would require 51 square miles, which is the approximate area of San Francisco. Where is the land to be sacrificed in the name of the GND to come from? In fact, there is not enough land in the United States to harvest the necessary amount of solar energy to come even close to meeting the nation’s current energy consumption.

Although a solar farm can be built anywhere, sunny areas of the country are not evenly distributed. This means long transmission lines from the sunniest area to the less sunny areas are required across the nation. As the distance increases the cost of solar skyrockets.

Solar energy is way too expensive for most countries or individuals. The World Bank says that more than 1.5 billion people live without electricity. Although coal is vilified for producing a third of the world’s energy, its use continues to increase because it is reliable and costs only 7 cents a kilowatt hour. Natural gas costs even less at 6 cents a kilowatt hour. The costs reported for solar operations have dropped to 16 cents a kilowatt hour, but government subsidies come to 24 cents a kilowatt hour giving it a real cost of 40 cents. Few Americans could afford this to save the planet, let alone people living in poorer countries.

As of now, widespread solar energy and the Green New Deal are but a fantasy of those who truly wish to destroy the United States as it was envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

Portions of this article have been excerpted with permission of the publisher and author of the 2018 book The Mythology of Global Warming by Bruce Bunker, Ph.D. Publisher: Moonshine Cove. The authors of this article strongly recommend this book as the very best source of detailed accurate information on the climate change debate.

Jay Lehr (jlehr@heartland.org) is the science director at The Heartland Institute. Tom Harris (icsc.tom.harris@gmail.com) is executive director of the International Climate Science