Renewables Not Renewable

There is an incessant chorus from the green gospelers glorifying “renewable” energy and warning disbelievers that continued use of carbon fuels will damn the world to eternal fires of global warming.

Their ire is focused on carbon dioxide, one very minor but beneficial atmospheric gas accused of causing more of everything bad: pollution and extreme weather, droughts and floods, snowstorms and hurricanes, malaria and mosquitos, icebergs and glacier retreat, heat waves and blizzards, declining polar bears and multiplying cane toads.

We are told that using “renewable” energy will prevent all these disasters and produce cheap “clean” electricity.  Four points are relevant:

First, carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil, gas, diesel, petrol, or wood is not a pollutant in the atmosphere, not the key driver of global warming or climate change, but a boon to all plants (and thus all life).  It is clean and green.  There is thus no environmental or climate justification for punitive taxes on carbon dioxide, or for really silly stuff like emissions trading or carbon capture and burial.

Second, wind and solar power have a role in remote or mobile applications and in domestic hot water generation, but they are an unreliable and expensive addition to grid power.  Because of their intermittent and unpredictable supply characteristics, the large areas of land required to collect significant energy, and their need for backup generators or huge batteries, they can seldom compete in a fair market with coal, gas, nuclear, or hydro power.  Nothing anyone can do will change these natural characteristics.

Third, those who wish to use “renewable” energy or to become independent of the grid are free to do so, and this should continue.  But green energy should not be mollycoddled with subsidies from taxpayers or other users, nor protected by extra taxes on carbon energy, taxpayer loans, mandated market shares, or propped up prices.

Finally, there is one killer point that has recently emerged.

Google has long supported green energy and had a dream to power all of its energy-hungry computers and air-conditioned data centres with “renewables”. It was revealed recently by Google's own technical advisers that this dream is a delusion.  The fatal flaw discovered is that wind/solar energy may not reduce lifetime emissions of carbon dioxide and is unlikely to ever be cheaper than coal.  The data collected shows that renewables will barely generate sufficient energy over the life of the facilities to recover the energy used to manufacture, construct, and maintain those facilities.

Most so-called “renewable” energy relies on the sun and is better referred to as “inexhaustible.”  But at any point on Earth, wind/solar is more accurately called “intermittent energy.”  And to build plants to extract electricity from the sun using wind or solar collectors is a zero-sum game or worse – they may not produce enough energy to recoup the energy cost of replacing those facilities.

Wind/solar energy thus fails its central justification – it is not renewable.