It had been nearly a month, but once again the Chillicothe Gazette decided to print a column by Dick Polman. This time the Pennsylvania University English Department staff member ventured into the topic of “Renewable Energy”. His article stressed that Vice President Biden, if elected President, will work to transition to 100% renewable energy sources. He goes on to quote the percentage of those polled who favored cutting off “subsidies” to the Oil and Gas industry and phasing out oil and gas in the long run. Based on what he presents it appears that the majority of the population approve of this effort. So Dick Polman states the “Biden statement on oil was no gaff.”
What’s missing from this article and the discussion in general are the following:
“Is it feasible to transition away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy sources?”
“Is the crisis real?”
As covered in another blog posting, there are three main types of renewable energy: Water, Solar and Wind. Wood would be a fourth renewable energy source, but one that stripped much of eastern US of forests early in our history. While it is a renewable source, it is also a carbon based fuel source so not part of the renewable energy plan.
There are limited sources for water capable of generating electricity. What is required is large bodies of water that are rapidly moving with significant descents. That means major rivers that can be dammed. Most of the major rivers in the US are “old” by geographic standards. That means they are slow meandering rivers in flat plains. That would include most of the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois rivers. So the major rivers in the US are not good candidates for generating significant amounts of electricity. Water may already have peaked as a source of electricity.
What about Solar? Solar energy has a significant limiting factor. The sun must be shining in order to generate solar energy (electricity) from solar panels. In addition, large scale solar energy generation requires large expanses of flat land cleared of trees. This eliminates much of the land of states like West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and much of New England. New England states also have very limited possibilities for solar due to a very low level of sunny days. States range from 46% (NY) and 49% (VT) to 54% (NH), 56% (CN) and 57% (ME). So New England will only be able to generate solar energy a little more than half of the normal daylight hours or maybe 30% of the time.
The Midwest has large flat areas suitable for large solar panel farms, but is only slightly more sunny than New England. Midwest states range from 50% (OH) and 51% (MI) up to 58% (MN) and 59% (IA). So the Midwest averages sunshine approximately 55% of the potential daylight hours. That’s less than a third of the hours in a given year.
The states most compatible for large solar panel farms are states with higher levels of sunshine ranging from 70% (CO), 76% (NM), 79% (NV) and 85% (AZ). These are states with smaller populations and industrial bases, so are not the states with higher electricity requirements. But even many of these states will have a relatively significant amount of time in which solar panels will not be capable of generating electricity during the normal hours of sunshine.
So how do we use solar power to generate electricity during non-sunshine hours (nighttime) and during normal sunshine hours when the sun is not shining? We can’t. We need another significant source of renewable energy.
Wind is the other major renewable energy source. It is primarily generated from large wind turbines, often constructed in close proximity in what are called “wind farms”. Wind turbines have “cut in” and “cut out” speeds. The “cut in” speed is the minimum speed required for the turbines to be turned on. According to what I read turning a wind turbine on also requires electricity. The “cut off” speed is the speed above which the turbine will be turned off to protect it from damage. One source I found showed the average “cut-in” speed to be between 6.0 MPH and 9.0 MPH. The “cut-out” speed I found was 55 mph. The speed at which the maximum generation of electricity occurs is somewhere around 30 MPH.
“The cut-in speed (typically between 6 and 9 mph) is when the blades start rotating and generating power. As wind speeds increase, more electricity is generated until it reaches a limit, known as the rated speed.”
So for wind power to be a reasonable source of power you need strong consistent wind. Some of the largest cities in the country have average wind speeds below or at the cut in speed: Phoenix (AZ) 6.2, San Diego, (CA) 7.0, Los Angeles (CA) 7.5 and Houston (TX) 7.6. Major Midwest cities have average wind speeds at or just above the cut-in speed: Columbus (OH) 8.3, Indianapolis (IN) 9.6, St. Louis (MO) 9.6 and Detroit 10.2. The four windiest cities in the list were only slightly above the cut-in speed: Boston (MA) 12.3, Oklahoma (OK) 12.2, Buffalo (NY) 11.8 and Milwaukee (WI) 11.5. Even the cities with the highest wind speeds, the wind speed is well below the speed where maximum electricity is generated.
Of the 49 cities listed only 16 had average speeds above 10.5 MPH and 23 had average speeds below 9.0 MPH. With the highest average wind speed at 12.3 MPH, wind can’t be a major, consistent and reliable source of electricity.
Electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear is the typical backup to renewables, but if we go 100% renewables by 2050, what happens during nighttime, cloudy periods and periods when the wind blows at speeds below the average speed needed to generate electricity. All of those restrict the ability of solar and wind to generate the electricity we need. That will be even more the case if we ban fossil fuels for heating (natural gas and propane) and powering machines and vehicles. And don’t forget, the need for electricity will increase dramatically once fossil fuels are banned.
It appears that Dick Polman, Vice President Biden and the Democrat party hopes to convince you that transitioning to renewable energies is a positive thing. But to do that they have to ensure that you don’t understand the shortcomings of renewable energy sources and how it will be impossible to rely on them for 100% of our electricity.
And of course, to convince you that we should transition to renewable sources, they have to convince you that the use of fossil fuels is creating a global warming crisis. I’ve addressed that falsehood in prior blogs:
And other blogs under the Climate Change tab.