Do Wind and Solar Work?

Everyone knows that wind and solar energy are inefficient sources of energy compared to fossil fuels. But, as the Science and Environmental Policy Project points out in the current The Week That Was, the extent to which “green” energy actually works is surprisingly opaque:

Someone experienced in analyzing potential investments in innovative industries may be surprised by the lack of hard data on the performance of solar and wind in generating electricity. Certainly, it is understandable that solar and wind companies may wish to keep certain trade secrets from the public, such as manufacturing design and techniques. But if the results are as solid as the promoters claim, than one would expect the promoters would give the hard data on performance. Yet these are being withheld on the claims that such data is proprietary – confidential.

Slowly, information is leaking from nations that have spent heavily on wind and solar, such as Germany. This information should give pause to those touting solar and wind, including politicians. England is pulling back from wind, Germany has announced drastic cut-backs on its subsidies to solar, and Spain has announced the elimination of subsidies for renewable power. These actions are not the result of success. The erratic nature of these sources is well established. Further, electricity is rather unique among energy types – it cannot be stored on an affordable, commercial scale.

The leaders of countries that have spent heavily on solar and wind assumed that the erratic nature of these sources, and that the lack of storage, can be compensated by installing the facilities over a broad geographical area. They were wrong. A winter high pressure system can cover a broad area of Europe, rendering wind turbines useless when solar panels can generate little electricity, and none at night. Reports are indicating that at least 80% conventional back-up is needed. [One exception may be Denmark which relies on pumped hydro storage from Norway and Sweden, selling excess wind generated electricity to pump up reservoirs when possible and buying the hydroelectricity when needed. The pricing should be quite interesting.]

A further complication is that fast back-up from conventional sources, such as coal or natural gas, is very demanding on the equipment, inefficient, and polluting – the pollution control devices do not work properly when heat output varies. According to reports, no coal plants have been de-commissioned in northern Europe rendering the claim of lower carbon dioxide emissions questionable.

Those proclaiming the virtues of wind and solar should be compelled to reveal actual output data from these sources, the required back-up, and data on the actual reduction of carbon dioxide and other emissions when alternative sources are used.

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