Thursday, April 29, 2010

Green Myths II

Many perambulations from Climategate and other revelatory stories about environmentalism continue to unravel the narrative, and another book, Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future—by the author of the article we posted on in Green Myths I on Tuesday—examines the myths around green energy.

The book is reviewed in the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

“Al Gore has a dream, a dream increasingly shared, according to opinion surveys, by people all over the world. It is that the 19th century, the age of steam and iron and coal, will finally end and that, as Mr. Gore wrote in an article for the New York Times in 2008, the time will soon come for "21st-century technologies that use fuel that is free forever: the sun, the wind and the natural heat of the earth."

“It might be better, and much more realistic, says Robert Bryce in "Power Hungry," to imagine our journey toward a "green" energy Arcadia in units of Saudi Arabia. "Over the past few years," he writes, "we have repeatedly been told that we should quit using hydrocarbons. Fine. Global daily hydrocarbon use is about 200 million barrels of oil equivalent, or about 23.5 Saudi Arabias per day. Thus, if the world's policy makers really want to quit using carbon-based fuels, then we will need to find the energy equivalent of 23.5 Saudi Arabias every day, and all of that energy must be carbon free."

"Power Hungry" unfolds as a brutal, brilliant exploration of this profoundly deluded quest, from fingers-in-the-ears "la-la-la-ing" at the mention of nuclear power to the illusion that we are rapidly running out of oil or that we can turn to biomass for salvation: Since it takes 10,000 tons of wood to produce one megawatt of electricity, for instance, the U.S. will be chopping down forests faster than it can grow them.

“Mr. Bryce also points to the link between cheap power and economic productivity and asks why we should expect much of the world to forgo the benefits of light bulbs and regular energy when we enjoy these privileges. But if "Power Hungry" sounds like a supercharged polemic, its shocks are delivered with forensic skill and narrative aplomb.

“So you want to build a wind farm? OK, Mr. Bryce says, to start you'll need 45 times the land mass of a nuclear power station to produce a comparable amount of power; and because you are in the middle of nowhere you'll also need hundreds of miles of high-voltage lines to get the energy to your customers. This "energy sprawl" of giant turbines and pylons will require far greater amounts of concrete and steel than conventional power plants—figure on anywhere from 870 to 956 cubic feet of concrete per megawatt of electricity and 460 tons of steel (32 times more concrete and 139 times as much steel as a gas-fired plant).