Dirty Secrets of Renewable Energy

By Bradley, Robert L., Jr. | USA TODAY, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Dirty Secrets of Renewable Energy


Bradley, Robert L., Jr., USA TODAY


One of the centerpieces of the environmentalist agenda long has been the regulation of fossil-fuel consumption, Although anti-pollution controls are the accepted short-term solution to a number of the environmental problems posed by fossil fuels, many people believe that the long-term answer is gradual replacement with other, less environmentally threatening fuel sources. That philosophy perhaps can be described best as eco-energy planning, the belief that government intervention in the energy economy is necessary to maximize environmental protection and, in the end, the nation's economic vitality.

Renewable energy -- power generated from the nearly infinite elements of nature such as sunshine, wind, the movement of water, the internal heat of the Earth, and the combustion of replenishable crops -- is widely popular with the public and governmental officials. The prime reason is because it is thought to be an inexhaustible and environmentally benign source of power, particularly compared with the environmentally problematic alternative of reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Yet, all renewable energy sources are not created equal. Some are more economically and environmentally viable than others. The list of renewable fuels that once were promising, but now are being questioned on economic or environmental grounds, or both, is growing.

Wind power currently is the environmentalists' favorite source of renewable energy and is thought to be the most likely to replace fossil fuel in the generation of electricity in the 21st century. Hydropower has lost favor with environmentalists because of the damage it has done to river habitats and freshwater fish populations. Solar power, at least when relied on for central-station or grid power generation, has infrastructure that is very energy-intensive (and thus fosters the air pollution situation it is intended to solve). Moreover, it is highly uneconomical, land-intensive, and thus a fringe electric power source for the foreseeable future. Geothermal has turned out to be depletable, with limited capacity, falling output, and modest new investment. Biomass is uneconomical and an air pollution-intensive renewable.

This leaves wind power, beloved as a renewable resource with no air pollutants and considered worthy of regulatory preference and open-ended taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies. Despite decades of liberal subsidies, though, the cost of generating electricity from wind remains stubbornly uneconomical in an increasingly competitive electricity market.

On the environmental side, wind power is noisy, land-intensive, materials-intensive (concrete and steel, in particular), a visual blight, and a hazard to birds. The first four environmental problems could be ignored, but the deaths of thousands of birds -- including endangered species protected by Federal law -- has created controversy and confusion within the mainstream environmental community.

Relative prices tell us that wind power is scarcer than its primary fossil fuel competitor for electricity generation -- natural gas, used in modem, state-of-the-art facilities (known in the industry as combined-cycle plants). That is because wind power's high up-front capital costs and erratic opportunity to convert wind to electricity (referred to as a low-capacity factor in the trade) more than cancel out the fact that there is no energy cost for naturally blowing wind. In California, for instance, where about 30% of the world's and more than 90% of U.S. wind capacity is located, wind power operated at only 23% realized average capacity in 1994. That compares with nuclear plants, with about a 75% average capacity factor; coal plants, with a 75-85% design capacity factor; and gas-fired combined-cycle plants, with a 95% average design capacity factor. All those plants produce power around the clock. Wind does not blow around the clock to generate electricity, much less at peak speeds. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dirty Secrets of Renewable Energy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.