Renewable Energy Potential and Disinformation


Are you confused about our energy crisis? It’s no wonder, given the amount of disinformation that is being pedaled by Republicans and those with a vested interest in oil, coal and nuclear energy. What they want you to believe is that solar and wind cannot replace our current energy sources. John McCain repeated these lies in his recent debate with Barack Obama. Their calls of drill baby drill are absurd and misleading. For example, the amount of oil reserves estimated to exist off California’s coast are 10 billion barrels. The U.S. consumes about 7.5 billion barrels per year. So what they are advocating is risking the long term health of the coastal ecosystem, in exchange for about 16 months worth of oil.

Republicans have been taking Senator Pelosi to task for not bringing up a vote, on offshore drilling. Meanwhile, Republicans have voted against renewing the tax credits for solar and wind eight times this year. Talk about shortsightedness! As T. Boone Pickens says, whether we drill or not, “this argument misses the point.” It’s a band-aid at best. The U.S. only has 3% of the world’s oil supply. We consume 25% of the supply.

What is needed is long term energy solutions. Here is what they don’t want you to know. Using less than 1% of our southwest desert lands, solar power plants could power the whole country. This is an area 92 miles by 92 miles, an area which is less than the land now used for coal mining. The January 08 issue of Scientific American featured an article called “A Solar Grand Plan”, a proposal, (which you can read online) to do just that. Their proposal would create a 69% solar powered grid by 2050.
You can read it online at Scientific American website

It proposes building solar thermal and concentrating photovoltaic power plants, in our southwestern deserts, and a network of high voltage DC transmission lines to distribute the power to other parts of the country. This HVDC distribution system is the same thing that T Boone Pickens is recommending to move wind generated power from Texas, and from windfarms in the midwest, to the rest of the country. This will have the added benefit of beefing up the grid, something that is needed anyway.

Current thinking is that solar thermal should be emphasized more than the concentrating photovoltaic plants that the SciAm article emphasizes.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. At, you will find another plan called “A Blueprint for U.S. Energy Security”.

This plan shows how we can achieve energy security and meet the goals of reducing the threat of global warming, using current technology to get started. As we build, the technology will improve and the costs will improve.

One thing this plan calls for is plug in hybrid cars, (PHEV) which would achieve an overall 100 mpg for the average driver. Most people drive less than 40 miles a day, cummuting etc. With current battery technology you would use no gasoline for the first 40 miles in a PHEV. Most people would recharge at night when demand is low by plugging into a 120 volt outlet, using about $1 worth of electricity to recharge. As the grid gets cleaner, the environmental benefits will improve. Plug in Partners has good information on PHEVs, including cost benefits.

from their site:
“A motorist driving 9,000 annual gasoline-free miles and 3,000 using gasoline would get 100 mpg (based on vehicles that get 25 mpg).

PHEVs outfitted with a battery pack providing a 40-mile electric range could power, using the all-electric mode, more than 60% of the total annual miles traveled by the average American driver.
A 2004 study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) found that plug-in hybrids can achieve life cycle costs parity with conventional gasoline vehicles – meaning that over the life of the car the cost will be equal or less despite the initial higher cost. The study calculated gasoline price as $1.75/gallon.”

Once the grid is clean energy, it can power much of our transportation as well. At that point, electric cars will make perfect sense and we will have had more time, to perfect the technology. If you study these two plans, you will see that they have much in common. By combining the best ideas of these and other similar plans, we can get the job done.

Another energy plan that also has much in common with these are at:

Those in power want you to believe that these solutions will be too expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the solar proposal published by SciAm calls for spending about $400 billion in public money, over a period of about 40 years. This is less public money, than we spent to build the high speed information highway over the last 35 years. And that is about how much we give to oil companies, in the form of tax credits and subsidies, every five years. So by spending about 1/8 of what we now give away to oil companies, we could power the entire nation with solar energy in the southwest.

As further proof that we are misinformed, most Americans probably haven’t even heard of solar thermal energy. Solar thermal power plants use the heat from the sun to generate electricity, usually by boiling water to drive a steam turbine generator. This is so low tech that we could have done it 100 years ago. If you can build parabolic mirrors or Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight, and if you can build a steam driven electric generator, you can build a solar thermal power plant. In fact some designs use flat mirrors. Solar thermal plants can generate electricity at night or during cloudy periods by storing heat. One method uses molten salts, which are excellent at retaining heat. Their power output can remain steady when clouds pass by. The scale of these plants is in the hundreds of megawatts. Two plants proposed for the Mojave Desert are for up to 800 and 900 megawatts each.

One gigawatt equals 1000 megawatts. One gigawatt would power San Francisco or about 770,000 homes.

An excellent article on solar thermal and it’s benefits is at:

“The key attribute of CSP is that it generates primary energy in the form of heat, which can be stored 20 to 100 times more cheaply than electricity — and with far greater efficiency”

“I don’t believe any set of technologies will be more important to the climate fight than concentrated solar power (CSP)…..It is the best source of clean energy to replace coal and sustain economic development. I bet that it will deliver more power every year this century than coal with carbon capture and storage – for much less money and with far less environmental damage.”

The sunlight can be intensified 1000 fold with concentrating solar.
They do need intense sunlight to be cost effective, hence the emphasis on the southwest. With 1% of the Sahara Desert, you could power the whole world with current technology. 3% of Morroco would power all of Europe. Green Wombat’s website has many articles on solar power plants being built or on the drawing boards in California and Arizona. The three power companies in California have already signed on for about 3 gigawatts of solar power plants. About 2 gigawatts of this is solar thermal. It’s just the beginning.

Concentrating PV or photovoltaic plants use similar parabolic mirrors, fresnel lenses etc. to concentrate sunlight on photovoltaic solar cells or panels. Specialized solar cells that can take advantage of the increased light are used.

“I’d put my money on the sun & solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
Thomas Edison, 1931

Republicans keep pushing nuclear energy, claiming it is a simple solution and good for the environment. I don’t rule out nuclear power altogether, but it has numerous problems, and is not as green as it’s promoters claim.

One of nuclear’s biggest problems is water. It takes billions of gallons to cool a single reactor. We are already seeing one potential problems with this. A reactor in Alabama had to be briefly shut down last summer during a drought in that region. How reliable will the sources of cooling water be in a changing climate?

“An Associated Press analysis of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants’ turbines.”

Every nuclear power plant will require about $500 million to dismantle it, when it has outlived it’s useful life. This adds to the nuclear waste disposal problem.

Every nuclear reactor represents about $200 million for it’s share of Yucca Mt. in Nevada, to dispose of the waste.

Nuclear power doesn’t give us energy independence. We import 65% of our oil and 90% of our uranium. And now Russia is being lined up as a future source of 20% of our uranium.

“The United States and Russia signed a deal that will boost Russian uranium imports to supply the U.S. nuclear industry, the Commerce Department said Friday….”

“The new agreement permits Russia to supply 20 percent of US reactor fuel until 2020 and to supply the fuel for new reactors quota-free.”

“So if, under a President McCain, we build a bunch of new nuclear reactors — they could be fueled 100 percent by Russia.”

“I can almost hear Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin saying, “Excellent.”

Nuclear power is not safe. According to Argonne National Laboratory, an airliner crashing into a nuclear power plant could cause a complete meltdown, even if the containment building isn’t compromised. Think the twin towers disaster was bad?

The more nuclear reactors are build all over the world, the more fissionable material there will be, which can be stolen by terrorists and used against us. Just look at the concern over Iran’s nuclear program. How many times may this kind of scenario be played out if nuclear energy proliferates all over the world?

The transportation of radioactive waste from all over the country to Yucca Mt. is potentially dangerous, as well as expensive.

“In the United States, current surcharges on nuclear power are too low to cover expected disposal costs. In addition, the US government foolishly absorbed all risk for an on-time opening of a repository for commercial nuclear waste — despite longstanding technical and political challenges associated with making this happen.” from

There is no accountability with nuclear power. The Price-Anderson Act places most of the liability for nuclear accidents on the backs of taxpayers, not the nuclear power industry.

A nuclear power plant costs about $4,000 per kilowatt hour to build, compared with $1,400 per KWH for wind energy.

Wind and solar are much quicker to get up and running than nuclear or coal. And both can start generating power before large wind or solar farms are completed, because they are modular in design.

Nuclear energy is heavily subsidised, like coal, gas, and oil. Estimates are 4-8 cents per KWH

If you want to know more, read “The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy” pdf online. It’s a real eye opener.

from “The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy” -which takes apart the argument for nuclear energy piece by piece. After reading this you will understand, that what you have been told about nuclear energy thus far, is completely misleading. It is not a long term solution, in any way shape or form. It is inherently unsustainable. Unsustainability is not what we are looking for.

“The world’s endowment of uranium ore is now so depleted that the nuclear industry will never, from its own resources, be able to generate the energy it needs to clear up its own backlog of waste.”

“Shortages of uranium – and the lack of realistic alternatives -leading to interruptions in supply, can be expected to start in the middle years of the decade 2010-2019, and to deepen thereafter.”

“Every stage in the nuclear process, except fission, produces carbon dioxide. As the richest ores are used up, emissions will rise.

“It is reasonable to conclude that,even if the nuclear industry presented no other problems, “peak uranium” would rule out the prospect of the nuclear industry being in any way an answer to “peak oil”, and to scarcities of gas and coal.”

“Nuclear energy certainly has disadvantages, quite apart from the clincher problem of the depletion of its fuel. It is a source of low-level radiation which may be more dangerous than was previously thought. It is a source of high-level waste which has to be sequestered. Every stage in the process produces lethal waste, including the mining and leaching processes, the milling, the enrichment and the decommissioning. It is very expensive. It is a terrorist target and its enrichment processes are stepping stones to the production of nuclear weapons.”

Wind and solar can provide most of the power for our future energy needs. They never need any fuel, to prospect for, mine, transport, refine, store, burn, fight wars over, or clean up the mess from. It’s our future. Oil and other fossil fuels will only go up in price. The price of solar is falling fast and will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels. The American Wind Energy Association forecasts that installed capacity could grow from 11,603 MW today to around 100,000 MW by 2020. That’s 100 gigawatts, or a nearly 90 gigawatt increase. Hoover Dam produces about 2 gigawatts, as does a medium size nuclear reactor. Many nuclear plants are one gigawatt. So in the next twelve years we could get as much power from new wind farms as McCain’s plan for 45 new nuclear plants would achieve, at less cost and way less risk. And that’s just wind!

Solar can do more. Add photovoltaic panels on rooftops etc. all over the country to the solar plants in the southwest and you have both distributed and centralized solar energy on a vast scale. Denmark already has 20% wind power. Parts of Germany and Denmark have 40% wind power. We are told that wind and solar are too intermittent. Why isn’t that a problem in Denmark. Could it be because they have no oil company lobby?

That’s why we should start building up this new energy infrastructure now. As we build, the costs will fall. Photovoltaics are becoming more efficient and cheaper to make. Economies of scale will kick in as these industries grow, further reducing prices.

One company on the cutting edge, Nanosolar, says their thin film PV solar systems can be built for less than the cost of a comparable coal fired plant, without the need for any coal or any other fuel. They are promoting their solar systems as solutions for individual towns. They say ten acres on the outskirts of town would power 1,000 homes, twenty acres- 2,000 homes.

In many parts of the country solar prices are already competitive, during hours of peak demand, when rates are higher. This is particularly so in sunny areas that also have high electricity prices. Also, solar plants put out energy when it is most needed and when prices are the highest. At those peak prices, solar is already competitive.

We can’t afford to wait. Oil is ruining our economy and our environment. SetAmericaFree estimates the annual hidden costs of oil, including the subsidies mentioned above, at over $800 billion. If these costs were reflected in prices at the pump, gasoline would be close to $12 a gallon. Their estimate of oil and gas company tax credits and subsidies is over $80 billion annually. The mililtary costs of protecting oil shipments are estimated at $100 billion annually. And oil adds $700 billion annually to our trade deficit, mostly with nations we don’t get along with. Throw in the costs of the two wars in Iraq in both lives and money and oil starts to look pretty expensive.

McCain wants to give $4 billion more in tax credits to oil companies. Exxon/Mobile made $40 billion in profits last year, and the top five companies made a combined $123 billion. We are subsidizing the past, when we should be subsidizing the future.

Our lack of political will to develop renewable energy in the U.S. threatens to put us in a position, of playing catch up with other producers.

Green Wombat comments of Abu Dhabi solar project and Torresol ambitions in U.S. southwest.

“Abu Dhabi is not content to just sell you the oil that fuels your SUV; now its going to sell you sunshine to keep your lights on and power your electric car when the internal combustion engine goes the way of the buggy whip. Masdar, the oil-rich emirate’s $15 billion renewable energy venture, and Spanish technology company Sener on Wednesday announced a joint venture called Torresol Energy to build large-scale solar power plants in Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States.”

(They are targeting the same American southwest, where the authors of the Solar Grand Plan proposal are encouraging America to invest.)

“The irony is too rich to leave unsaid: A leading oil producer invests billions in carbon-free energy while a leading consumer of fossil fuels – the United States – continues to subsidize Big Oil while while offering only tepid support for green technology.”

“It is inevitable that climate change will foster the rise of renewable energy – the only question is which countries and companies will profit from the new energy economics. It is entirely possible that the U.S. will trade energy dependence of one kind – on Middle East oil – for another – on Middle East and European solar technology – in the era of global warming. It’s no coincidence that most of the solar energy companies with contracts to build utility-scale power plants in California and the Southwest have overseas roots – Ausra hails from Australia, BrightSource was founded by American-Israeli pioneer Arnold Goldman, Solel is based in Israel and Abengoa is headquartered in Spain.”

from the proposal in the Scientific American article:

“The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative-and one that can fuel transportation as well. Forward-looking thinkers should try to inspire U.S. citizens, and their political and scientific leaders, about solar power’s incredible potential. Once Americans realize that potential, we believe the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will prompt them to adopt a national solar plan”.

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