The mistaken “equivalency” between renewables and conventional power sources.
One of the most important energy matters to understand is that popular “renewable” electrical energy sources are not even remotely equivalent to our conventional energy sources.
Of course lobbyists don’t want consumers and politicians to think about that fact, so they go to great lengths to disguise it. Everything they propagate is based on an “equivalency” between “renewables” and conventional power sources that does not exist in the real world.
Even generally objective sources like the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) seriously err when they show such things as levelized cost charts that have wind energy and nuclear power in contiguous columns.
The first problem encountered here is the term “renewables.” This is bantered about as if it were: 1) a scientific definition, and 2) a homogeneous group of energy sources. This is lobbyist sleight of hand, as neither is true. It isn’t my purpose here to go into the details of this charade but suffice it to say that the definition is very subjective, and there are extraordinary differences between various “renewables.” (See here and here.)
After you’ve grasped those details, the heavy lifting begins. The trick here is to get our heads around the fundamental difference between something like wind energy and nuclear power.
I’m just a physicist and not a professional communicator, so wordology doesn’t come naturally to me. However, what I have learned is that most people have a better chance of understanding complex matters when an analogy is used. Let’s try that here.
My suggested comparison is to look at two types of transportation (a parallel energy sector), using concepts we are all familiar with.
Let’s say that we have a business that repeatedly needs to get 50,000 pounds of goods from New York City to Denver, in two days, and cost is quite important. (In the electricity business this translates to satisfying a demand [load], through dispatchable energy, reliably and economically.)
So who do we subcontract this job to? A good option is to put this merchandise on an 18-wheeler and send it on its way. Will it always get there 100% of the time without fail? No, flukes do happen. However, if this experiment were repeated 100 times, the truck would arrive well over 90% of the time, on schedule and within budget. This is equivalent to using a conventional energy source, like nuclear power.
Now let’s say greenologists are introduced into the equation, and they arbitrarily add a new requirement that no fossil fuel can be used. Oops. Our options are now severely restricted.
The parallel choice to using wind energy is to send the merchandise with golf carts (battery powered so no fossil fuel will be consumed during transport). The question is: how many golf carts will it take to dependably replicate the performance of one Mack truck?
Let’s say a golf cart can carry 500 pounds (two golfers with sticks). To transport 50,000 pounds that would work out to 100 golf carts.
This is essentially the message that the lobbyists want you to buy: that approximately 100 golf carts (wind turbines) will do the job of one 18-wheeler (conventional source: e.g. a coal facility). They want you to blink and move on. Do not look behind the curtain! But wait! Can the golf carts get really there in two days? Of course not. The lobbyists answer is to add more vehicles: use 1,000 carts!
Does this “solution” really solve anything? No, but it further confuses politicians not used to critical thinking. What it also does is to insure more profit for the cart industry — which is the only concern of the lobbyists.
What if the load is a hundred 500 pound pianos? Even though (on paper) a golf cart can carry 500 pounds, can a golf cart transport a piano across country? The lobbyists’ answer: disassemble the load and use more carts. (Yes, they are slick.)
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