The Spectacle Blog

An ‘Alternative’ Has to be an Alternative

By on 4.21.11 | 5:48PM

The Dane Bjorn Lomborg does an almost-Great job in today's Washington Post of pointing out the obvious, already noted in a report by the Senate Environment Committee Minority staff if ignored by those who claim to be so eager to learn from China. Right up to, but not including, the end.

That is when he writes, in conclusion about wind and solar, "A green future will not result from subsidizing immature technology...Wind and solar power are not yet competitive," moving into a version of his line that we can make them competitive with more research money.

But this tired 'yet' qualifier attached to wind and solar is, upon scrutiny, absurd. They aren't immature, they're windmills and solar panels. Wind-, solar- and coal-powered electricity were all pioneered within eight years of each other. One works, the others never could match up, and only now are (risibly) touted by politicians and greens as 'new technologies'.

No. They (still) are not competitive for a reason Lomborg alludes to earlier in his piece, seemingly without giving what he writes much thought:

"[S]olar panels and wind turbines are not cost-effective replacements for fossil fuels."

Emphasis on 'replacements', not the in-fact-irrelevant 'cost-effective'.

The wind blows maybe 20% of the time. Solar, subject to similar limitations, is so incredibly diffuse it makes the wind look concentrated.

Something is not an alternative unless it's an alternative. Wind and solar are inherently limited (in the absence of utterly unforeseen battery storage breakthroughs) to being supplemental, niche additions to a power mix.

From a policy perspective, the sooner we stop calling non-alternatives 'alternatives', the better.

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