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Unreliable energy’s big secret

Steve Goreham — Washington Times — February 20, 2013

CHICAGO, February 20, 2013—Climate change has again moved to center stage. Last week in his State of the Union address, President Obama stated, “But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.” Two days later, Senators Sanders and Boxer introduced a legislative packagecalling for a carbon tax on coal mines, refineries, and natural gas facilities. On Sunday, an estimated 35,000 climate crusaders joined a rally on the national mall in Washington, urging President Obama to block the Keystone XL pipeline project.

These efforts advocate reducing the use of hydrocarbon energy from oil, coal, and natural gas while increasing incentives for wind, solar, biofuel, and other renewable energy sources. Proponents say that use of renewables will reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are claimed to be causing dangerous global warming. But they don’t tell you about renewable energy’s big secret.

Renewable energy remains a tiny part of our energy picture. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, by the end of 2011, 39,000 wind turbine towers were operating in the United States, but provided only 2.9% of our electricity, compared to 42% from coal, 25% from natural gas, 20% from nuclear, and 6% from hydroelectric sources. After twenty years of subsidies and mandates, solar energy remained absolutely trivial, contributing a miniscule 0.04% of our electricity. Ethanol and biodiesel provided about 11% of U.S. vehicle fuel at the heavy cost of using 40% of the corn crop.

Renewable energy’s big secret is that the two biggest renewable sources, wind and biofuels,don’t reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Wind energy is highly variable. Wind output can ramp from negligible output to 100% of rated output to zero again over just a few hours. On average, wind systems provide rated output only about 30% of the time, so they can’t replace hydrocarbon or nuclear electricity sources. Coal or natural gas plants must be used as backup to the wind system, ramping up and down inefficiently to mirror changes in wind velocity.

Your car has two mileage ratings, one for city driving and one for highway driving. A typical car may get 23 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 33 mpg when driving on the highway. Stop-and-go driving uses more fuel and produces more emissions than highway driving at continuous speed.

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