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The Fantasy of 100% Renewables

Alan Y. Wayne — Harvard Crimson — September 30, 2014

Renewable energy is all the rage at the moment. Fears of global warming are ever present (and well-justified, I might add). Tax benefits for solar panels and wind turbines are at an all-time high. On Harvard’s campus, chants and rallies for divestment urge a shift away from fossil fuels toward renewables.

With Denmark’s wind power production exceeding its consumption on certain days last year, there have been calls for the United States to go completely fossil-free and become solely renewable-powered by 2050. After all, if Denmark can do it, why can’t we?

This is the point where I want to grab these 100-percent-renewable-promoting people and scream, “That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!” (Oh, and Denmark isn’t entirely wind powered, that’s a misunderstanding—the true number is around 40 percent of electricity generation.)

Regardless of political pressure (which many have blamed for our lack of renewables), having a fully renewable-powered United States is physically impossible—and you can blame the sorry state of the U.S. energy grid.

Very few people know how the electricity is transmitted from, say, a wind turbine to their light bulb. We are lucky to live in a developed country where electricity can be taken for granted and blackouts are extraordinarily rare. This makes the electric grid appear to be a stable, ever-present figure that quietly and efficiently powers the country. In reality, the electric grid is less a perfectly fine-tuned blanket of distribution and more an ever-evolving patchwork quilt of relatively inefficient power lines.

There are two massive problems that currently plague the electric grid: We can’t store the electricity we produce, and we can’t transmit the electricity far from where it was generated.

There have been times when, in the Midwest on particularly windy days, there is so much energy generated by massive wind farms that there isn’t enough demand in the local area to use up all the electricity. When that happens, it would be fantastic if we could just put aside the excess electricity for another time when we need it. But we can’t. In fact, because there is absolutely no way to efficiently store this excess energy, the wind farm owners must sometimes pay money to offload their electricity.   Continue reading here….

 

Fantasy-fantasy-1

 

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