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We're glad you asked

17 May 2023 | OP ED Watch

Another alert viewer asks “How long does a wind turbine or solar panel have to run before it makes up for the energy and emissions just to produce it?” Which is exactly the sort of question green energy zealots frequently don’t ask, or answer. Whereas we step forward confidently to shrug and say “Anybody’s guess. But too long.” And how do we know? Or are we just making a stereotypical assumption? No. Not at all. As we keep explaining, if things are produced in a free market you know they are worth more than they cost to make because they generate a profit. (If they don’t generate a profit they stop being made because the company discontinues them or creditors discontinue the company.) But if they are subsidized, and must be or nobody will make them, then you know they are worth less than they cost.

Our viewer added “Nobody seems to want to address that”. And it’s understandable because economics can be dry as dust with an added layer of fine dust, while if you do address it you realize we’re spending a lot of money to damage the environment which is kind of stupid. But in the spirit of Leon Trotskii’s famous “You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you” we note that efficiency matters whether or not you pay attention to it.

It is clear that it takes a lot of effort, including some very environmentally- and labour-condition-nasty mining, to get the raw materials for so-called “green” energy. Including moving vast amounts of earth and ore to extract the “rare earth” elements that are, of all things, rare on earth. And then you have to process it, ship it, install it, deal with its fickle performance and then dispose of the stuff somehow when after about 20 years it goes from shiny new status symbol to rusty poisonous junk.

If you want to know whether it’s really worth it, there is only one way. Remove the subsidies (and yes, from other forms of energy too) because otherwise you’re swinging wildly in the dark. And if you realize this whole thing was actually a net drain, yes, you’re going to feel a bit of a fool. But better to feel a fool briefly than continue being one endlessly.

5 comments on “We're glad you asked”

  1. A much better way to look at this is to calculate the EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested), which avoids most of the economic and political challenges to LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy) calculations. EROEI calculations clearly show that windmills and solar panals (further burdened with backup) have cradle to grave EROI’s of less than 5. We run our current civilization on greater than 10. We are clearly beggering ourselves back to pre-industrialization levels by converting to unreliables.

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