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Real real reality

28 Feb 2024 | OP ED Watch

It is not unusual in public policy debates for people to talk past one another. But it seems unusually severe on the topic of alternative energy. It is crucial to the plans of all but the most anti-human back-to-the-Stone-Age climate alarmists that we be able to preserve something resembling our way of life while reducing carbon emissions to net zero. But even leaving aside the dubious math about the manufacture, operation and disposal of things like wind turbines and solar panels, the cascade of claims that during their working lifetime they are delivering the goods, like the Canary Media email “Texas is becoming a battery juggernaut”, obliges us to borrow a line from Phantom of the Paradise and insist that these people learn to tell the difference between zealot real and real real.

In a publication like North American Windpower, glorious headlines chase one another across the wavetops, from “BOEM OKs Empire Wind Construction and Operations Plan” to “Vineyard Wind 1 Now Sending 68 MW to the Massachusetts Grid” to “Stonepeak Acquiring Half of Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project” while Heatmap Daily offers “a Stupidly Easy Way To Expand the Grid.” But in real life, they read more like “Eversource exits wind business, reports massive loss/ Fourth-quarter loss totals nearly $1.3 billion”. As well as: “Whether or not you think offshore wind is back depends, in part, on how you define ‘back.’ The industry had an admittedly awful 2023, as ballooning costs led to cancelled deals and huge losses that set back states’ decarbonization goals and hit the balance sheets of the companies trying to build the stuff off the Atlantic coast.” And the latter is also Heatmap Daily, not grouches like us.

In fact that Heatmap piece was trying to be optimistic. But imagine the looks around the table when you put on the rose-coloured glasses but after surveying the wreckage the cheeriest vista you can find is:

“the U.S. now has two offshore wind farms, sending electricity to customers in New York and Massachusetts, when three months ago it had none. Either way, 2024 may be when the industry begins to right itself. The pace of deployment may be slower and the costs may be higher, but there are signs that states and developers are finally seeing eye-to-eye on what’s actually necessary to turn the ocean into a power plant.”

Much “may be” and “signs”. Not many actual working facilities paying for themselves.

Not to be outdone in the starry-eyed department, Canary Media emailed “Turning the earth into a battery”. And OK, the planet has poles and an electric field and stuff. But the lack of meat in the story was:

“Sage Geosystems raises $17M for geothermal energy storage/ The Texas startup is building a commercial system that acts like an earthen battery. The idea is to store energy from wind and solar resources to help balance the grid.”

The idea. Not the reality. So you get the idea. It’s not something that’s actually happening, just a prospectus. Though to be fair, one of the problems with wind and solar is producing at the wrong time, so effective storage at scale on the cheap would be a big step forward. But some people don’t seem good at telling the difference between “would be” real and “is” real.

A similar problem exists with Canary Media’s “Chart of the week” to illustrate how “Renewables, batteries and nuclear will add up to 96% of all new power capacity constructed this year, per federal data.” It doesn’t show a surge in effective power delivery but a reliance on unicorns. It shows nuclear at just 2% (behind gas at 4%), with wind at 13%, “battery storage” at 23% and solar at 58%. Which only really illustrates that governments are living in zealot reality, and pouring money into the wrong stuff while the grid crumbles.

So about those power lines. What Heatmap had in mind was that:

“Ask any climate wonk what’s holding back clean energy in the U.S. and you’re likely to get the same answer – not enough power lines. But what if the problem isn’t the number of power lines, but rather the outdated metal wires they’re made of? Restringing transmission lines with more advanced wires, a process known as ‘reconductoring,’ has the potential to double the amount of electricity our existing transmission system can handle, for less than half the price of building new lines. That’s the main finding of a recently published working paper from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Gridlab, an energy consulting firm.”

Anyone who’s discovered that the previous owners strung aluminum wires in their house will sympathize. Especially since it turns out that:

“Most of our existing power lines have a steel core surrounded by strands of aluminum. Advanced conductors replace the steel with a lighter but stronger core made of a composite material, such as carbon fiber. This subtle shift in materials and design enables the line to operate at higher temperatures, with less sag, significantly increasing the amount of power it can carry.”

And if you’re wondering why, if it’s such a no-brainer, it hasn’t already been done, the fact that governments typically own or heavily regulate such systems, and very frequently appear to have no brains on any number of issues means it really could be out there as low-hanging metal fruit. Or not:

“Advanced conductors cost two to four times more than conventional power lines – but upgrading an existing line to use advanced conductors can be less than half what a new power line would cost because it eliminates much of the construction spending and fees from permitting for new rights-of-way, the Berkeley study found.”

So once again what it turns out to be is not that this alternative would be affordable. It’s that you now admit the thing you previously recommended would be even more ruinously expensive than this ruinously expensive alternative. At least out here in the real world.

In zealot world, if you try hard enough you can see alternatives solving problems you didn’t even know they’d tackle. For instance over at Scientific American, they insist that:

“Shifting to EVs Could Prevent Millions of Childhood Asthma Attacks/ For children living near U.S. highways, a transition to zero-emission electric vehicles will mean reduced exposure to dangerous exhaust”.

For such a statement to be plausible, ICE cars would have to be causing millions of childhood asthma attacks all by themselves, out of however many happen in a year. And not the old 1958 land cruisers belching unfiltered particulates and partial combustion products. Modern highly efficient cars subjected to stringent environmental standards.

The story even eventually spits out that “The key pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, is produced largely by diesel vehicles”. But heaven forfend that the solution would be gasoline engines. It must not be.

7 comments on “Real real reality”

  1. The funny part about these new high performance conductors is that they can "withstand more heat", Heat is the mortal enemy of moving electrons, the hotter the conductor the lower number of electrons that can move through the conductor! Not only would this latest hair brained scheme cost at least 4 times more than the present day conductors but the new wonder conductors would carry less current! Another issue is that there is massive manufacturing capacity for the present day conductors but there is no manufacturing capacity for the alleged wonder conductors! Another climate fantasy dashed on the rocks of physical realities! Why did they mention the withstanding more heat issue, that would be because the new wonder conductors are poorer conductors of current, heat is the byproduct of resistance and resistance is the opposition to conducting electricity!

  2. The MAIN problem with producing any significant amount of hydrogen is the simple fact that the ONLY way to do it is to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Electrolyzing water is way way cheaper than any other method, BUT, it has to be fresh water, here is why: the process looks like this, step 1, distill water to remove impurities, step 2, apply vast amounts of electricity to water thus blasting the H2O molecules apart, step 3, capture the hydrogen. The water has to be fresh water because salt water will generate a hellish hazardous waste stream. Sounds simple right? In Mexico City many neighborhoods get 2 hours of water service per week, the largest body of fresh water on the planet is the Great Lakes but the states bordering the lakes have a treaty which would not allow their use. Who in their right mind would allow these idiots to turn life giving water into motor fuel?

  3. Thomas, in addition to those impediments the reality is that the energy required to "crack water" is more than the energy contained in the produced hydrogen. Electrolysis of water is a net loss of energy.

  4. Modern ICE cars emit perhaps one percent of the noxious gases that the said notorious 1958 landcruiser emitted.So the claim of a link between
    childhood asthma attacks and modern gas-powered vehicles is a red herring.Got any evidence for this dubious claim?

  5. Just have to love the precision of the Settled Science
    IPCC AR6 assessments that equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) is likely in the range 2.5°C to 4.0°C, and very likely between 2.0°C and 5.0°C (Chapter 7). Nonsense! Range of 1.5° and 3° produces a 100% difference. Millions of taxpayer dollars on that settled science.
    The trust has radically declined

  6. Love you man
    In our state in Australia ,our government will spend $500 million on hydrogen plant.
    We don't know how to do it economically. (energy transfer)
    We don't know how to store it.
    We don't know how to transport it.
    We do not have any customers for it.
    I tried that, my bank manager said ...No

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