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Archive for June 18th, 2010

Renewable Energies’ Myths and Realities

By Jerry A. Kane

The idea that renewable green energy produces no pollution or no environmental impact is laughable. The immutable laws of thermodynamics apply to renewable green energies too, which means energy cannot be created; it can only be converted from one form to another, causing pollution or loss depending on the energy source.

For example, to convert the energy in sunlight or the energy in wind to a useable form requires a system to harness the energy, and building the system is where the greatest amount of the pollution is generated.

A lot of energy is used and a lot of pollution is generated in the production of solar panels, which use polysilicon. The highly toxic silicon tetrachloride is a byproduct of polysilicon production. Silicon tetrachloride poses an environmental hazard; wherever it is dumped or buried the land becomes infertile. Recycling it requires vast amounts of energy and generates even more pollution.

The panels also use nitrogen triflouride (NF3) gas in their solar cells, which is 17,000 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. NASA reports that nitrogen triflouride levels in the atmosphere have quadrupled and are increasing at a rate of about 11 percent per year.

“Unfortunately, [people in general] don’t consider the effects of manufacturing when they see a wind turbine turning without a smoke stack, or a solar panel operating seemingly without environmental effect, or a hydrogen fuel cell converting electricity with water and steam appearing to be the only byproducts. This gives a false impression as to the true environmental cost of the technology.”—Chris J Kobus

To fully grasp the consequences of adopting wind and solar energy, it’s necessary to examine their footprints. For example, it would take a wind farm with at least 500 tall windmills spread over 30,000 acres to generate the same amount of electricity produced by a 1,000 MW gas-fired power plant.  For solar power, it would take over 250 of Colorado’s most productive utility-scale 8.2 MW solar-power plants and 20,000 acres to replace just one 1,000 MW gas-fired power plant on less than 40 acres of land.

Until someone makes a major breakthrough in the storage of high-density electricity, a problem vexing scientists for more than a hundred years, promoting renewable green energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels is more about wishful thinking than actual science.

For more information on the myths and realities of renewable green energy, see Renewable Energy: There Ain’t No Free Lunch by Chris J. Kobus and Energy Myths and Realities by Keith O. Rattie.

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