President Obama’s attempt to turn the Deepwater Horizon disaster into an advertisement for alternative “green” energies and “cap and trade” legislation was so offensive that even Senator Diane Feinstein was forced to observe that “the climate bill isn’t going to stop the oil leak.”
In a June 15 column published by the New York Times, Peter Baker took that analysis a bit further:
“The connection to the spill, of course, goes only so far. While (Obama) called for more wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, neither fills gasoline tanks in cars and trucks, and so their expansion would not particularly reduce the need for the sort of deepwater drilling that resulted in the spill.”
This entirely reasonable and technically accurate statement enflamed the president’s cheerleaders over at Media Matters, where Fae Jencks took Baker to task:
“While wind and solar energy may not fill cars’ tanks, it will power their batteries. What Baker fails to acknowledge is that by ensuring that ‘more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power,’ Obama would ensure that those vehicles are powered with clean energy rather than with electricity produced by fossil fuel plants.”
Those two sentences summarize the green nirvana that the president is trying to foist upon America. It’s a goal that’s entirely unachievable, because of a number of technical and economic realties that lie just below the surface of simplistic analysis. It’s not surprising that a technically-illiterate blogger who posts at a site devoted to echoing this administration’s progressive agenda would make such an assertion, but it’s quite disturbing that the man who is supposed to be the leader of the free world would utter such foolishness.
Both wind power and solar power are more expensive – incredibly so in the case of solar – than either fossil power or nuclear power. Worse, you can’t count on either wind or solar as a reliable source of energy, since the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Accordingly, for each megawatt of wind and solar capacity we develop, another megawatt of back-up power, typically powered by fossil fuels, has to be in place. This redundancy adds to the already unacceptable cost of “green energy.”
Even if we ignore the economic aspects and accept the progressive proposition that the government has an infinite supply of money available to spend, the idea that the wind and sun can power our cars makes no sense. The reason that our vehicles use gasoline is that gas is a very efficient means to store energy. A gallon of gasoline, which weighs a little over six pounds, contains far more useful energy than the six pounds of the best batteries on the market. So, before you factor anything else in, gasoline’s weight to power ratio makes it the better choice in terms of energy efficiency. Will batteries improve over time? Sure they will, although modern, high-capacity batteries typically involve using materials that come with their own environmental hazards. Still, no battery that exists or that is being contemplated comes close to matching the energy storage capacity of gasoline.
Next, there are the unavoidable inefficiencies of the electric transmission system itself. America’s power grid is a wonder of modern technology and it’s obviously necessary to distribute the power we need to run our refrigerators and computers, light our homes and keep the pumps and motors that industry depends on turning. Yet, electric power distribution is hardly the model of efficiency. A significant portion of the energy generated by power plants is lost in distribution, due to voltage drops, resistant heating and other line losses. In many cases, moving energy around the nation via a network of thousands of miles of metal cables represents the best way to transmit power, but it’s hardly the most efficient way to do it.
Consider motor vehicles. By the time we work our way through all of the inherent, expensive and unavoidable inefficiencies of generating, transporting and storing so-called green power in the vain effort to fuel our transportation needs, we are left with the unavoidable conclusion that doing so would create more of a demand for power, not less. Or, to put the president’s proposition another way, if America somehow transformed itself into a nation in which the transportation sector was fueled entirely by electricity, we would be significantly less energy efficient than we are today. We can, and should, continue to develop hybrids, for that technology provides even more bang for our fossil fuel buck, without pretending that the ultimate source of power – crude oil – isn’t our best energy option.
Ultimately, if we can figure out a way to use as-of-yet undiscovered solar-powered catalysts to produce hydrogen inexpensively, we may free ourselves from the tyranny of fossil fuels altogether. Yet, as technology proceeds along those paths, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the promise of a green energy panacea.