The outrage in this article on wind power generation is about the subsidies:
Wind farms in the Pacific Northwest — built with government subsidies and maintained with tax credits for every megawatt produced — are now getting paid to shut down as the federal agency charged with managing the region’s electricity grid says there’s an oversupply of renewable power at certain times of the year.
The problem arose during the late spring and early summer last year. Rapid snow melt filled the Columbia River Basin. The water rushed through the 31 dams run by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency based in Portland, Ore., allowing for peak hydropower generation. At the very same time, the wind howled, leading to maximum wind power production.
Demand could not keep up with supply, so BPA shut down the wind farms for nearly 200 hours over 38 days.
“It’s the one system in the world where in real time, moment to moment, you have to produce as much energy as is being consumed,” BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said of the renewable energy.
Now, Bonneville is offering to compensate wind companies for half their lost revenue. The bill could reach up to $50 million a year.
The extra payout means energy users will eventually have to pay more.
“We require taxpayers to subsidize the production of renewable energy, and now we want ratepayers to pay renewable energy companies when they lose money?” asked Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment of the Washington Policy Center and author of “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment.”
“That’s a ridiculous system that keeps piling more and more money into a system that’s unsustainable,” Myers said.
but I think the real significance goes quite a bit beyond that. The energy conundrum isn’t just about generating power. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There are multiple engineering problems that need to be addressed and the power generation component probably isn’t the hardest. You need to generate the power. Then, as anyone with a lick of sense knows that the wind blows harder at some times of the year than at others, you’ve either got to find a way of storing the energy you don’t use until you need it or be prepared to not generate at top capacity some of the time and your financial structure has to take that into account. Wind, sunlight, high tides, fast-moving rivers, and steam (or lava) coming out of the ground aren’t always where the people are living and working. In fact, it’s generally quite the opposite: people typically don’t like to live where there are lashing winds, blistering sunlight, punishing tides, or the likelihood of a hot water geyser popping up in your backyard. That means you’ve got to be able to move the energy from where it’s being generated and/or stored to where it’s needed. At the present state of technology you lose a lot of the energy you generate simply by moving it around.
Generation. Storage. Transmission. Those are just three of the technical problems that need to be addressed. We’re not particularly good at storing electricity but we are pretty good at storing heat. Some designs for what’s called “alternative power generation&148; will probably incorporate converting the power that’s generated into heat and storing it in what are, effectively, big thermos bottles until it’s needed at which point it will be converted into electricity and transmitted to the point of use.
What’s the Chevy Volt’s battery weigh? Almost 200kg? For a fully-electric driving range of 40 miles? A lot of the energy it’s storing is being used to carry the battery around.
That’s why, by the way, the president is at least partially wrong when, as he did the other day, he characterizes petroleum as the “fuel of the past”. It’s the fuel of the past, the present, and the foreseeable future. At the present state of the art petroleum is unmatched for its low cost, capacity as an energy source and storage medium, and its portability. That’s why it’s best of available alternatives for transport.
We can and should have lighter and more efficient internal combustion engines. That doesn’t mean that, however much is invested in solar, wind, and thermal energy production, there’s a petroleum-free future just within reach. I might live to see such a thing but I doubt it. In thirty or forty years we’ll probably still be using a lot of oil. Hopefully, a lot of other things as well but we’ll still be using oil.