COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – If the United States expects to provide affordable, reliable, and economy-driving power to its residents in the foreseeable future, the answer will not be found in renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar panels. That was the conclusion offered by Robert Bryce, senior fellow with the Center for Energy Policy and the Environment at the Manhattan Institute, at the 2012 Leadership Program of the Rockies retreat in Colorado Springs.
Bryce pointed to the hype surrounding fossil fuel production that has held up projects in the United States and in Canada like the Keystone XL pipeline. Bryce cited recent research by University of Victoria climate scientists that shows the fears of climate affects as a result of extraction of the oil sands from Alberta are unfounded, having a negligible effect on global temperatures.
“The warming would be ‘almost undetectable at our significance level,’” Bryce said, quoting the Canadian report. While the scientists were clear to maintain their own opposition to the oil sands development for a variety of reasons—the report was not a “get out of jail free card”—the scientists carefully distinguished their own personal views on weaning consumers from a “societal dependence on fossil fuels” and the calculations made regarding the development, extraction, refinement, and delivery of the oil.
“And yet the President [Obama] has blocked it [Keystone XL]. Why? Because of pressure from the green left saying ‘this is the end of the world’ if we develop the oil sands in Canada,” claimed Bryce.
Part of the problem, and a source of legitimate confusion, Bryce explained, derived from consumers’ desire for power, not energy.
“We don’t give a damn about energy, what we want is power. And we demand that we have power available 24/7, 365 and we want it in the cleanest, densest, cheapest possible form,” argued Bryce. “What we care deeply about is that when we go to the wall and we flip the switch, the power comes on. The form of energy we consume is almost immaterial to us,” said Bryce.
“The form of energy we consume is not as important as our ability to make it flow, and the faster we can make energy flow, the better,” Bryce continued. Energy is the ability to do work, according to Bryce, while power is a rate at which things can be done. Energy is thus converted into power, and this power is what “makes us rich, wealthy, mobile” and is what matters most to us, Bryce concluded.
Power is what makes us productive, and drives the economy.
The energy sources are, therefore, fungible as long as power is produced by reliable energy flow. Bryce argued that this energy-power distinction has been lost on politicians and voters who do not have the ability to understand the science.
“We hear over and over, we want more renewable energy. Wrong. Absolutely, 100 percent wrong,” exclaimed Bryce. “What we should be discussing is our desire for renewable power,” said Bryce.
“But unless or until we have large scale energy storage that is ultra-cheap, ultra-reliable, ultra-available, we can’t turn the highly intermittent energy that we can harness from the sun and the wind into renewable power,” explained Bryce.
This mismatch of regular, cyclical but constant demand for power with intermittent, remote, and unpredictable energy sources can easily be seen in places like Texas, according to Bryce. Not only is wind, for example, not economic, it requires fossil fuel backups—coal or natural gas in particular—to provide the capacity to handle the load.
Energy mandates like state Renewable Portfolio Standards have imposed purchase requirements on utilities to obtain 30 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewable sources by 2020. These include, solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells, and other eligible sources.
But mandates ignore the “imperatives” that drive how we regard energy inputs. Bryce listed energy density, power density, cost, and scale as the key factors that influence our consumption.
“We want power density,” Bryce asserted, as he provided a comparison of land use necessary to generate equivalent rates of power generated. Wind comes out a loser in Bryce’s estimation (in comparison to nuclear power in his example), and that is just when considering comparable ratings of energy capacity. In actual production—when power is actually delivered—wind fares even worse, according to Bryce’s calculations.
Then there are the birds.
The extensive land necessary for wind results in “so many bird kills, including two golden eagles in California” recently, with these “violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Eagle Protection Act” going without prosecution, Bryce stated. In contrast to wind-related scofflaws, oil companies have been prosecuted for violating the same laws.
Bryce joined several others in making presentations at the two day event, which is held annually in Colorado Springs.