Green Illusions BOOK REVIEW
Just as we’ve stated above about the video, watch the first 31 minutes, thus we also say about the book, read the first 60 pages: they contain the chapters on Solar and Wind. The book is divided into three parts, and each part into chapters: Part One, Seductive Futures; Part Two, From Here to There; Part Three, The Future of Environmentalism. The book’s subtitle is: The Dirty Secrets of Green Energy and the Future of Environmentalism.
Ozzie Zehner is an Environmentalist who prefers to call a tree a tree and not a carbon credit. And we make these further distinctions, based on the contents of the book: Environmentalist, one who Preserves, Protects and fosters the natural and human environment; Environmentalism, a secular Faith that leads one to Green Illusions; Enviro-Crusader, a pseudo-environmentalist who pursues Green at any cost.
Part One chapter by chapter deals with Solar, Wind, Biofuels, Nuclear, Hydrogen, Coal, Hydro. Each chapter is introduced, through the whole book, by a short epigram at the top of the first page. One of these (introducing the Biofuels chapter, p.61) in our view captures the political and corporate anima of Green Energy and the spirit of Illusion:
Years ago, fairy tales all began with, ‘Once upon a time…’ Now we know they all begin with, ‘If I’m elected’. [Carolyn Warner]
To say that so-called Green Energy is/was born of a Big Government and Big Business nexus is to repeat a truism. To say that it is, “renewable” energy is really to say that is is unreliable energy, as Zehner proves.
1. Solar Cells and Other Fairy Tales
“The seductive tales of wind turbines, solar cells, and biofuels foster the impression that with a few technical upgrades, we might just sustain our current energy trajectories (or close to it) without consequence. Media and political coverage lull us into dreams of a clean energy future juxtaposed against a tumultuous past characterized by evil oil companies and the associated enregy woes they propagated. Like most fairy tales, this productivist parable contains a tiny bit of truth. And whole lot of fantasy.” [p.6]
So begins the first chapter. But, as the author says, the book itself does have a happy ending.
The tiny bit of truth is usually a statistic or technological reference. The illusion of Solar, for example, is the repetition of a statistic that has no practical value: that we can produce all of the world’s energy needs by using current solar technology on 2.6% of the Sahara Desert! Wow!!! Repeated as a kind of mantra, the enviro-crusaders, environmentalists, politicians, and energy developers, along with the rest of us are mesmerized by the spectacle of such a “convenient” truth. The statistic is meaningless because, while is true that the amount of sun hitting 2.6% of the Desert equals the sum of power we consume, IT DOES NOT FOLLOW THAT WE CAN HARNESS THAT ENERGY. Ergo, the Illusion of Green and clean! One that the Illusionist promises by saying, “If I’m elected.”
Just like the saying, it takes money to make money, so too according to the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to produce energy.
To illustrate the cost of 2.6% using today’s technology, the solar cells would cost about $59 trillion; mining, processing and manufacturing facilities, another $44 trillion; storage batteries would cost $20 trillion, for a Total of $123 TRILLION, plus about $700 billion per year for maintenance![p.9]. To put the cost into perspective, this total is almost 9 times the GDP of the USA. [p.9] Without GDP output, everyone would be making cells and batteries, and eating them, too!
There’s more! Solar cell manufacturing is a large emitter of toxic chemicals: hexafluoroethane (c2f6), nitrogen trifluoride (nf3), sulfur hexafluoride (sf6).[p.18] C2F6 is twelve thousand times more potent than CO2 and 100% human made. NF3 is 17,000 times more toxic and SF6 is 25,000 times more toxic![p.18] Levels of these chemicals in the atmosphere keep rising year by year.
And the cells themselves are not very efficient and easily compromised by dirt, dust, humidity, haze: even soiling in small blotches has a large negative effect on efficiency [pp20-21]. The effect makes output drop disproportionally to the size of the blotching. To make thinks worse, solar cells are temperature sensitive and if misaligned by wind or whatever, output drops even more. Worse, the cells age and output is reduced by about 1% per year [p.22].
One of the biggest illusions about solar energy is that you put up the cells and plug into the power grid: but Solar (and Wind) produce DC electricity and this requires inverters to change that to AC [p.22]. When the inverter fails, power stops. Inverters have to be changed every 5 – 10 years (do you change your furnace that often?)[p.24].
The author outlines The Five Harms of Solar Photovoltaics on pages 25 – 28, and ends the section by stating that plopping panels on rooftops is an embarrassing waste of human energy, money and time [p.28]. Money is wasted by the billion in an effort that generates little reliable power. The benefits of solar are insignificant compared to their cost; their limits and riskiness are substantial; there is no sunny forecast for solar in the future [p.30]. In other words, a Green Illusion.
2. Wind Power’s Flurry of Limitations
Compared to Solar, Wind is much more economical in terms of total cost; however, it is not much better at generating power and relies on the variable kinetic energy of the wind. Turbines don’t pour out CO2 into the air, but they do create and generate EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) [they cause adverse health effects, produce noise, vibration, shadow flicker, etc]; and their diesel backup systems do emit CO2 when engaged. The total carbon footprint of IWT’s from mining of ore, to building, transporting, installing, clearing, maintaining and decommissioning add up to a large footprint, not to mention the toxic rare-earth metals in the carbon fibre blades (none of which can be recycled). All Turbine operations and turbine building before erection have a higher not lower footprint[p.41]. The Turbine lifecycle relies heavily on fossil fuels and in practice the Turbine is really a fossil fuel hybrid[p.42]: wind is renewable, Turbines are not.
The electrical output is erratic: when wind is down and generation is low, power plants have to be fired up to supply the shortfall [p.43]. And turbines need electrical power fed to them to operate massive steering systems and idling functions [.p.44]; nor can Turbines provide base or peak power demands. The generated power cannot be stored and must be dumped when production is high because of high wind [p.45]. The blowing wind cannot be controlled as can be flowing water for hydro turbines; one cannot conjure the wind when power is in great demand [p.47]. Environmental organizations oppose the expansion of the power grid through protected lands and national forests because of the devastation caused by construction [p.47].
Wind proponents, especially developers, politicians and bureaucrats, confuse the public in order to stir support by misquoting the meaning of basic concepts, namely: Capacity and Production. Maximum output is called, “nameplate capacity”, whilst actual output is, “production”[p.49]. Since the two don’t match, we can see how duplicitous the Green game is when almost always proponents will refer to “nameplate capacity”. A 100MW coal plant generator will produce 74% of that power, compared to the same “Nameplate Capacity” (100MW) of a Wind Turbine that produces only 24MW, on average[p49]. To match the coal plant production, 3 Turbines would have to built, transported and erected. Comparing power production by various means, Nuclear has a production capacity of 92%, Coal 74%, Natural Gas 42%, Hydro 38%, Wind 24%, Solar 14% [p.50]. The capacity factor is be the most important “blind” in the touting and advertising of wind energy, tantamount to true misrepresentation. Wind powere is 67% more expensive on average and 40% less effective than is usually touted by proponents [p.57].
The land space required for a wind farm is huge, if towers are spaced per technical specs: a minimum of 5 rotor-diameters apart side-by-side, ten diameters front-to-back [p.55]. A “farm” of 100 Turbines, for example, therefore would require a massively huge amount of land [which is why Wind Developers usually do not abide by the minimum specs for placement]. It doesn’t take much to see that this massive amount of land is taken out of production in agricultural areas or de-forested in other zones effectively destroys the land forever, given the tonnage of concrete and land needed just for each each base.
Three MAIN problems with wind power:
FIRST, making a fetish out of expectations for wind power, which has not displaced traditional power generation; increased production means increased supply and more consumption (example, Spain is presented as the Green Energy leader over the last 20 years; nevertheless, its greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 40% over the same period [p.59].
SECOND, the huge fanfare over wind power diverts attention from other solutions: less consumption; improved building techniques; conervation, etc. [p. 59].
THIRD, all myths do not come true. In the case of Green Energy, they are sustained by two sets of data, one private and internal (Green is not clean), the other public and touted by industry (Green is good for all the reasons debunked above, and made better by public subsidies). There is no Energy Crisis; we have a Consumption Crisis[p.60].
3. Biofuels and the Politics of Big Corn.
Food into Fuel: [Anyone who runs equipment powered by small engines will know that Regular gasoline is murder on these engines: the ethanol content, from 10-15%, gums up, screws up, buggers up the engine and causes corrosion of metal parts and breakdown of plastic parts. Your small engines will then have to be repaired. To prevent repairs caused by ethanol, use Hi-test or Premium gas or buy additives to mix into the Regular gas.]
So, why Ethanol? Politics [currently, suppliers, government and NGO’s want to add even MORE ethanol to fuel].
Biofuels are part of what’s called biomass (living and dead plant materials and animal byproducts – dung- used as fuel sources). Biofuels are made of alcohol distilled from plant material such as Corn, Sugar Beets and Sugar Cane. In USA at present, biomass supplies 5% of primary energy demand [p.62]. Biofuels industry produces airborne heavy metals, very huge amounts of waste water, plus many other external environmental costs [ibid]. For example, in Brazil many rivers and waterways have been biologically dead since the ’80’s because of biofuel effluents [ibid]. The author notes the biggest drawback to biofuel production is land competition between food and fuel: farmers will opt for the latter as the supply increases. Anyone keeping up with the latest news on biofuels will know that in fact the price of food has risen and world food security is being threatened; the poor are hit hardest [p.63]. In 2008, riots broke out as a result of a huge spike in the price of corn, and experts pointed to biofuel production as a significant contributor to price escalations, up to 75% of the jump in price [ibid]. If the world’s entire corn production were diverted to ethanol, a whopping 6% of all gas and diesel demand would be met! [p.64].
Whilst proponents pressured government, opponents identified a litany of ethanol problems: water pollution, use of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas effluents, endangered biodiversity, increased deforestation and de-stabilized food supplies: corn ethanol is a flop [ibid].
But politics always raises its ugly head. There is what can be called, Big Corn, very weighty and persuasive in election years, most notably in the 2008 US election. The example Zehner uses is, Iowa, where any candidate who inveighs against Ethanol is called, “antifarmer” [p.65]. The author reviews the economics and culture of food production and agribusiness (for example, industrialized farming has led to the proliferation of rural “dead zones” and the end of many rural communities [p.66]). Ethanol is used as a gasoline additive to displace the toxic MTBE[methyl tertiary butyl ether] used to oxygenate gas. As more and more jurisdictions turned to this practice, the price of Ethanol, of course, shot up; government poured more subsidies into corn for fuel production [p.67]. Not only did agribusiness secure the empire of ethanol, it also got the taxpayer to fund it: government handed out: loan guarantees, state [provincial] and Federal tax breaks, “research” funds, labour subsidies, farm subsidies and water subsidies (every gallon of ethanol production requires hundreds of gallons of water for crops and processing) [p.68]. In the end, experts question whether the energy output of ethanol justifies the energy inputs (it takes power to make power) needed to plant, plow, fertilize, chemically treat, harvest and distil corn into fuel [p.71]. Finally, corn is inefficient as fuel: ethanol made by sugarcane (Brazil) delivers 8 times more output than its inputs, unlike corn: but sugarcane doesn’t grow in Iowa [p.73]. And biofuels are NOT Carbon Dioxide neutral [pp.74-75] because they are grown by destructive crop methods and by deforestation and wetlands destruction, and cause degradation of the Rainforest, as well as use huge amounts of fossil fuels to create fertilizers , to plow, plant, treat, harvest and for distillation. Ethanol made from Woodstock cellulose, for example, (if and when perfected) will provide 16 times more energy output than energy inputs needed to make it (corn provides a mere 1.3 times more, sugarcane 8 times more) [p.77]. Biofuel given off and not recaptured by water treatment plants (methane), for another example, is not recaptured to prevent emission into the air and thereby provide a lot of power to run all the waste water treatment plants in a city[.p78]. Clearly, the methods that garner votes rather than produce positive results get the most attention and the most money. [This is clearly the case in Ontario (and in Wainfleet) where one can see signs in front of corn fields that proclaim, “55,000” jobs, a misrepresented or exaggerated fact meant to justify Fuel production instead of Food production. Being anti-fuel production is not being anti-farmer: farmers produce Food.]
4. The Nuclear-Military-Industrial Risk Complex
[to be cont’d]