May 16, 2007

What Can Wind Do About Global Warming?

Tom Gray of the trade group American Wind Energy Association writes:
The following information is from a fact sheet we will be releasing soon.

How much can wind really do to fight global warming?

On average, every additional megawatt-hour produced by wind energy means 1,220 pounds of CO2 are not emitted into our environment.

# A recent study from the National Academies of Science (NAS) reports that adding another 60 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy by 2020, in addition to the 11 GW that we have today, could avoid approximately 130 million tons of CO2 in 2020. This is nearly 30% of expected emission increases by 2020 in the electric sector.

# A National Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 20% renewable generation by 2020 could avoid almost 100% of expected emission increases in the electric sector with 180 GW of renewable energy, including 130 GW of wind.
According to data compiled in the International Atomic Energy Association's Energy and Environment Data Reference Bank, The U.S. CO2 emissions from energy = c. 6,000 Mt = c. 6,600 million tons, of which 130 million tons is less than 2%. That's less than 2% of today's emissions, but emissions could be 20% higher by 2020 (according to projections by the Energy Information Agency of the U.S. Department of Energy). The "savings" from wind would then be close to only 1.6% -- accomplished with the sprawling and destructive construction of 71,000 megawatts of giant wind turbines, along with their supporting roads and clearance and transmission lines. And at a cost, three-quarters of which is paid by public subsidies, of 142 billion dollars.

That's simply pathetic. Doubling the amount of wind turbines, as in the second example, only underscores the very small benefit that wind can provide even in theory.

Tom Gray pads the numbers by presenting them as the proportion of new emissions, and even for that lame figure he uses a very low estimate of emissions increase. But global warming is caused by existing emissions -- emissions not only from electricity generation and other energy consumption (e.g., for transport and heat and manufacturing), but also from animal farms and deforestation (responsible for 18% and 25%, respectively, of the human contribution to global warming worldwide). Wind's hope of saving 1.6% becomes even smaller.

Even that slim hope remains theoretical. There is no evidence that wind reduces the use of other fuels on the grid to any degree close to that corresponding to the electricity it generates. Wind is an add-on. The rest of the grid still has to provide power to people when they need it, with the extra burden of balancing the unpredictable and highly variable feed from the wind.

Industrial-scale wind has proved only to be a successful tax-avoidance division for big energy companies and a lucrative means of moving massive amounts of public monies into private bank accounts. Through the selling of fragments of its green mantle (i.e., "renewable energy credits"), it lets other companies and individuals join the self-serving charade. Not surprisingly, however, it has not been shown to reduce carbon emissions. In the fight against global warming, it is a boondoggle, distracting us from real solutions while destroying landscapes, communities, wildlife habitat, and people's lives -- for nothing.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism