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Thursday, February 28, 2013


Just when you thought wind energy and biomass were mostly good and abundant come news that the potential of our winds should be reduced by a factor of ten, and biomass burning is WORSE than coal.  You would think that this is the usual diatribe funded by fossil fuel companies, but, apparently not.

David Keith of Harvard and his former student, Amanda Adams, now at the University of North Carolina, say that we need to pay attention to wind availability limits and potential climatic impacts.  Earlier estimates of global wind capacity were as high as 400 TW, providing considerable hope, for we need 30 TW of carbon-free energy by 2050 to reach climate control goals.  However, if this resource availability is much lower, there are diminishing return factors to consider.  Incidentally, though, estimates show that higher altitude winds are faster and steadier, and would add another 1,800 TW to the total.  Cost?  Very high.  In any case, I think the authors are overplaying their hand and the ultimate max for surface wind energy conversion devices will fall somewhere between 100 and 200 TW.  Stay tuned for the next blow, for world-wide, there seems to be more reconsideration about wind energy for a variety of reasons.

Regarding the second shock, the organization behind the biomass versus coal paper happens to be the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), for they hate for habitats to be destroyed, as their reason for being is to protect birds.  The RSPB has a million members and was founded in 1889.  Further, their expose', "Dirtier Than Coal," has the endorsement of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.  Their basic point is that the official emission accounting of the UK Bioenergy Strategy is flawed.  Charles Hendry (right) heads the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which produced this report.  The contrarian response shows data indicating that harvesting, transporting and other parts of the biomass to electricity process result in a considerable amount more of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  But most of all, this is not a net zero balance because you can't count carbon release as as neglible because it takes time for the next tree to grow to absorb more carbon dioxide.  While this analysis is specifically for the United Kingdom, worldwide implications are obvious.

So, do we now need to abandon wind energy and biomass to electricity efforts?   Hardly, as the whole range of sustainable energy options will need to be considered to supply the world with energy in a manner that does not cause global warming.  One of the additional beauties of these two particular options is that they can occupy the same land.  

In my early University of Hawaii days forty years ago when we were researching and advocating windpower for Kahuku, the Audubon Society filed a negative statement.  So also did Hilton, for they did not want Turtle Bay to be known as a windy site.  To the right, Kahuku today.  After a period of pause, windmills are sprouting again, even though a confounding fire halted the progress of the First Wind farm.  If it's not one thing, it's another.

More recently, I've been urged by some in the community to support the environmental opposition to the Hu Honua Bioenergy project on the Big Island to produce electricity from trees.  Kevin Owen to the left is the general manager.  Some residents of Pepeekeo are concerned about air pollution, particularly, the effect on their children.  So I end with the whole point of this posting:  more than anything else, understand what motivates any person or group to propose or oppose any energy source.  This is just the beginning of a long process.  Choices need to be made, and you must ask yourself:  would you rather have coal, liquified petroleum gas, nuclear power and global warming instead of locally produced alternatives and a safer environment?  Subsequently, are you prepared to possibly pay more and endure some inconvenience for more secure and clean energy, which in time should be cheaper than conventional fossil energy?


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