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Friday, July 8, 2016

THE WORST RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECTS IN THE U.S.

First of all, compared to fossil fuel and nuclear disasters, renewable energy doesn't have that bad a history, yet.  When you consider the Fukushima and Chernobyl catastrophes, British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon debacle and all those coal miner deaths (20,000/year in China alone, and maybe 100,000 all told in the USA), plus, of course, the horrendous air pollution and global climate change threat to Humanity, clean energy failures have mostly sounded embarrassing because of politics.  Certainly, an argument can be made that our worst energy technology is the nuclear bomb.

Here are some of the more notable conventional green energy fiascos:
  • While the U.S. government lost $528 million because of the Solyndra PV bankruptcy, there remains expectation that taxpayers will earn $5 billion to $6 billion from the $32.4 billion invested in low-carbon technologies.
  • Vinod Khosla said he would invest $500 MILLION in KiOR, a biofuels company, which proceeded to lose $629 million.  Reaching $20/share in 2011, at the time of bankruptcy in 2014, the stock had sunk to 2.5 cents/share.  With oil at a half to a third what it was two years ago, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange predicting petroleum at $59/barrel at the end of 2024, don't expect much from biofuels:


While I'm at this, which country, do you think, has the largest solar energy facility?  China, the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park (left), rated at 850 MW.  How significant is this?  Well, a typical nuclear facility has 1000 MW.  Further, keep in mind that a nuclear plant will operate 90% of the time, while the capacity factor for PV can range from 9% (UK) to 20% (Arizona), although a solar thermal system, with expensive storage, can go as high as 63% with natural gas backup.

The largest wind farm is also in China, Gansu, at 6800 MW.  The next four biggest are also in China. Gansu has a target capacity of 20,000 MW by 2020.

The biggest U.S. wind farm (1547 MW) is located at Tehachapi Pass in California.  The USA with half the wind power installed capacity (74 GW or 74,000 MW or the equivalent of 74 nuclear plants) actually generated more electricity last year than either China (145 GW) and the European Union (142 GW).  You ask, how can this be so?  Well, the power produced increases with the cube of the wind velocity, and, I guess, U.S. wind generators are located at higher wind speed average sites.  In other words, if you have a wind energy conversion system operating at a location averaging 20 MPH, you would produce 2x2x2 or 8 times more power than the same device at 10 MPH.

You might be surprised to learn what are the three states with the highest wind generated electricity percentage:
  • Iowa (31%)
  • Kansas and South Dakota with more than 20%.
From my first experience in biomass engineering (sugar industry) in 1962 through the lifetime I've devoted to renewable energy, I guess I should be most proud of what I accomplished in wind energy.  Read about My Life in Wind Power.  I noticed that Amazon still sells Frank Eldridge's textbook on this subject, published in 1982, for $129.  I personally never did much myself, but was able to lure talented people to Hawaii.

Yes, we have a lot of sun, biomass grows well and ocean thermal energy conversion potential is all around us.  However, Hawaii  is a particularly fabulous site for wind power, with the very best wind regimes located between our islands:
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Super Typhoon Nepartak weakened a bit and struck Taiwan today as a Category 4, 150 MPH, and killed three.  Nepartak remains a typhoon, but should further lose strength before making landfall in China:

Tropical Storm Celia is only at 45 MPH, but will become at least a Category 2 hurricane and head for Hawaii:


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