Today I will give you readers some insights into how I write DOTE. The world is full of stories—amusing, darkly humorous stories. The trick is to recognize them as suitable for this blog. I'll show you what I mean.
Courtesy of my mother, I have a subscription to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Each Saturday, on the second page of the A section, we get a new episode of Steve Newman's Earth Week. I always look at it for story ideas, and the week ending September 14th didn't disappoint. Here is Blowing In The Wind as it appeared in the Post-Gazette yesterday.
The Earth provides enough wind energy to power all of the planet’s electricity needs for years to come, according to a new study by U.S. researchers.
A team from Stanford University and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California used a computer model to show the maximum amount of power that could be produced by the winds.
Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers say they found that up to 2,200 terawatts of power could be generated by turbines at the surface and aloft, which is more than 100 times the current global power consumption.
They say that by spreading out the turbines, rather than clustering them in a few regions, they could extract wind energy with little effect on the overall climate.
At the current level of global energy demand, wind turbines might affect surface temperatures by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit and affect precipitation by about 1 percent, the report concludes.
As soon as I read this, I started laughing. How many, I asked myself, wind turbines would that be?
The trick is to ask the right question. The devil is in the details. Crucially, my local newspaper left out the last paragraph of Newman's entry.
But researcher Kate Marvel points out: “The future of wind energy is likely to be determined by economic, political and technical constraints rather than geophysical limits.”
Damn right! In fact, that's the story. However, someone who reads the Post-Gazette and nothing else would get the idea that wind energy can meet "the planet's electricity needs for years to come." Liberals might get that message, for example, and start blaming the evil fossil fuel companies for resisting the obvious solution, which is clearly Blowing In The Wind.
To get the details, I turned to the internet, where a simple google query wind+turbines+terawatts gave me the story Wind could meet world’s total power demand - and then some - by 2030. Talk about a misleading title! This was getting good.
In 2030, if all energy is converted to clean energy, humans will consume about 11.5 terawatts of power averaged over the year, all sources combined. If there is to be a clean-energy economy based on renewable energy, wind power will no doubt have to help meet much of that demand.
In a new study, researchers at Stanford University’s School of Engineering and the University of Delaware developed the most sophisticated weather model available to show that not only is there plenty of wind over land and near to shore to provide half the world’s power, but there is enough to exceed total demand by several times if need be, even after accounting for reductions in wind speed caused by turbines.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and Cristina Archer, an associate professor of geography and physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware...
The new paper contradicts two earlier studies that said wind potential falls far short of the aggressive goal because each turbine steals too much wind energy from other turbines, and that turbines introduce harmful climate consequences that would negate some of the positive aspects of renewable wind energy.
Archer and Jacobson showed that four million 5-megawatt turbines operating at a height of 100 meters could supply as much 7.5 terawatts of power—well more than half the world’s all-purpose power demand—without significant negative affect on the climate.
That penultimate paragraph in my chosen quote tells us what researcher Kate Marvel meant by "geophysical constraints." The new findings are a response to earlier studies which claimed that "wind potential falls far short" of providing all our electricity needs for the reasons cited.
The last paragraph gave me an answer: 4 million! The obvious next step was to look at the original paper itself to confirm it, and conveniently, the Stanford article had provided a link to the study. Easy! All of this took about 5 minutes. I'm not kidding.
Over the years, I've learned to quickly peruse (or search) acacdemic papers to find what I want. It didn't take long to locate Table 1 and the relevant text.
Fig. 2B shows that the power output of four million turbines increases with decreasing wind turbine spacing. When turbines are packed at an installed density of 11.3 W∕m2 into three sites worldwide, the power output is too low (approximately 1.6TW—Table 1 and Fig. S3F) to match power demand. At eight locations (5.6 W∕m2 installed), the output improves to approximately 4 TW (Fig. S3E) but is still lower than needed.
However, when turbines are spread over land outside the tropics, away from the poles, and in all regions below 3 km altitude (0.11 W∕m2 installed), the output jumps to approximately 7.5 TW (Fig. S3D), much more than needed. The crossover point is at an installed density of approximately 2.9 W∕m2. It is not necessary to spread turbines evenly across such land. In fact, individual farms can have installed densities of 5.6–11.3 W∕m2 so long as reasonable spreading between farms occurs and the average installed density within and between farms is ≤2.9 W∕m2 (or ≤3.1 W∕m2 accounting for higher model resolution).
And the answer really is 4 million! That many 5-MW wind turbines, by model calculations, could provide 7.5 terawatts of installed power by 2030. That's about 2/3rds of the 11.3 terawatts the Stanford article said we humans would require.
That's a lot of wind turbines! 5-megawatt (MW) wind turbines towering 100 meters into the air are not like iPhones.
There are (at least) 20 good reasons—showstoppers!—why humans can not, and therefore will not, build 4 million 5-MW wind turbines by 2030, or by any date for that matter. And doing so would certainly not mitigate climate change.
- Reason #4 — imagine how much coal, natural gas and oil would have to consumed to build 4 million wind turbines by 2030. We would have raise our energy output by 20%, 30% or more to carry out the Biggest Engineering Project Ever Conceived. It boggles the mind! So much for mitigating anthropogenic climate change! And where we would get all that coal, natural gas and crude oil to fuel the turbine construction. At least for oil, we can't rise above the current production plateau!
- Reason #7 — they say the wind is always blowing somewhere, and that's true, so all we need is a global power grid to tie every wind turbine together so your electricity supply isn't intermittent.
- Reason #13 — where would we get the resources (metals, concrete, polymers etc.) which go into the construction of four million 5-MW wind turbines and a global power grid by 2030? Even if the resources could be made available, prices would go through the roof.
- Reason #17 — there isn't enough money in the world, even if central banks keep printing it, or on second thought, especially if central banks keep printing it, to fund the construction of 4 million 5-MW wind turbines by 2030. The world's Biggest Keynesian Stimulus!
And there are a slew of other reasons—I'm sure you can think of some—which don't readily spring to mind.
I'll quote once more from the Stanford article.
“We’re not saying, ‘Put turbines everywhere,’ but we have shown that there is no fundamental barrier to obtaining half or even several times the world’s all-purpose power from wind by 2030. The potential is there, if we can build enough turbines,” said Jacobson.
“We have a long way to go. Today, we have installed a little over one percent of the wind power needed,” said Jacobson.
In terms of surface area, Jacobson and Archer would site half the four million turbines over water. The remaining two million would require a little more than one-half of one percent of the Earth’s land surface—about half the area of the State of Alaska.
However, virtually none of this area would be used solely for wind, but could serve dual purposes as open space, farmland, ranchland, or wildlife preserve.
Now, it is quite clear that theoretical geophysical concerns ("fundamental barriers") are the least of our problems. However, both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Earth Week article (as printed) and the Stanford article basically proclaimed that we could build 7.5 terawatts of wind power by 2030 because there are no fundamental barriers to doing so.
There's no way in Hell that could ever happen. It's totally absurd. I find that amusing in a dark kind of way.
It's like Arctic drilling. JFC!
These absurdities arise from the inability of humans to rise above their slavish devotion to endless population and economic growth. And I like to take the time on this blog to point that out.
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind