The media is full of promises to ban fossil fuels. As the rhetoric ramps up, let’s take a look at energy production by the numbers.
Efficiency is the ratio of the useful work performed compared to the total energy expended or heat taken in. Energy-production efficiency is determined by adding together the output power and heat, then dividing that number by the power produced.
- Solar panels: around 20% efficiency, but this can go up and down depending on the type of solar panel, location, and weather conditions.
- Coal plants: between 33% and 40%.
- Combined-cycle plants: 54%
- Wind power: depends on location, if the wind is blowing and how hard. It looks to average between 25% to 50%
- Hydroelectric power: up to 90%.
Another factor to be taken into account when considering energy sources is the capacity factor. The capacity factor is determined by taking the actual energy generation and dividing it by capacity plus a time period (generally one month or one year). Capacity factor lets us know how fully a unit’s capacity is utilized; it measures the value of a power plant; it represents how close a renewable source turbine operates to the ideal output. Here are how each of the energy sources we’re looking at tally up:
- Solar panels: 23.6%
- Coal plants: 54%
- Combined cycle plants: 57.6%
- Wind power: 37.4%
- Hydroelectric power: 42.8%
The third major factor would have to be money. Something not widely publicized is the infrastructure issue. In this case, we aren’t talking about pipelines. For renewables to be even remotely feasible, our country would need to move energy from the east coast to the west coast and back again, depending on the time of day. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, only if paying for $70 billion in new power lines and nearly $700 billion in new power plants through 2038 isn’t a problem.
Richard Sedano, president of the Regulatory Assistance Project said, “If you’re going to do a 100 percent clear energy portfolio — that is really 70 to 80 percent of electric power from renewables — I don’t know how you avoid huge transmission builds. It’s either that or overbuilding the system so much with surplus renewables and batteries” that consumers will be hammered.
Also worth a look are real-world examples. Texas provides us with two. The first is covered very well by Mary J. Hutzler, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Energy Research in an article titled “Texas’ Impending Reliability Issues with Wind Power” published in the Nov/Dec issue of SHALE Magazine. In it, Ms. Hutzler points out that although Texas gets about 16% of its electricity from wind power, it wasn’t enough last August. When temperatures started going over 100°, grid operators struggled to keep up with demand. Like many hot days, the wind turbines sat motionless. As a result, energy costs shot up 49,000% to almost $9,000 per megawatt-hour. A level one emergency was declared, and energy was imported from Mexico. Wind power may be renewable, but it is far from reliable.
Georgetown, Texas provides us with example two. City leaders accepted a grant from former New York Mayor Bloomberg’s nonprofit in exchange for the city getting 100% of its energy from renewables. Sounds green, and it was – cash green. The citizens ended up handing over money to the city for higher electric bills and higher property taxes to help make up for the municipality’s nearly $7 million shortfall that came as a result of the experiment. The city gave up the renewable nightmare and has been trying to return to fossil-fuel power.
A future without fossil fuels is a promise you might want to think twice about before accepting.