If you can read this post, you probably dwell someplace with electric power. Between ice storms, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and other calamities, most of us in the United States tend to take electricity for granted. How fortunate we are.
As I learned more about the Great Lie that climate science is “settled,” it behooved me to study energy more than I had by being an avid consumer of news for my entire life. What have I learned?
1. Electric grids are subtle, complex creations, among the most outstanding accomplishments of modern engineering. They are also tenuous. If obtaining meaningful quantities of American electric needs from wind and solar was anything like straightforward, it would have been done by now.
2. One cannot bring, today, 20 percent of operating capacity online via wind or solar or a combination thereof, because neither is dependable. For every gigawatt of capacity you derive from alternative sources you need a redundant gigawatt from conventional sources or you will no longer have a system that can be kept running smoothly at all
times. The redundancy is one of the reasons that alternative sources will be far more expensive than conventional ones for the foreseeable future. In California, where wind has been exploited more than in most U.S. states, the electricity produced by the windmills is only used when the system is at overload. Why? Because the wind power costs more.
3. People who favor wind and solar inevitably start talking about batteries, but batteries are notoriously toxic! Solving one environmental ill (and by that I mean particulate and chemical pollution) with another is no solution at all. I predict that the switchover to electric vehicles and hybrids leads to unintended consequences of major dimensions.
4. Many of the next-generation photovoltaic cells themselves are cadmium-based, with cadmium presenting a wide variety of health problems (from bone loss to cancer). But apart from that, the cells are good for the environment, right? Not exactly. Nitrogen trifluoride, or NF3, used in the production of some flat-screen TVs and, you guessed it, photovoltaic solar panels, is 17,000 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and its atmospheric levels are rising quickly. As regular readers here know, I do not accept the dogma about CO2’s risks to our planet’s health, given that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has always followed temperature. However, a gas that is 17,000 times more powerful than CO2 is not one that I would blithely introduce in mass quantities into the eco-system with a “wait-and-see” attitude.
As I say frequently, mercury pollution from coal is not a good thing. Environmental destruction from strip mining is not a good thing. The wanton construction of roads through rainforests does not make my day.
But I’ll tell you what does make my day: Electricity. It is an ongoing modern miracle. Over time, engineers will find a way to deliver electric power far more cleanly to Western consumers, I have no doubt.
In the short term, though, constructing an exchange, namely carbon trading, that prevents the Third World from having its own electric power so that we can keep enjoying ours is not very nice. It’s a West-first system of resource allocation that used to have a one-word name: colonialism.