Four Numbers Say Wind and Solar Can’t Save Climate – Bloomberg 09-20-13

Salient to Investors:

Robert Bryce at the Manhattan Institute writes:

Any transition away from our existing energy systems will be protracted and costly. Energy transitions occur over decades, even centuries. Coal use in the US is declining, but it is soaring in the developing world and booming in Europe.

Global carbon dioxide emissions have increased 32 percent since 2002, nearly all in the developing world – 86% in Asia, 61% in the Middle East, 35% in Africa, minus 8% in the US (largely due to shale gas reducing coal use), and flat in Europe. Coal use, more than any other factor, is the driver.

Developing countries, particularly fast-growing economies such as Vietnam, China and India, cannot continue to grow if they limit the use of hydrocarbons. Roger Pielke Jr. at the University of Colorado says economic growth wins out over policies focused on emissions reduction every time.

Carbon dioxide emissions have soared because 2.6 billion people still live in dire energy poverty, with more than 1.3 billion having no access to electricity.

The power density of wind is 1 watt per square meter, meaning enormous tracts of land must be set aside to make it viable, along with a backlash from rural and suburban landowners who don’t want 500-foot wind turbines near their homes. To replace the power the US got from coal in 2011 would require placing wind turbines over an area the size of Italy and in which no one could live because of the noise. Offshore wind turbines cost about 3 times as much as turbines on land.

Global production of electricity from wind in 2012 was a 5-fold increase over 2005 output, and more than 5 times the contribution made by solar.

Global energy use is about 250 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or the output of 30 Saudi Arabias.  On a scale of 30, 10 comes from oil, 9 from coal, 7 from natural gas, 2 from hydro, 1 1/2 from nuclear, and 1/2 from all renewable sources, not counting hydropower. We get 50 times as much energy from coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and hydropower as we do from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

The only sources of electricity production that can compete with coal on price and can be deployed all over the world fairly rapidly and not take up too much land is natural gas and nuclear.

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