“I have been studying our energy options for more than 30 years,” writes Steve Heckeroth, “and I am absolutely convinced that our best and easiest option is solar energy.”
Commentator Jim Stack, who lives in a grid tied solar home, makes the same point to Mother Earth News readers that this blog has made previously: photo voltaic solar power operates without the need for any water, unlike power generation from coal, nuclear or natural gas.
This blog had overlooked a more obvious point that Heckeroth does make in his article. With solar power, there is no need to wait for a new technology to save us.
Gristmill contributor David Roberts agrees. We now have existing technology with which we can ensure that new buildings are net energy generators. We also can utilize the technology to retrofit existing buildings, which “can reduce energy consumption by well over 50%, in some cases 90-95%.”
Recently, Roberts rejoiced when a coal plant application was rejected in the state of Washington. Yet, such is the influence of the coal industry that, if COMTEX re-submits the application with firm plans to add a questionable new technology, then approval is most likely guaranteed.
AsRoberts notes, CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) is a technology “always almost ready, but never quite.” So, the challenge presented by commentator Sean Casten to Gristmill readers, and relayed by this blog, still stands: “If we’re willing to pay 18 cents/kWh for base load power, would you preferentially buy Coal, the Enemy of the Human Race?”
While there are growing signs of state disapproval of GHG emissions from coal-fired electric power gneration, such is the influence of the coal industry that our elected “representatives” in Congress accept the questionable assurance of carbon capture and storage.
In his treatise, “Sustainability and Energy”, Ulf Bossel points out that a characteristic of “below-ground” energy is dwindling EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested). “At some point, neither increased prices nor increased energy conversion efficiency can overcome” when “an energy source becomes an energy sink.”
Bossel speaks directly to the CCS issue:
“Clean coal” can never be a sustainable energy option because of the dwindling coal supplies. In the event CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) becomes commercially feasible, it is likely to suffer from similar exponential increases in the energy fraction used and in cost.
A carbon tax simply foreshortens this eventuality. Instead, we are watching WKTRPS? (Who Killed The RPS (This Time, and the Time Before That and the Time Before That, and…), i.e., the filthy coal interests have stopped a federally mandated RPS (Renewable energy Portfolio Standard) again. With the complicity of Congress destruction of life on the planet as we know it continues.
Fossil fuels, and coal in particular, are unsustainable because our oceans are losing the capability to absorb carbon dioxide and increased levels in the atmosphere leads to global heating with eventual disastrous consequences.
In contrast, renewable energy sources exhibit no such exponential increase, because no energy is required to make the sun shine or the wind blow. After the initial energy investment in a renewable energy plant, the “energy return” is always positive and, averaged over time, remains the same. The fuels generate no harmful emissions; the only emissions come from constructing the generating, storage and distribution facilities.
While reporting projected GHG emissions, it was economic issues that mainly were considered when European Strategic Energy Technology Plan compared different sources of electrical generation, i.e., cost, efficiency, import dependency, fuel price sensitivity and proved reserves.
Since, as Ulf Bossel notes, only certain ones satisfy sustainability criteria, when one considers utility-scale energy supply, you might think that the federal government would be promoting those renewable energy sources. You would be incorrect.
Both a two-year extension of the PTC (Production Tax Credit) and the small wind credit fell one vote short of the 60 needed to avoid a filibuster. Those wind credits, the solar investment credit and most federal renewable energy tax credits are set to expire in 2008.
That uncertainty of the credits’ renewal means that renewable energy projects could come to a standstill. In past years, as an extension of the PTC comes down to the wire, wind projects have stopped 6-8 months before its expiration. If that trend holds true, we could see a similar slow down in 2008 if the PTC isn’t renewed quickly.
To repeat Steve Heckeroth’s forewarning, there is no need to wait for a new technology to save us. “It’s time to harness the world’s virtually inexhaustible supply of solar energy and start building a brighter future.”