Mar 07 2016

Wind Turbine Controversy

windturbines1Wind energy is on the rise as a clean renewable form of energy. It has many advantages – no carbon emissions (beyond construction of the turbines themselves), no pollution, no waste, and no use of limited resources. The three often-cited downsides of wind power are that the turbines can be an eyesore, they may cause symptoms in susceptible individuals (so-called wind turbine syndrome, WTS), and they can be a hazard to flying creatures.

The eyesore issue for me is not a big issue. I actually think wind turbines dotting the horizon look pretty, but even if you disagree that is a small price to pay for the advantages.

I’m a bird watcher, and so am very sensitive to the issue of protecting bird diversity. I wrote about this issue previously.

A review of scientific studies of the number of bird deaths caused by wind turbines estimates that  140,000 and 328,000 bird deaths are caused each year. This may seem like a lot, but a study published in 2013 concluded that domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4.0 billion birds each year. Further, an estimated 100 million birds are killed each year by flying into windows.

This makes the number of birds killed by wind turbines a round-off error.

Wind turbines may, however, pose more of a threat to bats. Estimates are between 600,000 to 900,000 bat deaths per year from wind turbines.  This may be because bats evolved behaviors to follow wind currents to find food and mates, and turbines reproduce those currents, luring bats to their deaths.

This is a solvable problem, however. Scientists are studying how to place wind turbines, and perhaps other techniques, to limit their threat to flying creatures.

Wind Turbine Syndrome

The main bone of contention with wind turbines is so-called wind turbine syndrome, the belief that living near wind turbines can cause a host of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and disturbed sleep.

This issue is in the news again because of an article in the Huffington Post which points out that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s includes $250,000 to study the health effect of wind turbines.

The question raised is this – is it reasonable to fund further research into alleged WTS or is this just a tactic to deny existing evidence and keep wind energy down? I think both may be simultaneously true.

There is a strong case to be made for WTS being largely psychological. Symptoms correlate best with those who find wind turbines annoying, or consider them eyesores, and who do not benefit from them financially. The symptoms are those that are commonly caused by nocebo effects, or psychological effects.

The question remains, however, do nocebo effects explain some or all of WTS complaints?

The other position is that wind turbines can affect the vestibular system and possible trigger migraines or migraine-like symptoms in some individuals. Migraines can be triggered by subtle effects such as variations in barometric pressure. Sufferers will sometimes have headaches triggered by storm fronts or jet travel, for example.

A 2013 review concluded that there is some evidence that infrasound (sound of too low a frequency to hear) can affect the vestibular system, and so WTS is at least plausible.

A 2014 systematic review of possible WTS concluded:

Exposure to wind turbines does seem to increase the risk of annoyance and self-reported sleep disturbance in a dose-response relationship. There appears, though, to be a tolerable level of around LAeq of 35 dB. Of the many other claimed health effects of wind turbine noise exposure reported in the literature, however, no conclusive evidence could be found. Future studies should focus on investigations aimed at objectively demonstrating whether or not measureable health-related outcomes can be proven to fluctuate depending on exposure to wind turbines.

A 2015 review concluded:

In conclusion, there is some evidence that exposure to wind turbine noise is associated with increased odds of annoyance and sleep problems. Individual attitudes could influence the type of response to noise from wind turbines. Experimental and observational studies investigating the relationship betweenwind turbine noise and health are warranted.

I know it is common for studies to conclude that more research is necessary, but these conclusions seems reasonable given the evidence. The consensus seems to be that it is possible there is an effect here, but it is limited and is still compatible with a nocebo effect, although a physiological effect in some people cannot be entirely ruled out.

So – it seems that it is not justified to cite current evidence as being against the use of wind turbines, but at the same time there is room for further research. The question regarding Scott Walker is this, will the funded research be objective and address the proper questions?

Conclusion

Overall, wind turbine energy is a great source of clean energy. No source of energy is free from downsides, and so citing possible problems in isolation as an argument against any particular source of energy is not valid, in my opinion. All such arguments need to be framed in terms of relative risk and cost compared to other sources of energy.

The possible health effects of wind turbines are controversial and minor. This is not to minimize the quality of life effects this can have on a person with symptoms, but we are not talking about a risk of cancer or death.

The possible risks of wind energy need to be compared to the known risk of burning fossil fuels. The air pollution from burning coal and gas kills an estimated 40,000 people a year in the UK and similar numbers in the US. That dwarfs any health issues from wind turbines, even if they are physiological.

Further, the possibility of WTS seems like an entirely solvable problem, mostly involving the placement of wind turbines with respect to residential areas. Advances in wind turbine design may also help.

A quarter of a million dollars to study possible WTS seems entirely reasonable, as long as it is used properly.

This seems like one area where we should be able to follow the scientific evidence rather than ideology, but I know that is wishful thinking.

27 responses so far

27 Responses to “Wind Turbine Controversy”

  1. bachfiendon 07 Mar 2016 at 8:36 am

    I too agree that wind turbines are attractive visually. I think the ‘wind turbine syndrome’ is largely just a ploy by conservatives to deny the truth of AGW. Besides continuing to claim that AGW is junk science, they also claim that one of the ways of mitigating it is dangerous to health.

    I recently paid to go on a tour to a wind farm near Albany, a particularly windy part of Western Australia. I walked all around them, and didn’t find their noise particularly obtrusive. I found the sound of the coach with its running motor (to keep the air conditioner going) 100 metres away more annoying.

  2. Zhankforon 07 Mar 2016 at 9:58 am

    I see the issue of turbine impacts on bird and bat populations has been rightfully compared to the same impacts caused by fossil fuels, due to many factors, most notably habitat destruction for mining and facility construction, air pollution, and global warming. I wonder why the same hasn’t been brought up for the health issues opponents of wind power are claiming? For example, if turbines cause headaches and lost sleep, how many headaches and how much lost sleep is caused by asthma and the many other respiratory problems due to fossil fuel air pollution?

  3. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Mar 2016 at 9:59 am

    I think the actual criticism regarding wind generated power via turbines is more about economics. Yes, some use the downsides listed in this article like they would with, say, GMOs or AGW, but even then it comes down to criticisms about economics and policies primarily revolving around government subsidies and the fact that, other than nuclear, no power generation method comes close to fossil fuels, unfortunately. Wind power is the worst, taking up by far the most in subsidies yet yielding by far the least in energy output. Both coal and natural gas receive by far the least amount of subsidies, yet produce the most energy. Places like Germany have so heavily subsidized wind energy that it’s actually depressed the energy market so much that now fossil fuel plants require subsidies in order to keep running. That doesn’t seem to make much sense. Factor in the variable nature of wind, brownouts have been an issue.

    I don’t think many people, when pressed, will deny that it’s more desirable to have cleaner energy sources than fossil fuels, especially lignite coal, but that pretty much all save nuclear don’t have the efficiency or energy density of fossil fuels to be economically viable without massive subsidies. That’s the biggest issue most people have.

    For various reasons, environmental groups demonize nuclear power even though they run clean, are actually very safe, and the generation five thorium reactors coming out are cited to be even more stable and safe. It’s a level of denialism and alarmism that we see with GMOs and vaccines.

  4. Steven Novellaon 07 Mar 2016 at 10:23 am

    I agree we need nuclear power, probably for 50-100 years. This depends partly on how long it will take for fusion reactors to come on line, still wildly variable estimates. Until it works we just won’t know.

    I believe, however, that generation IV nuclear plants are coming on line, generation V are still being designed, and neither are thorium. Thorium reactors are still being developed but none are on line.

    Meanwhile, solar has already crossed the line to cost effectiveness and gets incrementally better every year. Wind can also help to meet our energy needs. Both are not on demand, and so may help overall energy production but cannot replace the need for on demand energy like nuclear, unless and until we develop effective high capacity storage.

  5. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Mar 2016 at 10:49 am

    Actually, MSR is already being designed in Gen 4 reactors for thorium. It’s true that no thorium is in production yet, but MSR, among other forms of high and low temp reactors, are already coming online with thorium in mind for some of them. One of the problems is merely lack of political will; not economics, safety, or technological limitations (for example, Merkel fast tracking having several shut down in coming years and a complete phaseout of them over time, pumping more subsidies into less efficient and more costly “green” sources). While it’s interesting to speculate about the life of nuclear, I suspect that it will likely be on the scene far longer, though in different forms we’re familiar with now.

    The problem with wind, however, is that even as an auxiliary source it’s simply not economically viable or cost effective, neither is solar, which is another subsidy gobbler while producing virtually nil in terms of overall gigawatt production.

    I’m all for clean energy production, but not if we’re going to lose our shirts in the process, and that is really what the biggest criticism is. I agree that the listed reasons some people give are really baloney when compared to the downsides of other types of energy production. They too are missing the point and are simply obfuscating the issue, a la anti-GMO.

  6. daedalus2uon 07 Mar 2016 at 11:03 am

    If there are actual adverse effects due to low frequency sound from wind turbines, it should be possible to mitigate them pretty easily and cheaply.

    The wavelength of these low frequency sounds is large, on the order of the spacing between turbines. Velocity equals frequency times wavelength. If the velocity of sound is ~330 meters/second, then 5 Hz sound will have a wavelength of 66 meters. The phase and amplitude of sound production of each turbine is going to depend on its rotation rate and where in the array of turbines it is. By real-time modulation of the rotation of the turbine, the phase of sound contribution of each turbine should be able to be adjusted so as to “null out” the sound at far-field locations.

    Bad effects are likely due to the coincidental reinforcement of the sound at locations where people are present and able to experience those effects. The location where those effects occur should be easy to shift, just by shifting the phase of rotation of each turbine.

    This doesn’t cost anything, other than more elaborate controls and local sound sensors.

  7. Karl Withakayon 07 Mar 2016 at 11:04 am

    “A review of scientific studies of the number of bird deaths caused by wind turbines estimates that 140,000 and 328,000 bird deaths are caused each year. This may seem like a lot, but a study published in 2013 concluded that domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4.0 billion birds each year. Further, an estimated 100 million birds are killed each year by flying into windows.”

    In context, it’s not a large number, but then again, we don’t have that many wind turbines yet either.

    Are there any studies done to predict how bird deaths scale in relation to increasing the number and geographic distribution of wind turbines? Are there any reasonably supported estimates as to the possible maximum number of turbines to be deployed such that we could estimate to the potential number of bird deaths at “peak wind”?

    Additionally, do those various numbers have any more detail more then “bird deaths”? Are the species of birds killed by cats proportionally the same specials killed by wind turbines? If not, then it’s another reason why it’s not so easy to write off the current or predicted bird deaths as a round off errors.

    Lastly, presumably there is a death # threshold that would represent a serious threat to any particular bird species. Do we have that kind of data to tell us how much the deaths can increase before any of the species vulnerable to death by turbine are threatened? (Are we far, far away, already close to the limit, etc)

    (FYI: I’m a fan of wind power hoping the answers are favorable)

  8. Survivalist13on 07 Mar 2016 at 11:04 am

    As far as renewables go the only ones with big enough capacity are solar and wind. Onshore wind is fairly cost effective until you include back up power stations and storage to cope with intermittent supply. No matter how you do storage it is not going to be a negligible investment, heat and compressed air storage looks like way to go on this front. Off shore wind is far too expensive. Solar makes sense at certain latitudes but for northerly countries who’s demand peaks in the winter it is unlikely to become cost effective any time soon. Leaving nuclear and carbon capture to cover the remainder. To make progress the population needs to realise that the disadvantages of nuclear are far outweigh by the consequences of climate change. From an engineering point of view the health effects of wind turbines don’t merit serious consideration, they aren’t going to kill you in the same way that running out of food and water will.

  9. Karl Withakayon 07 Mar 2016 at 11:14 am

    “The problem with wind, however, is that even as an auxiliary source it’s simply not economically viable or cost effective, neither is solar, which is another subsidy gobbler […].”

    Compared to what?

    Compared to current nuclear reactors which are very expensive to build, decommission and dispose of waste for?

    Compared to nuclear reactor designs not yet proven in commercial operation?

    Compared to burning fossil fuels which don’t build in the future environmental and climate costs into their cost of operation?

    How do you define cost effective? Are interstate highways cost effective? Are fire departments cost effective?

  10. daedalus2uon 07 Mar 2016 at 11:16 am

    I disagree that we “need” nuclear power, and also that nuclear power is “cost effective”. Nuclear has a gigantic subsidy in the form of liability limits and liability insurance. All nuclear power plants have government imposed liability limits (which don’t even cover environmental damage). There are no nuclear power plants anywhere in the world that have purely private liability insurance.

    The particular form that nuclear power plant subsidies take (limiting private liability) has the effect of generating “moral hazard”. The “risks” of nuclear power are being subsidized, while the design cost, construction cost, operating costs and profits are privatized. Subsidizing the risks while privatizing the benefits is to encourage corporations to take more risk so as to acquire more profit because the risk doesn’t have a downside.

    Fossil fuels have the gigantic subsidy of free CO2 release into the atmosphere. If that subsidy was eliminated, then wind and solar would be cheaper than fossil fuel, right now. Eliminate the subsidy of free CO2 emission and wind and solar wouldn’t need any “incentives” because they would be cheapest alternative.

    Wind is intermittent, and distributed, but so is the electrical demand. Swinging electricity usage from times of peak demand to times of peak production is something that we know how to do. It isn’t being done because of the monopoly power of utilities, who only make money when they sell electricity.

  11. kongstadon 07 Mar 2016 at 11:54 am

    In 2015 42 percent of the Danish electric energy production came from wind turbines.
    Denmark is on a common European grid, and when the production from wind exceeded the local need, the excess was sold of to our neighbors, Norway Sweden and Germany.
    When it was to low we bought from water generators, and solar generators from abroad, or when that was not available, from domestic coal powered plants or from coal or nuclear plants abroad.

    Renewable energy sources should act in conjunction. Solar, wind and water power. Wave generators and tidal generatorer are getting more and more mature as power sources.

    From where I look, it seems the matter has been settled. Wind turbines are effective, and it is working today.

  12. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Mar 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I call cost effective something that is economically sustainable without the need for subsidies. Currently, wind power is the least efficient, least producing, and most expensive of all the major energy generators, in 2013 producing about 4% of electricity but using up 42% in subsidies. Solar produced less than 1% but takes 8% subsidies. For all other industries, production either vastly outpaced the need for subsidies (coal and natural gas), or was about even (nuclear).

    While nuclear is heavily subsidized, it takes only half of the subsidies as wind power at 21%, yet produces 20% of the electricity. If most of the new development were dropped for nuclear and we just remained on what we have today, subsidies would drop significantly. That means that most of the subsidies are on R&D rather than the construction and maintenance of equipment.

    So, it’s the cost of production compared to its output that determines how cost effective it is, and economic viability is whether it can break even in a market where hopefully energy costs aren’t prohibitively expensive, without being artificially inflated by government subsidies.

    Utilities get energy from whatever source they can, and typically from multiple sources. Even the places that are monopolies, that doesn’t actually hinder multiple forms of energy. California, for example, has wind, hydroelectric, nuclear, natural gas, coal, solar, and biomass. The only economic “barrier” is what government agencies choose to subsidize.

  13. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Mar 2016 at 12:20 pm

    It’s difficult to compare a place like Denmark with the US or even Canada. Denmark has an very small population (5.7 million) and they heavily subsidize wind energy at about . I know from firsthand experience that energy bills there are extremely expensive. In fact, they are about the most expensive in the world at about 41 cents per person (the US is at about 12 cents per person). That by itself is a pretty strong correlation to wind’s efficiency and economic viability.

  14. Karl Withakayon 07 Mar 2016 at 12:57 pm

    rezistnzisfutl: …”production either vastly outpaced the need for subsidies (coal and natural gas)…”

    The response to that claim proceeded the comment it was made in:

    Karl Withakay: “Compared to burning fossil fuels which don’t build in the future environmental and climate costs into their cost of operation?”

    daedalus2u: “Fossil fuels have the gigantic subsidy of free CO2 release into the atmosphere. If that subsidy was eliminated, then wind and solar would be cheaper than fossil fuel, right now. Eliminate the subsidy of free CO2 emission and wind and solar wouldn’t need any “incentives” because they would be cheapest alternative. “

  15. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Mar 2016 at 1:51 pm

    We currently have around 1.6-2 billion people who utilize substandard energy. We’re a far way off from being able to address across the board environmental considerations where we can offset some of the associated higher costs in the name of environmental stewardship while adequately supplying the energy needs of the world. No one is saying that steps shouldn’t be taken, but the way I see it, it’s no different from anti-GMO activists who say that indigent populations in Asia don’t need that Golden Rice, just develop their economy until they can grow subsistence organic crops that include squash and carrots, problem solved. Sure, that’s easy, let me get my wand…and they can eat cake, too!

    Don’t take my word about subsidies, though. The amount of money spent was the amount of money spent, in straight dollars, no inflation of stats or percentages or finagling of numbers:

    http://mercatus.org/publication/renewable-energy-subsidies-and-electricity-generation

    (It’s a little old but no so much where it would have changed that much.)

    Let me repeat numbers: wind produced 4% of the total electricity yet utilized 42%+ of ALL subsidies. Compare that with coal that produced 45%+ of the electricity yet used 10% in subsidies. Natural gas produced 25% yet used 6%, likely less now with fracking being in operation the last few years.

    In the face of that, are we really going to claim that fossil fuels are so heavily subsidized that if they were removed tomorrow the costs of wind would become vanishingly small in comparison? Sorry, the numbers don’t reflect that.

    We’re all in favor of the development of clean energy into forms that are economically viable. Wind is not there yet, nor is solar, geothermal, biomass, or any other forms of clean energy except for nuclear. That’s not a matter of opinion, it is what it is.

    A word on nuclear. Much like how GMOs are so heavily regulated that it has become prohibitively expensive for small startups to deregulate, so it goes with nuclear. Between the lack of political will and the extremely high regulation, it’s simply more expensive than it would be otherwise. That’s not an endorsement or criticism of regulations, just a fact. In fact, it’s so heavily regulated that there is an entire agency devoted to it.

  16. RCon 07 Mar 2016 at 2:16 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl

    The fact that we can’t fully address the costs of fossil fuel usage doesn’t mean the costs don’t exist – we’re just pushing them off to future generations. Fossil fuel usage is highly subsidized.

    Fossil fuels aren’t anymore economically viable than alternatives – we’re just pretending they are.

  17. daedalus2uon 07 Mar 2016 at 2:26 pm

    It is disingenuous to compare “present day” subsidies with “present day” electricity production in capital intensive facilities where current production rates reflect subsidies that have been ongoing for 70 years (nuclear) and in the case of fossil fuels, a century.

    http://www.energyfactcheck.org/fact-checks/government-support-for-renewable-energy-is-costly-ineffective-and-more-significant-than-support-for-conventional-fossil-fuels

    I also dispute that the figures you cite include all subsidies. They don’t. They don’t include the unpriced externality of CO2 emissions, of nuclear power plant liability, of Middle East wars and refugee crises, of air pollution health effects, of transportation infrastructure (roads and rail).

  18. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Mar 2016 at 7:18 pm

    The link I posted uses stats given by US Energy Information Administration and reflects actual subsidies in direct dollars in the US. The link you gave is taking some liberties in its statistic gathering, counting many soft costs that I wasn’t able to track down (the first citation, for example, simply links to a venture capitalist website with no specific information shown). It also counts ALL of the subsidies for fossil fuels from all forms of fossil fuels for the last 70 years, then compares that to the what, 10-20 years other forms have been getting? Not to mention it’s counting tax exemption as a subsidy, as too often ideological sites do. It’s also looking at worldwide figures from hundreds of countries in the second link instead of comparing annual subsidies from one country – China, for example, uses lignite coal and oil far more liberally than places like the US does, and to a much greater degree, it’s like many of these it’s an apples and oranges comparison. Then it’s an appeal to popularity, then moves onto how government is creating jobs, which is a false economy.

    If you look at what I cited, it’s to specific industries on an annual basis in the US alone. I did this so that we had an apples to apples comparison. So, there were direct subsidies for coal listed, direct subsidies for natural gas listed, and direct subsidies for wind listed, among others. It’s not trying to pool together unrelated industries in order to have numbers reflect a certain narrative. That’s why I go to source citations that minimize bias. So you’re right, my figures don’t include ALL subsidies, just the biggest given out by the US government, and they don’t count tax exemptions for business as a subsidy, I don’t think that’s an honest comparison.

    Regarding liability, that’s due to heavy government regulation, not innate lack of safety. For CO2 “unpriced externalities”, if it’s unpriced, how can we possibly quantify it? We simply don’t know.

    The fact of the matter is, wind, solar, and other initiatives cost more and produce less, for the time being. Yes, the downside of fossil fuels is CO2, but it’s the most efficient and energy dense form of energy we have for the time being. Considering that a good hunk of the world is without reliable efficient energy, it’s rather disingenuous of us to preach to them while sitting in an economically well-off situation that we’re in.

    The only thing holding back alternative energies are alternative energies. Everywhere where alternative energies are a major source of electricity, utility bills are extremely expensive.

    https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/energy-guides/average-electricity-prices-kwh.html

    The places that primarily rely on fossil fuels have by far the cheapest energy. The places that rely on heavy subsidization have the most expensive energy. That’s just how it is.

    Now, if you want to count CO2 as a cost, that’s all fine and good, but let’s look at overall costs in one system if that’s going to be addressed. Keeping in mind that my entire point has been about actual dollars given in subsidies, and that we all would like to see cleaner forms of energy replace dirtier forms, just not when it’s going to cost us our shirts in the process. Unfortunately, alternative energy sources have a ways to go before they can come anywhere close to competing with fossil fuels, that’s just the way it is.

  19. rezistnzisfutlon 07 Mar 2016 at 7:24 pm

    RC, no one here is pushing anything off to future generations other than a body of research into alternative energy sources. Right now, we’re just not there yet. ALL forms of fuel usage are subsidized, and the FACT remains that wind, solar, and other forms are more subsidized percentagewise than the fossil fuel counterparts. Considering how little input in total GWA they contribute but how high the relative subsidies are, it’s not promising as of yet. Percentagewise, and I wish you guys would look at that rather than dollar amount, wind and solar produce about one percent of power for every 10% of subsidies. Coal, for example, produces 4.5% of power for every 1% of subsidies. Natural gas produces 4.2% of power for every 1% of subsidies. You tell me which is the more energy efficient. That is why fossil fuels are still the largest contributor to total energy output, because it’s cheaper, because it’s more energy dense, because it’s more efficient, because it’s economically viable and cost effective. That’s all there is to it. You can ignore economics only for so long.

  20. Charonon 08 Mar 2016 at 12:14 am

    rezistnzisfutl, you appear to have missed all the points made. Also, your subsidy list doesn’t include the absurdly cheap lease rates oil and gas companies get in the US, but that’s minor compared to:

    1) no, your comparison isn’t apples-to-apples, because you’re comparing immature technology (wind and solar) to well-developed ones. Think about the price of producing the first Tesla v. a current model S v. an electric car in 2050 when the technology will likely be the majority of vehicle production.

    2) unpriced externalities. You are ignoring them. People have pointed this out, but you have not addressed it.

    3) You appear to have no idea how quickly renewables are dropping in price. Have you paid attention to the price of rooftop solar in the last 10 years? You’re acting as if the current prices – or the prices of several years ago – are immutable things that we should assume going forward. This is clearly not true.

  21. daedalus2uon 08 Mar 2016 at 8:45 am

    Liability doesn’t happen because of regulation. Liability happens when one person does something that harms another. Our legal system lets people try to recover loses when they have been harmed by someone else.

    The usual way to deal with liability is with fair-market insurance. That doesn’t work with nuclear power because no private corporation wants to insure nuclear power plants. That implies one of two things; either the risks of nuclear power are so unpredictable that no private insurance company can assess them and charge appropriate premiums, or that fair market premiums would be so high that nuclear power is uneconomical.

    Government subsidies don’t change the fundamental economics, they simply move the cost from the owner/operators to the public.

    We know the unpriced externality of CO2 release to the atmosphere is not zero. Future generations will pay the price, with interest, what ever it is.

  22. Karl Withakayon 08 Mar 2016 at 11:53 am

    “1) no, your comparison isn’t apples-to-apples, because you’re comparing immature technology (wind and solar) to well-developed ones. Think about the price of producing the first Tesla v. a current model S v. an electric car in 2050 when the technology will likely be the majority of vehicle production.”

    Yes, a major point of subsidies for alternative energies is to encourage development of an immature field that will have major environmental (and long term economic) benefits over current, mature, -currently- cost efficient options, afield that currently might not be immediately profitable without subsidies. Fossil fuels don’t need direct subsidies because they are already mature and established. Without subsidies, there’s little reason for industry to invest money to develop alternative energy technology when coal, oil, & natural gas are (currently) plentiful and cheap (upfront), if not clean, environmentally friendly, or safe for the long term health of the global climate.

    If this was just a matter having an alternative source of energy because we want to be ready for the day when oil starts to run out, then there’s a good case to be made for letting market economics work here, but the primary issue is the damage CO2 is doing to the global climate, and by the time market forces come into play on their own without government intervention, it will likely be too late.

  23. tder2012on 08 Mar 2016 at 6:43 pm

    My concerns are more with material and manufacturing requirements regarding wind turbines, firstly as pointed out by the USA Department of Energy Quadrennial Review chapter 10 page 390 table 10.4 http://energy.gov/quadrennial-technology-review-2015

    Another concern is the requirement for each wind turbine to contain approx. 500 kgs of rare earth elements http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/blair-king/renewable-energy-canada-rare-metals_b_7837710.html

    From a recent IEEE Spectrum blog post “To Get Wind Power, You Need Oil” http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/to-get-wind-power-you-need-oil

    And finally, the low capacity factor and inability to match electricity output with consumption means it is limited as to how much capacity can be deployed without causing issues to grid stability (be sure to read all the links within as well) http://bravenewclimate.com/2015/11/08/the-capacity-factor-of-wind/

  24. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Mar 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Yes, it is apples to apples because it’s relating the percentage of subsidies given to the amount of energy output per sector. Furthermore, as far as I’m aware fossil fuels were developed privately on their own with little in the way of public funds, and they were done so quickly. Wind and solar have been around for decades with no appreciable progress in development. So when exactly should we be expecting it? What are we waiting on? Or maybe we can’t get any more blood out of those turnips.

    Even if wind and solar were in the development phase, that’s not what much of the subsidies are going toward. They are going toward actual use of wind farms and solar plants, two technologies that are nowhere near as cheap and efficient as fossil fuels. So most of the subsidies are actually not going toward development, but simply of use.

    The notion of “unpriced externalities” is moot at this point, because they’re unpriced. Yes, I get what you mean by it but again there is little quantification of them that we can hang our hat on, so it’s difficult to have much of a conversation about it other than how good it feels. I think most people at least in developed economies would be OK with paying a slightly higher price for their utilities if alternative sources were more developed than they are now, but right now they simply aren’t and they’re far too costly to be apt replacements.

    Currently, there simply is no alternative for replacing fossil fuels that isn’t going to be extremely expensive, so much so that it’s just not economically viable even in the most socialist of countries. That’s why places like Denmark, even with it having the highest utility costs in the world, still largely rely on fossil fuels for energy.

    So, until we have alternatives that approach fossil fuels in terms of cost effectiveness, efficiency, energy density, and market viability, we have no choice but to rely on them right now. That is until the alternative technologies catches up. That’s the probelm, that they’ve been in development for decades and haven’t seen much progress.

    That’s why, IMO, we should be developing and using nuclear, because that’s a clean energy source we can use now.

    It’s not that we’re putting off CO2 to future generations, what, because we’re aholes and jerks? We’re doing it because we don’t have a choice, because we don’t have viable alternatives. It’ll be up to the future to clean it up because they’ll (hopefully) have the means at that time.

    I, for one, don’t want to have to pay out five times what I already pay for energy, and that’s what alternative energy sources would cost even if they were heavily subsidized, which they are.

  25. rezistnzisfutlon 08 Mar 2016 at 8:25 pm

    One of the reasons why nuclear costs what it does now is because of unwarranted public fear and lack of political will, just like with GMOs. The amount of regulation on them isn’t really warranted. The amount of liability isn’t due to real world harm, but to the public imagination. The reason why GMOs are so expensive to develop is because of the heavy regulations that we here know for the most part aren’t necessary to be at that level. That’s why only the likes of Monsanto and Sygenta, big companies with deep pockets, can afford to develop them.

    The same goes with nuclear, it’s as expensive as it is because of unwarranted public fear that has driven the demand for onerous regulations. Yes, damage has been caused in the past, but the public would rather put up with the CO2 issue when we’re talking about “unpriced costs”? Seems to me that those “unpriced costs” of fossil fuel plants outweigh any danger that nuclear would bring, especially considering that the vast majority of nuclear plants have been running for years, even decades, without incident.

    We have the technology now, and the science is just around the corner to make it even more safe, reliable, and cheap. Yet the greenies resist it just like the anti’s do, at the cost of the public.

  26. daedalus2uon 09 Mar 2016 at 10:33 am

    When Greenland melts (and at current CO2 levels it is unstable over the long term), sea level will go up 7 meters. Everything that is less than 7 meters above sea level now, will be flooded. What is the “value” of everything that is below 7 meters above sea level right now?

    The destruction of everything below 7 meters above sea level is one of the components of the externality of putting CO2 into the atmosphere.

    The “cost” of renewable energy is not 5x the cost of energy from fossil fuel.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

  27. Karl Withakayon 09 Mar 2016 at 11:24 am

    “The notion of “unpriced externalities” is moot at this point, because they’re unpriced.”

    Hardly moot, if you can reasonably predict the future cost will be high if not extreme.

    If I have a kid, I may not know how much their college education will cost. Will they go to Harvard or community college? There’s really no way to know, but that price uncertainty doesn’t mean the future cost of their higher education is a moot point and I shouldn’t bother saving for it now.

    If we put enough CO2 into the atmosphere such that there’s no amount of money you can spend to recover from the climate changing effects, you can put that cost at infinity dollars.

    “So, until we have alternatives that approach fossil fuels in terms of cost effectiveness, efficiency, energy density, and market viability, we have no choice but to rely on them right now. ”

    No we do have other options. We could subsidize clean energy for the public good in the same way we subsidize roads, fire protection, and national defense, etc for the public good, and we could tax carbon emissions to cover or forestall those unpriced externalities that absolutely will have a non zero and probably very large dollar cost that may not be affordable by the time we have a precise value for them. Other options clearly do exist, whether or not they are good options is up for discussion.

    “It’ll be up to the future to clean it up because they’ll (hopefully) have the means at that time.”

    That’s an awful big hope, and if it’s just not possible for the future to clean it up because it’s too far gone and out of control, well, I’m sure they’ll take solace in the thought that we destroyed the planet for them and ended humanity in the most cost efficient way possible.

    “The same goes with nuclear, it’s as expensive as it is because of unwarranted public fear that has driven the demand for onerous regulations.”

    OK, assuming that to be the case, what’s the solution to that problem and the problem that nobody wants a long term waste disposal facility in their sate either?

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