Category Archives: Global Warming and Energy

The Green New Deal — Magical Thinking

magical thinking 2

“Magical thinking is the belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It is common in very young children. A four-year-old child, for example, might believe that after wishing for a pony, one will appear at his or her house.” (2)

So now we have it; a proposal by Congressional Democrats called the “Green New Deal” (1), for a sweeping agenda which will save the world from climate change and cure all the ills of society in one fell swoop.

Whether this resolution is awe-inspiring or ridiculous is likely in the mind of the beholder, but at the very least it is gargantuan and sweeping.

I’ve been told that I don’t suffer fools well. For a long time now we have been hearing sweeping proposals of “renewable energy” as the panacea for many problems.  Proponents of this “energy” almost never bother with the details. Why? Because the details do not work.  Their ideas are not simply magical thinking; they are wrong.  They are absurdly wrong, yet proponents continue their mantra as if by saying it over and over again it will become real. Let’s put this nonsense to rest.

A few years back, I wrote some articles on alternative energy. They can be found here   The Story of Alternative Energy  and here   Alternative Power Part II .  These articles elaborate on what follows. For more details and references, I suggest reading them.

At this time, I am going to review some of that information and look into a few other items mentioned in the “Green New Deal” resolution.

Before going further, let’s remember this number: 10000 Gigawatts.  This also can be stated as 10 million Megawatts, but we will stick with the former because it is easier to understand. What is this? It is the amount of electricty used in the United States every day: 10000 Gigawatts.

Alternative energy – Wind Power


Wind turbines are big, expensive, and largely inefficient.  The most common commercial wind turbine in the US is built by General Electric. It has blades 116 feet long, and stands on a 212 foot high tower. It  weighs about 235 tons.  They cost between $1.5 and $2.5 million dollars each, with a total construction cost of $3 to $4 million apiece.

Energy companies will tell you this turbine will power around 332 homes, but if you do the actual math as I did in my previous articles, the reality is about 83 homes, and only when the wind is blowing. The wind stops, they stop, electricity stops flowing.  The best realisitic assessment is that these turbines only produce electricity about 40 percent of the time.

Current wind turbine capacity in the US: 65 Gigawatts.

There are about 54,000 wind tubines in the US curently. Estimates of how many turbines it would require to power the US come in at around  583,000, using industry estimates of efficiency, which appear to be about four times too high. So, by my rough calculations, you are looking at the need for over two million wind turbines, which still would only work forty percent of the time.

Costs: These turbines cost about $1.5 – 2.0 million dollars each. Add contruction costs and land acquisition, and it comes out to about $4 million each. Total cost ? Try eight trillion dollars. In addition, annual maintainence costs are about $500,00 each, bringing the annual cost to maintain these turbines to about one hundred billion dollars per year.

Most “wind farms” are located in places like the Midwest, notably in Iowa and North Dakota, where there are vast stretches of empy land. These monsters are not at all practical in populated areas, particularly near cities. The occasional wind turbine seen in these areas is a novelty, not a serious source of electricity.

Wind power can provide supplemental energy. It is indeed renewable and essentially “clean” compared to fossil fuels. It is not, however a reliable subsititute, not even close.

Alternative Energy – Solar Power

Solar Panel with green grass and beautiful blue sky

There is no doubt that solar power is becoming more popular. Drive around most suburban neighborhoods and you are likely to see a number of homes with solar panels on the roof. It’s clear the selling of solar is taking hold.

But to what end? Therein lies the question.

First of all, they are not cheap. A system not subsidized by tax dollars can cost $15000 – $25000 for a single home. Most of the ones you see in the neighborhood are likely government subsidized, so they cost the homeowner (thanks to the taxpayer) far less.

So how effective are they? That is an excellent question, and if you Google it, you will find answers all over the board, most provided by companies selling the panels.

Solar panels average 15% efficiency. Remember, they do absolutely nothing at night or when the sun isn’t shining.  With all the hoopla out there, the best I could figure out is they could save the home owner as much as $1000/year on electric bills under the right conditions, but every situation is different.  Can they be an auxiliary for fossil fuel electricity? Yes. Are they a suitable replacement? No.

Current installed solar capacity in the US : 50 Gigawatts.

Our current capacity of both wind and solar power is 115 Gigawatts, about one percent of our daily needs. The bottom line is that neither wind nor solar energy are any more than supplemental power sources for fossil fuels. Contrary to their much ballyhooed promotion and magical thinking, there is nothing, absolutely nothing  to suggest they will become any more than minor supplements for the forseeable future.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

planes trains

Now it gets to be fun. Included in the Green New Deal proposals are plans to get rid of airplanes, build high speed trains everywhere, and require all cars be electric powered. It’s hard to know where to start.

Planes and Trains

According to the FAA, there are 43,000 daily commercial flights in the US alone, moving some 2.6 million passengers around the country. At any given moment, there are about 5000 planes in the air. That’s over 15 million flights a year, carrying not only passengers, but also over 42 billion pounds of freight.(3)

The “Green New Deal” proposes to get rid of all of these planes and replace them — with trains?

An airplane can fly from New York to Los Angeles in a bit under five hours at an average speed of 560 miles per hour. The newest high speed trains can travel about 160 miles per hour. The same straight line trip, if it were possible today (it isn’t) would take the train over 15 hours, three times as long, but that’s not even the point.

There are currently two high speed rail projects in the United States. Let’s take a look at them:

California:  California High Speed Rail (CHSR) was approved by the California legislature in 2008, with an initial $9 billion dollar bond to begin construction. Construction of the 800 mile long system from southern to northern California began in 2015. The initial segment was planned to be open in 2027, and the  first phase completed by 2033.

However, in February 2019, incoming California governor Gavin Newsome announced the plan would be scrapped after a 110 mile initial section is completed. The cancelletion came as projected costs for the project jumped from an original $40 billion to almost $100 billion with initial service in 2033. The section still planned is expected to cost about $11 billion dollars. (5)

Texas: The Texas Central Railway is a proposed 177 mile long hi-speed railway between Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. Originally proposed in 2015, construction was to begin in 2018, but has now been posponed until sometime in 2020. Construction is expected to take about six years. The railway is being built by a private company.

That’s it. That is the extent of hi-speed rail in the US. Yes, there is the infamous Amtrak  Acella Express between Boston and Washington DC. which is technically a hi-speed train. But the fact is that anyone who has ridden it, as I have, will tell you it is too often very much less than high speed.

The notion that a massive network of hi-speed trains can be plunked down all across the country and replace air travel isn’t simply “magical” thinking. It smacks of delusion.


There are 268.8 million registered vehicles in the United States. 760,000 (3/10 of one percent) are electric.

The plan is to do away with gasoline/diesel powered vehicles and replace them completely with electric vehicles. While this includes all types of vehicles, including trucks, we will simply focus on cars.

An electric car is one that is fueled by power through a rechargable battery. The first commercial car of the modern era was the Tesla ($76,000) which became available to the public in 2008. Since then other manufacturers have entered the market, notably the Nissan Leaf ($29, 900), Chevy Bolt ($36,600), and electric versions of the Ford Focus ($29,100),  and Kia Soul ($33,900).

The batteries that today’s electric cars run on are based on lithium and nickel. Lithium is a scarce metal, and nickel is toxic. The batteries cannot be recycled, and present a toxic waste problem. Until or unless a better electric car battery is designed, electric cars as they exist today are not sustainable.

The promotion of electric cars is a bit deceptive. The high price Tesla is supposed to get about 250 miles per charge, but the lower price models mentioned only seem to get about 100 – 150  miles per charge. In addition, it has been learned that cold weather can significantly reduce the attainable milage from a charge.

The Green New Deal folks imagine everyone in the country zipping around in electric cars. They talk of thousands of “charging stations” everywhere. One comment: What powers the charging stations? Wind? Solar? Really?

Wrapping it up

Okay, so you get the general idea.  These utopian notions of a carbon free society saving the world from climate destruction are at best magical thinking.  They are the kind of thoughts one would expect from children, not serious adults.

One can almost accept outlandish notions from young, inexperienced, first time government officials. Such naivete is disturbing, but it seems to be the world we live in. That other more experienced officials  -including potential candidates for the Presidency would applaud and endorse this nonsense is not acceptable.

Serious people propose serious ideas. These people are not serious, they are foolish and delusional. They should not be taken seriously.

(1) Green New Deal — House Resolution 109 Text

(2) Magical Thinking

(3) FAA — Air Traffic by the Numbers

(4) Hi-Speed Rail — Wikipedia

(5) California High Speed Rail

Polar Bears


polar bear 01

Polar bears, the icon of the global warming movement: theatened, endangered, possibly headed for extinction because of mankind’s indifference to saving the planet. Really?

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a carniverous bear who roams the Arctic Circle area. It feeds mostly on seals. It is a big bear, and a male can weigh as much as 1500 pounds and stand nine feel tall on it’s hind legs. They are actually related to the brown bear; their distinctive color presumably evolved allowing them to survive better in their habitat. They live both on land and on sea ice, roaming their territory looking for prey. They are vicious animals, and will eat a human being as readily as a seal. Other creatures they encounter are just food to them. 

Their “territory” is pretty large. The area north of the Arctic Circle is over 7 million square miles in size. For reference, the continental United States is about 3.2 million square miles.

polar bear map

The polar bear is considered a “vulnerable species”,  by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, largely due to concerns about global warming. This group has classified 5196 animals and 6789 plants around the world as “vulnerable”.

So how many polar bears are there, and how is their “vulnerability” measured? That’s where it begins to get murky.

Part of the problem is no one knows how many polar bears there are. The only way to count polar bears is to fly over them and count. Since their territory is so large, and they are constantly on the move, this is not  a practical method. So what we have are estimates. Since much of their territory has been poorly studied (Wikipedia), estimates by biologists run from 20,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the world. Nineteen “subpopulations” have been catagorized, based on sightings of groups of bears in various areas.

Modern tracking of the bears has only taken place since the 1980’s and is expensive, tagging and tracking bears by helicopter. While there have been increased reporting of bear sightings around populated areas in recent years, some scientists argue that this should not be interprteted as increases in the bear population. Counting of  subpopulations is scattered, and some groups have not been counted since 1992.
The bottom line is that all counts of polar bears are estimates, based on very limited information.

Those worried about the fate of the polar bear contend that shrinking Arctic polar ice reduces the bear’s habitat and food supply, eventually leading to the extinction of the bear.

The Arctic Polar Ice:

In 2009, Al Gore warned the Polar ice caps could be gone in five years:

So is Al right? Obviously his 2009 prediction didn’t quite work out that way, the ice is still there. But is he right in general?

Maybe, maybe not.

It seems almost impossible to get anyhing but conflicting data on the Internet. I looked at dozens of sites; official, semi-official, quasi-official and unofficial.  — All kinds of different “answers”. I’m certainly not a scientist, but all the contradictions made me want to pull my eyeballs out. So here’s what I surmised:

It seems that over the last several million years, the Arctic has undergone over twenty glacial/interglacial (cooling/warming) periods. Some of these lasted for millions of years. The most recent interglacial period, known as the Holocene Interglacial period, lasted about 11,700 years. After warming during the  Medieval Warm Period (950-1250 AD), there was a cooling period from about 1300 to 1850, which has been called the “Little Ice Age”.  Although we appear to once again be in an interglacial period, It is not clear the length of time this will last, nor the cause.

There has been shrinkage of the Arctic ice in recent years. Of course it recedes and expands seasonly, but overall there has been shrinkage. I tried my best find out how much, but again, numbers are all over the place. Again it seems as much based on “estimates” as anything else.

From what I can put together, the Arctic ice pack has a size of about 5.3 million square miles. This shrinks currently to about 1.3 million square miles in the summer.  Most of the sites I looked at suggest the recent overall loss is about 13-15 thousand square miles per year. Some said that this is about 2 percent, but if you do the math, it’s actually .2 percent — big differerence.  At that rate, the ice will turn to water in about 500 years. 

Maybe, maybe not. Climate is a funny thing; it doesn’t follow rules, certainly not any of the rules of man. Over the eons, climate change has gone warmer to colder, to warmer to colder, over and over again. In any case, the Arctic Ice is not likely to melt in the next few years as Al projected.

Personally, I think it all has to do with the shifting of the magnetic poles, but more on that in a future article.

So over all, I’m not too worried about the Polar Bear. If things change enough, they’ll likely just move south and turn brown again, like their cousins.

brown bear

International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Summary of Polar Bears census counts

Medieval Warm Period

Little Ice Age

Paris Warms Up

President Barack Obama, left, sits with French President Francois Hollande, right, as they have dinner at the Ambroisie restaurant in Paris, France, with Secretary of State John Kerry, 2nd right, French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royal, 3rd right, and French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, 3rd left, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. Obama is in France for a two-day visit as part of the COP21, the United Nations Climate Change conference. Other officials are : Translator, Thomas Ronkin, 2nd left, Charles Kupchan, top left, and French President Hollande's Military Chief of Staff General Benoit Puga, top right. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool)

The world-wide conference on climate change in Paris ended recently. The media exhibited a breathless, Entertainment Tonight  glow reporting the event. One blog headlined it like this: “This is a momentous, world changing event”.

No, it is not.

Yes, I know some 196 nations reached an “historic” agreement in Paris. Yes, I am aware that many people around the world are convinced that this agreement will “save” the planet (or more accurately human beings), from global catastrophe. I am completely aware that I am one of the minority, or as I like to call it, the loyal opposition.

Let’s discuss politics.

Each of the nations involved in the agreement submitted a plan for reducing it’s reliance on carbon fuels. Each was a combination of “hope” to do, “want” to do, and “plan” to do to reduce their “carbon footprint” by 2050 or so. I say “or so” because dates always tend to get a little fuzzy in multinational agreements.

None of the agreements are legally binding. They are “promises” loosely based on what each country’s leaders think they can get through their repective governments and publics. The United States, for instance, was smart enough not to try to make this into a legally binding treaty, because it is well known no such treaty would ever make it past Congress, which must approve all treaties. The stongest enforcment in the agreement is “global shaming” of countries who do not meet their committments to reducing emmissions.

So think of it as a multinational “to do” list, with some items possible, others not. The prospect of each nation reaching it’s goals is extremely unlikely. Why? The complications and the money, mostly the money.

The poorer nations (most of them) are demanding payments from wealthier ones (especially the United States) to help them to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Part of these are oblique “reparations” for industrial nations advancing economically while at the same time being the major polluters. These poorer countries believe that the wealthy countries are the ones who have caused “global warming” and now demand those countries pay.

And pay big. One figure floated around Paris was $100 billion (dollars) per year transfer from wealthy countries to poor ones, over a period of at least ten years, a total of  one trillion dollars!   And that’s just for the first decade of the agreement!

Does anyone really think that is going to happen?

** Note — This just in: Congress is approving President Obama’s request for $500 million in the 2016 budget for the climate fund for poor countries. Could that money have been spent here? Nah….we don’t need it….

The biggest polluters carbon fuel-wise today are China and India. China has said it will stop increasing it’s use of carbon fuels by 2030, but that’s not surprising, insasmuch as that’s about the time China’s population will stop growing. India, on the other hand, refuses to get tied down, as it claims that because it is such a poor country, it needs more time to “catch up” industrially with the West.

It’s already been noted that even if the U.S. took extraordinary measures to reduce carbon fuels, the difference we could make would be negligable at this point. That doesn’t mean however, that shanigans won’t be taking place.

money temperature

Look for calls for “carbon taxes”. Bernie Sanders has talked about this alot, and I suspect he will have company as time goes on. These “taxes” will make it more expensive for you and I to heat our homes and fuel our cars, but it doesn’t stop there. Manufacturers and all sorts of producers will get slammed with these taxes, which they will naturally pass along to the consumer. Ostensibly these taxes will go toward encouraging research and development of “clean” energy sources, vis-a-vie grants and so forth to potential developers.  Watch out for that one. The name Solyndra comes to mind. If you don’t recall who they were, they were the solar power company that received over $500 million from Uncle Sam, only to go bankrupt after five years.


Currently there is no large-scale replacement for fossil fuels. Solar, wind, biomass, and hydro power all work, but only in a limited way. So far, no one has found a viable solution to what happens when the sun isn’t shining or the wind is not blowing.  All of these combined could not generate nearly enough power for an industrialized country such as the United States. The “hope” is that newer and better alternatives will be discovered just in time to save the day and keep the seas from rising. Maybe that’s where “Hope and Change” came from – we hope someone will invent something that will mean a change.

The alternative to a new discovery is taxing carbon fuels so heavily that we all return to a pre-industrial state, sort of like living in the 1750’s.  We all know that’s not going to happen. I’m not saying the taxing won’t happen, it surely will. I’m saying it all hits the wall when the public finally realizes what the proposals mean to them; and that will not be pretty.

I’m sure all the delegates had a marvelous time in Paris on someone’s expense account, and left feeling fulfilled and salf-satisfied. The problem is, like so many political activities, most of the discussion was completely removed from the real world we live in.

We may be going through climate change. Certainly it has happened before. I seriously doubt man has had much to do with it, and doubt even more that man can do much about it.

Except hold conferences.

Climate Denier: Part One

global-warming 1

Climate Denier. Such an odd term. It used to be Global Warming Denier, and before that  Anthropogenic Global Warming Denier,  for the sophisticated.

I suppose I might be called a Denier. I’m not sure if that should be capitalized or not. It seems to be a formal label of sorts, so I guess it should be capitalized.

Anyway, it’s an interesting choice of words. To deny something, according to the dictionary, is to “refuse to admit the truth”. In the case of global warming, now called climate change, to deny the “science”, or “the truth”, is to be a Denier. I call bullshit.

First of all, no one can deny climate change. The climate on earth has always changed, from the very beginning. It is changing now, and will change again, and again in the future. Such is the nature of the planet. I can’t imagine anyone who would deny that, but alas, that is not the point, is it?

The point is whether or not one agrees with the “settled science” of the day.  Disagree, and one automatically becomes a Denier. Worse, one becomes some sort of Neanderthal, incapable of understanding the complexities of the modern world. To disagree makes one an outlier; not to be taken seriously,  a person to be ignored. I accept that challenge, and here’s why:

First of all, there is no such thing as “settled science”, that’s not the way it works.

“But you’re not a scientist”, some may say, “what do you know?”.

Well, a little. Let’s have some background before continuing. I worked for four years at Rutgers University, in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology. For those four years plus four more, I worked on a human subjects research project as the project director. The work of this project was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).


Additionally, I have presented research results to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), both in Washington DC and at the University of California (USC) Irvine, at the invitation of the NAS.

So no, I’m not a scientist, but I have worked in the field and believe I have some notion how legitimate science works, and how it does not.

First of all, science is rigorous. A “fact” is never a “fact” until it has been tested, replicated, and repeated again and again and again. Even then there is always the open notion that it can be proven wrong sometime in the future. There is not now, and has never been such a thing as “settled science”.

Science relies on experimentation, not consensus. There is no opinion polling in science. Even when legitimate scientists agree, they allow for the possibility that they could be wrong, individually or collectively.

Generally speaking, science is not in the predicting business. It is recognized that certain outcomes may be likely, even seriouly likely, but they are never guaranteed. Speculation, plausible outcomes, possibilities, and liklihoods are all fair expressions. Absolute certainty is not. Scientists have been proven wrong in the past, and will be in the future. There are no absolute truths.

sciencetruth 1

What we are seeing today is a hypothesis presented as fact. Statistical extrapolation projected as absolute truth.


There is always great risk speculating about climate. The earth’s climate is a vast and complicated organism. Collecting past data accurately may reflect what happened in the past, but is a poor resource for predicting the future. The reality is that with all our sophistication, we can barely predict the weather more than a week in advance. Predicting such things as climate and sea levels hundreds of years in the future is arrogance, not science.

As a non-scientist, my hypothesis is not worth much, I understand that.  But since this is my blog, I will be presenting some of my ideas on the subject in future posts. Read them or not, agree or disagree. That is fair. What I do urge, however, is that you do not blindly accept the “facts” you read today as “settled”.  Examine them, question them. Those presenting the information are not infallible. Don’t let them pretend that they are.

Alternative Power, Part II

Last time we discussed two possible alternative “green” energy sources to replace our current use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. We looked at wind energy and solar energy, and neither looked very promising, so let’s look at a few more:

Looking down on Hoover Dam, near Boulder City, Nevada

Hydroelectric Power

The picture above is the Hoover Dam in Nevada, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the United States.

Hydroelectricty, or electric generated from the use of moving water, is widely used around the world, and accounts for some sixteen percent of all electricity produced worldwide. About seven percent of the electricity used in the United States comes from this method, mostly in the western portions of the country.

The process is pretty straightforward. A dam is built on a waterway, creating a reservoir of water higher than the outflow beyond the dam. Water flowing downward from the reservoir is piped to a water turbine and generator, creating electricity.  There are several variants on this theme, but most function in a smiliar manner (see diagram below).

hydroelectric dam


Power generated from large dams is often cited in gigawatts. A gigawat is one billion watts.

Let’s stop for some quick math. Remember our average home that uses about 30 kilowatts a day?  Well, one gigawatt is enough power for over 330,000 homes! Quite a bit of power.  The Hoover Dam in Nevada, pictured above, has a capacity of about 2.1 gigawatts, or  almost 700,000 homes. Indeed, Hoover Dam provides power to users in Nevada, Arizona and California.

Dams like the Hoover Dam are massive constrution operations. The dam took thousands of workers over five years to build between 1931-1936 at a cost of $49 million, which would be about $833 million today.  Over one hundred workers were killed during the construction of the dam.

The use of dams for electicity is limited. First, and obviously, the dam needs a source of water (a river). The building of a dam can require the dislocation of people and wildlife in the creation of the dam and reservoir. It can have a not insignificant impact on the ecology of the area. As such, the construction of large-scale dams is not practical in heavily populated areas, and new construction of dams has dwindled since the 1980’s. While there are thousands of dams nationwide, most are too small to be practical as significant sources of electricity.

A footnote on this: Proposed construction of new dams, especially large ones, are often met with steep resistance from enviornmentalists. A 1954 proposal for a massive five gigawatt damn in Alaska to be known as the Rampart Dam, was strongly opposed for years until President Jimmy Carter killed the plan in 1980 by turning the proposed area into a national wildlife santuary.

Biomass Energy

This is one of the more unusual methods suggested as a way to produce electricity. Essentially, biomass is anything organic that can be burned: wood, crops, trees, paper, and even manure.  Biomass currently accounts for about 1.4% of the electricity produced in the U.S.

Looking into this, I found parts of it to be amusing. “Biomass” can be almost anything you can burn: tree limbs, old stumps. leaves, grass clippings or wood chips. It can be old plants, like dried corn stalks, sugar cane, or even bamboo. In short, it’s burning organic trash to make heat, which in turn can fire boilers, which can turn turbines and make electricity.  Nothing new, and nothing much to see here folks. Every time you build a fire in your fireplace or fire pit, you’re creating “biomass” energy.

Burning stuff to make energy isn’t a new idea, but if biomass energy gets rid of some waste products, expecially stuff like manure, it can’t be all bad. Right? Actually that’s debatable.

While this form of energy is “renewable” (grow more trees), it’s not necessarily clean. Burning all these products produces the same dreaded CO2 that burning coal produces. Fuels produced from biomass are not particularly efficient, and expensive to produce. And, it’s not just about picking up dead tree limbs. On a large scale, it’s about actually growing crops to be burned, which takes up lots of room, and seems just a tad bit silly for the minimal return. This too can invoke the wrath of environmentalists — “strip farming the Amazon” etc.

Another example of this is the use of corn for ethanol, which helps farmers unload their unwanted corn, but actually takes more energy to create than gasoline from oil. The cost of production and the pollution from using the corn to make biofuels is no bargain. As far as replacing existing carbon fuels, it’s a very bad trade off.

cc waste

One area which isn’t actually biomass per se, but has some use is “trash to energy”. This is simply a spin on the old style incinerator. Instead of just burning the trash however, it is used to heat boilers to make electricity.  An example of this is a plant like this in Camden County, NJ. In operation since 1991, this plant burns about 1050 tons of trash per day and produces 21 megawatts of electricity from the burning, enough for about 700 homes. Not major, but the combination of keeping the trash out of landfills and providing some energy at the same time seems reasonable.

Time for another bottom line:

Hydroelectic power is great, but building large dams is a limited exercise.  It seems unlikely that hydroelectricity will ever produce much more than the current seven percent in the U.S.

Biomass seems even less likely than wind or solar to ever become a major energy player. After all the hype it received a few years back, it really does seem to be much ado about nothing.

So now we’ve explored four “alternative” sources from a pretty short list of possibilities. Three of them,  wind,  solar, and biomass account for less than six percent of our current electric supply combined.  Including  the hydroelectric seven percent, we’re still looking at a pretty paltry thirteen percent.  And frankly none of them offer any short term promise of being any more significant than they are today.

So are there no real answers? —  Well, yeah, there are.  There is an “alternative” source out there that is safe, reliable, climate friendly, and efficient.  It’s the one real possibility to reduce our use of carbon fuels. Strangely, it’s hardly ever mentioned in “green” or “save the planet” circles.  The best possible alternative has a very bad name. We’ll look at that next time.

Coming next: Nuclear energy.



A Story of Alternative Power, Part I

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? — Old Boy Scout saying.

I’m not here to discuss global warming or climate change or whatever it is called today. Whether I believe in it (I don’t) or not, the real issue is what we are being asked to do about it.

All over the news we read that it is necessary for us to get away from carbon fuels (oil, natural gas, coal), which  are “causing” climate change. The problem is of course, these three areas are most of our energy sources. Global warming worriers insist we must begin using alternative “renewable” energy sources and soon, or we’re all  doomed.  Can this be done? While the warmer worriers would say “of course”, our mission here is to look at these alternative sources and see just how effective they are and how realistic the demands that we rapidly abandon carbon-based fuels. For our purposes, for brevity, and the sake of understanding, we will focus only on electricity in this article. Perhaps we’ll look at other areas in the future, perhaps not. First, a primer:

Where does it come from?

Our electricity comes from a number of sources:

  1. Coal  39%
  2. Natural Gas: 27%
  3. Nuclear energy: 19%
  4. Hydropower: 7%
  5. Wind: 4.4%
  6. Biomass: 1.4%
  7. Oil: 1%
  8. Geothermal: .4%
  9. Solar: .4%


Electricity, a layman’s primer, or What is a watt?

Measurements of energy use can get pretty damned complicated, but our purpose here is to clarify, not complicate. To do this we will focus on one thing: watts. A watt is a measurement of electricity transmitted or consumed. Think of a light bulb:


This is Tom Edison’s good old fashioned incandecent bulb. Forget about those new ones, this one works fine to explain this.

Light bulbs are measured in wattage, as we all know. The higher the watts, the brighter the bulb and the more energy used. Let’s take the common 100 watt bulb as the example. This bulb uses electricity as the rate of 100 watts per hour. If it was turned on for ten hours (10×100) is would used 1000 watts or one kilowatt. A kilowatt is the basic measurement used in calculating our electric bills.

All the electrical appliances in your home use electric by the kilowatt. Some use more than others. That hair dryer you blow dry your hair with can use around 1500 watts or 15 kilowatts in ten hour. A microwave uses around 1000 watts. Your desktop computer uses between 60 and 250 watts per hour.

All these devices, going on and going off through the month add up to a certain number of kilowatt hours that you’ve used. This is how the electic company bills us, the price per kilowatts used. According to the EIA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average home in the U.S. uses about 10968 kilowatts per year, or about 909  kilowatts per month.  This is an important number, and we’ll be seeing it again.

If we’re all using an average of 909 kilowatts per month, that’s roughly 30 kilowatts a day.  So if I use 30, and you use 30, we are using 60 kilowatts between us.  If there are ten houses on our block, we are collectively  using about 300 kilowatts per day.

We depend on the electric company to provide us with those kilowatts, and they do, mostly by burning coal or natural gas.  We also get electricity from nuclear power, but we’ll discuss that later.  These carbon fuels are burned in great qualities to light our bulbs, but there is a pretty sufficient supply of these materials, expecially coal.  But remember, these are the bad guys and must go.  So if we stop using them, what on earth will be use? Enter alternative “renewable” energy:

The Wind Turbine


There they are, the wind turbines.  We’ve all seen the photos, and maybe you’ve seen them in person.  These suckers are big, really big. A common 1.5 megawatt turbine built by General Electric  consists of 116-ft blades atop a 212-ft tower for a total height of 328 feet.  That’s an office building 32 floors high.  Pretty damn big.

Windmills and turbines have been around for centuries. Commercial wind turbines operate by using kinetic (wind) energy to turn a propellor which is connected by a shaft to a generator which produces electricity. A simple process on a small scale. On a large scale, however, something else entirely. As I said, these puppies are big,  and the average cost to install one commercial wind turbine is about three to four million dollars!  That does not include the cost of the land it sits on. These turbines require a lot of room to work effectively.  Operating and maintainence costs can run as much as a quarter of a million dollars per year.

Okay, so that’s how they work. In a nutshell, they generate electricity when the wind is blowing (more about that later). So how much electricity does one of these turbines generate?  A typical turbine today can generate about 2.5 megawatts of electricity. A megawatt is a thousand kilowatts, so think of it as 2500 kilowatts.

So here’s where it gets interesting. The companies that promote these things will tell you this can power about 400 homes or even more. But let’s do some math:

Remember our individual homes? Thirty kilowatts a day? If a turbine generates 2500 kilowatts, how many homes can it supply? We divide 2500 by 30, and we get the answer: 83. That monster turbine, can provide power to about 83 homes when the wind is blowing. If the wind stops, the propeller stops, the generator stops, the power stops flowing. No more electric. Nothing, none, nada. There is a rating for these turbines known as the capability factor. In essence, this means how often it is actually producing electricity. Overall the average in the industry appears to be 40%, meaning the electricity is actually flowing from it forty percent of the time. Critics, however, suggest that the real percentage is more like 25 percent.

Now this doesn’t seem sensible, but the way they are used is as supplemental energy. When they stop generating, the electric company switches over to more reliable fuels — carbon fuels.

One last point and we’ll move on. Let’s assume we have a 2.5 megawatt turbine and it’s totally effective. It would power about 83 homes. So how many wind turbines would it take to power a small (population 10,000) town? Hmmmmm….120 turbines! And remember, that’s just homes, not store, offices or factories which require lots more electricity.

How about a larger city? Well let’s see; South Bend, Indiana, households, 101,190 = 1219 turbines. Madison, Wisconsin, 245,691 households = 2960 tubines. How about a large city, say Chicago? 2,722,389 households  =  32,800 wind turbines.

Okay, so that’s a bit of overkill, but the point is this: Wind power is nice, it’s relatively clean, and it’s renewable. But commerial wind turbines are expensive to build, take up lots and lots of space, and other than as an auxillery power source, are not practical. Time to move on.

Solar Energy

Solar Panel with green grass and beautiful blue sky


The process of converting the sun’s rays into electricity is called photovoltaics. Suffice it to be said, the physics of the whole process confuses me, but we don’t need to know more than this: The sun shines down on panels of solar cells that use that heat and light to create electricity. I think we’ve all at least seen pictures of solar panels and have an idea of how it works.

So what is a “typical” solar panel, and how much electricity does it make? Residential and commercial panels differ somewhat in size. although not considerably. On average, the typical panel is about six feet long and 3 feet wide (6’x3′ – eighteen square feet), holds about 60-70 solar cells and weighs between 40 and 50 lbs. Again, on average, this one solar panel can generate 200-300 watts of electricity when the sun is shining on it. That two or three 100 watt lightbulbs. For our purposes, we’ll say a typcial panel is 250 watts.

Remember our house from the previous section? Thirty (30) kilowatts per day. If we take that number, 30,000 watts and divide it by 250, we get 120 panels to power our home. At eighteen square feet per panel, that’s 2160 square feet of solar panels. Not huge, but not small either. But….it only works when the sun is shining. Interestingly, “usable” sunlight is much less than you might think. It can be as low as three hours a day in some parts of the country.  The maximum, in places like Arizona, is only seven hours per day.

So how much does in cost? Well…..that gets tricky. There are tons of “deals” and “subsidies” out there as incentives to get those panels up on your house.  It can be as high a 7-9 dollars per watt! Keep in mind, it’s not just a matter of slapping the panels on your roof. The system also requires batteries to store the power, a controller to regulate the power in the batteries, and an inverter to covert the battery power into usable electricity.

But let’s suppose solar prices are going down, and you can get a deal for five dollars per watt. That’s $500 to light one lightbulb. It comes down to about $1250 installation costs per panel (250 watts).  So if you could fit 50 panels on your roof (900 square feet), you would generate about 12500 watts (12.5 kilowatts) for a cost of  $62,500. Before some reader goes ballistic and says “It doesn’t cost that much!”, let me repeat that there are many different kinds of subsidies to lower the cost to the consumer. Without dragging this out any further, do this: Calculate your kilowatt costs from your electric bill. Determine the return in kilowatts from solar panels, and see if it works for you. My guess is you’ll find it takes a considerable number of years to break even.

Remember the 30 kilowatts per house per day? Let’s try that with solar panels. Suppose we had a large solar panel the size of a football field, including the endzones. That area is 160 x 360 feet, or 57,600 square feet, a pretty big area. Using our 18 square foot panels, that works out to 3200 panels, each generating at the maximum 300 watts. That makes a total of 960 kilowatts from the football field grid, or enough wattage for 32 homes.  Yup, 32 homes when the sun is shining. The amount of space needed to power even a small amount of homes, part of the time is larger than large, it is huge.

Bottom line so far: Two very popular alternative energy methods are in fact not very practical at all. It seems to me that there is a fair amount of deception going on with alternative energy. An energy source is only worth discussing if it has a potential to replace what exists. After a brief look, we see these two sources do not.

Coming up next: Hydroelectric and biomass.




U.S. Energy Information Administration

Solar Power Authority


Kenneth, What is the Frequency?

Explain this to me like I’m a two year old:

“This was the moment when the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal…” Barack Obama, June 3, 2008.

The seas are rising, or are they?

I’m not a “climate change skeptic”. Of course the climate is changing — it always changes. Since the beginning, earth has constantly been changing. Very hot, very cold, not so hot, not so cold, and so on. It’s the very nature of the planet we live on. During the Precambrian Period, (prior to 542 million years ago) the weather commonly flip-flopped over the years. so much so that between warm spells there were actually glaciers around the equator! During the Mesozoic era, (65-251 million years ago), the earth was pure “greenhouse”, with temperatures and carbon dioxide levels much higher than today. That’s when the dinosaurs were around, by the way.

The last glacial period or “ice age” on earth peaked a scant 22,000 years ago, just a few seconds on cosmic scale. Basically, we’ve been warming since then, a normal pattern on planet Earth (remember very hot, very cold,etc?).

Anyway, my point here is not to get hung up in the grand scope of things, but rather focus a bit to see what we can figure out. To that end, for this piece we’ll stick to one thing: sea levels. Are the seas rising or not?

First, what is sea level? It’s actually called MSL, for mean sea level, which is the midpoint level between low and high tides. Petty simple, right? It is. And the land is “above sea level” since it’s land, and anything else is “below sea level”, like say  the Titantic.

Now here’s where I start to get confused, so bear with me. Water is water, right? And we all know that water seeks it’s own level. For instance, when we fill a bowl or bottle with water, the level on one side is neither higher nor lower than the other — it’s even. In any container, the water “levels” itself out.

Think of the oceans of the world as containers, giant swimming pools, if you will. Like in a regular swimming pool, the water levels out all around, not higher nor lower on any side. Similarly sea level must be the same height on the shores of France as it is on the shores of the United States. Otherwise a ship making the journey might be going “uphill” to get to France, and “downhill” to come back. Silly, right? Yes it is. Sea level is sea level, the same wherever you go.

On this basis, I’ll argue that if the oceans rise in one place, they must also rise in every other place, as the water “levels” itself. Go up here, go up there.

So are the seas rising, and if so how much and why?

According to good ‘ol Wikipedia, that composite of human knowlege, between 1870 and 2004, sea levels have risen 195 milimeters, or… wait for it … 7.7 inches! Doing some math, that breaks down to .06 inches per year; that’s 6/100 of an inch per year! Wowzers! Exactly how they measure this and how accurate that is is arguable, but we’ll go with it for now.

Wiki also tells us that since 1993, the rise has been an astonishing 2.9 milimeters, or 11/100 of an inch per year, or 1.5 inches in the last twelve years! Have you noticed that? I haven’t.  If it continues at that rate, we’d be seeing an increase of maybe 11 inches in the next hundred years!

thumb forfinger


See the guy above? That’s a little less than ten years rise in sea level. Yeah, that’s right, ten years. 

But…we are led to believe that Armageddon is upon us if we don’t do something and soon! Just two days ago the New York Times had a major article that some scientists believe the seas could rise 200 feet: New York Times, but it order to do this, we have to burn all the fossil fuels on earth, everything! All the coal, all the oil, and all the natural gas. Take a minute to think about that one; it’s indicative of the silliniess surrounding this issue. And by the way, they suggest that even that could take a thousand years.  Yeah, a thousand years. Give me a break.

So I’m not a scientist, I get that. But someone needs to work with me if I’m going to buy into something. So, where is the sea level actually rising in some manner that we can see it? There are tons of charts and graphs, predictions and projections, but I’d like to see something more tangible.

Venice? Venice is one city that always gets thown out there as a warning of sea level rising. But let’s get one straight. Venice was built on water! If anything, I suspect Venice is sinking as much as any water is significantly rising.


sandy hook light

Cape May Lighthouse, 1859. Barnegat Lighthouse, 1859. Sandy Hook Lightouse, 1764. Portland Head Maine, 1791. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 1870. Many lighthouses were built in the US and around the world in the 18th and 19th century. I mention these above, because guess what, they’re still there. They’re not beseiged by the sea. The oldest, Sandy Hook, is actually further inland than when it was built due to the ocean pushing sand ashore. Over two hundred years and the ocean is not claiming these obviously close-to-the-shore structures.

Tuvalu and the Maldives

Global warming reactionaries often write that Tuvalu and the Maldives are sinking. Huh? Where the hell are they anyway?

Tuvalu is is string of coral reef islands in the South Pacific. Environmentalists have been pounding the drums for years that the islands will be submerged as the ocean rises. At it’s highest points, it’s only fifteen feet above sea level. So maybe in a hundred years or so, the residents might think about moving. There are only about 11,000 people in total on these islands, so it shouldn’t take much to relocate them.

The Maldives, a group of islands near India that have about 350,000 people spread out on twenty six islands, most of which are only about five feet about sea level. They are beautiful islands, but five feet above sea level in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Ever heard of cyclones?

So there may be some spots on earth with some risks, but living near a volcano includes risks too. Are the environmentalists worried about that?

I ‘ve been going to the Jersey shore every summer for over sixty years. Each and every summer, the ocean is still in the exact same spot I left it the previous fall. No closer, no farther away. Any changes have been completely unnoticable.

Look, I’m not trying to make light of this, (well maybe a little), but if you want to get me stirred up about global warming, give me something to work with. Don’t tell me Wildwood and Ocean City will be underwater a thousand years from now, it just doesn’t tug at my heartstrings. It’s not that I don’t care about those people fifty generations from now (I don’t), but that’s way too far out to concern me. Don’t tell me you’re going to triple my electric costs and make me pay ten bucks for a gallon of gas to save the planet for folks in the year 3015. Sorry.

That may seem heartless, but there are tons of actually important issues happening right now that need attention. I don’t think the people in the year 1015 worried how we would cope. They had enough on their plates, and so do we.

Here’s my bottom line. I’ll keep watching the shore in Jersey. If I see the ocean rising, I’ll let you know. Otherwise I have more practical things to worry about.