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Old 05-02-2011, 12:08 AM   #21
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So, I'm not sure how we price in dead birds compared to dead fish compared to dead miners or people killed installing wind turbines.
Robert Bryce: Windmills Are Killing Our Birds - WSJ.com

"By 2030, environmental and lobby groups are pushing for the U.S. to be producing 20% of its electricity from wind. Meeting that goal, according to the Department of Energy, will require the U.S. to have about 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity, a 12-fold increase over 2008 levels. If that target is achieved, we can expect some 300,000 birds, at the least, to be killed by wind turbines each year."

Oil Field Waste Pit Problems, Region 6 Environmental Contaminants, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"Currently, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million birds are lost annually in oil field production skim pits and centralized oilfield wastewater disposal facilities..."

Natural gas is a consequence of oil drilling (excluding the "dry" NG super fields). Obviously, these deaths are only seen in land-based oil fields so the numbers of birds per BTU would be even higher (since we can exclude Gulf fields that don't have oil pools).

Strip mining also kills birds due to loss of habitat.

Factoring all of these externalities could well be a dissertation project.
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Old 05-02-2011, 08:07 AM   #22
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I'd like to think that my state/federal tax credits are just giving me temporary custody of the eventual extraction I'm going to have to supply when our island's demand requires the construction of another electrical-generating plant.
It seems to me that Hawaii, like Iceland, with all the volcanic activity would be a good place for geothermal energy. Is it being tried there?
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Old 05-02-2011, 09:05 AM   #23
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There really are two levels of geo-thermal energy gathering. Small scale systems to provide heat/cool water for a single building (industrial or residential mainly) works in many areas.
Power plant scale generation currently does work best in places like Iceland.
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Old 05-02-2011, 10:55 AM   #24
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For those who would be interested in this topic, I would highly recommend the book "Physics for Future Presidents" (Muller).
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Old 05-02-2011, 12:10 PM   #25
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I also find the the title of this thread curious; solar and wind both are "viable" now, in that each is already providing a non-trivial and growing portion of the total energy portfolio in a number of developed and developing countries (no not the majority, but significant and growing nevertheless)
The central question was/is what do we do when wind and solar are NOT generating? I wasn't trying to say wind & solar can't augment power generation, but I don't see how they can ever come anywhere near eliminating conventional sources and it may be a very long time before they are at all competitive (more so with solar) with conventional sources. Batteries are at least generations away it seems...but technology may surprise us all.
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Old 05-02-2011, 12:20 PM   #26
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It seems to me that Hawaii, like Iceland, with all the volcanic activity would be a good place for geothermal energy. Is it being tried there?
Yes. A search on "Hawaii geothermal" turned up this:
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Since Ormat Technologies, Inc. acquired Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) in 2004, the facility has undergone a $32 million enhancement, returning the plant’s generating capacity to 30 megawatts (MW) and getting it ready for additional production. PGV saves the Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) more than 144,000 barrels of imported oil a year, providing electricity for about 30,000 Big Island residents and visitors.
Hawaii Renewable & Alternative Energy - Geothermal Hawaii
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Old 05-02-2011, 04:18 PM   #27
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Some of us who live near the ocean are interested in seeing if tidal/wave energy can be utilized.. there are a couple demonstration projects proposed to see if it is viable. Personally I wonder about the corrosive effect of salt water, but...
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Old 05-02-2011, 09:25 PM   #28
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The central question was/is what do we do when wind and solar are NOT generating? I wasn't trying to say wind & solar can't augment power generation, but I don't see how they can ever come anywhere near eliminating conventional sources and it may be a very long time before they are at all competitive (more so with solar) with conventional sources. Batteries are at least generations away it seems...but technology may surprise us all.
I don't think that anyone is arguing for a wholesale replacement of conventional sources with either wind or solar, certainly not anytime soon. Most proponents call for an incremental approach to a more diversified energy portfolio that includes a higher percentage of renewables. Wind and solar represent a small position now, but their use *is* expanding, significantly in many places.

Re: the "when they are not generating" issue. Most of what I see discussed in this regard has to do with diversification of sources (both technology and geography), with load balancing via smart grid and variable capacity from conventional sources. Such diversification helps in ways like: 1) some places are fairly consistently windy or sunny or both, 2) for more intermittent places, when it is not sunny/windy in one location, it's likely to be sunny/windy in another location on the grid, 3) it does not have to be "sunny" for photovoltaic systems to produce electricity, they can produce usable, but reduced, levels of power during overcast periods, 4) places/times when it's rather predictably sunny (think Florida in summer) often correspond with peak demand periods (think air conditioning), 5) use your imagination.

Better grid/load balancing as more intermittent sources come on line may indeed require significant technology improvements, but so will advancing clean coal, next gen nuclear, etc. I believe today's engineers are up to the task.

Cost per unit of power still is problematic (more so for photovoltaics), though apparently not insurmountable, given the amount of new capacity that comes on line each year. For now it may indeed be "economically noncompetitive but still worthwhile thanks to transfer payments from other ratepayers/taxpayers" (as Samclem opined above). But teasing out the overall costs, subsidies (direct and indirect), tax incentives, costs to society, environment, etc., is exceedingly difficult and subjective for these things, as already noted by others. From my perspective, the long term benefits far outweigh the comparatively small cost to help foster these industries. Or perhaps we can save our subsidy bucks now and just buy it all from the Chinese in a few years. In any event unit costs *are* trending down and I think it's a reasonable assumption that they will continue to do so as economies of scale, new developments in materials, etc., come to fruition.
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Old 05-02-2011, 10:28 PM   #29
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I'm using both every day.

I didn't get a chance to read all the articles, so my comments may not be entirely germane.

Kyocera solar panels and an Airx generator supply most of the electrical power here. The wind generator is sweetly humming right now in fact. A battery bank seems to do ok. Diesel supplies the rest.

Granted, our electrical use is not the same as a traditional house. Most houses don't have R/O watermakers.

There are many houses around outlying island areas that use wind and solar. Sure, it's not perfect. But I wouldn't do without it.
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Old 05-03-2011, 07:00 AM   #30
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I didn't get a chance to read all the articles, so my comments may not be entirely germane.

Kyocera solar panels and an Airx generator supply most of the electrical power here. The wind generator is sweetly humming right now in fact. A battery bank seems to do ok. Diesel supplies the rest.

Granted, our electrical use is not the same as a traditional house. Most houses don't have R/O watermakers.

There are many houses around outlying island areas that use wind and solar. Sure, it's not perfect. But I wouldn't do without it.
Welcome to the forum. Tell us more about "here".
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Old 05-03-2011, 07:47 AM   #31
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Thanks for the welcome.

"Here" is my sailboat, currently in the Bay Islands of Honduras. Many (or most?) cruising sailboats use solar and wind as primary power sources with diesel generators or their engine as back up. I did recently meet a very happy family with three kids on a thirty-something ft boat with no generator or even any battery bank at all.

It can be a bit of a pain to keep all the systems going, sure beats warm beer.
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Old 05-03-2011, 10:01 AM   #32
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"High cost of solar"... I remember the same assessment of the cost of personal computers in the 70s.

The sailing community is resourceful (some call them cheap) if they can accomplish power generation via wind and solar primarilly for personal use so can we. The peak need is usually during the day.
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Old 05-03-2011, 10:04 AM   #33
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"High cost of solar"... I remember the same assessment of the cost of personal computers in the 70s.
If you read through some of the old threads, you'll see why that comparison is invalid.

clifp even mentioned that he heard Andy Grove say it was not a good comparison also.

edit - here's the link:

Bloom Box

further edit: I just noticed that old post was right after a post by you! It's still true, no matter how much you don't care to believe it!



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Old 05-03-2011, 12:21 PM   #34
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"High cost of solar"... I remember the same assessment of the cost of personal computers in the 70s.
PV solar has been around for 30 or 40 years and the economics are still orders of magnitude more costly. You and I can find data/charts that are better or worse, but I sure can't find one that shows PV solar as remotely competitive with conventional or even wind...hence my statement.

We may be forced (actually I support same) to add alternative energy sources, but they will only add cost unless wind, solar, or any other source can be driven down to less than the cost/kwh of conventional fuels (not total capital, just fuel alone).

And rockyj there are indeed posters here in many threads over the years who toss around solar and wind as the solution to our energy issues, with no qualifying statements whatsover or acknowledgement of the capital or unit costs...
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Old 05-03-2011, 12:35 PM   #35
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The sailing community is resourceful (some call them cheap) if they can accomplish power generation via wind and solar primarilly for personal use so can we. The peak need is usually during the day.
I think if we all agreed to live in 150-200 sf of living space and go without some accommodations like air conditioning, then we could probably solve our energy needs today with some combination of existing green tech. Oh yeah, and get rid of all those cars and just ride bikes everywhere. Demand side management, not supply.

In the meantime, people like nice stuff, big houses, cars, etc. They are convenient and comfortable.
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Old 05-03-2011, 12:41 PM   #36
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In the meantime, people like nice stuff, big houses, cars, etc. They are convenient and comfortable.
True. The problem (IMO) is that we too often price essential, limited commodities on a "linear" scale where you charge the same amount per unit for everyone no matter how many units they use (or overuse). A gallon of gas may cost someone $4 whether it's the first gallon they've bought all month or it's the 100th gallon.

Every extra gallon of gas someone else chooses to use, for example, doesn't *only* raise their own gasoline cost in the terms of buying more gallons; it also raises the cost for everyone else by increasing the demand without increasing the corresponding supply. Even if I make "low footprint" choices, I still am paying more because of those who don't. So people who make these "resource guzzling" choices aren't doing so in a vacuum.
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Old 05-03-2011, 12:58 PM   #37
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Earworm, welcome! Lots of us "armchair boating types" would love to see a "Hi I am" post whenever you get a chance. We didn't use any solar or wind on our small sailboat, and yes, the warm beer sucked. Sold it a few years ago and bought a slightly larger Marine Trader.

What I'm surprised by is how few trawler type boats use these sorts of power sources, which seem exclusively (at least in our area) to be used by the sailboaters.

Wind and solar are very viable for powering the stingy power requirements of boats.
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Old 05-03-2011, 01:15 PM   #38
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We may be forced (actually I support same) to add alternative energy sources, but they will only add cost unless wind, solar, or any other source can be driven down to less than the cost/kwh of conventional fuels (not total capital, just fuel alone).
I guess you mean the present cost of conventional fuel and not the cost at the time of adding the alternative sources?
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Old 05-03-2011, 03:08 PM   #39
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True. The problem (IMO) is that we too often price essential, limited commodities on a "linear" scale where you charge the same amount per unit for everyone no matter how many units they use (or overuse). A gallon of gas may cost someone $4 whether it's the first gallon they've bought all month or it's the 100th gallon.
Every extra gallon of gas someone else chooses to use, for example, doesn't *only* raise their own gasoline cost in the terms of buying more gallons; it also raises the cost for everyone else by increasing the demand without increasing the corresponding supply. Even if I make "low footprint" choices, I still am paying more because of those who don't. So people who make these "resource guzzling" choices aren't doing so in a vacuum.
Whatever happened to "I lose a little on each gallon but I make it up on volume"?
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Old 05-03-2011, 05:19 PM   #40
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You and I can find data/charts that are better or worse, but I sure can't find one that shows PV solar as remotely competitive with conventional or even wind...hence my statement.
Did the chart on the right also come from EIA? Because EIA is a good source, but those numbers look funny to me. The construction cost for nuclear looks way too low, as does the same for coal (unless they're talking about amortization on fully depleated existing plant, but that doesn't say anything about the economics of new-build facilities, which is what we're talking about here). Fuel costs for gas look really high at current gas prices as does construction costs (at least relative to coal & nuclear). And I don't really understand the large production cost for wind. The marginal production cost is pretty close to zero.

Not a big deal, I agree with your point - solar is very expensive.

But something to consider about your larger question: Wind and solar are counter-cyclical with each other. Wind produces the most at night and solar produces the most during the day. Even though each is 'intermittent' they can work together to generate more reliable power. The big challenge (aside from cost) is moving power from the remote areas where wind and solar resources are greatest to load centers which tend not to be in the middle of the desert or windy plains. Upgraded transmission would go a long way, but that too is expensive and difficult to build.
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