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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Does Renewable Energy actually cost more?

With the US having passed legislation that would, for the first time, require limits on pollution blamed for global warming, mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, we are about to be deluged with politically biased analyses from reporters who really don't know what they're talking about.

First cab off the rank is an old timer from Associated Press, H. Josef Hebert (re-published here by Businessweek). In rhetorically asking what, if this legislation became law, this will mean to the average person, Hebert immediately implies such a law would impact how much people pay to heat, cool and light their homes and he says that IT WOULD COST MORE. I have to conclude that this guy has a political agenda or he simply can't add.

The definition of renewable energy is that it is 'renewable'. The three most common sources of renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydro have no fuel cost! Perhaps the AP reporter who has covered energy and environmental issues for The Associated Press since 1990 is unaware of the fact a 1 Gigawatt coal fired power station consumes 10,000 tons of coal every-single-day.

That coal doesn't just fall out of the sky into the furnace of a coal fired power plant. To keep the fires burning at base load coal power plants a 100 carriage, 2 kilometer long coal train (pulled by up to 6x 5000 hp diesel electric locomotives) is required to make a delivery 7 days a week and the appetite is insatiable. Larger 3+ GW coal power stations require up to four such train deliveries every day consuming in excess of 36,000 tons of coal DAILY. In many cases the coal must be shipped by sea from half way around the world. The world's largest exporter of coal, Australia, in 2006 exported 237 million tonnes of coal to power many east Asian countries.

At an energy efficiency of around 40%, for every Gigawatt of generation capacity used, an average coal plant converts something like 6,000 tons of coal every day into waste heat which results in enormous plumes coming off cooling towers to dispose of that unused heat into the atmosphere (See the 4GW Drax power plant pictured above). So over half of the coal being mined, transported, processed, bought & paid for is wasted as an unavoidable by-product of the heat cycle generation process.

A 1 GW power plant generates enough electricity to supply base load to a population of around 1 Million people. Once you multiply those 10,000 tons per day by the applicable global population the costs involved just to supply fuel quickly become astronomical. With renewable energy those costs are eliminated, yet ignorant journalists still claim renewable energy will cost more.

Admittedly there are up front costs in the wholesale replacement of a significant proportion of the power generation capacity (54% of all US electricity is coal sourced), but those costs are already being absorbed with utilities able to balance the up front costs of new generation infrastructure against the free renewable fuel supply.

The medium to long term results of investing in renewable energy are significantly REDUCED energy costs.

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