Nice idea, but…

Posted by Lex, on July 18, 2008


The Goracle threw down the gauntlet again yesterday, earning praise for consistency of vision if nothing else. He’s got a compelling point at the heart of his speech: We’re borrowing money from China, to buy a product from the Arabian Gulf, whose use poisons our environment. It’d be swell to willingly suspend belief and get on board.

But, as Steven Den Beste writes, “hoo-ah” don’t get it done. The physics are daunting. *

In order for “alternate energy” to become feasible, it has to satisfy all of the following criteria:

  1. It has to be huge (in terms of both energy and power)
    2. It has to be reliable (not intermittent or unschedulable)
    3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse)
    4. It has to be possible to utilize it efficiently
    5. The capital investment and operating cost to utilize it has to be comparable to existing energy sources (per gigawatt, and per terajoule).

If it fails to satisfy any of those, then it can’t scale enough to make any difference. Solar power fails #3, and currently it also fails #5. (It also partially fails #2, but there are ways to work around that.)

The only sources of energy available to us now that satisfy all five are petroleum, coal, hydro, and nuclear.

So there’s that. Even if, as James Pethokoukis points out, Gore’s plan wouldn’t be crushingly expensive:

(Converting) the whole economy to renewable energy in a short period of time might cost $5 trillion—and that is if you assume that government-led projects come in on budget. (Remember, the current U.S. gross domestic product is $12 trillion.) That would be like creating another Japan. Or fighting World War II all over again. The latter analogy is especially apt since the Gore Plan would effectively transform our free-market economy into a command-and-control war economy full of rationing and scarcity.

In the end, it’s going to be nuclear power, I suspect.


* New link given 03-18-2018 – Ed.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Politics and Culture

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