Here’s the thing about renewables like wind and solar that many people don’t get. The “fuel” that makes them work is free. That is not to say the devices we construct to harvest energy from wind and solar don’t cost anything and don’t contribute some greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s not pretend that somehow all the concrete, steel, and piping that go into making a thermal generating plant are inexpensive and carbon free.
And yes, getting the power generated by renewables from where it is made to where it is used requires building new transmission lines. But they don’t leak oil and gas into our rivers and oceans the way pipelines do. Isn’t it odd how fossil fuel apologists question the need for new transmission infrastructure when it involves electricity from renewables but never do when it comes to electricity from thermal sources? One is a scourge while the other is a blessing? Does that make any sense?
The central point is, once the fuel for thermal generating plants gets consumed, we have to go out and find more of it. Prices for coal, oil, and gas aren’t stable. They fluctuate constantly — sometimes wildly — which makes it hard to make long term business decisions. The world is about to get a hard lesson in the true cost of relying on fossil fuels this winter. With unnatural gas in short supply, prices are expected to skyrocket. The cost of electricity in some places could double or triple as a result.
Yet the cost of sunlight never goes up. It is free and always will be. All we have to do is gather it up and distribute it efficiently and humans will have all the electrical energy they could possibly need forever.
Wind Is Solar
Wind is just solar energy in a different format. Think about it. Wind is air moving from one place to another. And what causes the air to move? Temperature differences. And what causes temperature differences? The sun. Whether we are talking about a breeze that fills the sails of a boat or the jet streams that encircle the globe, the sun is the ultimate source of all air movements on Earth.
Denmark Opts For Wind Islands
Denmark has been experimenting with offshore wind power since 1991. It’s no wonder two of the world’s largest wind turbine companies — Vestas and Ørsted — are both Danish. For years, it has thought about constructing artificial islands in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to serve as bases for offshore wind farms. Now the government has officially sanctioned the idea. The Danish government will own 50.1% of the islands with private partners owning the rest.
The island in the North Sea will have a capacity of 3 GW, which is equal to the electricity consumption of three million households and twice the amount of energy provided by all offshore wind turbines in Denmark today. It also corresponds to approximately half of Denmark’s total electricity consumption. The capacity will be expanded in phases to a maximum of 10 GW, which could cover the electricity consumption of 10 million households and contribute to the further electrification of Denmark and its neighboring countries.
In the Baltic Sea, the artificial island will be located offshore near the island of Bornholm. Electricity from the offshore installation will be distributed from Bornholm to electricity grids on Zealand and neighboring countries. The turbines off the coast of Bornholm will have a capacity of 2 GW, corresponding to the electricity consumption of two million households.
The decision to establish the two energy islands was reached under the climate agreement of 22 June 2020, which was entered into by the Danish Government, the Liberal Party, Danish People’s Party, Social Liberal Party, Socialist People’s Party, the Red-Green Alliance, Conservative Party, Liberal Alliance and the Alternative.
The US Offshore Wind Initiative
Offshore wind is popular because the equipment can be placed well out to sea where it is invisible to people on land. We don’t object to a welter of poles, wires, and transformers cluttering up our built environment but heaven forfend we have to deal with the sight of a spinning turbine. Eeeek! Also, wind speeds tend to be more stable and predictable out over the ocean than they are on land, which makes offshore wind more reliable.
This past week, the US government announced plans for seven major offshore wind farms along both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. They are part of a plan by the Biden administration to create 30 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 — enough for 10 million homes. Sharp eyed readers will note Danish authorities expect that much electricity to power 30 million homes, which tells you something about how much electricity the average home in the US uses compared to homes in the rest of the world.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said her department hopes to hold lease sales by 2025 for areas off the coasts of Maine, New York and the mid-Atlantic, as well as the Carolinas, California, Oregon and the Gulf of Mexico. The projects could avoid about 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions while creating up to 77,000 jobs, according to The Guardian.
In addition to offshore wind, the interior department is working with other federal agencies to increase renewable energy production on public lands, Haaland said, with a goal of at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy from wind and solar power by 2025.
The government’s wind initiatives will face a host of technical and political challenges. Who will ever forget a certain ex-president telling a group of fawning admirers that wind turbines “kill all the birds”? Yet the same people don’t bat an eye when offshore oil rigs (many of which are visible from land) spill millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, when pipelines threaten the water supply of millions of people, or fracking turns domestic drinking water toxic. Can you say “hypocrites,” boys and girls? Yeah, we knew you could.
The government is taking steps to address those concerns, however. The DOE announced last week it allocate $11.5 million to study the risks offshore wind development may pose to birds, bats, and marine mammals. It will also monitor changes in commercial fish and marine invertebrate populations at an offshore wind site on the east coast and spend $2 million on visual surveys and acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds at potential wind sites on the west coast.
“In order for Americans living in coastal areas to see the benefits of offshore wind, we must ensure that it’s done with care for the surrounding ecosystem by coexisting with fisheries and marine life – and that’s exactly what this investment will do,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced.
The bottom line is what is known in the industry as the levelized cost of electricity — the triple net, absolute measure of what it costs to generate kilowatt of electricity. Water seeks its own level, nature abhors a vacuum, and business craves the lowest cost option. Today, the LCOE of wind and solar energy is lower than thermal generation and getting cheaper all the time. And why not? The cost of fuel for renewables is zero. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that!
Fossil fuel adherents will fuss and fume about national security, energy independence, and the wonders of military might, but the truth is renewables not only slash carbon emissions, they can enhance national security, provide energy independence, and eliminate much of the need for standing armies to any country and all for free. What could we possibly be waiting for?
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