From http://www.panoramio.com/photo/19324389, a picture of a pair of Enercon wind turbines on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, back when we used to have winters in the Great Lakes region, sort of. Given that there are not too many people living on the island (12,000), the Providence Bay wind farm of 2 turbines (2 x 800 kw capacity) probably powers up a sizable fraction of this 1068 square mile island, perhaps up to an average of 5% of the island's electricity. Every little bit helps... These were installed in 2007; a pair of larger ones were also just installed (the MERE (as in Mother Earth Renewable Energy) project) in June of 2012, boosting the wind energy component to around 17%...
For those of you not familiar with the less densely populated parts of Ontario, here's the location:
By the way, we can't buy this variety (noted for gearless, low speed generators and high quality manufacture) in the U.S., mostly because the owner of that company does not choose to sell them here. After all, why bother to compete where wind sourced electricity is the subject of Legislative Hostage-Taking and HAS TO BE subsidized down to the level of subsidized pollution sourced electricity generation prices via tax avoidance opportunities mostly useful to the upper 1% and not much for everyone else? To date, Enercon has sold 26 GW (worth over $US 40 billion in sales of just equipment) of wind turbines, or about 19,000 of them, so they are not just a minor player in the wind energy biz (http://www.enercon.de/en-en/85.htm). And the U.S. probably has one of the best combination of large population, humongous wind resource and electricity demand of anyplace on the planet...
That may seem like a puzzling business decision, at least to those not familiar with the wind turbine business. And this simply should not be if we (in the U.S.) were serious about new business development, job creation and capitalizing on this country's awesome wind resource (easily capable of electrically powering up this country several times over). But, all evidence points to the fact that we are really not serious about renewable energy, especially the one form of renewable electricity production with the lowest production cost that is capable of powering our country up completely, electrically speaking. It is quite possible to power up the country with a combination of photovoltaic and pumped hydroelectric electrical energy storage, but that would probably cost 10 times as much as with wind turbines (PV generates zero power at night, and close to that when it is cloudy, and that adds to the energy storage requirements)... So if money is no object, PV is one way to go, especially if all of the systems are Made in USA; otherwise it is a dreadful export of real wealth and eventually, income for this country.
Of course, one of the arguments against a rapid and massive wind turbine deployment arrangement is that it would raise electricity prices, and to an onerous extent, too. And yet, in the summer of 2008, prices nationwide were quite high by historic levels due to high natural gas prices, especially in states such as NY which had flipped their electricity pricing systems to the Ken Lay (of Enron fame) style "competitive", deregulated pricing systems (like our NYISO system). A spike or long term high natural gas situation (where the cost of new gas well exploration is at least more than compensated by the price of natural gas sold, a situation that presently is not taking place) can rapidly crank up all electricity prices significantly, even if gas is only a minor factor in the electricity production for a given region.
And since NO ONE can predict what the long term price of natural gas will be either in North America or in the rest of the world), no one can say whether wind sourced electricity will be lower cost electricity versus natural gas over, say, a 20 year period, on average. Right now, gas prices are low, but that trend towards higher prices is unmistakable, whether from charts of futures markets ($5.81/MBtu for Dec 2020 versus $2.71/MBtu for next month- see http://www.cmegroup.com/trading/energy/natural-gas/natural-gas.html) or from the rates that natural gas drilling rigs are being deployed in this country - see http://intelligencepress.com/features/bakerhughes/. There are now only 484 gas drilling rigs deployed in the US and Canada, down from over 1600 four years ago, and down 48% from a year ago. If you don't keep drilling for gas at a rate that will make up for the declines in existing well production, the supply of available gas will decline, forcing prices upwards unless gas demand drops even more. This is especially true especially because fracking based well production drops much faster than "conventional" gas wells - often fracking well decline by 50% per year, and in four years are producing at less than 10% of the initial year's production rates. Basing a long term electrical energy production strategy based on a raw material with historically highly fluctuating prices and an availability/recoverable resource size that is a function of that price seems like stupid on steroids, and then cranked up from there...
To date, only commercial scale wind turbines can supply all of the electricity now used and likely to be used in our country for the next century at at such a low, real (i.e. on an unsubsidized basis) cost. And based on the installed cost of PV systems that are NOT made with de-facto slave labor, this is likely to be the case for many decades. The way that PV can become "grid competitive" is for grid based electricity to rise well above the prices needed for OFFSHORE wind generation in most of the U.S. (deserts are going to be the best sites for PV and solar thermal, and in NY State, we are not a desert, and Climate Change will take a while to convert us into one. Even using PV systems made with slave labor will not change that situation (though the ethics and morality of using Chinese labor to supply our PV systems suck big-time, especially with over 20 million people in this country in need of a decent job).
And yet, so far the US only has about $100 billion worth of wind turbines installed - 50 GW of installed capacity, which delivers an average of 17 GW on a continuous basis. At the end of 2012 we will have about 56 GW installed, delivering an average of 19 GW (or 19 nukes the size of the Indian Point 3 reactor), which is about 4% of the US electricity consumption. If the rate of wind installations was to double each year and then "top out" at around 120 GW/yr, we could replace 40% of all US CO2 or CO2 equivalent pollution. This would also generate a massive number of jobs, and it does not require ANY taxpayer subsidies:
Totals 980 GW $2200 billion invested 4 million jobs created
Note: assumes $2.25million per MW of capacity (half regular wind speed turbines, half low wind speed turbines; also assumes 15,000 job-yrs per billion dollars invested)
The 980 GW plus the 56 GW already installed (1036 GW capacity), based on 2011 performance (34% net output) would be 352 GW on a delivered basis. This would eliminate the need for any coal OR natural gas, and with improved performance, this would replace most nukes, too. Odds are, that net efficiency level can be improved upon at essentially not increase in electricity prices. Right now the US consumes around 460 GW of electricity; that level is assumed to be constant due to improved efficiency and a stable population (as of 2012, US population growth is now slightly negative).
What this does not address is oil based CO2 pollution (the biggest CO2 pollutant source in the US) or natural gas for heat based CO2 pollution - in other words, transportation and residential/commercial/industrial heat. But electricity is definitely the "low hanging fruit" as far as CO2 pollution prevention goes. In addition, this would save those who use natural gas for heat (as in most residential inhabitants) hundreds of billions of dollars over this 10 year period by keeping the price of natural gas lower than it otherwise would be if natural gas was not eliminated from the US electrical generation "mix". By keeping the demand for methane low, the price stays lower. Higher natural gas prices act like a regressive sales tax upon American natural gas consumers.... so this is also an economic stimulus.
Anyway, there are these advantages - CO2 pollution prevention - which is how the world keeps a sane climate and not one "amped up" with more heat energy via radiation incoming from the sun than escapes the planet's surface via heat radiation out into space is one. Lower natural gas prices is another result of massive wind turbine deployment. And then there is that employment - the 4 million jobs and the $270 billion/yr of new capital investment that creates a demand for 4 million workers, which in turn creates a demand for lots of goods and services... and makes a better economy, too.
So if you wanted to deal with the Global Climate Change problem (and it is a mighty big long term problem that gets worse the longer that it is not addressed), that gets solved by cutting back on the CO2 pollution rate. And to cut back on the CO2 pollution rate, and especially that associated with electricity production done at reasonable prices (and which cannot be done with PVs in places like NY State to any serious extent), you need to create mass quantities of jobs in a way that will not trash the economy by cranking up electricity prices by a factor of 10. And you can do that via wind turbine manufacture and installation, but only on a much more massive scale than is the present case. Sure, better house insulation and more energy efficiency is good, but eventually we need to replace natural gas use for heating with renewable electricity, and that can get done after we replace all the coal, nukes and natural gas used for making electricity. Things like biogas, biomass, tidal, onshore and offshore wind are the lower cost ways to replace pollution sourced electricity, and in the process, a lot of real wealth creating jobs get made. It is those jobs and all the money to be made on the more than $2 trillion worth of renewable energy investments that will attract people, politicians and businesspeople to sane climate policies. And the lower natural gas prices as a result of lower natural gas demand is also attractive to most people, who tend to really dislike monopolies like the gas distribution companies and the oil and gas industry in particular (the oil industry in particular does seem to be excessively greedy, and that greed is not benefiting most people more than it is depleting their incomes and wealth). But the lower gas pricing is just like frosting on the cake..
So, there's the cure for the Common Climate problem wrought by Global Warming. That will also need a sensible pricing system for renewable electricity - one based on the actual cost to produce it, such as Feed-In Tariffs, would be a lot more fair than humongous CO2 pollution taxes (causing the price of ALL electricity to rise, not just the portion of that provided by renewables). And as more renewables are employed to make electricity, the cost of pollution sourced electricity (now about 85% of US electricity) will actually drop, since there is more pollution source energy supply/capacity to make it and less fuel being used than there is demand for that pollution sourced electricity. That nifty result is called the Merit Order Effect (MOE), and it also works backwards onto natural gas prices, forcing gas prices DOWN as the demand DROPS versus what it would be if we did not replace pollution sourced electricity with renewables. That MOE is accelerated with a nifty aspect of FITs, which is that in return for long term stable prices and fixed socially determined profit rates, renewable energy gets preferential access to the grid. This is a system that has delivered more jobs and lower cost renewable energy than in pricing systems based on subsidizing the price of renewables down to the level of subsidized pollution sourced electricity (and in the US, almost ALL electricity is subsidized, notably nukes, coal and gas based electricity).
Anyway, there will always be conservatives so ginned up on global warming denialist Kool-aid propaganda and programming that no amount of facts will sway them. But, odds are, the jobs and economic development angle is a winner and a very populist, popular approach as well as one with a proven track record. Things like this happen when FITs are the pricing system - wind turbines with a net output averaging 52% of their rated output. This is made possible via using Low Wind Speed Turbines on, in this case, 120 meter tall towers:
21.08.2012, Press release
Nordex delivering the first wind farm project to Finland under framework agreement
Hamburg, 21 August 2012. Wind turbine manufacturer Nordex has been awarded a contract for the delivery and installation of the “Honkajoki” wind farm by the Finnish Wealth Management company Taaleritehdas. With a capacity of 21.6 MW, the wind farm comprises nine N117/2400 multi-megawatt turbines mounted on top of 120-metre high towers. This is the first call-off under a framework agreement signed as recently as in June for the delivery of up to 111 turbines.
Nordex will be installing the “Honkajoki” wind farm in South-West Finland, where mean wind speeds of 7.5 m/s prevail. Thanks to the specific configuration of the N117 turbines, the wind farm will generate an above-average annual yield of up to 100 GWh, thus achieving a capacity factor of around 50%. Installation is to commence in spring 2013.
“The swift progress made in the partnership venture with Taaleritehdas underscores the professional approach taken by our partner. At the same time, this is a further key order for our N117 turbine, whose quality we are now also able to demonstrate in Scandinavia,” says Nordex Management Board member Lars Bondo Krogsgaard.
At 120 meter heights, we have a lot of places in Western New York with such winds, or wind speeds close to these. Fixed price, long term contract and preferential access to the electrical grid is a cure for joblessness and a Cure for the Common Climate problem of Global Warming. And in NY State, odds are, that runs through NYPA, or through a subtle change in the 1978 PURPA cost zip in terms of Federal expenditures. On a national scale, the existing renewable electricity subsides would cost close to $1.4 trillion in taxes not paid over most of a decade for this quantity of wind turbine investment. Who needs that? And that is a lot of tax monies to be made up for by (mostly) poor and middle class people, who also don't need that burden.
Can you spot a trend? Each 1 ppm increase in net CO2 concentrations (the difference between what is emitted and what is absorbed (mostly by oceans)) denotes a net increase of about 14 billion tons (gigatons, alias GT) of CO2 added to our atmosphere. From http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/#mlo_growth. In general, CO2 has approximately a century half-life in the atmosphere, mostly due to it being absorbed by a somewhat alkaline ocean. However, if the surface layer (about 100 meters worth) gets saturated in CO2 and acidifies, the rate of CO2 "consumption" by the ocean decreases significantly. And yes, that is happening, too, particularly where surface waters are "old" and not recently "upwelled" from the depths (its a pattern called the thermohaline circulation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermohaline_circulation)...
Well, a bit of relief to the heat and drought in WNY came today, but since the sum of all weather over a decade or so makes our climate, some will no doubt now say that Global Warming is not real - after all, the "heat is off". Or maybe they will "compromise" and agree that the answer to the Global Warming puzzle is still yet to be determined, now that a break in the heat spell has arrived. Why look, this evening the sweat is not dripping off of anyone not in air conditioning, unlike Saturday evening, so we can hold off thinking about how our country is leading the world to a warmer and more hellish like climate over much of the planet where it is, by today's standards, just warm, right?
Oh well, the answer to that one is WRONG! Even that world class exemplar of arrogance and all round "climate skeptic" who is often paid by the likes of the Koch fiends, Richard Muller, says that there is no doubt about it, the surface of our planet is getting warmer, and this increasing warmth is related to the increase in CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere. Duh! He just confirmed what the vast majority of climate scientists confirmed at least a decade or two ago, especially by Dr. Michael Mann, author of "the Hockey Stick" graph. Here is the graph he did in 1999 (from http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc_tar/?src=/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/fig2-20.htm)
And here is a zoomed in portion/more recent history part of that graph:
And here is a related graph from Muller's BEST group effort (from http://berkeleyearth.org/volcanoes/). Dr. Muller may be a very smart physicist, but he has chosen sides (totally pro- fossil fuel and pro-nuke corporate friendly, with scorn for all else) and that seems to determine which policies he is pushing/advocating for. He has been all over the media and press lately, since he used to be a hard core "Global Warming skeptic", but now is "sort of not", though when it comes to wind energy, well, he's as cold as ice (or deep space, at 4 Kelvin or - 467 F) to that idea.
So, the facts are in case closed, right. WRONG! Do facts even have any relevance anymore for far too many people? After all, what are YOU going to do about it? That's where its at, and as FZ stated so rightly, that's the crux of the biscuit, and then some.
And yes, it all boils down to a simple equation:
Accumulation = Input - Output
For CO2, about half of that emitted into the air would normally be absorbed by trees, soils and water within a century, but 25% of it will still be present in the air in 5000 years (see GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 35, L04705, doi:10.1029/2007GL032388, 2008) - it's a complicated mix of chemistry, geology, biology, oceanography and transport. But in general, if humans were to stop burning fossil fuels "full stop", we would see that CO2 level drop. Not that there is any chance of that right away... Before humans really started emitting CO2 on a mass scale via burning fossil fuels, the CO2 concentration in the air was around 280 ppm. Now it's around 393 ppm....
However, that same equation also works for heat. Since less than 0.06% of the heat coming to the surface comes from geothermal (basically the decay of uranium, thorium and potassium 40 in the earth), almost all the heat input for the surface of the planet comes from the sun. This has to be balanced by the heat radiated into outer space, otherwise there is a net accumulation of heat. This gets experienced as both less ice and warming temperatures, but once the earth has its icecaps melted, then the temperature rise would be pretty dramatic. And a hotter planet radiates heat out into space at greater rates, so eventually a balance would come about. However, such drastic changes in climate (going cold or warm) tend to wipe out significant to most existing species of life on the planet, especially big complex ones like humans. And ain't that a peach....
One of the better things done in the BEST study is that they also admitted that the output of the sun has been essentially constant over the last several thousand years. So, varying input of heat has zip to do with the rise in Global surface temperatures (in other words, input has been essentially constant). What has changed is that the rate of heat output radiated into space has slowed, and this is caused mostly by increases in Greenhouse gases, and most notably CO2. In fact, the biology of earth actually tends to set the global surface temperature via controlling the CO2 content of the atmosphere.
Of late, Richard Muller has been attempting to hawk his book and claim that his well funded data analysis has confirmed what was already known. And since he is SO smart (about hustling money from Koch Industries and Friends), people should listen to his solution for all that CO2 pollution, and that is "to frack the beans out of the world". Yes, "clean fracking" (an oxymoron like a "Safe Fukushima nuke complex" or "kind rape") will allow the Chinese and Indians to substitute fracking sourced methane (and expensive, too, though he forgot (ah, shucks) to say that) for coal. Yeah right - China and India burn mass quantities of coal because it is really cheap to do so, and to hell with the consequences. Besides, not only de-facto slave labor helps sell their crap abroad (exports) but also cheap energy. And in general, fracking sourced gas that is sold at a price greater than the cost to produce it (and not even cleanly, assuming that possibility even exists) is not cheap, so they would tell Muller to go rotate on a flagpole, or something to that effect. But, if they would only go the fracking route...think how much money those who sell fracking equipment, services and gas derived from fracking could make - such as Exxon-Mobil and Koch Industries. And that would make them dizzy with happiness with all that money. Wow, how deluded can a supposedly smart person be....?
Anyway, there is the question of "what are you (and I) going to do about it?" One option, is drink - after all, there is a glut of wine and liquor on world markets, so that economic issue could be addressed. If we all stay drunk enough, who cares about the world's future? Reading too much gloom and doom - such as Bill McKibben's recent Rolling Stone well written and well read article (see http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719) - could do that, not to mention searching for viable solutions in that article. Fixing the CO2 pollution problem means drastic reductions in the burning of coal, oil AND natural gas, for starts, trending to zero "CO2 pollution" (CO2 made by burning fossil fuels), ASAP or sooner. And while that is simple, doing it is most definitely a complicated affair, especially for country's like the US that are severely addicted to fossil fuel usage, even if we do have one of the more awesome wind resources of any country in the world.
But, if you want a rosier scenario, pay attention to that equation's CO2 aspect. If you need energy for stuff (and whether it's air conditioning, heat, transport, communication or entertainment, we all do seem to need energy), use renewable energy. Cut back as much as you can on fossil fuel consumption. Get efficient. Have our governments do the same. And you might need to get politically active, too, as this required effort to keep our planet's climate control system in balance does not work effectively on a volunteer basis. Oh, and try not to support Richard Muller in full corporate "muffin" mode via book sales. Buy Michael Mann's "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" (for example, http://www.amazon.com/The-Hockey-Stick-Climate-Wars/dp/023115254X) instead....or check it out from a library. That's what they are supposed to be for....