Thursday, March 05, 2009

Renewable Reality Check

Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Robert Bryce gives a sober does of reality to anyone willing to blindly accept President Obama's claims about doubling renewable energy output.

The piece doesn't come off as a slam on Obama and it doesn't discount the importance or necessity of renewable energy, rather it gives some much needed perspective to the debate.

Simply put, Bryce points out that even if we double renewables as the President claims he will do, it won't even amount to a rounding error in the overall energy picture.

Some highlights of the piece:

- "If Mr. Obama is only counting wind power and solar power as renewables, then his promise is clearly doable. But the unfortunate truth is that even if he matches Mr. Bush's effort by doubling wind and solar output by 2012, the contribution of those two sources to America's overall energy needs will still be almost inconsequential.

Here's why. The latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that total solar and wind output for 2008 will likely be about 45,493,000 megawatt-hours. That sounds significant until you consider this number: 4,118,198,000 megawatt-hours. That's the total amount of electricity generated during the rolling 12-month period that ended last November. Solar and wind, in other words, produce about 1.1% of America's total electricity consumption."

- "But the problem of scale means that these hydrocarbons just won't go away. Sure, Mr. Obama can double the output from solar and wind. And then double it again. And again. And again. But getting from 76,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day to something close to the 47.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day needed to keep the U.S. economy running is going to take a long, long time. "

The take-away from this piece should not be that pursuing an alternative energy policy is folly-- on the contrary, it is something that must (not should) do, but it is going to take a long time before we get where we need to be.

Let's Get Real About Renewable Energy [Wall Street Journal]