Time for Enviros to Get Real on Renewables and Efficiency

The global warming issue has turned from countering a Conservatron disinformation campaign to a grasp for solutions. The issue is at the Presidential Buffet Table and once the chuckleheaded Bush junta is finally retired in 20 months it seems likely that real policy solutions will get an honest airing. Defelct Ignore & Photo-Op won’t cut it anymore.

Environmentalists are proficient at clanging alarms with a moral purity that is usually more the purview of the right. Once GW is mainstreamed, however, they could quickly lose their voice in the Solutions part of the conversation if they continue to confront difficult questions about energy with the exhausted “we can make up for less {insert name of baseload energy here} generation with energy efficiency and renewables” canard.

This canard is often presented as an implicit criticism, as if entities are refusing to make efforts on these front. In truth, utilities have been running efficiency programs for decades and will continue to do so, but even as the “low-haning fruit”, to use an efficiency cliche for obvious opportunities, continues to be picked demand continues to grow as the population expands and people plug in more gadgets. If energy is a problem then efficiency stops it from being worse. This is valuable, but it is not a solution.

You will not find a bigger booster of renewable energy than myself. I believe that every surface facing the south should have a solar panel and that wind farms should be plentiful. Unfortunately, not all megawatts are created equal. Solar panels could do much to reduce demand side domicile energy use (were they widely distributed), but they will not be able to make up for the energy demands of an AC induced heat-wave demand surge or a cold snap becuase they provide no capacity (or nighttime generation beyond what may have been stored in a battery). Wind is an excellent fuel displacement resource, but even though wind forcasting technology has gotten much better it’s intermittance means that it is only marginally useful as a generation resource. On July 24, 2006 when the WECC (the interconnected grid stretcing from Alberta BC to Northern Mexico and from the West Coast through the Rocky Mountains) faced a record load demand; and low-income elderly people were dying in central California as their ACs failed; and utilities throughout the region were buying energy at whatever price the market could bear, the region’s collective wind farms were generating at less than ten percent of their capacity. Outside of the Northwest wind energy is “firmed” by adding more thermal capacity; insde the Northwest this is not necessary because of the tremendous flexibility of the hydrosystem (hydro generation can be adjusted at almost the flip of a switch whereas thermal energy takes time to “warm up”), but trying to get a Northwestern enviro to admit this inconvenient truth is as impossible as getting a slug to race through a salt flat.

Renewables are a part of the solution, but they are not THE solution. The reasons that they are not the solution are obvious enough that Enviros will lose some hard won credibility if they continue to push them as such as the rest of the American polity begins to address Global Warming seriously.