The 21st annual Earth Day will be celebrated on April 22, 2011. With this milestone top of mind, Larry Bell, www.Forbes.com columnist, has shared what he calls the Top 5 Energy Myths. Since I found them interesting, I thought I would share them with E&P readers. Myth number 1 Utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) systems I don’t know much about CSP, so I looked it up online. The New and Renewable Energy website explains that CSP plants produce electric power by “converting the sun's energy into high-temperature heat using various mirror configurations. The heat is then channeled through a conventional generator.” A CSP plant has two parts. One collects solar energy and converts it to heat. The other converts the heat to electricity. According to the website, these systems can be sized for 10 kilowatts or as grid-connected applications up to 100 megawatts. Though capturing solar energy sounds like a great idea, CSPs actually have some drawbacks in the eyes of the green minded. According to Bell, environmentalists have criticized CSPs for taking up too much desert land and disturbing the delicate desert eco-system. Myth number 2 Wind Power The World Energy Research website says wind has been the world`s fastest growing energy source on a percentage basis for the last decade and that the wind energy industry has grown at a 28% annual rate for the past five years. Meanwhile, “The World Offshore Wind Market Report 2011-2015” produced by analysts at Douglas Westwood predict in the five year period to 2015 more than 11 gigawatts of new capacity will be installed. Offshore wind is forecast to see €38 billion (US $61.9 billion) of capex during this time, with annual capex expected to be in excess of €12 billion ($19.5 billion) by 2015. According to Bell, the fact that the best sites for wind farms are along mountain ridges and coastal areas as an enormous impediment for environmentalists because these areas also are prized for their scenery. “Turbines also interfere with bird and bat life,” Bell says. Though Bell doesn’t touch on safety, it is a significant issue. Structural problems with windmills have caused some to self destruct, a subject I discussed in a blog last July called “Windmills Gone Wild.” A look at this video will likely give proponents of wind energy reason to re-evaluate their endorsement! Myth number 3 Hydropower Dams Wikipedia says hydropower is the most widely used form of renewable energy. It is particularly desirable because once the hydropower dam is built and in operation, it produces no direct waste and emits considerably less CO2 than other energy sources. The problem for environmentalists, Bell says, is that hydropower dams “disrupt river ecosystems, kill fish populations, and release large amount of methane.” Myth number 4 Geothermal Energy The US Energy Information Administration site for kids explains that geothermal reservoirs generally are deep underground “with no visible clues showing above ground.” According to the website, most active geothermal resources are along major plate boundaries. Not surprisingly, most of the world’s geothermal resources are in the Pacific Rim in an area known as the Ring of Fire. Chevron, the world’s largest producer of geothermal energy, explains on its website how the process works. When groundwater seeps below the earth's surface near a dormant volcano, the water is heated by reservoirs of molten rock, usually at depths of up to 9,800 feet (3,000 m). Wells similar to those used to produce crude oil and natural gas are drilled to recover the water. Once captured, steam and hot water are separated. The steam is cleaned and sent to the power plant. The separated water is returned to the reservoir, helping to regenerate the steam source. Though geothermal energy is economically feasible, Bell says, “power production sites are very limited and would have a devastating effect on surrounding wilderness areas.” Myth number 5 Nuclear Power Bell calls nuclear power, “the only non-greenhouse gas emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels.” The problem with nuclear energy is safety. With the recent events at the nuclear reactors in Japan following the major earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, 2011, there is no need for a tutorial on the dangers of nuclear energy. Structural damage to the reactors has resulted in a potentially catastrophic disaster for Japan. And as Bell points out, even when a nuclear reactor is running smoothly, there is no safe place to store nuclear waste. All of this aside, if the prediction that world energy demand could grow by as much as 40% in the next 20 years is accurate, alternative fuels will have to be developed. So if the top five “myths” are out of the running, we have a lot of work to do. NB Larry Bell’s blogs are published weekly. His new book, Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax, is available online.
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