Why Do Some Skeptics Oppose Green Energy?

I consider Anthony Watts a friend. I’ve guest posted on his very popular weblog ‘Watts Up With That’, receiving brickbats as well as thoughtful commentary from his mostly skeptical audience as I tried to explain the lukewarmer’s way. I’m not sure I made many converts, but I enjoyed the experience, just as I have enjoyed Anthony’s company. We have different views on climate change, that’s all.

Back in the day, say five years ago, it was common for me to see comments on WUWT and other climate blogs that went something like this (not a real quote): ‘I have nothing against green energy–if it succeeds in the marketplace more power to it.’ And while I support (modest) subsidies for green energy, that kind of comment seemed reasonable and rational. But attitudes seem to be changing.

I visited WUWT today and here’s what I found:

Amnesty International has released a shocking report, about conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the child labourers who mine much of the world’s Cobalt. Cobalt is an essential component of modern high capacity batteries, such as the batteries which power laptops, cell phones and electric cars.” The story continues, “Assuming electric car ownership becomes widespread, the amount of cobalt used in car batteries (which typically weigh 100s of kilograms) will utterly dwarf the amount of cobalt used in laptop and mobile batteries.”

There’s no question that cobalt is used in electric car batteries. But according to Wikipedia, “Cobalt-based superalloys consume most of the produced cobalt.[42][43] The temperature stability of these alloys makes them suitable for use in turbine blades for gas turbines and jet aircraft engines, though nickel-based single crystal alloys surpass them in this regard.[50] Cobalt-based alloys are also corrosion and wear-resistant. This makes them useful in the medical field, where cobalt is often used (along with titanium) for orthopedic implants that do not wear down over time. The development of the wear-resistant cobalt alloys started in the first decade of the 19th century with the stellite alloys, which are cobalt-chromium alloys with varying tungsten and carbon content. The formation of chromium andtungsten carbides makes them very hard and wear resistant.[51] Special cobalt-chromium-molybdenum alloys like Vitallium are used for prosthetic parts such as hip and knee replacements.[52] Cobalt alloys are also used for dental prosthetics, where they are useful to avoid allergies to nickel.[53] Some high speed steel drill bits also use cobalt to increase heat and wear-resistance. The special alloys of aluminium, nickel, cobalt and iron, known as Alnico, and of samarium and cobalt (samarium-cobalt magnet) are used in permanent magnets.[54] It is also alloyed with 95% platinum for jewelry purposes, yielding an alloy that is suitable for fine detailed casting and is also slightly magnetic.[55]

Why is Watts Up With That picking on electric car batteries? Both medical technology and aircraft engines are increasing their use of cobalt more rapidly than the take-up of electric cars. I know Anthony has solar on his roof and drives a hybrid–what’s up with this?

98-lb-weakling-285x248

Well, that’s just one blog post by guest blogger Eric Worrall, right? Well, umm… right next to Eric’s post is another by my friend Anthony titled “An Inconvenient Truth: Electric Car Battery Materials Can Harm Key Soil Bacteria.” This post reports the somewhat unsurprising fact that batteries need to be disposed of properly or they can harm the environment, writing “Scientists, in a new study in ACS’ journal Chemistry of Materials, are reporting that compounds increasingly used in lithium-ion batteries are toxic to a type of soil-dwelling bacteria that plays an important environmental role.”   And this is also true of electric car batteries.” Ummm, okay… but why is Anthony focusing on just the electric car batteries? As of today about 99% of all lithium ion batteries are in consumer electronics products.

Turning again to Wikipedia we find “Since Li-ion batteries contain less toxic metals than other types of batteries which may contain lead or cadmium[54] they are generally categorized as non-hazardous waste.”

Skeptic weblogs (including Anthony’s) have gone after solar for using rare earth materials, wind power for bird kills, noise and other reasons and of course there’s Solyndra, the failed solar power company that was subsidized by the government.

It’s not just the bloggers–their commenters can be just as cutting. And there are organizations that seem to exist just for the purpose of undercutting renewables. So what’s the deal?

Some of the criticisms have merit, of course. But why the seeming hostility? I don’t get that.

Probably there will be no answer to the critics until renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels. Oh, wait–probably not until the storage issue is settled. Oh, wait–probably not until all the grid matching issues are resolved.

To be honest, some (not all, by any means) skeptics seem to want renewables to fail.

 

 

35 responses to “Why Do Some Skeptics Oppose Green Energy?

  1. Because green energy is a misnomer, it takes 2000 wind turbines to replace a thermal power plant, wind turbines that kill birds and bats and have an intermittent power supply. Also huge amounts of Neodymium are used for permanent magnets. The neodymium is mined in china in environmentally atricious circumstances. The majority of “green” electricity in the netherlands is generated by burning wood from American forests shipped across the atlantic ocean.

    Why are greens opposing nuclear energy?

    • I can’t answer your question–I consider their opposition foolish. And yes, wind turbines do kill birds and use rare earths. Fossil fuels kill birds and create rare earths. Nuthin’s perfect.

  2. You ask a great question. My perspective is that the same inconsistent and dishonest behavior of climate crisis true believers is shared with many of the promoters of so-called green energy. You are a notable exception.

  3. They’re engaging in the same game that warmists are – that of using every argument to boost the basic ones. Fundamentally renewables aren’t reliable. We can talk about when batteries are capable of bridging the gap but until then, renewables are just an expensive luxury. They’re not just expensive in money, they’re expensive in resources and public indulgence. When we look at potential power shortages, they’re even a major problem. Now I agree that to push the progress of a new (ish) technology you have to start buying it, but with renewables there is a strong possibility they’ll be the Phillips or the Betamax not the VHS of energy technology.

    Batteries might be the answer, but it’s not like we’re only just looking at battery technology. Sure, the new batteries may be much better than the old ones but they’re still only useful for short term jobs and not to bridge gaps that might last for days or even weeks.

    Electric cars are suitable for only a small set of elites. Ones that usually have access to a fossil fuelled version for heavy duties and availability. Identical to renewables in their niche suitability.

    Renewables and battery powered systems demand a parallel version for when they don’t work. That’s waste that has to be paid for. Scandalously it is only the elites who can benefit while the poorest help pay for it.

    Who calls time on the Betamax of energy? In a commercial field, it’s the customer. If they don’t buy it, the product stops being made. In a subsidised world, the only thing that stops production is when the free money dries up. You might think it acceptable for there to be a bottomless pit of money for green elephants (similar to white ones) but should everyone be as patient? Should they be constrained in the arguments they use to shut renewables down when their opponents aren’t in any way inhibited? Research into useful renewables is one thing but rolling out a technology that is so clearly flawed is another. It’s hope over experience.

    • Hiya TinyCO2, you do remember that Betamax was the better product, right?🙂

      • I do, and Philips was good too, with two sided tapes (Dad got both) but ultimately they weren’t everything that people wanted (even if the reason was that the films came out in VHS). Would it have made sense for governments to force film companies to make betamax? What might that have done to the development of DVDs?

        Renewables at the moment are a poor add on to a successful system (fossil fuelled). A bit like 3D TV, which is resurrected every 30 years and then fails again because it doesn’t (so far) add anything substantial to what we’ve got and can actually make things worse.

        If renewables were all we had then I’d say the more the better, but they’re not.

    • The basic argument is this: it’s natural and only by frankly fraudulent techniques like inventing feedbacks and manipulating temperature data have they managed to keep this ridiculous scam going so long.

      CO2 is a plant food, cold is a killer, fossil fuels are the greatest benefit that humanity has ever seen creating this fantastic modern world.

      When people look back at this scam when they have the data showing the late 20th century was just one of those regular periods of natural warming … they will look at those in academia pushing this non-science and demanding we destroy our fossil fuel economy … in the same way as if world governments had all agreed to ban books.

      it will just look completely utterly daft – particularly when they compare it with the criminal way we feed low dosage anti-biotics to cattle.

      Indeed, in a world where most people in the US and UK have a brother or sister who died from a preventable bacterial infection (if only our generation hadn’t been so criminal as to intentionally breed anti-biotic immunity in cattle) … the whole fiasco about a minuscule rise in beneficial warming and increase in beneficial plant food will just make the criminal behaviour over anti-biotics look all the more culpable.

      • Scottish, Skeptic,
        Not to detract from your excellent insights on the renewable energy and climate mania, but please point towards any stats you are referring to when you assert that “where most people in the US and UK have a brother or sister who died from a preventable bacterial infection”.

  4. Because it is seldom green – and it’s usually one massive con sold to gullible people.

    Back in 2000 when I looked, the only energy source that was viable as so called “Green” was hydro-electric. Any sensible “Green” energy policy would have put a small amount of subsidy into developing hydro.

    Instead – because a lot of evil business people saw the politicians & public (through BBC lies) were gullible about “renewables” – they took over the government bodies that decide policy and relentless pushed wind to line their own pockets.

    IT IS DOUBTFUL ANY LESS CO2 IS PRODUCED USING WIND THAN USING CONVENTIONAL. INDEED I STRONGLY SUSPECT TOTAL CO2 EMISSIONS INCREASE WHEN YOU CONSIDER ALL THE MANUFACTURING, TRAINSPORT, THE MASSIVE CONCRETE BASES AND THE NEED FOR BACKUP – ALL THE NEW POWER LINES AND INFRASTRUCTURE.

    But if anyone had actually looked at the policy there were two simple ways to reduce CO2 emissions (but CO2 is a plant food – so there’s no harm in CO2).

    First … insulate homes.
    2nd … solar hot water heating.

    But no! The snouts in the troughers in the wind business got the stupid politicians and GREEN=GULLIBLES and persuaded them that increasing CO2 emissions by building bird mincers in China would someone salve their conscience for flying off to some exotic holiday every year (Green voters on average are the highest emitters of CO2).

    • “Back in 2000 when I looked, the only energy source that was viable as so called “Green” was hydro-electric.”

      In fact, hydro power is responsible for several orders of magnitude more deaths than nuclear power, windmills and solar panels put together. Take the Banqiao Dam disaster, for example:

      Casualties

      According to the Hydrology Department of Henan Province, in the province, approximately 26,000 people died[14] from flooding and another 145,000 died during subsequent epidemics and famine. In addition, about 5,960,000 buildings collapsed, and 11 million residents were affected. Unofficial estimates of the number of people killed by the disaster have run as high as 230,000 people

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam

      Or the Sichuan earthquake, perhaps:

      BEIJING — Nearly nine months after a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, China, left 80,000 people dead or missing, a growing number of American and Chinese scientists are suggesting that the calamity was triggered by a four-year-old reservoir built close to the earthquake’s geological fault line.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/world/asia/06quake.html?pagewanted=all

  5. The key data we need is quantity of rare earths and other materials needed per unit of useable energy; thus, while these materials are used in fossil fuel power stations also, these energy sources ar multiple times, possibly orders of magnitude, more energy dense, so wind and solar are likely much more resource intensive per Kwh.

    • Rare earths are used in wind turbines because of the huge permanent magnets needed at low speed. Centralised high spinning fired turbines use electromagnets. wikipedia:

      As the requirements for larger scale power generation increased, a new limitation rose: the magnetic fields available from permanent magnets. Diverting a small amount of the power generated by the generator to an electromagnetic field coil allowed the generator to produce substantially more power. This concept was dubbed self-excitation.

  6. Imagine a world where 20 million EVs are sold each year. That’s a lot of battery inputs.

    I think AW has customers to please, allows posts to satisfy the audience. Some of them are a bit goofy. But we all have ideas about what’s goofy and what’s fine. I do believe those dreams about EV fleets replacing fossil fuel vehicles are non sense, there isn’t enough lithium or whatever else they will use. I suspect mass transit and pedal power will have to be much more fashionable, and this will require massive urban planning and city rebuilds.

    • I agree. For most green options to become viable, society needs to radically change and there’s no desire for that yet.

    • Isn’t that what President Obama just proposed? Money for mass transit and alternative means of transportation?

      • Throwing a bit of money at buses, trains, cycle routes doesn’t make them popular or useful. You actually have to redesign how lives, cities and businesses work. Ideas like the original terraced houses built to house workers for nearby mills. You have to get people thinking of energy saving with every decision they make from planning a new factory to playing a game of golf (Obama, that means you). Where better to start all this than govenment itself. If they can do it, everyone else has a model of what works and what doesn’t. I won’t hold my breath.

        If we had to rely on wind or solar, maybe we’d have to develop an on/off way of living and working. Perhaps people will have two jobs, one for when the wind blows and one when it doesn’t? Life looks the way it does now because of the energy we use.

  7. I am in general skeptical of what is promoted to us as ‘renewables’ and ‘green energy’. The main reason is that an intermittent source, such as wind or solar consume significantly more resources in their construction than conventional dispatchable resources. Generators, convertor, connecting cables etc. need to be sized for the peak load. Given a load factor of 20-25% these components will be 4 to 5 times larger than necessary and consume 4 to 5 times the raw materials.
    It is hard to get good data for wind turbines, but based on what I have been able to find the bases for wind turbines alone consume more concrete and steel than a Nuclear plant of equivalent output. The wind turbines are based on a 20 year life span, that especially offshore, they are struggling to meet. Nuclear plants are based on a 60 year lifespan.

    • I’ve written here before that wind is my second-least favorite renewable (behind biofuels as they currently stand). I’m a solar fan, but I still don’t understand the outright hostility towards renewables.

      • Solar energy is a wide field. I can support some versions such as the thermal molten salt storage systems installed in appropriate areas such as southern Spain and North Africa. Rooftop PV installations in northern latitudes are a complete waste of resources (and money).

  8. One can look at reneables as either a technological solution to climate change or as an elixir to heal a society infected by consumerism and greed. In the first case, we compare cost and performance, in the second we look only at purity.

  9. I am surprised that no one has mentioned Bard Offshore 1, the German mega wind turbine installation. It cost 3 billion Euros and repeatedly failed during startup attempts. Its faults persist–if they had been resolved, I suspect Pierre Gosselin would have reported on it. People are not opposed to viable “green energy” projects, but they do object to being coerced into paying for installations that are neither truly green nor energy producing. Google gave up on existing renewable energy technologies because they don’t work. This is still an area for research, not for implementation.

  10. Tom,

    Renewables are unable, at present, to compete in fair market. That is due to both high cost and unreliability. It may well be that those problems can eventually be solved, but the solutions are not yet in sight. As a result, premature, mandated, large scale adoption of renewables has the potential to greatly increase the cost of electricity and reduce the reliability of the grid. That would do people considerable harm.

    Until fairly recently, subsidies and mandates for renewables were seen largely as giving them a toehold in the market. No reason to get too upset about that. But now we are moving into the mandated, large scale adoption of a technology that promises to significantly lower our standard of living. That is something to get upset about and oppose.

    Even worse, the people pushing this upon everyone are being dishonest about the costs and the reliability issues. And they are pushing it on the basis of a “crisis” that is at best doubtful and at worst fraudulent.

    Much the same applies to electric cars. They are being pushed for the same reasons and the pushing is dishonest. For instance, EPA’s method of calculating equivalent MPG is a fraud.

    So we have governments taking our money and giving it to people who are using deceit to push technologies that will harm the general interest. And those governments are passing laws with the same end in mind.

    And you are puzzled by the hostility towards renewables?

    I have long been a fan of renewables. I am still hopeful that they have a large role to play in our future. But I am very hostile to fraud being perpetrated on the people to benefit a small cadre of ideologues and crony capitalists.

  11. I have nothing against green energy. But most energy sold as green is not green. And much of the not-green energy is greener than the so called green.

    It’s not that I don’t want to save environment, but anytime somebody wants my money for it, chances are, he or she is lying or has been lied to.

  12. Why the knee-jerk reaction by skeptics to renewables? Maybe it is just force of habit to the insanity of pc climate posturing. From Powerline, a conservative Minnesota blog, comes this critique of the new editors of Political Theory, a political science journal. Here is how one editor introduced herself.

    “I write as political attention in the United States and Europe is focused on terrorism, a thematic that almost but not completely obscures sight of the violence of climate change. Societies that are themselves wedded to violence—in the United States, to gun culture, fracking, racialized killings, militarizations of all sorts—express horror at forms of violence insistently presented as coming “from the outside.” It is a hair-raising and sea-rising time, a time, it seems, on the cusp.”

    Gun culture, fracking and racialized killings? If I made this up, people would think I lost it…but this is becoming the norm in academia. Hell, give the skeptics a break, as crazy as they get, they can’t compete with that.

  13. Why Do Some Skeptics Oppose Green Energy?

    Try these:

    The annual loss of birds from wind turbines was estimated as high as 573,000 in 2012. However, vastly more turbines are in operation now, and more than 1.4 million bird deaths are projected by 2030 or earlier if the U.S. meets its goal of producing 20 percent of electrical energy with wind. If that figure reaches 35 percent, as new Department of Energy projections suggest, up to 5 million birds could be killed annually. These estimates do not include birds that are killed by collisions with associated power lines and towers, which could be in the hundreds of thousands or even millions annually.

    http://abcbirds.org/program/wind-energy/

    And possibly an order of magnitude more bats.

    Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages
    Pollution is poisoning the farms and villages of the region that processes the precious minerals

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/aug/07/china-rare-earth-village-pollution

    Solar Cells Linked to Greenhouse Gases Over 23,000 Times Worse than Carbon Dioxide According to New Book, Green Illusions

    http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/738098

    More than 3,500 birds died during the 377-megawatt Ivanpah solar project’s first year of operation, a new report estimates.

    http://www.desertsun.com/story/tech/science/greenenergy/2015/04/23/ivanpah-solar-plant-bird-deaths/26273353/

    How many more would you like, I can post the likes of these all night.

    Then factor in the total destruction of the British steel and aluminium industries causing tens of thousands of job losses, the irony being that they have moved to countries which much more lax pollution control and worker safety records.

    How about the number of excess deaths of the weakest and poorest in our society, who cannot afford to heat their houses and feed themselves adequately?

    The social cost of fuel poverty is massive, and growing. In the winter of 2012/13, there were 31,000 extra winter deaths in England and Wales, a rise of 29% on the previous year. Around 30-50% of these deaths can be linked to being cold indoors. And not being able to heat your home also takes a huge toll on health in general: those in fuel poverty have higher incidences of asthma, bronchitis, heart and lung disease, kidney disease and mental health problems.

    http://www.theguardian.com/big-energy-debate/2014/sep/11/fuel-poverty-scandal-winter-deaths

    A better question might be “how can anyone who has any environmental conscience or any humanity NOT oppose the catastrophe of green energy, a disastrous reaction to a problem that is rapidly proving to never have existed in the first place”?

    • Excellent way to frame the issue. Facts instead of rent seeking hype is a refreshing change.

    • A million birds sounds like a lot, until you compare it with the several billion birds killed every year by cats and perhaps a billion a year killed by collisions with buildings.

      Facts are indeed good. Facts in context are better.

      • Ah, a resort to argumentum ad misericordiam.

        You have no problem with increased bird mortality, presumably?

        So because the number of people killed by serial killers every year is several orders of magnitude less than the number of deaths in traffic accidents – totally insignificant by comparison in fact, in your opinion we should ignore the deaths caused by serial killers?

        Further, I have provided evidence for my claims, whereas your “several billion birds killed every year by cats and perhaps a billion a year killed by collisions with buildings” have no backing whatsoever.

        However, this commentary by the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds may interest you, as it is based on proper scientific studies, rather than obfuscation.

        Estimates of how many creatures are killed by cats each year vary significantly.

        The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.

        The most frequently caught birds, according to the Mammal Society, are probably (in order) house sparrows, blue tits, blackbirds and starlings.

        No evidence
        Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.

        We also know that of the millions of baby birds hatched each year, most will die before they reach breeding age. This is also quite natural, and each pair needs only to rear two young that survive to breeding age to replace themselves and maintain the population.

        It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season, so cats are unlikely to have a major impact on populations. If their predation was additional to these other causes of mortality, this might have a serious impact on bird populations.

        http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/gardening/unwantedvisitors/cats/birddeclines.aspx

        In any case, the reports on bird mortality caused by wind turbines indicate that predominantly the birds killed are raptors, and I’ve never heard of a cat catching an eagle.

        So I agree, with you, facts are indeed good. Facts in context are better. You ought to try it some time instead of resorting to logical fallacy.

      • MIke M,
        Many of the birds being killed are protected species.
        To hear the “it doesn’t matter in the bigger picture” argument from someone supporting a power source pushed hard by environmentalists is entertaining in its absurdity.

  14. Catweezle,

    All the effort your response deserves: Assuming that birds are the same as people is just plain silly.

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