Green Engineers And Flying Bicycles

Richard Wagner at the German site Die Achse Des Guten  (The Axis of Good) takes an excellent look at the feasibility of powering society solely with renewable energy (sun, wind, biofuel) and through energy savings. It’s a challenge many engineers are grappling with.


All images here are from: http://wattsupwiththat wind-turbines-video/.

But earlier a reader here at NTZ (DirkH I think) commented that many young German engineers naively come into the industry, as if on a religious mission to rescue the planet from the Biblical catastrophe of climate meltdown, in search of that all-elusive energy supply that is both cheap with no adverse effects, or to find ways to go without.

That engineers come into the industry with such religious mindsets is already a very troubling sign. It tells us they have not even taken the first step of checking the “problem” to see if the proposed solution itself could be much worse. Have the “green” engineers really looked at the data that supposedly underpins the “climate problem”?

The answer is “no”. If they had, they would not be proposing the expensive solutions they are now being proposed (unless it’s all about making money and the future be damned).

A good engineer checks the data behind the “problem” and does not make up problems just to give himself something to do. Good engineers have a good sense for economics. Bad ones do not.

Green engineers are among the worst and most dangerous

Overall, German engineers are second to none in many fields such as petroleum, chemicals, automotive, machine building, project management and so on. But in renewable energy, they are careless, naive, ideological and ignorant -and so have become a hazard to society – particularly economically and with respect to the risks their solutions pose down the line. It’s our children and grandchildren that will have to inherit the mess they leave behind.

HAWT Destruction from Gearbox Failure

This generation of “green” engineers will likely be the first to cause far more problems than they solve. When data is recklessly and maliciously neglected, it’s inevitable.

Already we have seen their solutions turn into disasters. Some examples: biofuels on the food supply and monoculture, windmills and solar panels with respect to aesthetics, supply consistency and cost. Think about the impacts of mercury-laden energy saving lights in our landfills. Nobody really thought about these impacts. It was all driven by blind government policy.

In all cases it’s: “Whether these solutions work or not, it won’t be our problem – so take the money while you can, and run”. We see it at GE, Siemens, the solar industry and a host of others. The list is too long to get into.

These opportunists and swindlers never stopped once to think that the science could be wrong, or couldn’t care less. They don’t want to know it’s wrong. “It’s to save the climate (and make tons of money guaranteed by government policy).” This is selfish opportunism – not engineering.

So will it work?

Richard Wagner at Die Achse Des Guten provides us the answer using an example.

Because I accused the Greens of being hostile to technology, one reader asked me the clever question of whether or not the green technologies of sun and wind power systems were products of engineering, and thus of technology.

The question where technology begins and where it ends is certainly an intriguing issue. One can discuss it all evening long, both in the limelight or by candle light. But it would not address the core of the issue. Also the production of bicycles is a significant part of our economy. Yet, nobody has ever seriously asked if it would be possible to replace commercial jets with flying bicycles.

But this is precisely what the Greens are attempting in the energy issue. This is, and will remain, a question of technology and resources needed for the technology at hand. The objective of every energy debate should be the creation and the assurance of the energy extent that we need in order to progress further.”

And not finding ways to force others to go without. And saving energy is a waste if the costs of doing so far exceed the savings and benefits. Green engineers need to broaden their scope of analysis and depth of thinking. They need to get away from ideology, and to get back to art of engineering.

30 responses to “Green Engineers And Flying Bicycles”

  1. R. de Haan
    1. Jimbo

      Interesting link which led me to a report from the UK about wind power:

      BBC 6 April, 2011
      “But the research found wind generation was below 20% of capacity more than half the time and below 10% of capacity over one third of the time………………….During each of the four highest peak demands of 2010, wind output reached just 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity, according to the analysis.”
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-12985410

      Imagine if most of the coal and gas fired power stations were closed down. Now imagine on a cold, overcast winters day with peak demand. Disaster and death!

  2. DirkH

    I was looking for trustworthy numbers of the EROEI of wind power. While i have found nothing conclusive, i think a good way of judging where we are headed is to look at the cost per MWh; not the prize which is influenced by subsididies and market fluctuations but the cost; and especially, how it develops over time. I found this interesting chart.
    http://financere.nrel.gov/finance/node/2840

    It reached a minimum of 35USD in 2005 and has slightly bounced back up to 40 USD (adjusted to 2008 Dollar value, if i understand correctly). I would think that his bounce means little; maybe reflecting raw materials prize increases. Most importantly, it stopped going down, so it looks like we have a stabilization of the prize and can consider the industry mature. So about 40 USD/MWh it will be from now; given the methodology they used. I find higher costs for wind here
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

    but maybe that’s due to the methodology.

    Anyway, what i want to say is that it looks like the cost of wind energy doesn’t look like it’s coming down further; OTOH, it looks affordable as long as we can stabilize the grid with peaker plants. In my opinion, it would be the job of the wind power operators to pay for the peaker operations but that doesn’t look likely under the current political regimes.

    A further increase in the share of wind power looks also unlikely as their vile production profile already drives the grid to the edge.

    To conclude, looks like it has a positive EROEI, judging by its cost structure, and looks pretty saturated in Germany. We should now drive the subsidies to zero for all new applications.

    1. Roland

      I do not believe that using the overnight construction cost as a measure of affordability is a good way to figure out the economics of any energy source.
      OCC provide only one data point within a large number of other data points.

      - capacity factor (number of hours running/working per year)

      - Plant live time (will it work as well and as long as advertised – btw. what are the numbers for wind here? Would be very interesting to find out.)

      - Ratio of fixed cost to variable cost ( gas turbines cost little to build and to upkeep the gas they use makes up about 90% of the overall costs… nuclear is just about the other way around (probably even as little as 5% for the yellow cake))

      - Finally how much in terms of infrastructure is needed to keep lights on all the time? (this depends upon the capacity factor and the ability to schedule the repair times etc. This also includes the building electricity connections or gas pipes and so on)

      I always marveled at the relatively low price of wind energy per kwh but if you do include all the infrastructure costs and the abysmal capacity factor and the powerstation running in standby to take over if the wind blows less or not at all… Its a nightmare … ein wahrer Albtraum … wenigstens ist es eine überwiegend Deutsche Krankheit, wenn wir dann am Ende mit unseren grünen Feldern und weißen Windenergieanlagen stromlos und industrielos dastehen können wir doch sicherlich auf die Großzügigkeit unserer klügeren Nachbaren verlassen … (seufz)

      1. DirkH

        I hope they factored that in, except for the compensation that would be adequate to pay for the spinning reserve peaker plant (we would see that disadvantage factored in by letting wind power play in a free, non-rigged electricity market – wind power wouldn’t get the high prizes paid for peaker power so would be at a disadvantage).

        That’s why i say: If these cost statistics are trustworthy, we should be able to free the wind power from its subsidy shackles and let it roam freely in the market. And watch it devour every other power source – or not ;-)

        1. Roland

          Okay. I checked with the executive summary of “Projected Costs of Generating Electricity — 2010″ from the IEA.

          Quote:

          ” [...] The electricity generation costs calculated are plant-level (busbar) costs, at the station, and do not include transmission and distribution costs. Neither does the study include other systemic effects such as the costs incurred for providing back-up for variable or intermittent (non-dispatchable) renewable energies. [...] ”

          And they come to similar numbers. Interesting other factor I forgot to mention is the interest rate for the project costs…

          Oh and IEA is one of the more reliable agencys out there.

          So to get to 100% reliability you need firstly at least 5 times as many windfarms as you would assume from the rated power out put (national yearly WE-output in germany is about the same as in the U.K. : 20% capacity factor .
          Then you need a 100% spinning reserve Backup (fossil of course) to be certain that a sudden lack of wind energy has no effect on grid stability.

          Finally you need transmission lines that can transport the full capacity of the windfarms i.o.w. 5 times as much as would be needed other wise – since you got five times as many windfarms….

          So by how much will our electricity bills rise?

          What will be left of the industrial base?

          Some links:
          http://www.iea.org/W/bookshop/b.aspx
          http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2010SUM.pdf

          1. Roland

            After checking the numbers a little more closely I found that the IEA numbers are much higher than your numbers:

            “[...]
            At a 5% discount rate, levelised generation costs for onshore wind power plants in OECD countries considered in the study range between 48  USD/MWh (United  States) and 163  USD/MWh (Switzerland), and from 101 USD/MWh  (United  States) to 188  USD/MWh (Belgium) for offshore wind.
            [...]
            At a 10% discount rate, the levelised costs of wind-generated electricity in OECD countries range between 70 USD/MWh (United  States) and more than 234 USD/MWh  (Switzerland). For
            offshore wind turbines the costs range from 146 USD/MWh (United States) to 261 USD/MWh (Belgium).
            [...]”

            So the median is much higher than 40 USD/MWh

            Also this study does seem to include the real capacity factors into the calculations:

            “[...]
            In contrast with nuclear and thermal plants with a generic load
            factor of 85%, plant‑specific load factors were used for renewable energy sources. For variable renewable sources such as wind, the availability of the plant is in fact an important driving factor for the levelised cost of generating electricity. The reported load factors of wind power plants range between 21% and 41% for onshore plants, and between 34% and 43% for offshore plants except in one case.
            [...]”

            Again from the executive summary:
            http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2010SUM.pdf

            1. Roland

              One more thing and then I am done for the night:
              It is very simple to get the german capacity factor for wind energy:

              1. Go to http://www.wind-energie.de/de/statistiken/

              2. Get the number of installed wind energy megawatts
              (2010: 27214 MW)
              3. Get the number of produced TWH (2010: 37.3 TWH)

              4. What is the 100% capacity of 27214 MW in a year? (27214MW *8700h= 236.8 TWH)

              5. Divide real output by the 100% capacity number.
              (37.3twh / 236.8twh = 0.1575

              6. multiply by 100 to make it percentages…
              (WE capacity factor 2010 in Germany: 15.75 %

              7. despair…

              (Even if you assume a higher output (50TWH) since the last years were so low on wind… A damn 25% variability for whole years?? Worse than I thought actually.

              Just imagine…

            2. DirkH

              Thanks, Roland, as you see below in my reply, i found out independently that i misinterpreted the numbers from the chart i found. Your CF number of 17.5% is what i read in a different report about the German wind power production so your computation is right.

              I will have to read through the links you gave… maybe i can find a realistic costing. Thanks for the links!

    2. DirkH

      Sorry – the text around the chart on the page i linked to mislead me; the chart shows wind power prizes in the US, not costs. This is an important distinction because the prize is artificially reduzed by REC’s (subsidies).
      ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_Energy_Certificates )

      The source document explains it.
      http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/reports/2008-wind-technologies.pdf

      So, it’s useless for my undertaking of estimating whether the EROEI is positive…

  3. DirkH

    Growing number of Nicaraguan sugar cane workers suffer from pesticide-induced kidney failure; blame Ethanol-production related monoculture.

    “”We Nicaraguans pay for the boom of green fuel with our health,” Rios said. “Because it’s you Europeans who are to blame that, instead of corn, wheat and rice, more and more sugar cane gets planted in a way that is harmful to our health.”

    Nicaraguan calls for a ban on bioethanol exports to Europe has been quickly dismissed by the German parliament’s Committee for Economic Cooperation and Development. ”
    http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14977333,00.html

  4. DirkH

    From the article:

    “Noch nie hatte der Ingenieurs-Beruf in Deutschland eine so geringe Attraktivität wie heute. Dafür wächst der Andrang in den sozialen Berufen, im Kommunikations- und Kultur Wissenschaftsbereich, Wellness und Therapie.”

    “Never before was it less appealing to become an engineer as today. More and more want to go into the social jobs, the communicative and cultural sciences sector, wellness and therapy.”

    I think that this is a necessary consequence of ever growing productivity – we necessarily can afford more and more, well, i call them ornamental fish jobs. A simple consequence of supply and demand. As a computer science graduate working in embedded systems, these ornamental fish are all my customers so it has an upside. Keeps the number of competing product developers low. ;-)

    1. DirkH

      And we can reschool them to become wind power blade cleaners anytime. All they need is some training in abseiling. ;-)

  5. Brian G Valentine

    Comment from warmist zealot Susan Solomon, who helped “prove” that CFC actually is not involved in Stratospheric Ozone in any manner (contrary to he accolades she received for spending about 6 months in the Antarctic):

    “We [humans] have been over heating the atmosphere since the steam engine was invented.”

    Speak for yourself! This rhetoric sounds like a child berating their parents for who they are.

    When these children are old enough to demolish coal and nuclear electricity operations because they “feel like it,” then let them. For now – as far as I have anything to say about the matter – there they will stay

  6. Bruce of Newcastle

    This is a very good observation. I have spent quite a lot of 20 years in the science & engineering area teaching young chemical engineering graduates to do financial analysis. Two things stood out for me: 1. chemical engineers want to do engineering, not accountancy, so financial analysis does not come naturally to them and 2. they do almost anything to avoid having to do this, as they don’t like it!

    Once they learn to do NPV’s suddenly all these ideas they have get pruned to the very short list of the financially viable.

    Unfortunately the only warmist person I know who have applied such analysis to the AGW area was Bjorn Lomborg, and he was flamed mercilessly for the temerity to question the wisdom of wasting vast $trillions on useless “fixes”.

    1. Brian G Valentine

      These green projects are not “sustainable” in any sense, for the revenue generated from them can never recoup their cost – let alone generate a profit.

      Governments think it is a good idea to dilute this cost (loss) to society – which is a first in the history of capitalism, if you think about it.

      Historically, governments in capitalist economies invest in private enterprise for things that the private sector could never accomplish on their own. Like atomic energy, for example, no private business could invest in an isotope separation or processing business. But this investment is recovered by the tax revenue generated from operating nuclear energy electricity operations.

      That’s because something actually gets produced and sold for profit using the electricity. “Green” electricity projects never generate enough revenue to pay for themselves, let alone make a manufacturing operation possible at a profit.

      Are welfare cases ordinarily considered “sustainable”? Not usually, excepting in this unique realm

    2. Bernd Felsche

      Bruce,

      It shouldn’t even get as far as “financial analysis”.

      The very first thing that an Engineer must do is to verify that the problem actually exists. That not only avoids wasting a great deal of time and resources on a non-problem, but if the problem is real, then independent verification provides insight into the nature of the problem.

      CAGW “problem” is a non-problem.

      No technical solution can solve a non-problem. At any cost.

      Subsidising, manufacturing and distributing placeboes to “fix” the mass delusion has the side-effect of creating addiction to subsidies, further delusions and corresponding “new” placeboes.

      It all wastes resources and strips prosperity from those who cannot resist.

      1. Bruce of Newcastle

        Bernd, I agree with you. The satellite CERES and ERBE data shows that 2XCO2 is about 0.4-0.6 C, which means you would have to raise CO2 over 3000 ppmv to get even 2 C of warming, on that data.

        Unfortunately this is inconvenient science to the Australian government at the moment, they refuse to listen. Well, I say engineering is brutal – if you build a rig it either works or it doesn’t, no amount of political spin will change this. Same goes for climate – if the world temperature goes down and stays down, as solar data suggests it is doing, then our Aussie government will be government no more after the next election.

  7. DirkH

    Rapid rise of Energy prizes in Germany. Largely stable (real prizes) from 1970 to 2000, then a steep rise starts.
    http://www.energieagentur.nrw.de/infografik/grafik.asp?TopCatID=3165&CatID=3165&RubrikID=3166

    Larger version of the chart
    http://infografik.ea-nrw.de/graph_bild/graph_PFD002.jpeg

    Renewables turn out to be a huge tort racket. AGW is the false pretense.

    1. DirkH

      Keep in mind that the share of renewables is still extremely small.
      http://www.energie2null.de/files/energie2null.de/statistik/Stromerzeugung-in-Deutschland.jpg

      So this tiny share suffices to drive up prizes by 20% already. ( I shouldn’t worry – it’s a degressive form of taxation, hitting the poor, not me… it’s strange that the leftists are running this form of racket, what with the common good? )

  8. R. de Haan
  9. Bob in Castlemaine

    I don’t believe it’s the young engineers that should be blamed for their blind faith in the axiomatic truth of the scriptures of the warming faith. Pretty much a whole generation have now been brainwashed with this since kindergarten. Doubtless many of them at some point will discover that they have been duped.
    I believe the class that most deserves contempt is that of politicians, and industrial and business leaders who privately see through the warming scam, but publicly continue to pursue their vested political and financial interests.

    1. DirkH

      Pah. They’re used to solving the most complicated problems (and i mean it; they impress me every day); but they’re too blind to stop believing our silly state-controlled media and get their warmist cult pseudo information from journalists who are schooled to dumb everything down and remove every inch of factual information. I deride them every day for this blindness; i’m mocking them; i’m trying to give them links to some better sources on the Internet – for instance, WUWT’s resource pages…

      I mean – it’s 2011, they all have internet, they all can read English, yet they ask me: How come you have information that is different from what the telly tells me? They’re intelligent yet they can be so dumb it makes you groan…

  10. Alain

    Just a comment about some ending reflexions…

    Green are many, and I understand that some might find illogica that anti-technology promote green-technologies.

    in fact a strong tendency in green movement is not against technologye, but again STATE. they promote solution that focus, either on a global-rightism (like IPCC, climate court) that constraints states, or on local-scale technical solution that ignore the need of state.

    nuclear energy is a “communist” (not even socialist, who are too liberal for that- when I say communist, I mean real one, like in france from De gaulle to Mitterrand, not dictators like soviets) energy, that need big amount of work, centralized, and managed without greed.
    Hydro electricity is of the same kind, like trains, and channels…

    green rather promote local energies (even if they ask for individual housing), individual or local transports…

    In my opinion, some green are a mix of anti-statist neo-liberal, with anti-capitalist christian guiltness, and a biblical universal justice ideal… when american libertarianism meet occidental universalism.

    however it is only some part of them…
    some simply hate the technology and oppose green tech, asking for penitence (jansenist ideology)… probably the rich kid complex…

    some commentators also evocate the idea that rich elite a afraid of invasion by poors on their land, and create an ideology to block that invation by malthusianist theories…
    seems to have been repeated many times.
    ( http://laurent.berthod.over-blog.fr/article-on-a-toujours-besoin-d-un-bouc-emissaire-64575709.html in french )