[LINK] Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK'

Tom Worthington tom.worthington at tomw.net.au
Wed Nov 26 08:49:28 AEDT 2014

On 24/11/14 08:17, Andy Farkas wrote:

> "Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
> Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
> <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/renewable_energy_simply_wont_work_google_renewables_engineers/>
>... renewables will never ... cut CO2 ...

A few problems with this article. First of all, it starts from the
assumption that Google projects are usually a success and so if their
renewable energy project failed, then the task must be all but
impossible. However, most Google projects fail, not because Google has
hopeless engineers, but because (as the article says), they try some
very difficult projects. Just because Google can't see how to do cheap
renewable energy, does not make it impossible.

Next of all, the challenge Google set itself was a very large one:
renewable energy cheaper than coal. But the price for coal sourced
electricity in the article does not appear to include the cost of
disposing of the carbon dioxide pollution burning coal creates.
With this logic, I could save the cost of a garbage collection at
home by burning my rubbish in the backyard. This would create clouds of
stinking smoke, but most of it would blow over to my neighbors and so
not be my problem. Burning coal creates a global pollution
problem, which has to be controlled by legislation, or a price
mechanism, or both.

The article suggests Google gave up on renewables in 2011, which is 
unfortunate, as around this time solar panels started becoming very 
cheap and also storage options started to become cheaper. As the article 
says, it is difficult to use solar or wind power for on-demand power as 
the sun does not shine, and the wind does not blow, on demand (I had a 
masters of engineering student do a study on that). But coal is also not 
suited to on demand power supply: it takes many hours to start up a coal 
fired station and it has to be kept operating, in case someone needs the 
power. This could be radically changed with a combination of demand 
management (using smart networked devices), demand pricing and storage. 
The most polluting fossil fuels could be phased out while introducing 
the most affordable of the renewable sources.

The article goes on to advocate nuclear power. But this would take a
considerable capital investment.

ps: This could be an assignment topic for my ICT Sustainability students 
in 2015: http://cs.anu.edu.au/courses/COMP7310/

Tom Worthington FACS CP, TomW Communications Pty Ltd. t: 0419496150
The Higher Education Whisperer http://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617, Australia  http://www.tomw.net.au
Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards

Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Research School of Computer Science,
Australian National University http://cs.anu.edu.au/courses/COMP7310/

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