Sustaining the Wind Part 1 – Is So Called “Renewable Energy” the Same as “Sustainable Energy?”

What follows on this blog over the next few weeks will be a series of five important essays on sustainable energy, by David Jones (who also blogs as NNadir on Daily Kos, bio here). A previous article on BNC by David, on world energy demand and uranium supply, can be read here.

Here is Part I.

A lanthanide processing facility in China.  From Lim, Nature 520, 426–427 (23 April 2015)[1] 

A group calling itself “The FS-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance,” working out of the Frankfurt School, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program and the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Group has published study called “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment,[2] according to which, in the period between 2004 and 2014, the world expenditure on so called “renewable energy” amounted to 1.801 trillion dollars (US).  Of this, 711 billion dollars was applied to developing wind energy, an amount exceeded only by the investment in solar energy, which was 875.1 billion dollars in that same period.

The total “investment” in so called “renewable energy” in the last ten years is greater than the annual GDP (2013) of 179 of 192 nations as recorded by the World Bank[3], only 75 billion dollars smaller than the GDP of India, a nation estimated to contain a population of 1.396 billion human beings as of 2015, roughly 20% of the human race.[4]  For the amount of money spent on so called “renewable energy” in the last decade we could have written a check for about $1,200 dollars to every man, woman and child in India, thus almost doubling the per capita income[5] of that country.  It is roughly comparable to the 2013 GDP of Canada, a few hundred billion dollars larger than the annual 2013 GDP of Australia.

Here is a graphic from the text[6] of the FS-UNEP report showing the trends:

We shall look in this series at what we have to show for this “investment,” and then discuss what is and is not “sustainable energy.”  For the record, though we need not agree, what the Frankfurt School defines as “Sustainable Energy,” is pretty much what one expects these days.   The definition includes solar, wind, biofuels, small hydro, geothermal and marine energy.

The Frankfurt School does not define nuclear energy or “large hydro” as “sustainable energy.”

I agree, by the way, with the latter omission, since, on our path to “sustainable energy” as we have designed that path, a path more or less officially endorsed by the powers that be, we have basically killed or nearly killed every major river system on the planet, and are well on our way to destroying the major mountain glacier systems on which many of these already dying major rivers depend.

Irrespective of my opinion, that the designed path to “sustainable energy” – the path discussed in the Frankfurt School’s finance report – represents the general thinking of humanity is supported by the fact that the foreword to the report is written by none other than Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations who, nominally at least, represents all of humanity.   So called “renewable energy” is insanely popular; enthusiasm for it is endemic.

It ought to be obvious to even the most cursory student of history that what has been popular often proved not only unwise, but even sometimes grotesquely immoral, at least as we understand morality today.   Therefore the question exists, does the designed path to “sustainable energy” make sense?   Will it really prove viable?  What assumptions lie beyond it?  Are they realistic?   What is the data on which these assumptions are based?   How has that data been analyzed, or even, has been analyzed at all?   Surely with a 1.8 trillion dollar investment data exists, does it not?   Most importantly in my view, we need to ask the question about who will win and who will lose as a result of following through on this program to produce “sustainable energy?”   That is, we need to ask whether the designed path to “sustainable energy” ethical.

“Sustainable energy…sustainable energy…”

“Sustainability” has become a buzzword in energy, as anyone who has had even the most cursory thought about the subject knows.  That this word is bandied about in conversations about energy, I think, has some ethical merit, since it at least reflects some lip service, if nothing else, to the idea that some of us actually care about future beyond our own times and reflect with some sense of sense of fairness, if not love, on the rights of the generations who may live after us, and are concerned about how they will, if not thrive, at least survive.

We will play with that word in this series, “sustainability,” focusing initially on the comparison of two much discussed forms of obtaining primary energy, nuclear energy and wind energy, moving more broadly into issues of material resources available to support either industry, (and other industries on which they depend or serve) indefinitely.   We will attempt to add or subtract some weight to the common assumptions surrounding these two forms of energy, examine our current policies surrounding them, examine some powerful assumptions underlying suggested changes to these policies to see if they are wise or unwise.

Because of the size of the questions that follow, it will be necessary to break this discussion, “Sustaining the Wind” into five parts:

Part I, the part before us presently, is called “Is So Called ‘Renewable Energy’ the Same as ‘Sustainable Energy?’”  This part, serving as an introduction, will lay out the questions the series intends to examine.   As an example, we will then foray into the issue by suggesting a new kind of “currency” by which we may measure sustainability, beginning with a somewhat superficial look – employing this currency – at wind energy, using actual data readily available on the internet relating to wind power’s modern industrial history. In doing this we will accept, with deliberate credulousness, the veracity of a prediction made for its potential, this while taking a cursory look at what those predictions imply structurally.

In Part II, “Peak Indium and Beyond” after briefly introducing we will look at an element in the periodic table that most people don’t think about, but perhaps should think about, indium.   In looking at indium, we will use it as a surrogate for other elements in the periodic table that are described, in various contexts, as “endangered.”   In this way, we will look at the concepts of “peak this,” and “peak that,” that one hears bandied about here and there, as in the commonly discussed “peak oil,” or “peak uranium,” “peak coal” and now “peak indium.”

Then we’ll hit the question of “peak uranium” head on:  Part III, “Is Uranium Exhaustible?” will take a detailed look at the macroscopic geochemistry of the element and compare the crustal and mantle flows, technologies for tapping these flows, and compare the associated potential energy content of these flows with foreseeable human energy demand, to the extent that such a thing as human energy demand can be predicted.    We will also look in this part at the question of some historical health consequences of handling uranium and consider the current health consequences of not handling uranium, with a brief return, by way of comparison, to the question of the health consequences of handling indium.

In Part IV “Drawn to the Rare Earth:  Elements of Magnetism and the Wind” we will look at the history and technology associated with the development and properties of permanent magnets, with particular attention paid to the lanthanide (rare earth) elements neodymium, samarium and dysprosium as they relate to such magnets.   Here we will look carefully at the external costs – the environmental and health costs – of mining and isolating the lanthanides, touching on the question of the sustainability of these practices.     (The opening photograph, coming from the first reference in this series, is of a modern, if ramshackle, lanthanide refinery.)    This discussion will focus, quite naturally, on the application of permanent magnets to the wind industry.

The concluding part of this series, Part V, “Channeling Macbeth:   Predicting the Fate of Wind” will look at various historical and current predictions about the wind industry, particularly focusing on the predictive writings, many published in prestigious journals, by a Professor of Civil Engineering at a prestigious university – Stanford University – the rote anti-nuke Mark Z. Jacobson.

Throughout the series one question we will ask is the question posed in the subtitle of this part of the series:   Are the terms “renewable energy” and “sustainable energy” equivalent?

We will also discuss the sustainability of nuclear energy, which is not “renewable energy” inasmuch when an atom of uranium, either the 235U isotope or the 233U isotope made from thorium, is fissioned; or when an atom of plutonium, prepared from 238U, is fissioned; or when an atom of americium or curium, made from plutonium, is fissioned; the process is essentially – except under extreme and esoteric laboratory conditions – irreversible.    So another question we will ask throughout the series is this:   Does the fact that nuclear fission irreversibly destroys its fueling atoms mean that nuclear energy is not sustainable, or can an argument suggesting otherwise “hold water?”


The discussion in the aforementioned Frankfurt School’s report focuses on money.   Money, of course, is a widely used abstraction for the value of services, manufactured goods, and the commodities utilized to make those goods.  We often forget that money is indeed just that, an abstraction, and as an abstraction about value, it may be accurate or inaccurate, depending on our systems of belief by which we define value.   Economists use this abstraction, money, widely.   They also like to speak in terms of “growth,” speaking as if “economic growth” can continue indefinitely, as if the resources their abstraction us supposed to represent are infinite.    However we are learning, perhaps too late, that our planet is, in fact, finite, irrespective of whatever dreams economists, like those at the Frankfurt School, relay in their preaching.


For example, as extreme droughts are observed around the planet in various places, we are learning that water, among other things, is a finite resource.    Humanity now controls and/or influences the fate of almost all of the fresh water on this planet – major bodies of water like the Aral Sea in Russia and Owens Lake and Mono Lake in California have either dried up completely or nearly dried up because of the diversion of their feed waters to human use.

A particularly exigent case relating to water concerns the Ganges River[7] and its delta, which largely contains the nation Bangladesh, a nation with close to 170 million people.  Barrages, dams, and irrigation canals in India have reduced water flow significantly in the Ganges Basin, so much so that one of the Bengali “distributaries” of the Ganges, the Gorai, sometimes becomes disconnected from the main river.[8]  The water supply in many places in Bangladesh now comes from mining fossil water, fossil water that has been percolating through natural arsenic minerals for thousands of years[9].   This predictably has resulted in a huge health crisis that has been called the “greatest mass poisoning in human history.”[10]   (Interestingly, arsenic, which is very important to the semiconductor industry because of the utility of gallium arsenide, is considered by some to be one of the “threatened elements” that will be broadly discussed in other parts of this series.)   Although the issues of water flows to Bangladesh are supposed to have been addressed by a 1996 treaty,[11] it is not clear that the terms will be respected, particularly as more new 600 dams are planned for its source rivers, largely in Uttarakhand, an Indian State in the Himalayan foothills.   If the dams are built to provide so called “renewable energy” for India, it is claimed that a 935 km stretch of the Ganges will go dry.[12]    This point about rivers and fresh water is to show that this form of so called “renewable energy,” hydroelectricity –which is undeniably the most successful, arguably the only successful example of the same – comes at a price, not only a human price, but an environmental price as well.

Similar to its domination of fresh water, the human race dominates the use of arable land.   Major forest systems and grassland systems around the planet have been destroyed not only for the purpose of growing food but also to make palm oil plantations, to grow sugarcane and corn for ethanol, or to provide for minable forests – the Canadian boreal forest for example – to make disposable items like paper towels and toilet paper.

Arguably most importantly, our planetary atmosphere is currently showing the effects of about two centuries of use as a vast dump for dangerous fossil fuel waste, agrochemical waste, halogenated organic compounds and other chemical wastes.    The capacity of the atmosphere to absorb this waste, or lack thereof, has impacted, is impacting and will impact not only every human being on the earth, but almost every living thing on the planet as well.

Finally there is the issue of the earth’s crust and the minerals in it.    In an earlier post[13] in this space, I remarked, as an aside that, “Our modern industrial culture relies on the separation and refining of significant quantities of some sixty to seventy elements from their sources, be they rocks, gases, or liquids…”  In terms of resources, that post focused largely on the element uranium and the wondrous element plutonium made from it.

Herein in this series I would like to broaden the discussion, to include not only the resource demand associated with what I regard as the last, best hope of humanity, nuclear energy, but also include the elements associated what is officially, if not realistically, regarded as “sustainable energy,” so called “renewable energy.” Herein we will focus, so far as so called “renewable energy” is concerned, mostly on wind energy, although what is said about wind might also apply to its even less successful (in terms of usable energy produced) sister, solar energy.   The currency employed here will not be so much US dollars (or any other national or supranational currency) as in the Frankfurt School report, but rather the elements in the periodic table, their ores and their compounds.

Let us begin:

According to a commentary published in Nature Geoscience[14] solar and wind facilities require 15 times more concrete, 90 times more aluminum, and 50 times more iron, copper and glass than equivalent scale nuclear or dangerous fossil fuel facilities.   The paper reports that as of 2010, the world was producing about 400 TWh of electricity utilizing wind power, which translates into about 1.44 exajoules of primary energy.   In terms of average continuous power, this is the equivalent of about 45-46 average 1000 MW dangerous gas plants operating at 100% of capacity.   This total is not equivalent to 45-46 similarly sized nuclear plants, since nuclear plants are designed to operate pretty much continuously and do not, as wind plants do, require redundant dangerous fossil fuel powered plants to back them up. The energy demand for the entire planet was, in 2012, according to the IEA’s 2014 Key Energy Statistics[15] was 560 EJ (exaJoules) of energy, meaning that the wind industry provided in 2013 about 0.26% of the energy demand of the world at large in 2012.   In 2011, world energy demand, according to the IEA’s 2013 edition of Key Energy Statistics, was 549 exajoules.   Thus the 2012 figure represented an 11 EJ increase over the previous year.[16]   The notable thing is that the total production of all of the wind plants on the entire planet, built over more than a third of a century of wild cheering for their construction, did not match even 15% of humanity’s energy consumption increases in a single year.

(For the record, the paper’s internal reference for wind production was the 2012 World Energy Outlook report put out by the IEA, presumably giving data from two years earlier, 2010.    The 2014 edition of the same report[17] indicates that the 2012 wind energy output was 521 TWh, or 1.87 exajoules, suggesting that the rate at which wind energy production, as opposed to the continuously used and wildly misleading term capacity – which tries to represent that the wind is always blowing at 100% strength – was growing at a rate of a little over 0.2 exajoules per year.   According to the data posted by the US EIA for international total energy consumption[18], since 1980 has averaged, while fluctuating wildly year to year, 7.9 exajoules of increase per year over the previous year.)

This failure of the wind industry to meaningfully address human energy demands has not arrested partisans of the technology from predicting that the wind industry will ultimately be a triumphant energy source in the future.     The authors of the paper in reference 14 refer to one such prediction, suggesting a consequence of its realization.    Quoting directly from the paper:

If the contribution from wind turbines and solar energy to global energy production is to rise from the current 400 TWh (ref. 2) to 12,000 TWh in 2035 and 25,000 TWh in 2050, as projected by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)7, about 3,200 million tonnes of steel, 310 million tonnes of aluminium and 40 million tonnes of copper will be required to build the latest generations of wind and solar facilities….

Even if one questions whether the “World Wide Fund for Nature” ought to change its name to the “World Wide Fund for Mining,” assuming – probably with justification – that this organization advocates for the outcome they predict, in the case of steel at least, the steel demand is not unmanageable under conditions obtained as of 2015.   According to figures available online from the World Steel Organization[19] the world produced, in the first quarter of 2015, about 390 million metric tons of steel, for the thousands of things for which we use this material, the bulk of said production occurring in China.   The “WWF” figures assume that the steel for the predicted energy production for wind energy will take place over a period of 35 years.   This would mean that two year’s steel production more or less would go to make wind turbines, and 33 years of production would produce other things, if, and this is a very big if, steel production can be maintained through this period at the levels now obtained.

The situation with respect to aluminum is more problematic.   According to the World Aluminum Institute, in 2014, the world produced 53,034,000 MT of aluminum.[20]   Thus over the next 35 years, about the total of 7 years of production of this metal, at current levels, would be needed to construct the wind plants that the WWF happily predicts.   Aluminum, which until the 20th century was a rare metal owing to the difficulty of refining it, is now made by the energy intensive Hall process, which involves electrolysis in molten cryolite, a double sodium aluminum fluoride salt, Na3AlF6.   Historically cryolite was mined as a mineral, chiefly in the world’s largest deposit in Ivigut, Greenland.   This mine was depleted in 1987, and since then, the world has relied on synthetic cryolite made chemically using reserves of the mineral fluorspar (CaF2).    The process for making cryolite goes like this:   CaF2 is treated with sulfuric acid to yield the highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid, HF, which must be handled in either Monel nickel or Teflon reactors.   Silica, SiO2 is dissolved in aqueous HF to give H2SiF6, which is then used to treat bauxite, Al2O3 and back titrated with electrolytically produced NaOH (sodium hydroxide) to precipitate the cryolite, which is then dried by heating.   Pure cryolite melts at 1012oC, which obviously requires energy, as does the electric current for the electrolysis of bauxite, the primary aluminum ore.   The energy intensity of the production of aluminum has seen modest reductions in the last 32 years:   We now, as of 2013, use roughly 86% of the energy per MT to produce aluminum as we did in 1980.   The 2013 figure for the energy intensity of aluminum was 14,560 kWh/MT.[21]  (It is not clear, however, whether these figures incorporate the energy cost of producing synthetic cryolite; most likely they don’t.)  Utilizing this 2013 intensity figure for 2014 production, we can estimate that the world used about 770 billion kWh of electricity to produce aluminum, or about 2.8 exajoules of electrical energy.   Thus we see that the entire wind industry on the entire planet as of 2012 was only capable of producing just 67% of the electricity required to produce aluminum in 2014, never mind the electricity for running computers to host and read websites telling us how great the so called “renewable energy” industry is.     It may be true that we actually use electricity for other things besides making aluminum and running web sites devoted to the praise of so called “renewable energy,” and – assuming one believes this – one might question whether the wind energy industry is meaningful at all, never mind as meaningful as advertised.

(An aside:  The aluminum industry website is quite up front and open about its fluoride emissions, which include the very potent greenhouse gases perfluoromethane (CF4) and perfluroethane (C2F6).   They report[22] that these releases in 2013 were the equivalent of 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or about 0.1% of current annual CO2 emissions.  This figure does not include carbon dioxide from electricity generation but only from these pefluoroorganics.  Perfluoromethane (CF4) has been described as “the most recalcitrant organic gas molecule ever made, whose atmospheric lifetime exceeds 50,000 yrs”[23])

The WWF prediction of 25,000 TWh of energy produced in 2050 is the equivalent to 90 exajoules of energy.   Were energy consumption to advance more or less linearly – in a least squares sense – at 8 exajoules per year, as it has been doing in recent decades despite all the increasingly insipid howling about the power of “energy conservation,” 35 years from now the world would be consuming around 840 exajoules of energy, and wind energy would be providing just over 10% of the world’s primary energy, a significant amount.   But these are, of course, crude extrapolations, but note that 90% of the world’s energy would not be produced by wind energy were it the case that the predictions were of any merit whatsoever, which, assuredly, they are not.

Are any such predictions of any merit?     We need only look back, as the WWF looks forward, thirty-five years to suggest an answer.

Thirty five years ago, 1980 as of this writing, no one knew that the United States would fight two terrible wars against the Iraqi Army in the mid-East, this in order to maintain access to its oil and that of neighboring Kuwait.  (Indeed, in the 1980’s, the U.S. actively supported Iraq with intelligence and weapons during the horrible Iraq-Iran oil war.   Lest we forget, a million human lives were lost in that war over oil fields.)

No one knew that nuclear reactors at Chernobyl and Fukushima would fail and that the majority of the dead resulting would come not from the release of radioactive materials, but from the replacement of the failed reactors with dangerous fossil fuel power plants that kill people not only in accident situations but whenever they operate normally.

No one predicted that these reactor failures would lead to an orgy of stupidity[24] connected -to give just one example – with the discovery of a few atoms of “Fukushima derived” 134Cs in a Tuna fish caught off the coast of California, leading to the burning of what may have amounted to thousands, if not tens of thousands of tons of coal, oil and gas to discuss said atoms on something that was unknown 35 years ago, something called “the internet.” Maybe 35 years ago – I can’t say for sure – no one would have expected this orgy would take place even though the authors original scientific paper[25] reporting the atoms in the Tuna fish in question viewed their discovery as a wonderful tool for tracing migratory sea animals  (like Tuna) and clearly and unambiguously included the following text in said paper:

Total radiocesium concentrations of post-Fukushima PBFT[26] were approximately thirty times less than concentrations of naturally occurring 40K in post-Fukushima PBFT and YFT and pre-Fukushima PBFT (Table 1). Furthermore, before the Fukushima release the dose to human consumers of fish from 137Cs was estimated to be 0.5% of that from the α-emitting 210Po (derived from the decay of 238U, naturally occurring, ubiquitous and relatively nonvarying in the oceans and its biota (13); not measured here) in those same fish (12). Thus, even though 2011 PBFT showed a 10-fold increase in radiocesium concentrations, 134Cs and 137Cs would still likely provide low doses of radioactivity relative to naturally occurring radionuclides, particularly 210Po and 40K.

Thirty five years ago, no one would have believed that humanity would squander 1.8 trillion dollars (US) in a single decade on “investments” in so called “renewable energy” while producing no meaningful result.   No one predicted that the rise of climate change gases, then only under nascent public discussion would be unabated, despite this trillion dollar scale investment, as the question of such gases morphed into a serious international concern.   No one predicted that, as an ancillary issue involved in the combustion of dangerous fossil fuels and renewable biomass, that the death toll from air pollution would reach the staggering total of 7 million people per year,[27] this without producing a whimper of concern to match the concern over the few radioactive atoms in the “Fukushima Tuna Fish.”

Thirty five years ago, few would have predicted that the international powerhouse of the steel industry would be China, and that the economy of that nation would be surging toward first place in the world, this event powered by its massive reserves of coal, the same deadly and toxic fuel that fueled the earlier rise of Britain and then the rise of United States.   No one predicted that the impact of that nation, China, on the planetary atmosphere would be as baleful as the then champion of baleful impacts on the environment, the far less populous United States, this as the world’s most populous nation, understandably, made efforts to climb out the mass poverty that characterized its citizens in an attempt to match or at least approximate the US living standards.

We will return to the question of the effect of making sweeping predictions about energy, in particular, wind energy, in part V of this series, as the series concludes.

Be all that as it may, let’s, in any case, close out this introductory Part I with a demonstration of how we will look at the question of sustainability with a brief look at “renewable” wind energy in the context we have just introduced:

A recent paper in the scientific literature[28] evaluates the material requirements of the “EU 27” based on their planned additions of wind power capacity.    The paper is less speculative than some of the other stuff you hear about wind energy’s future since it projects only 5 years into the future, presumably the time frame in which actual orders are placed.   It does not focus on materials that are readily available in Europe and elsewhere, for instance steel and concrete, (at least directly) but rather on those elements and materials which are defined as “critical materials,” “critical materials” being those whose near term future supplies are in question, even though they are regarded as essential materials for the maintenance of the bourgeois lifestyle that many of us, albeit a minority of the citizens of the planet, enjoy.    The critical materials evaluated, with the quantities of ore required for an 800 kW on shore wind turbine (as found in table 3 in the reference) are fluorspar (145 kg), cobalt (196 grams), tantalum (545 grams), gold (514 grams), silver (1.5 kg), as well as, of most immediate concern, indium (1.21 kg), and small amounts of the elements palladium, platinum, rhodium and rhenium.  I have chosen to report here the figures for an 800 kw on-shore wind turbine, but figures are also reported for off-shore turbines on a larger scale.   The interested reader (with access) is invited to view the data in the original paper for onshore and offshore turbines.  The paper does not focus, as we will do, later in this series, on supplies of the lanthanide elements neodymium and dysprosium, although these elements are very critical to the best performing wind turbines, not that the performance of any wind turbine, given their poor capacity utilization, can be described as “good.”

The Danes – and we will see that despite all the hoopla that has surrounded their wind program their actual energy production from wind energy is very small, even compared to wind capacity in other countries like the United States, Germany and China – keep an exhaustive and very detailed database of every single wind turbine they built in the period between the 1978 and the present day.[29]   If one downloads the Excel file available in the link for reference 29 one can show that the Danes, as of the end of March 2015, have built and operated 8,002 wind turbines of all sizes.   Of these, 2727, or 34.1% of them have been decommissioned.  Of those that were decommissioned, the mean lifetime was 16.94 years (16 years and 310 days).   Twenty-one of the decommissioned wind turbines operated less than two years, two never operated at all, and 103 operated for less than 10 years.   Among decommissioned turbines, the one that lasted the longest did so for 34 years and 210 days.  Among all 2727 decommissioned wind turbines, 6 lasted more than 30 years.

Of the 5,275 turbines still operating there are 13 that lasted longer than 34 years and 210 days, the longest, having operated (as of March 31, 2015) for 36 years and 303 days.   The mean age of operating Danish wind turbines is 15.25 years, 15 years and 92 days.

In March of 2015, the entire Danish wind industry produced 1,137,405,953 kWh (or 1.13 TWh) of electricity, which is the equivalent of 4.0967 petajoules (0.0041 exajoules).    Thus for the 31 days of March 2015, the average continuous power output of the 5,275 operating wind turbines was 1529 MW.  Since the rated (peak) capacity of the wind turbines operating in March of 2015 was 4096 MW, it follows that the capacity utilization of wind turbines in Denmark was 31.2%.    These figures should make it clear that two average sized nuclear power plants, which would not have required thousands of trucks and cranes to travel all over Denmark trashing the landscape nor barges in the parts North Sea that the Danes have not yet trashed with oil and gas rigs as well as wind turbines, could have easily out produced all of the Danish wind turbines.   Further there is no reason, other than appeals to stupidity and selective attention on the part of vociferous anti-nukes crying over a few atoms of tritium or some other such nonsense, that two hypothetical nuclear reactors could not be designed to last 60 or even 80 years.  Even further, the nuclear power plants would not need redundant infrastructure to back them up.

The reason for this diversion from the subject of critical materials to the subject of the data surrounding the Danish wind energy program is to make a point.   In Denmark, around 8,000 wind turbines needed to be constructed to produce an amount of energy that was less than the amount of energy that could be produced by two average sized nuclear reactors.    Moreover, if nuclear reactors can be constructed to last 60 years, it follows that 16,000 wind turbines would be required to match the nuclear plants GJ for GJ, if we assume, generously, that wind turbines can be constructed (or are being constructed) that can routinely last 30 years, although the existing data suggests otherwise.   Granted, many of the Danish wind turbines are small, although one can also see when looking through the database of Danish wind turbines, that some of the shortest lifetime wind turbines were also some of the largest.   The average capacity of wind turbines still operating in Denmark is 930 kW, very close to the 800 kW figure to which the authors of reference 28 appealed when giving figures for critical materials.

Recall that the authors of reference 28 made two statements.  One was that the WWF predicted that by 2050 the world would have 25,000 TWh of electricity produced by wind power.   For the last full year for which we have the Danish data, 2014, the wind industry in Denmark produced 13.04 TWh of electricity.   Thus to scale up to 25,000 TWh/yr, the wind industry would need to be about 1900 times larger than the Danish wind industry, requiring, if the Dane’s averages hold, about 8,000 X 1900 = 15,200,000 turbines averaging 930 kW capacity.   The second statement was that each 800 kW turbine required 1.2 kg of indium.   Thus if 930 kW turbines could ultimately be built in the future using as much indium as 800 kW turbines use now, over 18,000 tons of indium would be required.

There’s only one problem with that figure.   As far as we can tell, economically recoverable indium reserves on the entire planet are thought to be somewhere between 11,000 tons and 50,000 tons.[30] Moreover, the current concern with indium supplies has nothing to do with wind power.   The chief uses for indium right now are to produce “ITO,” Indium Tin Oxide, for use in touch screen cell phones and computer monitors and to manufacture CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) thin film solar cells.   (In the latter case, let’s not go there right now.)  Annual mined indium – it is a very low concentration “hitch-hiker element” in sphalerite, a zinc ore in which indium concentrations range between 1 and 100 parts per million[31] – is on the order of 600 MT/year, incidentally at the highest rate of production ever observed.  It is worth noting that the isolation of elements from very dilute sources is always an energy intensive process in its own right, although in the case of indium most of this energy is actually expended in the isolation of the zinc parent.

In the next part in this series we will take a look at “Sherwood Plots” that crudely approximate the effect of dilute sources of elements on their cost, (suggesting, if not explicitly, an external as well as internal cost) as we look at indium, again, as a surrogate example of “endangered elements.”

That’s all for now.

Next, Part II:  “Peak Indium and Beyond…”

Have a nice day.    See you next time.

[1] Nature Vol. 520 Issue 7548 (2015) pp. 426-427

[2] Angus McCrone (Lead Author, Chief Editor) Ulf Moslener (Lead Editor), Eric Usher, Christine Grüning, Virginia Sonntag-O’Brien, Eds, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2015  Published online by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management gGmbH 2015. (Downloaded 5/16/15)  The download is free but registration is required.   The figures given in the text were obtained by transcribing the numbers from the yearly data Section 4 in the table contained in Figure 3 on page 15 of this report into Excel and summing them from 2004 to 2014.

[3] World Bank GDP figures, 2013.  (Accessed May 19, 2015)

[4] International Database of World Population Figures. (US Census)  (Accessed May 18, 2015)

[5] World Bank Table of Per Capita Income, by Country (Accessed May 19, 2015)

[6] Op. Cit. McCrone, page 12

[7] Rashmi Sanghi, Ed, Our National River Ganga, Lifeline of Millions, Springer, 2014  ISBN 978-3-319-00529-4

This is an interesting discussion of the state of the Ganges, including not only many physical issues associated with the river’s health – such as dams, irrigation, industrial and residential pollution and climate change – but also many cultural issues also associated with the river and its fate.  It has been published by the Springer scientific publishing house.   The book contains some rather vehement polemics and even some desperate political theory.  In the name of “saving” the river, the polemics include a mildly amusing proposal for a “Presidential Democracy” which is actually a dictatorship of the well educated, who will get either 1,000 or 10,000 votes as opposed to “grass cutters” who, according to the proposal will get one vote – cf. pg 183, Chapter 6, by Devendra Swaroop Bhargava).  If nothing else, the passion herein demonstrates how impassioned the discussion of this important river system can be.

[8] Mahmud et al, Journal of Water Resources and Ocean Science 2014; 3(1): 10-16

[9] A very recent and very good review of the arsenic problem in Bangladesh has just, as of this writing (May 25, 2015)  been published on line: W. M. Edmunds, K. M. Ahmed and P. G. Whitehead, Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2015,17, 1032-1046.   Figure 5 in the text shows the distribution of severely impacted wells, those having more than 50 μg/liter of arsenic.   Unfortunately quite a number of these contaminated wells in the Southwestern region of Bangladesh are located in the region supplied by the Gorai distributary.

[10]  Andrew A. Meharg and Md. Mazibur Rahman, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2003, 37 (2), pp 229–234  See also, Allan H. Smith, Elena O. Lingas, & Mahfuzar Rahman3 Bull. World Health Org (2000) 78, 1093.

[11]   Pandey, Asian Survey, Vol. 54, No. 4 (July/August 2014), pp. 651-673

[12] Op. Cit Sanghi, Ed. Chapter 2, pg. 60, chapter authored by Subhajyoti Das.

[13] NNadir, Current Energy Demand, Ethical Energy Demand, Depleted Uranium, and the Centuries to Come, Brave New Climate. (Accessed May 23, 2015)

[14] Olivier Vidal, Bruno Goffé and Nicholas Arndt, Nature Geoscience 6, 894–896 (2013).  The source references for the calculations are found in the supplementary information for this paper.

[15] IEA Key Energy Statistics, 2014.  This is the most current available edition as of this writing (May 27, 2015).   As usual the figures are given in MTOE (Million Tons Oil Equivalent) and are converted in the current text using the conversion factor 4.186 X 104 TJ/MTOE.

[16] Regrettably the IEA does not keep earlier editions of this free report available on its website.   I am working off a downloaded copy of “Key Energy Statistics, 2013” from last year.

[17] World Energy Outlook 2014  Published by the International Energy Agency, release date November 12, 2014.    Edited by Robert Priddle under the direction of Maria Van Der Hoeven, Executive Director of the IEA.  The figures for the wind energy output are found on page 242 in table 7.1   One may note that this table predicts in the “450 scenario” that wind power will grow by 2050 to 4,953 TWh.   This is considerably lower than the undoubtedly grandiose scenario painted by the WWF to reported in reference 14.    Throughout this series we will see that predictions of future wind energy production are all over the place, probably because they are more based on wishful thinking and hand waving as opposed to serious considered analysis.

[18] US EIA World Total Energy Consumption 1980-2012 (Accessed June 6, 2015)   The EIA as of this writing is Beta testing its site for a new format.   As of this writing, one may choose the units of energy utilized.  If one selects “joules” the figures are reported in TJ.   To convert to EJ, multiply the figures by 10-6

[19] World Steel Association:  Crude steel production 2014-2015 (Accessed May 30, 2015)

[20] World Aluminum Institute Website:  Production Data.  (Accessed June 7, 2015)  To see the annual figures enter “annual” in the drop down “frequency” window.

[21] World Aluminum Institute Energy Intensity Data (Accessed June 7, 2015).

[22] World Aluminum Institute, Fluorocarbon Emissions Data (Accessed June 7, 2015)

[23]Myung Churl Lee, and Wonyong Choi, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2002, 36 (6), pp 1367–1371  (This paper is interesting because, besides suggesting an interesting, if energy intensive scheme for destroying CF4 it suggests a silicothermic reduction of alkali metals from their halides.    I must have collected it when I was studying molten salt nuclear reactor technology.)

[24] One can quickly search the internet to find huge numbers of discussions of the “radioactive tuna fish” caught off the coast of California like these listed on Huffington Huffington Post. (Accessed May 31, 2015)   If one enters the search terms “California” and “Tuna” and “Fish” and “Fukushima” in Google, one will get more than 115,000 hits, each of which will have been produced on a computer and accessed on other computers that are most likely to have run on electricity generated in coal, oil or gas powered generating plants.   If we crudely estimate that each link is responsible for 500 hours of computer time, including the weighted time invested in running the servers where they can be stored and accessed, and that the average computer consumes about 150 Watts, we can estimate that the average continuous power consumption of investigating the “radioactive tuna fish” represents an average annualized continuous power consumption on the order of 1000 MW, equivalent to the output of a fair sized power plant.   These numbers are very crude of course, but they do offer some insight to the fact that information itself is an energy consumer.    It would be useful to think upon, when reading the text above, comparing this energy consumption, if even remotely accurate, with the output of all the wind turbines in Denmark as will be discussed later in the text.

[25]  Daniel J. Madigana,1, Zofia Baumannb, and Nicholas S. Fisherb  PNAS,109, 24,  9483–9486 (2012)

[26] PBFT = Pacific Blue Fin Tuna.  YFT = Yellow Fin Tuna.

[27] Lancet 2012, 380, 2224–60:  For air pollution mortality figures see Table 3, page 2238 and the text on page 2240.

[28] Junbeum Kim, Bertrand Guillaume Jinwook Chung, Yongwoo Hwang Applied Energy 139 (2015) 327–334

[29] The Register of Danish Wind Turbines The link to this page found on the Danish Energy Agency’s website was prepared on June 7, 2015.   To see the up-to-date data, click on the Excel icon on this page. In the Excel file, there is one tab for commissioned turbines and another for decommissioned turbines.   The file containing the data from which the text here was generated was downloaded on May 8, 2015 and calculations using the Excel functions carried out subsequently completed as of this writing (June 7, 2015).   In the file downloaded on May 8, the data was complete through March 31, 2015.   As of this writing, the data is now complete through April of 2015.

[30]Chiara Candelisea, Jamie F. Speirsa, Robert J.K. Grossa   Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15 (2012) 4972–4981

[31] Avatar S. Matharu, Chapter 8, page 212, Element Recovery and Sustainability  Andrew J. Hunt, Ed.  RSC Green Chemistry Series, No. 22, Copyright by the Royal Chemistry Society, 2013.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

50 replies on “Sustaining the Wind Part 1 – Is So Called “Renewable Energy” the Same as “Sustainable Energy?””

A year ago I heard Dr Webber at UTex say that renewables were not necessarily sustainable. By sustainable he meant they could be depended on. He gave the pacific northwest hydro as being renewable but in dry years is not sustainable. So today here in Texas 2010 was a low renewables energy year and 2011 was windy and sunny so the renewable energy was higher. Because renewables cannot supply all our energy needs we can say that wind and solar are generally not sustainable (reliable) meeting our energy needs. Dr Baldick and others want to change our consumption habits to get used to the variability of renewables. I think this is sort of the tail wagging the dog however and will be unpopular. Just getting microgrids to where they can directly connect to the larger grid so they can see what is going on is going to be an uphill battle, since the providers are not going to want to give that kind of smart grid access to their customers. But this visibility is necessary if Dr Baldick’s vision is to be realized. Even if we get there, the customers aren’t going to be able to depend on renewables 100% of the time. Its just no going to happen – ever.


A couple brief thoughts on this. 1) It’s a bit verbose. To keep the audience engaged, I would suggest trying to make this series of articles a little more succinct. 2) People and politicians are enamored with renewables. So what? It doesn’t matter that the media nearly completely ignore China’s massive effort to build out nuclear capacity and instead only hold China up as a shining example of what can (supposedly) be accomplished with renewables. It doesn’t matter because China has a plan to continue building a lot of nuclear capacity over the next few decades. It doesn’t matter because many of Japan’s reactors will be coming back online over the next few years. It doesn’t matter because many countries around the world are currently planning for their first nuclear power plants, and in the US, new nuclear is being built for the first time since the 70s. And it doesn’t matter because the economic reality and material resources which would be required for 100% renewables actually does matter to decision makers. The economic realities of the German energy experiment will come home to roost, and sooner rather than later. So let the masses have their sustainable-renewables fantasy. In the real world, everything is going more or less according to plan.


Thank you for an outstanding contribution to taking a rational, evidence and science-based approach to energy policy questions in general, and for exposing the sad fraud that is “renewable energy”, which so many well-meaning but gullible and ignorant individuals have embraced.

Perhaps you could … or will in the next parts… make the point more explicitly that “commitment to renewable energy” (combined with rejection of nuclear power) really translates to “commitment to use of fossil fuel”, as demonstrated by the experience of Denmark and Germany so unequivocally.

I see it as important to mention things like the need for gas turbine power plants to rapidly come on line as intermittent renewable sources cease to produce in their daily cycles, and the false nature of claims that new battery technology will make solar power viable and continuous should be discussed.

Although 50 year old established uranium / plutonium water reactor technology is safe and effective and economical and would be in itself a fine solution to our power needs, it still is worth mentioning the promise of 4th gen molten core thorium-U233 breeder type reactors / power plants that China is now very actively working on developing… a technology which, I’m sure you know, was pioneered in the late 50’s and and early 60’s at Oak Ridge.

Solar power may make some sense for wealthy home-owners who plan to stay in their homes for many years (especially with existing subsides for solar panel installation that basically are just one more legal mechanism in place to transfer money from the poor to the rich). But it’s nothing short of a fraud when proposed as a primary source of society’s energy!

I’m a physician who has all my life identified as a scientist, a proponent of scientific method, good clinical study, and science and evidence-based medicine. I’ve also all my life been an environmentalist (been a long distance cyclist, mountaineer, river rafter, and enthusiast of other means of enjoying an unspoiled wilderness), and I’ve also all my life been an advocate of and fighter for social justice.


Nice to see you back again, David. A couple of comments.

The numbers cited from Vidal et al. look very suspicious on many counts. I should state first that I have not read the full paper (firewalled), but I do have the SI .pdf file, and what is there is strange to say the least. First, they cite the EPR has having a capacity factor of just 36%, which is ridiculously low. Next, they cite annual energy output at 3.15 GWh, even more ridiculously low. It seems that the authors mistakenly attribute an EPR as a 1 MW device, instead of a 1.6 GW device, wrong by a factor of 1600, and then mistakenly apply their way-too-low capacity factor, wrong by a factor of 2.5, to get a final result that is wrong by a factor of 4000.

Next, the amount of concrete used in the EPR is 194 t/MW according to Vidal. Not only is that number wrong, it’s not even supported by their own cited source, as the cited Quille Industrie webpage tells us that 300,000 cubic meters of concrete were used at Flamanville buildings and another 85,000 cubic meters for site prep and galleries, for a total of 385,000 cubic meters. At 2.3 tonnes per cubic meter, that’s 885.500 tonnes or 553 tonnes per MW. The careful and extensive breakdowns in Weissbach et al. 2013 give 555 tonnes of concrete per MW for an advanced PWR, essentially the same number. I haven’t check the rest of their numbers, but these first checks alone don’t give me much confidence.

Lifetime of wind turbines is actually a bit trickier than supposed. In any given group of turbines, some will be cherries: built really well, with every part performing at spec right out of the box; and some will be lemons, with numerous parts out of spec at install time. Thus we should expect a normal distribution of fail times, where the lemons will fail quickly, while the cherries will run a very long time. So by looking at the lifetime for out-of-service turbines, we are getting a view of actual lifetime which is skewed too low, by being overpopulated with the lemons. Meanwhile, when we look at turbines that are still in service, we are also getting a view that is skewed too low, by not-yet-seeing the full lifetime of the cherries.

The way around this skewness is to use cohort analysis to determine the percentage of failed turbines in each year since installation. That will show us a sigmoid curve which is (or ideally should be) a cumulative normal distribution. It is then a simple matter to determine the mean and standard deviation of the cumulative normal curve that most closely matches the actual sigmoid of the fail-rate-by-service-life axis. The answer I got (when I last did this a couple of years ago, using the same Danish data) was a mean failure time of 22.0 years, with a standard deviation of 7.2 years.


Mr. Brook — Thank you for all the work that you do to educate the public about energy and the renewable scam. The scam artists have duped millions of people who know nothing about basic physics into believing that wind and solar can supply the world’s energy needs. Likewise, they have duped millions into believing that tiny amounts of ionizing radiation will kill everyone. I recently tried to explain to someone why wind and solar cannot supply grid power. He responded by telling me that I knew nothing about all the advancements that have been made in battery technology. In other words, like most renewable advocates, he is driven by feelings, not facts. Keep up the good work.


@Keith: To be perfectly honest, I didn’t study the details of the table that closely. In writing these piece – many of the subsequent parts are written – I had to go through a rather large body of literature, and took basically a “bird’s eye” view in many cases, apparently so in the details of the SI. The graphic in the full text, and in the SI itself makes it very clear about the mass intensity of nuclear vs so called “renewables.” If nuclear is even more superior on this score it makes a quantitative difference, but hardly one that is qualitative.

The paper is identified as a “commentary,” but as we’ll see, there are many more robust papers that make a similar point. However, on reflection, you are right, and perhaps someone should write the authors to make the point.

The paper by Chung et However, on reflection, you are right, and perhaps someone should write the authors to make the point.
al, cited here, I looked at a little more carefully, since many of the requisite “critical materials” listed therein piqued my interest. I was surprised, in the process of putting together this series to learn that indium had a role in wind turbines, and my attempt to get to the bottom of that question helped me to learn a great deal about indium that I didn’t know. It’s a very cool, if threatened, element. It also has some interesting and some surprising negative health effects, that we’ll discuss in parts 2 and 3. I note, that even though I’m mostly talking about the wind power so called “renewable energy” disaster, indium is a very much more important consideration in the solar industry (on which I won’t spent too much time, although I’ll touch on it in Part 2). This is because of the CIGS type thin film type solar cell. All four elements in those cells – which by the way are near the top in efficiency – are threatened to various degrees, copper, indium, gallium and selenium.

This entire series, by the way, started out as a brief reply to a comment in my last publication in this space, which was about the “problem” of mining uranium.

As for your comment on there being some “selection pressure” on the lifetime of wind turbines by looking at the decommissioned turbines as opposed to functional turbines, this too is a valid complaint, but I did make it clear in the text that six turbines have survived longer than the longest surviving decommissioned turbine.

The mean lifetime of the functioning and decommissioned turbines is not especially dramatic. In Part IV of this series, we will look at some interesting properties of permanent magnets, and we’ll see that wind turbine performance can and does degrade. It matters a great deal of the metals in a magnet in a generator are dedicated to a system operating at 90% capacity utilization or at 30% capacity utilization. Moreover the accessibility of these systems is important as well.

All this said, I very much doubt that the wind industry will be able to build machines that actually last 30 years. The majority of the turbines that failed in less than ten years were built in the 1990’s, but in two cases, there are examples that were built around 5 years ago.

The conceit of the “renewables will save us” squad is that so called renewable technology will continue to improve a la a “Moore’s law” analogy. If you’re an old person like me, and you’ve lived through a long series of breathless “solar breakthrough” announcements on newspapers, websites, blogs and even in the scientific literature, the issue of whether there are material limits to support these “breakthroughs” is very relevant to the plausibility of the hand waving projections of “100% renewables by 2050” (or 2090, or 2070, depending on when you are likely to die and thus avoid the onus of having your predictions held up to the light of reality.) We’ll examine this point in Part 5.

CIGS is not really a “breakthrough” if there isn’t enough indium or gallium or selenium to bring it to a 100 exajoule per year, or even a 10 exajoule per year scale. After more than half a century of unrestrained cheering, the solar industry is still not a one exajoule per year scale.

It is entirely clear to me – and it is the point of my efforts – that the only form of energy which can scale at the rate of energy demand increases – especially those associated with the just cause of eliminating poverty – is nuclear energy. It is also clear that the only form of energy that can scale at a rate large enough to reduce the use of dangerous fossil fuels is also nuclear energy.

A subsidiary point is that even if so called “renewable energy” is less obnoxious than fossil fuels, the expense of it, the reliability (or lack thereof) of it, and the low energy/mass ratio makes it wasteful to the point of obscenity to invest in it.

Thanks for your comment. If you would like to discuss anything further off line, you have my personal email.



Most of the series is already written, and I’m afraid my verbosity – which I’m sure you’re not alone in noticing – is what it is. I like detail, and frankly, sometimes my mind wanders into these nooks and crannies that I personally find fascinating, even though not everyone necessarily agrees..

My youngest son, who is by the way, smarter than I am and who is also a better writer than I am, says I should “liven up” my writing by including more anecdotes.

I’m not, I guess, very lively. I’m putting what I say out there for the use of anyone who finds it interesting.

No one person’s writing style fits a universal bill.

Presented with “Finnegan’s Wake,” some readers will plainly confess to being disinterested, some will think it’s the greatest thing ever and spend their graduate career writing theses about it, some will try to read it and not get it but pretend they did, and some will read it, maybe get some of it, but complain that it was a waste of time, and a few others will use it as a soporific.

I’m not claiming to be James Joyce, but I won’t be offended by any choice you make with respect to what I write.

I’m not, however, entirely sanguine about your “it doesn’t matter…” comments. It is not enough, where I am concerned, if the Japanese turn their reactors back on, or if the Germans will someday wise up…so on and so on. It’s not enough. I’m not convinced that our “decision makers” will recognize anything. Merkel is a trained scientist and she’s not lifted a finger to do the right thing. It makes no difference if she does what she does out of political cowardice or whether she does so out of “educated ignorance,” the pernicious result is the same: Resources that should belong to the future are being squandered. I am making this effort, irrespective of its merits, because I do fear fear itself; it matters very much to me if nearly 2 trillion dollars is spent each decade to throw down a rabbit hole; I’m not content to say “it will all work out, because it has to do so.” History is full of examples where things did not work out, often because people assumed they just would.


First, I do not have anything particularly intelligent to say at the moment about the article. I am a slow reader and need to think a lot about what I read before articulating any meaningful comment. But I still wanted to say thanks:
– for the wealth of information,
– the aboundant the references,
– the insightful and sometimes abrasive comments,
– the style.

Second, I just wanted to signal two typos (sorry for nit-picking):

1) The direct quotation from [14] mentions a quantity of “310
million tonnes of aluminium” to “[…] build the latest generations
of wind and solar facilities […]”.
Then two paragraph latter you mention “[…] in 2014, the world
produced 53,034,000 MT of aluminum.[20]”.
The source cited [20] seems to report in thousands of metric
tons, so that “53,034,000 MT” should probably read as “53 MT”
(approx.) instead. That in turn would work out to (approx.) 5.8
(say 6) years and not 7 years.

2) In the second paragraph from the end of the article, it says:
“Annual mined indium […] is on the order of 600 MT/year, […]”
It should probably be “600 tons/year”.
Lookup Indium.

Thanks again, and I really look forward for the rest.


So $1586B for 892 TWh of generation total wind & solar in 2014 acc to the BP statistical review 2015. That’s an avg of 102 GW of energy in 2014. Or $1568B/102GW = $15.4 per watt of avg energy. .

Add ~20% for often long distance transmission, oversized by 3 to 8X.

Add $2 per watt for natural gas backup power & peaking infrastructure/storage, since the wind & solar doesn’t replace significant capacity.

Add curtailment costs, where hydro must be spilled, nuclear dumped or fossil idled when wind & solar peaks with demand low.

Add wasted fuel, due to induced cycling inefficiencies in the fossil fuel generation shadowing the wind & solar.

Add the inefficiency of replacing efficient baseload CCGT or coal with cheap inefficient OCGT or diesel due to the economics of a grid with large amounts of fluctuating wind & solar.

And we are easily getting past $20 per watt of avg delivered energy, with wind & solar.

With India Nuclear PHWR @ 1.7/.9 = $1.90 per watt.

China Nuclear @ $1.7 to $2.8 per avg watt electrical energy.

Korea APR1400 exports @ $2.7 per avg watt.

Certainly western reactors can be built in scale at under $5 per avg watt.

And wind turbines lasting 12-15 yrs, solar 25 yrs and CF dropping substantially towards end of life. Vs Nuclear 60-100yrs lifespan.

Seems like we are paying ~6X more for ~1/4 the power by going wind & solar rather than nuclear.

And Hillary Clinton just announced her energy plan of expanding US solar to 140 GW capacity by end of 2020 up from the present 20 GW (18.3 PV, 1.7 CSP) a 700% increase. Even more expensive than the avg wind & solar above. I get $25 per watt avg output for latest utility scale solar pv in USA:

Agua Caliente Solar PV Project, $1.8B cost, $6.21/wpk, 626 GWh/yr, 24.6% CF, $25.2/wavg

Makes perfect sense really. Under our crony capitalist form of government, those with the most cash buy whatever government policy they want. Fossil has all of the cash so they buy the energy policy that will ensure their energy hegemony for a long time into the future. Wind & solar are very effective as greenwashing for fossil, misdirection from nuclear and guarantors of fossil generation. As well as push up the price of electricity to make energy substitution, fossil to electricity (i.e. electric vehicles, heat pumps) less economical. And the incredible wasted capital lost on the renewables is just dumped on the lowly consumer.



Please find attached my take on why Wind Turbines do not work. Use as and when, if you like. It is an important message.


Graeme Weber


Barry, I also attach a letter. I think it brings a different perseptive to the arguement.


Graeme Weber


Contributor “Cheap-energy” seems to be mixing his energy units (eg watt-hour) and his power units (eg watt). I’ve read this a couple of times and it is evident that he has something to say, but until I can separate the watts from the watt-hours, I won’t understand the post.

Perhaps a simple summary would help.


@DRC: Unfortunately for us, the citizens of the United States are all living with the English system of units. We’re sort of provincial here. I’m usually writing for people in my own country, and we use “MT” to mean “Metric Tons,” not “Million tons.” This is, however confusing to everyone else on the planet, and I probably should have specified what I meant by writing the word “metric” out.

An English unit ton is 2,000 pounds, which works out to close to a metric ton (which I have unfortunately written as MT).


An English ton. 1t = 2240 lbs. My first language.
One metric tonne is 2204.8 lbs. SI units are my second language.
The Americans call their ton 2000 lb. Others know it as a “short ton”. It is approximately 907 kg.

As far as I know, there is no such thing as a unit of mass called a T or an MT. That is purely an American invention, it seems. Even the Canadians have stepped away from it.



I’ve learned my lesson here. I’ll spell the word “metric” out.

What is worse than “metric tons” is “short tons.”

Many years ago, physics classes in the United States, at least in some places, used English units.

It was terrible, particularly in the days of slide rules as opposed to calculators and computers.


The comments above about turbine life expectancy made me curious, so I downloaded the data from the Danish register, and crunched some numbers.

For the decommissioned turbines, the average capacity factor varied between 9.1% and 25.2% (annual average) over the years with production reported, with a mean of 18.3%. Note that some of the production figures quoted appear to be ‘nominal’ figures, not actuals.

For the existing turbines, 12.5 – 24.7% (annual average), with a mean of 20.0%. So the turbines that are still running do slightly better than the ones that have been decommissioned.

Life-span, in years, averages to what’s in the article, though that seems skewed by a very large number of low-capacity turbines retired in 2002 (more than 1,200 turbines of less than 300w capacity, ages from 3-25 years). Excluding those from the mix, the average turbine life-span rises slightly to 17.8 years.



There is a very good reason why the capacity utilization of more modern wind turbines, although still poor, is higher than older turbines.

This has to do with, among other things, developments in magnet technologies, which we will discuss in part 4.


@singletoengineer just using avg watt output as a unit of energy rather than power, that is (watt-hrs per year) / 8760 hrs = avg watts output. Handy for comparing the real value of a low CF energy source like wind & solar with a high CF energy source like nuclear.


And I should have said: “Seems like we are paying ~6X more for ~1/4 the ENERGY by going wind & solar rather than nuclear.”


@ Cheap-Energy.
“Watts”, without the qualifier “annual average” or equivalent is inadequate when discussing energy.

Units of measure are the language of science and engineering. It is incredibly important to ensure that there is no ambiguity in meaning of defined terms, else the meaning is lost.

Data, calculations and results must therefore without exception be presented in consistent units such as:
1. International System, or SI, or Système International d’Unités (aka metric, although this is not entirely correct), derived from the former MKS or metre-kilogram-second system.
2. US units, where 1 US gallon is 16.6% smaller than its Imperial cousin. Even the ounce differs from its Imperial cousin. Note also, this is slowly shifting away from units such as the horsepower to kW (power) and from , thus requiring internal conversions.
3. Imperial (UK), which is still used widely for commerce but is progressively being removed from national weights and measures statutes. I grew up using this system but had to convert to SI part way through university.
4. cgs (now obsolete) European system which I needed to use when I first took up structural design professionally.

The U.S. Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 made the metric system “the preferred system of weights and measures for U.S. trade and commerce”, although this remains partially voluntary.

USA is said to be one of only three countries which have NOT fully adopted the SI system of units, the others being two powerhouses of knowledge and industry, Burma and Liberia.

In an international forum such as BNC, SI units are often preferable, because they are meaningful to a wider audience.

The second objection is that it is too easy to confuse nameplate ratings with energy sent out. If 80% conversion efficiency and 25% capacity factors are in play, then nameplate power from, say, a solar array, are 5 times the annual average power sent out.

I stand by my contention that undefined or ad-hoc power and energy units are meaningless and should be avoided.

Perhaps Cheap-Energy will convert and re-post using SI units.


@singletoneengineer, I understand your objection, seems obvious to me but than I am familiar with the simplification & abbreviation. So anyone who has difficulty please replace wavg, or watt of avg, or avg delivered watt with annual average watt of delivered energy defined by (watt-hrs generated in reference year) / 8760 hours/yr which is equivalent to (nameplate capacity of energy source in watts) multiplied by (capacity factor of the source in the reference year.)


Siemens has made a contract with Molycorp

And anyway a modern 6MW Siemens turbine uses 200 kg rare earth elements all together (all of which is accessible for recycling), so being concerned about that while you use pottery, computers, phones, cars etc. (very difficult to recycle) is simply missing the point.

Enercon does not use rare earth minerals at all for the magnets

There is a lot of research in switched reluctance generators and other generator designs that do not require rare earth elements.

Bottom line is that rare earth element are not instrumental for wind energy.

Indium has a lot of replacement possibilities with absolutely no possibilities of supply shortage so earlier overuse of Indium in wind turbines it is not really a serious concern.

As for copper HVDC cables uses less and less relative to capacity and there is ongoing research in copper free substitutes based upon graphene and CNT (but probably a good deal of time from the day where it can economically substitute copper).

10 years from today the present day top of the line wind turbines will most likely be considered just as bulky and inefficient as we today consider a wind turbine from 2005.

If the wind industry does not wean itself of scarce and/polluting materials it cannot scale and it cannot become cheap enough to replace fossil fuels.

In a few weeks the average 20 year wind PPA contract prices for 2014 will be published and we will see if the current development trend from 2008 to 2013 with 15,4% annual cost reduction is continued in 2014.



There is no notable difference in capacity factors between Siemens and Enercon that both use direct drive generators. So the advantage Siemens gets from using rare earth elements is less usage of materials for the generator.

A lighter nacelle is an advantage but still Enercon is able to market their wind turbines, which suggest that they are price competitive despite their policy not to use rare earth elements.

Siemens has publicly stated (only available in Danish) that they use rare earth elements because the use reduce the cost of the wind turbines, but has also declared that they could out phase rare earth elements if need be. Dysprosium is expected to be out phased anyway leaving only Neodymium in their design.


@original post

Just let me comment on the beginning of the post – the 1.8 Trillion dollar for 10 years for RE is big number. But word economy is big, it is very big. Every noticeable from global perspective economic activity will operate with this kind of numbers. Last year world GDP was 77 trillion dollars [1]. Mind you this is for one year not 10 years. Almost record, last year RE investment of 270B dollars, were 0.3% of world GDP. The RE investments over last 10 year were smaller than global “personal luxury market” [2] and comparable to global cosmetics market [3].


Original post call RE investments an “investment” implying that those are money sink without return. Then Cheep-energy writes that RE is 24x more expensive than nuclear (6x more cost per quarter energy produced). This is contrary to what a lot of reputable sources (Fraunhofer, investments banks) states that LCOE of wind is on par or better compared to fossil fuel/nuclear. They also do tend to say the solar is almost on par with fossil/nuclear. So who is right? In such cases I tend to do absurdly simplified 3 minutes zero order calculations with some googling. So:

RE investment was 1800B in last 10 years – per original post
The energy expenditure is about 8% GDP per year [4] – all energy not only electricity
The RE w/o hydro produced 1.2% of all world energy – not only electricity [5]
Assumption – The RE w/o hydro investment will yield energy for about 20yers
Assumption – most of RE from mentioned category that are in operation today was created in last 10 year.

So GDP (77000B) times energy cost (8%) times RE energy share (1.2%) ~= 74B, times 20 years ~= 1500B in revenue. Which is comparable to 1800B investment. This passes my smell test that solar/wind is already economically on pair (or close) to the fossil/nuclear. Note: above calculation are by no means accurate – this is just to tell which of the two different by order of magnitude numbers is more likely right (Cheap-energy number or Fraunhofer, investments banks numbers).

Conclusion – if criticizing solar/power – economic arguments are or quickly becoming not valid.

[2] – 2004-2014 sum = 1830B Euro
[3] – 2004-2014 sum = 1620B Euro with missing data extrapolation (the last available year repeated)


Many thanks for this David and I look forward to the rest of the series.

P.S. Since it’s the season for the picking of the nits (as Poirot might say), I’m not keen on “endemic” being used to mean “epidemic” or on MT. Smil uses it also … I guess it’s an American thing.

Renewable Energy is Killing Nuclear Power
No Hope for Nuclear
Written by Jeff Siegel
Posted July 22, 2015
renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage technologies are continuing to enjoy rapid cost reductions and huge increases in efficiencies and overall production. Nuclear? Not so much. In fact, when you look at the advancements that have been made in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage just over the past five years and then look at the lack of advancements we’ve seen in nuclear over the past 30 years, well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that any chance of meaningful nuclear power development has been completely thwarted by the new renewable energy revolution.
There’s no turning back now for renewables. Solar and wind in particular are unstoppable, and this insane growth is quickly extinguishing any hope for a nuclear renaissance.


I do enjoy the style, even tho it could be… um, tightened up a bit. And I look forward to the rest of the series. My point is that there are some positive aspects to the current climate/energy situation, and we shouldn’t focus so much on the negatives that total despair sets in. There will always be a minority who hold hardened and irrational views about nuclear energy, but there is also the silent majority of middle-of-the-road, reasonable people who are definitely persuadable about it.


Dear Geoff:

Everyone’s a critic. ;-)

Smil, who for my money is one of the best thinkers in energy today – even though I certainly disagree with him on many points – is quasi-Canadian. (I say, “quasi” as he was born in the now defunct country, Czechoslovakia.) Over the years, I’ve noted a kind of resigned bemusement in many Czech intellectuals; it’s often delicious.

Smil’s review of Lovins’ “Natural Capitalism” is one of the funniest bits of cynical wry humor I’ve ever read.

Click to access smil-article-2000-pdr2000.pdf

Canadian of course, is “American” in a loose sense, but most people when using “American” mean citizens of the United States. In this country we never refer to Canadians as “Americans,” and I don’t believe they call us “United Statians,” although maybe they should.

Most scientific conversation here is SI, but very often engineering particularly civil engineering, driving, buying commodities, etc, is not. It’s kind of awful actually. But I doubt anyone in politics today here has the kind of political courage to join the rest of the planet. Political courage is in very, very, very, very short supply here.

I certainly can’t do chemistry in US units, what we call “English units.” I’d love to kiss miles, pounds, ounces, etc goodbye.

I did once, however, hear a defense of the “foot” that involved the fact that base 12 systems are easier to divide than base ten systems, since 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 are all factors of 12, whereas 1, 2, and 5 is relatively weak when 10 is compared to 12. (It doesn’t help the ounce and pound” however. Perhaps it would have been better for humanity to have evolved with 6 fingers on each hand rather than 5. (There is a dominant 6 finger gene within the human race, but unhappily for the “foot” it’s still rather rare.) This factoring business is part of the reason we have 360 degrees in some circles, even though units of pi are superior. I have understood, if I recall correctly that the Babylonians and Mayans were base 12 kind of guys and gals.

In any case, I seem to have gotten in a world of trouble for using MT. On the EIA website one used to see MMT to mean million metric tons.

I should, in fact, be more international when writing for our more civilized brethren in Australia and elsewhere. I apologize again for being American.

Finally I note that the confusion between power units and energy units is a regular feature of abuse by the “renewables will save us,” crowd. It makes them seem less futile. No matter how many times one calls them out on this scam they just ignore it, the reason being that, well, they’re running a scam, a very expensive scam as we see, but a scam all the same.

Thanks for your comment.


Jan Zibro: I think we made it clear that the 1.8 trillion dollars was over a ten year period.

I think we also established that the amount of money resulted in the wind industry producing less than 2 exajoules of primary energy out of 560 exajoules of human energy demand.

It happens that the solar industry – which has an awful toxicological profile by the way – doesn’t quite make it to two of exajoules of primary energy either.

This is, by the way, after about a half a century of cheering for these absurd affectations.

Now, if the point is to raise a comparison with the cosmetics industry, it’s a point well taken. Both industries, cosmetics and so called “renewable energy” are useless to the future of humanity, both are consumer affectations that are for show, but produce little value to the sustainability of human and other life on this planet. Arguably both are drags on the future.

By the way (2 + 2)/560 is (we’re being generous with the twos) roughly 0.7%. Mind you that to produce this less than 1%, it requires redundant infrastructure, a cost that is routinely ignored in this cosmetic renewable propaganda. If 0.7% of our energy was unavailable tomorrow, would it matter?

Nuclear energy produces – and has done so for many years – between 25 and 30 exajoules of primary energy every year, this while under continuous attack by people who generally know nothing at all about nuclear energy. A little math: Which is more significant, 25 exajoules or 4 exajoules?

A comment on your “references:”

The anti-nuke organization “Union of Concerned ‘Scientists'” consists in large part of people who are not scientists, (although some members are scientists, if not very good scientists. I mean the fact that the “concerned scientist” professional anti-nuke Edwin Lyman has a Ph.D. in physics from Cornell doesn’t automatically exclude him from being a fool nonetheless.)

Similarly, if one names an organization the “Institute for Energy Research” it doesn’t make it authoritative on the subject of energy. A three minute google to their webpage – I’m not sure it’s worth more – shows it to be some kind of organization offering “free market is wonderful” claptrap, which personally, I find uninteresting and useless in the concept I am trying to advance: The right of future generations to exist with decent living conditions. The “Free Market” doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the future; it doesn’t even qualify as immoral; it’s merely amoral, which in many ways is worse.

The subtext of my personal interest in energy has very much to do with ethics and thus I am unswayed by appeals to amoral people and organizations.

As for investment bankers, it’s quite possible that most of them are idiots. As I recall, in 2008 people all around the world had to fork over a trillion bucks or so because they got confused by all the paper they were throwing around. Let’s be clear about this too, their “bailout” hurt a lot of innocent people in a big way, which in no way seems to have dissuaded the bailed out investment bankers from giving themselves bonuses to reward their self declared prescience and “hard work.” One has the impression that they are not, in fact, very good with numbers. One could easily, without too much effort, take a clue by comparing the electricity rates in France with those in Germany and/or Denmark. Apparently this simple expedient seems to have escaped the “investment bankers” you say support so called “renewable energy.”

I’m sorry, but I get very tired of the circular reasoning (your reference 5) that attempts linking once more to another website about how wonderful renewable energy is will prove that renewable energy is wonderful. If I claim that L. Ron Hubbard is not God, and someone produces a link to a Scientology website that “proves” that L. Ron Hubbard is God, this does not make L. Ron Hubbard God. I have pretty well convinced myself that the entire “renewable energy” industry does not actually produce as much energy as is required to promote it and install its infrastructure. I logged on to the “ren21” website, for as long as I could look at it without throwing up, at night. It’s dead still hot here in New Jersey, where I live, not even a breeze. What’s the chance that the website, and the computer that I’m using to view it, and comment on it, is powered by so called “renewable energy?” Happily 50% (roughly) of the current in my computer tonight comes from nuclear energy, the rest, regrettably from dangerous natural gas, the waste of which is being indiscriminately dumped in the planetary atmosphere.


Later in this series, in Part 5, when we examine the work of Stanford’s Professor of Civil Engineering, Mark Z. Jacobson, renewables advocate and visceral anti-nuke, we will compare the credibility of blogs – and let’s be clear that I am a blogger and nothing more – with so called “peer reviewed” journals.

To be even more clear, Mark Z. Jacobson publishes extensively in high prestige peer reviewed scientific journals.

So you are certainly free to produce higher quality references to support your affection for the so called “renewable energy” industry, if you are willing to do a little bit of work.

The fact that Mark Z. Jacobson, produces papers in high quality journals however, does not immediately accord him with wisdom or a lock on “truth.” To be clear, even though I’m merely a blogger, I certainly feel free to make a case – which one may accept or reject – that Mark Z. Jacobson is pretty clueless. I hate to tip my hand, but I will: There’s a very amusing comment on one of Jacobson’s arguments that Diablo Canyon should be closed because it’s “too dangerous” from Nobel Laureate Burton Richter in the primary scientific literature. It’s a back of the envelope calculation that mirrors Jim Hansen and Pushker A. Kharecha more carefully thought out paper on the fact that nuclear energy saves lives:


“Cheap-energy”: for the nth time: power and energy are different concepts, with different units and are not interchangeable.

An “average watt”, which you refer to in the text as “energy” is simply silly – if it has meaning at all, you appear to mean average power, but perhaps not… doubt remains. At the least, it is frustrating, confusing and error-prone. Do you want to be taken seriously?

What’s difficult about using the words “power” and “energy” and their abbreviations (units) consistently so that others can understand what you are writing?


Jens: I would like to thank you for inspiring this entire series with your comment about Ugo Bardi in my last offering in this space.

Although you didn’t cite Ugo Bardi’s work directly, but simply informed us that he had done a “study,” I was, in fact, able to track down his paper on the subject, and will discuss it in part 2 and part 3 of this series.

I certainly learned an awful lot writing this series, especially about permanent magnets, which we’ll discuss in part 4.

I would advise you that your claims about lanthanides, (aka “rare earths”) in wind turbines would be stronger if you provided references as opposed to mere assertions that somewhere something is written in Danish. There are plenty of references on the subject of lanthanides and wind turbines, more certainly than I could read in a few months, although I have, in fact, now read many such references. I am aware of efforts to displace dysprosium, but this doesn’t mean that dysprosium free wind turbines will function as well – particularly in terms of lifetime – as those that contain it. Dysprosium actually slightly decreases the energy product of the magnets in which it is present. It’s function is not to make the magnets stronger, but rather to prevent them from demagnetizing in use. Please wait for part 4 to discuss this.

The primary scientific literature is chock full of references on the interplay of magnets and the materials which comprise them. It’s really a fascinating subtopic of materials science. This said, in part 2, which I am now working to modify, we will not focus merely on lanthanides, but rather on large sections of the periodic table, however doing so by focusing on indium as a representative “endangered element.” The point is not so much about indium per se, or dysprosium or neodymium. It is about the limits of all minerals and the elements comprising them.

I’m quite convinced, by the way, that wind turbines, if not solar cells, could be built without indium, but if they are not built with indium, something would need to replace it. The indium is there for a reason. The question is, given that wind turbines in general are already miserable performers dependent on access to dangerous fossil fuels, is it really worth it to wander about the periodic table haphazardly with the risk that the replacement will be less effective than the original? Does a game of “periodic table whack-a-mole” assure anyone of a secure future for coming generations, or is it merely an exercise in wishful thinking designed to prove that the unsustainable is sustainable?

It’s nice to see you here.
Is it worth it to bet the planetary atmosphere on wind energy when that industry can’t even produce enough electricity to power the aluminum industry?

Overall I will advance an energy/mass density argument.


singletoneengineer, power and energy are not different concepts, power is the rate of change of energy. And it also is used in an imprecise way. With our AC electrical grid, power is actually varying from zero to peak over a 8 msec interval. With many additional spikes on top of that, due to switching inductive and capacitive loads. We just normally ignore those fluctuations and commonly refer to electric power as an average over an interval of some seconds.

The general public, that is 99% of the population, understands watts & kilowatts, so that’s what I like to use. Talking about GWh or Exajoules or MTOE you might as well be talking ergs or electron-volts, as far as John Q Public is concerned. Avg power in kw or watts is something people understand.

For instance Canada gross primary energy consumption in 2014 is 333 MTOE – a commonly used energy unit. If you break that down to BTU/yr/per capita – really not easy for the general public to understand. If you say that’s an avg power of 12.4 kw, per person, people understand that. Maybe you don’t but Joe six-pack does. And that is very relevant, because most people seem to think supplying our world’s energy is just a case of sticking up some solar panels on your roof and every factory just needs some solar panels and wind turbines. When they realize that their family of four share of energy is a continuous 50kw, that is sobering.

And commonly world energy consumption is listed at 17.7 TW, rather than specifying 560 Exajoules in 2012. I like the former method more than the latter. Just a quick look at that, standard nuclear power plant generating 1 GW of power @ 33% eff so 3 GW thermal. So 17,700/3 = 6000 NPPs to supply the world’s primary energy. Being precise, like you insist on, is fine for an engineering analysis, but in fact is really just confusing for general energy discussion that hopes to educate lay people.
As a new contributor to BNC you may be unaware of the commenting rules. I have let this comment through but please read the Comments Policy before posting again.
Thank you.


@ Cheap-energy.
I will leave it to someone else to convince other contributors how and when to use the international language of engineering and science in advertising, politics or sales, where truth is not always the primary objective.

To pretend that so-called uneducated lay people are somehow assisted along the path leading from ignorance to knowledge by using a confused blancmange of terms is intellectually offensive and unhelpful to those same lay people. It stands in the way of understanding.

For reasons known only to themselves, some people, when discussing energy options are careful NOT to accurately transmit understanding. Is this because they prefer not to be understood; maybe in the belief that confused people will accept what is said uncritically? Such writings come from Alice’s Wonderland, a place where the Mad Hatter demands that words mean only what he says that they mean.

I have been for many years a professional engineer in the power industry, managing multidisciplinary teams in a range of environments. To suggest that I do not understand the difference between energy and power or the nature of alternating current is an idle insult. Of course I do.

Closing: This is a blog founded on the principles of science, demanding rational argument and citation of factual sources. Consequently, it is not optional to use or to discard the international language and conventions of science. They are as essential and universal as the air that we breathe.



This is the best I can do in english regarding the phase out of dysprosium in Siemens Wind turbines.

I enclose a PPT by the former Siemens Wind Power CTO Henrik Stiesdal where the development over the last 30 years is presented ending at the then new 6MW from Siemens. (Now upgraded to 7MW).

Click to access permanent_magnet_generators_for_wind_turbines__henrik_stiesdal.pdf

I agree that wind power should wean itself of any poisonous or scarce resource asap.

As for the practice with graphite electrodes in aluminum smelters more stringent control of voltage rather than current can reduce the PFC formation and if proper legislation was put in place I believe it would be feasible to capture PFC before it exits the smelter plant.

Finally as I know you are great fan of MSR I would point out that Ionic liquids also can dissolve aluminum and could become a future energy efficient and less polluting way to produce aluminum.


@Jens Stubbe
Clarification please: are you saying that ionic liquids can dissolve Al2O3?
If so, why doesn’t Al production already use them?
If not, what use would they be?

You seem to have neglected the obvious question:
Why do wind turbines use so much indium?


It might interest the reader to know that wind and solar are being investigated over at the “Science of Doom” blog


@ Eamon:
Thanks for the “science of doom” blog reference, but what is your point? What is the new information?

A casual reading of this site suggests to me that it is a somewhat amateurish attempt to discuss climate and energy matters from the perspective of an enthusiastic amateur, perhaps one with a skeptical stance.

Perhaps you could identify some posts which investigate “wind and solar”. The top few posts say nothing about wind.


Hi Aidon

Ionic liquids are being investigated for several mining operations including Tarsand and more to the topic also rare earth elements.

Here is a quick search

Here more specific about Tarsand

Here is more on aluminum extraction with Ionic liquids,

However I have not heard of largescale application of Ionic liquids in mining operation insofar. My best guess is that despite the promising research cost are too high.

The advantage of ionic liquids are akin to the advantage of molten salt in reactors where it is possible to remove unwanted byproducts whereof some are actually valuable materials in their own right.



I was posting it because it is a well-respected climate change blog, largely with a focus on atmospheric physics.

Perhaps because of that focus, the posts on renewables may cover ground already covered here – but they are a genuine attempt to crunch the numbers on the renewable options. That’s why I thought it might be of interest to posters here – some Promethian outreach could help.

The Post “Renewable Energy I” on July 30th covers wind, “Renewables II – Solar and Free Lunches” on August 3rd does what it says on the tin, as does the latest “Renewables III – US Grid Operators’ Opinions”.


Apologies for my late comment but geothermal whilst seen as a renewable has limitations similar to those of hydro in that typically it uses ground water as its energy source
I am reminded of the geothermal facility at Calpine in California US. This facility originally used the natural ground water as its power source to provide baseload power into the grid. They expanded it to the extent that they ran out of ground water. The facility operates today using recycled water from nearby cities sewage.
Hence is Geothermal sustainable?
Regards Tony Carden


How much power are renewables generating in the US?
I looked up the sources and their annual output as compiled by our Department of Energy ( The results are plotted in the following two graphs. The upper one shows the “Other” sources, the lower one “Wind and Solar.”

Looking at the four sources in the upper graph – hydro, wood, waste and geothermal – there has not been a worthwhile upward trend in any of them for two decades. Their combined output is lower today than it was in the decades past.

Three of the four sources provide a minuscule amount of energy in comparison to hydro. Two of the three weak ones, wood and waste, are not classified as clean sources for their burning emits CO2 along with “real” pollutants. The legitimate clean output of the three then originates only from the geothermal source. It generates 1.9 GW, essentially unchanged in decades.

The fourth source – hydro – provides 29 GW which is 94 % of the 30.9 GW yield from this group of clean, renewable sources. To increase hydro, it would have to either rain more or we would have to reduce irrigation (dams often serve both purposes). The rain is beyond our control and the irrigation – are we willing to cut down on fresh veggies?

It should also be pointed out that these four sources cannot be claimed a result of the last decades’ financing of renewables for they existed long before the clean-energy budgets. Despite, the Dep’t of Energy considers them to be not only a relatively recent addition but also growing rapidly. The DOE annual report contains the following statements that look as if worded to impress the success of renewable policies on the casual reader:

Between 2005 and 2015, electricity generation from solar increased 48 fold, from 550 GWh to 26,473 GWh.
Biomass increased 18.3% from 54,277 to 64,191 GWh, and geothermal increased 14.1% from 14,692 to 16,767 GWh. (Note: Biomass is Wood and Waste in the graphs.)

True numbers, but one should ask how much is 14.1 % of very little? And 48 times more of nothing may not be all that much either. And the decrease in hydro is not revealed at all.

Switching now to the lower graph, it illustrates the growth of the two remaining renewables -wind and solar (W&S). Their output combined lists 24 GW, somewhat less than the old-timer hydro. Wind growth is shown slowing down while solar, the smaller of the two, turned linear for 2015.

Wind power’s growth is slowing down the last two years most likely because the best sites for windmills have already been exploited, the end-of-life mills are being torn down, subsidies are declining, and some of the enthusiasm for windmills departed with former DOE Secretary Dr. Chu. The new Secretary, Dr. Muniz, believes in solar.

Let’s now consider the contribution of the renewables’ combined 55 GW on the scale of the U.S. energy usage of 467 GW for electricity and 3260 GW for primary energy in 2015. The W&S would have to produce additional 412 GW for 100 % renewable electricity generation. Should electric cars become ubiquitous (they will not – see they will consume another 110 GW lifting the total to 522 GW from the 2015 level.

Can W&S impact global climate change measurably? Apparently not. There is also no chance that the US, or individual states, will meet the repetitious commitments for 20, 50 or 100 percent of energy to “be derived from renewable, clean sources” in the usual 5, 10 or 20 years timetable, numbers repeatedly proposed by the facts-ignorant politicians and prejudiced media in cohorts with the “Big Wind and Big Solar” interests.


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