Green Energy crusaders are threatening India’s security - II
by Ramtanu Maitra on 09 Sep 2021 1 Comment

The Shortcomings of Green Energy


It will be difficult, but necessary, to resist the green energy crusaders’ pressure to abandon fossil fuels precipitously. It is universally accepted that neither solar nor wind are more efficient energy sources than CO2-emitting fossil fuels. One may wonder why the crusaders are not developing concrete plans to install zero-emission nuclear power plants, which have proven to be the most reliable of all power-generating sources. To me, this gives the game away. The pushers of net-zero emissions are promoting subsidized wind and solar intermittent electricity and spreading the falsehood that renewables can reduce CO2 emissions and, therefore, prevent the planet from imminent immolation. In essence, the green crusaders demand that the poor of this world must sacrifice to save the planet, forsaking their efforts to get out of dire poverty. (The “hockey stick” curve obscures Earth’s CO2 history: Ronald Stein: CFACT: April 15th, 2021)


It is important to recognize the absurdity of imposing solar and wind as future prime sources for power generation to sustain an 8 billion–plus population on this Earth. The main factors for India and other developing nations in adopting a power generating source are affordability and reliability. Solar and wind could, over the years, be made more affordable; but their unreliability can never be wished away. The trillions of dollars we are preparing to pour in to boost renewable energy capacity would only increase the risk of more blackouts, causing interruptions to human lives and damage to productive and high-tech industrial and commercial facilities.


To ensure a dependable supply of electrical power based on wind and solar, supplementary reliable electricity sources will be needed to step in whenever output drops. That costs money. Today this is done mainly with the help of auxiliary gas turbines, diesel generators or - when nuclear plants are available - by “load-following” that constantly adjusts nuclear plant output. But load-following can work as long as the ratio of nuclear to wind-plus-solar is large enough and not the other way around.  


The second basic problem is the low power density of wind and solar energy. Aside from hurricanes and tornadoes, wind is a diffuse form of energy that requires large areas to “harvest” it. The same applies to sunlight on the surface of the Earth. Compared to nuclear plants or state-of-the-art fossil fuel plants, wind and solar require hundreds of times as many individual units, hundreds of times more land area and tens of times larger amounts of steel, concrete and other materials to produce a given average power output. (Wind and solar reliance would black out the US: Jonathan Tennenbaum: Asia Times: March 8 2021)


After decades of investment in solar and wind, observers have noted that the output of wind turbines and solar cells fluctuates over a wide range on time scales of minutes, depending on weather conditions. Solar cell output varies depending on cloud cover and time of day, and is zero at night. In India months of monsoon cloud cover virtually wipes out any potential of solar power to be the main year-round supplier of power to most parts of the country.


Wind is equally erratic. Due to the variations in wind strength, the average output of an onshore wind turbine is generally only about a third of its maximum rated capacity (the figure is about 38 percent for an offshore turbine). About 2000 typical-size 1.5-megawatt wind turbines are needed to generate as much average electric power as a standard one-gigawatt nuclear power plant. To exemplify the inefficiency of a wind turbine, one should take a look at GE’s Heliade X: It is about 850 feet in height (that is about the height of an 80-story building) with a nominal rating of 12 MW. However, on average, it produces less than 5MW of power - a miniscule amount compared to the requirement of even the tiniest village in India.


But that is not all. An equally disturbing and unaffordable aspect of wind and solar farms is that they occupy huge areas of landmass where nothing else can be situated. For instance, a 1,000-MW wind farm would require approximately 85,240 acres of land (approximately 133 square miles). Accounting for a range of capacity factors (32-47 percent), between 1,900 MW and 2,800 MW of wind capacity would be required to produce the same amount of electricity as a 1,000-MW nuclear plant in a year.


The land needed for wind energy to produce the same amount of electricity in a year as a 1,000-MW nuclear plant is between 260 square miles and 360 square miles. A 1,000-MW solar photovoltaic (PV) facility would require about 8,900 acres (approximately 14 square miles). Accounting for a range of capacity factors (17-28 percent), between 3,300 MW and 5,400 MW of solar PV capacity is required to produce the same amount of electricity as a 1,000-MW nuclear plant in a year. The amount of land needed by solar to produce the same power as 1,000 MW of nuclear capacity in a year is between 45 and 75 square miles. (Land Needs for Wind, Solar Dwarf Nuclear Plant’s Footprint: Nuclear Energy Institute: July 9 2015)


For a populated nation such as India this is wholly non-viable. Even if you grab large chunks of agricultural land from the farmers, as the authorities have to do in India, problems do not end. Once power is generated, it needs to be distributed to the consumers - domestic, commercial, industrial, military and other consumers. Here the role of the electricity grid system comes into play. The only purpose of any electricity grid’s existence is to transport electricity from generation sites to consumption sites. The main challenge is to keep the system in balance, i.e. to keep the energy supplied in balance with the electricity demand along the grid.


In an electric system, the energy contained in generators and motors at power stations and industrial facilities provides inertia as they rotate at the same frequency as the electricity grid. This effectively acts as a buffer against rapid change. If demand for power goes up suddenly, the frequency of the grid tends to decrease. This happens when everyone turns on their energy hungry devices (air conditioning, heating, etc.) at the same time, frequency drops. If there’s more supply than demand, frequency rises. System operators, then, are engaged in a constant frequency balancing act. In extreme cases, utilities lighten the load to avoid damaging grid equipment by disconnecting neighborhoods.


This remedial step might keep the rest of the network in operation. But those who live in the disconnected areas must go without power. This is known as load shedding. You can also get a domino effect. If frequency goes out of control, one part of the system must shut down. Indians have long experienced it and will experience it more often in the future if wind and solar power flood into the grid without adequate battery storage facilities. In other words, deploying renewable sources will add huge challenges facing the grid. (Grid inertia: why it matters in a renewable world: Archie Robb: Renewable Energy World: Oct 25 2019)


As in the case of all power generation sources, the electrical grid needs to adapt to any new generation. For traditional largescale generation sites, such as thermal, nuclear or large hydro, the grid is usually reinforced to cope with the new generation and small-scale generation is integrated into the current grid. There are advantages in connecting the generation close to the end user, namely reduced transmission losses. But for solar and wind, localization of generating units is limited - for example, wind turbines have to be placed in windy areas and not necessarily where it is most suitable for the grid. Solar power is generated where the land is available, and that could be a distance away from the electrical grid, resulting in a need for new transmission lines. (Challenges of integrating solar and wind into the electricity grid: David Steen, Joel Goop, Lisa Goranson, Shemsedin Nursbo and Magnus Brolin)


Another serious shortcoming involves storage. During one fully sunny day, solar power generation could exceed the amount that is in demand. The same goes for wind power on an ideal windy day. At night, of course, solar power does not produce anything and on a calm day, wind power produces nothing. The solution that the promoters of green energy are talking about is the storage of excess power for use when these power sources do not generate any power. To begin with, the electricity grid would have to be designed to best use wind and solar when they’re available, and to store the excess when those resources are providing more electricity than needed, a fundamental shift from the way most of the system is managed today. While fossil fuel and nuclear power plants can be ramped up or down as needed, solar and wind are less controllable sources, which is why energy storage is an essential part of planning for a grid that relies on solar and wind.


One of the storage systems that proponents of green energy often talk about is the pumped hydroelectric, which requires a set of water reservoirs at varying heights, but such structures are geographically limited. Hence, the only way the storage issue can be resolved is through use of batteries.


However, herein lies the problem. Making solar and storage work at a large scale will require billions of tons of materials to be mined, transported and recycled. These materials include silica, copper, lead, zinc and lithium, as well as enormous quantities of rare-earth elements and cobalt. All these processes will have a significant impact on the land and population and national security. Moreover, most countries do not have deposits of these materials. (A Quest of Power: Robert Bryce: Hatchett Book Group: 2020)


Reason Must Prevail


It is evident from available facts presented here that the green energy program promoted to replace fossil fuels to achieve net-zero emission during the coming decades is not only intermittent and disruptive, but making it work will involve a whole range of additional new investments. Solar, like wind, requires millions of tons of minerals and metals; energy storage lithium needs are huge; and upgrading and building new electrical grids will take decades and would cost untold trillions.


There are other problems that India must consider. To begin with, in acting in response to what some consider the right measures to counter the ongoing climate change we cannot ignore broader environmental concerns. Some scientists have pointed out that large solar arrays could have some side effects. Aixue Hu, a climate change research scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, conducted a study (published in Nature Climate Change) that attempted to predict the climatic effects of solar arrays.


Hu states: “Solar panels change the way sunlight is reflected and absorbed by the Earth. Any radiation they take in is radiation that’s not being absorbed by the Earth. This leads to a cooling effect in the region surrounding the array. In fact, the first two simulations in this study, which assumed solar panel installations throughout the world’s desert and urban areas, produced a 2-degree Celsius regional cooling in the desert regions. This cooling was also associated with a 20 percent decrease in precipitation in the deserts. Other, slightly broader changes in precipitation and wind patterns occurred as a result in the regions surrounding the deserts...” (Surprising study finds that solar energy can also cause climate change (a little): Chelsea Harvey: The Washington Post: Nov 2.2015)


Then, there is the land issue. India is presently investing heavily in physical infrastructure development to lay the foundation for a strong agro-industrial economy. However, availability of adequate land remains India’s single biggest constraint. Delays in land acquisition lead to cost overruns, dismaying the private sector to invest in infrastructure development projects. Land acquisition through compulsory takings or through legal fiat of ‘eminent domain’ has been a prevalent practice in India. However, in recent years, compulsory acquisition of land has come under scrutiny for widespread conflicts over issues of displacement and inadequate compensation to the land losers. (Infrastructure development: Current bottlenecks and way forward: Meenakshi Sinha: Ideas for India: February 19, 2020).


Swayed by the promoters of green energy, India has set a target of installing about 450 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030; and of that almost 60 percent, or 280 GW, will come from solar. That means that about 25 GW of solar power installations must be implemented every year throughout this decade. What would that amount to in terms of land requirement for accommodating that amount of solar power?  As was pointed out earlier in this article, installation of a 1-GW solar photovoltaic facility would require about 14 square miles of land.


Using basic arithmetic, 280 GW of solar power will require about 3,900 square miles of land that will remain permanently unused. This large chunk of land will be over and above India’s other land requirements for new roads and railroads, urbanization, setting up new industrial and agro-industrial facilities, new healthcare institutions, new educational institutions et al. Moreover, from what is known to us and pointed out by Meenakshi Sinha in her article cited earlier, delays in procuring such large parcels of land could be massive, with recurring huge cost overruns. The delay will also effectively slow down enhancement of overall power generation capacity, crippling India’s economy further.


But these are not the only impediments to green energy. There is yet another major issue. Today, various estimates show China has a complete chokehold on solar manufacturing. Solar panels are made from polysilicon that gets turned into ingots and wafers that get turned into solar cells that are then wired up and plugged into solar modules (panels) that are built by machines, usually made in China. China controls 64 percent of polysilicon material worldwide; the United States has a 10 percent market share.


After polysilicon come the solar ingots and solar wafers. China’s share of that worldwide is nearly 100 percent. China’s global share of solar cell manufacturing is 80 percent. Chinese industries have repeatedly used the domination of one part of a supply chain to drive foreign competition out of other sections of the chain, making Beijing the indispensable link. (How China’s Solar Industry Is Set Up To Be The New Green OPEC: Kenneth Rapoza: Forbes: March 14 2021) In other words, if India wants to plunge right ahead to replace its fossil fuel power sources to meet the demands set forth by the Western powers, a large part of India’s electrical power generation plan will become wholly dependent on China for years to come. Not altogether a pleasant thought, is it?


Finally, I would ask readers to pay attention to the inexactness of climate science and be aware of media headlines that trumpet “consensus among the scientists.” Again, there is no doubt that the Earth has been getting warmer since 1750. However, the human contribution during these 270 years in raising the Earth’s temperature is 1 degree centigrade, according to the IPPC report. What needs to be emphasized here is that in their crusade to force India to toe the line, the green energy crusaders have chosen to ignore that India, committed to  providing its citizens a less-arduous life in the future, is also facing serious military and economic challenges from its  aggressive  and equally populous neighbor, China - the same country that has made its economy the second-largest  economy in the world by installing over the decades a mammoth coal-fueled power sector with the capacity to generate almost four times as much power as India’s overall present capacity. The resulting economic imbalance between these two countries with almost equal populations poses serious economic and security-related threats to India.


To meet that threat and establish conditions for speedier development in the future, India needs a much larger and a reliable power sector. Large-scale input in its electrical power sector would help to expand its economy, provide adequate power to all the people, enhance productive employment, and broaden the industrialization process to meet the needs of an efficient commercial, infrastructural, transportation and defense sectors. One estimate shows that to achieve that end in the next 20 years, India needs to add a power system equivalent to that of the European Union to its existing system.



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