Monday, February 26, 2007
Hannity & Colmes led their program tonight with this story. The representatives from the Left made all kinds of excuses, saying Mr. Gore is buying 100% "green" energy and is installing solar panels to help reduce his carbon-based energy use, etc., etc.
Solar panels have been around for a long time. Why is this champion of the environment just now getting around to installing them?
Mr. Gore may be buying "green" electricity, but the physics of the power grid are such that the energy he's buying may never actually reach his meter. What he's really doing is buying "green" electricity in the same amount of his actual kwh usage, which electricity gets dumped onto the grid, possibly at times other than when Mr. Gore is actually using it. If the grid didn't exist, he'd have to produce the "green" electricity right there on his property, and build enough generating capacity to meet his maximum load. Odds are that would cost him a lot more than the $18,000 per year that comprises electricity's share of his total bill. There are, after all, economies of scale.
Moreover, by using electricity, Mr. Gore's adding to overall demand, and if Mr. Gore is connected to the grid, the power company has to have generation on line capable of meeting his share of that demand. One issue with "green" sources of electricity is that they often don't produce energy when it is needed. For example, solar only generates electricity during daylight hours; wind generators only produce electricity when the wind is blowing. Electricity must be used as it is produced, it cannot be stored. (It can be converted to other forms of energy, for example chemical or mechanical, which can be stored in batteries or in pumped-storage hydroelectric facilities and then reconverted to electricity, but such conversion is costly and results in significant losses of energy in both directions.) In the electric utility industry, "demand" translates to power plants on line and available to generate electricity when someone turns the lights on, while "energy" translates to fuel immediately available to be burned, water behind dams, wind or sunshine.
According to the linked item, about 40% of Mr. Gore's energy bill is for natural gas. Last time I looked, there were no commercially viable "green" sources of natural gas. Pretty much all of it comes out of the ground. Oh, there are some relatively small scale methane recovery projects that obtain gas from landfills and cow manure, but they are not meaningful in the big picture. The only way to cut back on natural gas usage is to conserve. We don't know how well insulated Mr. Gore's house is, nor do we know whether he's using the most efficient water heaters. (Space heating and water heating are the two biggest uses of natural gas in most homes. Heating swimming pools and spas can be big uses, too. Pool heating is a very good function for direct solar heating, but it's not clear from the article whether Mr. Gore has a pool or, if he does, how he heats it.
All this tells me that Mr. Gore is rather behind the curve, considering he's a poster child for the global warming crowd. As someone said, he talks the talk, but so far he's not real good at walking the walk.
In the interest of full disclosure, in my checkered past I worked in the gas and electric utility industry, and the subject matter of this post comprised a large part of my conversations every day at work.