Free as the wind by mattsteinglass
July 19, 2008, 2:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The thing about wind energy, as Bob Herbert reports Al Gore told him over the phone before his recent speech, is that it’s free; the damn stuff just keeps blowing.

“We need to make a big, massive, one-off investment to transform our energy infrastructure from one that relies on a dirty, expensive fuel to fuel that is free,” said Mr. Gore. “The sun and the wind and geothermal are not going to run out, and we don’t have to export them from the Persian Gulf, and they are not increasing in price.”

Back in college, I took a core course with the nickname “physics for dummies” in which the professor seemed to have a sideline in promoting nuclear energy. I was and remain much more pro-nuke than most liberals, but the arguments being employed in that course were economically illiterate: they relied on pointing out over and over the vastly larger quantity of energy per unit of fuel you can get out of nuclear reactors than out of chemical combustion, solar panels or hydroelectric dams. Finally, I confronted a teaching assistant in section with this point.

“Why do we care how mechanically inefficient solar energy is?” I asked. “It’s infinite. Who cares how efficient something is when there’s an infinite supply?”

The teaching assistant made some point about the fact that producing solar panels creates environmental waste, which was fair enough, but still didn’t address the basic point.


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