Cars and Power Grid

Cars and Power Grid

As Alameda transitions to carbon neutrality, the true cost of an “all-green” grid is hidden by clever accounting and green language. The basics are these: peak energy demand (evenings) doesn’t match peak supply (midday, when, barring cloud cover, sunshine is most intense and the wind blows as a result), so natural gas must provide backup. However, utilities determined to rely strictly on wind and solar must contract to pay for the energy that overwhelms the grid at midday, so they have to store the excess in batteries or use it in niche solutions like pumping water uphill from a storage reservoir before running it through hydroelectric turbines.

But batteries are expensive, and too many are needed to perform a simple task; and, like solar panels and wind turbines, they wear out, presaging a waste disposal challenge of toxic proportions. Assuming a water re-pumping facility were feasible in one locale, it would be too far away from another to be economical, but the point is moot for environmentalists against dams. If Alameda phases out gas stoves and furnaces, the electric replacements will still draw power from gas or coal somewhere.

Natural gas is only one-fifth the cost of renewables, but even though it is cleaner than coal and eminently plentiful, green enthusiasts want it obsolete. Needless to say, it is also far cleaner than the dung and wood that many in the developing world still use for cooking, but advocates of renewables don’t seem to concern themselves with distant realities, not when they can paint an idyllic portrait of home with bike paths, expensive electric vans, and charging stations silhouetted by another saffron sunrise. If they are so concerned about human-induced climate change, then why not focus on the two countries where more than one in three of the world’s 8 billion people live, China and India? They want the cars we drive as well as the infrastructure, manufacturing, and air conditioning that we take for granted, all of which require energy that renewables alone can’t provide. Thus, they are building nuclear power plants to answer those demands. But for some irrational reason, nuclear is verboten here.

True, wind and solar technologies have improved, but they have nearly reached their ceiling conversion efficiency. No more than about fifty percent of any sun beam or wind gust can be translated into electric current. Building better becomes building more. And more. Meanwhile, they are leveraged by subsidies that our children’s children will repay when the promise of the perfect energy paradigm finally breaks all the way through like so many worn out wind blades. Of course, many argue that side reel effects and drastic precautionary measures are prices we must pay to thwart the existential threat, so-called, of human induced climate change. Suddenly, offshoring the messier aspects of the industry such as employing children to mine rare metals for the components is permissible.

Why not use nuclear, the energy source that France depends on for 80 percent of its needs? The one significant nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, was the result of poor management and outmoded technology. Shunning nuclear makes about as much sense as flooding an island city concerned about carbon gases with more and bigger cars.

Andy Crockett is an Alameda resident.