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Professor Issues Damning Indictment Of Renewables

January 14, 2015

By Paul Homewood




The Scotsman reports:


ENVIRONMENTAL advantages of renewable energy are a myth – fusion energy is the way forward says Anthony Trewavas

Renewables use sun, water, wind; energy sources that won’t run out. Non-renewables come from things like gas, coal and uranium that one day will. But unless electricity and motorised transport are abandoned altogether, all “renewables” need huge areas of land or sea and require raw materials that are drilled, transported, mined, bulldozed and these will run out. Wind turbine towers are constructed from steel manufactured in a blast furnace from mined iron ore and modified coal (coke). Turbine blades are composed of oil-derived resins and glass fibre. The nacelle encloses a magnet containing about one third of a tonne of the rare earth metals, neodymium and dysprosium. Large neodymium magnets also help propel electric cars.

Currently China provides 95 per cent of rare earths; proven reserves of dysprosium will likely run out in 2020. Processing one tonne of ore generates about one tonne of radioactive waste, 12 million litres of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulphur dioxide, sulphuric acid and 75 thousand litres of waste water. Baotou, in China, mines and processes much of the rare earth ores. The town abuts a five-mile-wide, toxic, lifeless, radioactive lake of processed wastewater. Local inhabitants have unusually high rates of cancer (particularly in children), osteoporosis, skin and respiratory disease. This unseen environmental destruction may be far off but no less damaging.

One thousand tonnes of concrete anchors the turbine base. The concrete used for the 5000 or so built or consented turbines in Scotland would be sufficient to construct an eight-lane motorway from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Cement production generates 7 per cent of the world’s emissions. Wilderness that is partitioned among turbines, access roads, crane pads and power lines is no longer renewable.

The Oxford University conservationist, Clive Hambler, has summarised data from Sweden, Germany, Spain, Denmark and USA that indicate 100 birds are killed per turbine per year on average. For bats (that consume 3000 midges per night), it is 200. UK estimates for turbine wildlife mortality are not available. But with 5,000 Scottish turbines, premature destruction of birds and bats is in the million range per year. Organisations established by government to protect wildlife in Scotland are in denial over the damage their consent to wind farms is causing.

Current expenditure on UK wind farms is more than £20 billion. If that money had instead been used to construct 30 gas-fired power stations to replace those using coal, emissions reduction would have been about 37 per cent. Pristine countryside, reliable energy supplies and undamaged wildlife would have been maintained. The present plethora of wind farms has only reduced emissions at best by 7.5 per cent; necessary use of gas-fired back-up for reliable electricity supplies makes it less than 4 per cent in practice.

The production of just six solar panels requires at least one tonne of coal to bake the silicon at high temperature. Solar panel production plants generate 500 tonnes of hazardous sludge every year. Their manufacture releases hexa-fluoroethane, nitrogen trifluoride, and sulphur hexa-fluoride, greenhouse gases thousands of times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

The life expectancy of solar panels and wind turbines is one half to one quarter that of gas-fired or nuclear power stations. Dams for hydropower (concrete again) are only scheduled to last 50 years. The low density of energy for both wind and sun requires huge areas of land for electricity generation. To replace the recently closed Cockenzie power station (1.2GW) would require turbines covering a minimum of 70 square miles of countryside.

Geothermal energy requires fossil fuels/cement for power station construction. Power transmission requires cables made either of steel, copper (mined and processed) or even carbon fibre processed from fossil fuels.

The Drax coal-fired power station generates 7 per cent of UK electricity and has been partially converted to burning wood to benefit from government subsidies. A forest area substantially larger than Wales is needed for wood supply. But deforestation abroad to supply the wood threatens replacement of diverse ecosystems and wildlife damage with tree monocultures. When burnt, wood is dirtier than coal in releasing CO2, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates and organic volatiles. Up to 50 years are required to recover the CO2 emissions. Most biofuels produce some surplus energy over energy invested but with poor or negative emissions saving. Displacement of crop-growing land for biofuel forces food price rises.

Renewable energy is a myth; none will last longer than the non-renewable sources they all need. Uranium and thorium reserves should last thousands of years. Nuclear fission in small, fast-neutron, modular reactors generates electricity but waste that decays in one to two centuries. A breakthrough in the construction of small containment vessels for deuterium/tritium fusion has been reported. One kg of fusion fuel produces energy equivalent to 10 million kg of fossil fuel. Deuterium is abundant in the oceans. This is the future, not renewables.

• Professor A J Trewavas represents Scientific Alliance Scotland

  1. January 14, 2015 9:23 pm

    For more on fusion power, see here:

  2. John F. Hultquist permalink
    January 14, 2015 10:00 pm

    This is a very good summary of the current situation.
    I can quibble with a few items, for example:
    Dams for hydropower (concrete again) are only scheduled to last 50 years.
    In the USA, the planning process prior to authorization assumes a 50 time frame. This planning is about costs and benefits and the time value of money, among others.
    Nothing in that planning speaks to how long the structure will be useful or how long it might “last.”
    Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington State was constructed between 1933 and 1942. So, it is entering its 73rd year and doing well. I grew up near, and swam, fished, and water skied in the waters behind a dam completed in 1924 – 90 years ago. My grandfather was one of the loggers to run rafts of logs on the river before the dam (mentioned in the text):

    Top photo on the right is of the I-80 bridge, one bend upstream from the dam; the caption should be under the lower left photo on the opening page.
    Google Earth coordinates are:
    41.193053, -79.433450

    The big issue with the Professor’s statement is in the last paragraph about the future. The best current way of providing electricity to the many millions of people in the world that do not now have it is with fossil fuels. Starting a nuclear power plant with known technology might, that’s might, get electrons moving in 10 years. “Breakthroughs” – Who knows?
    Millions will never have reliable electricity from fusion or fission.
    They could use electricity today.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      January 15, 2015 8:12 am

      Alot of the Dams in the Scottish highlands have lasted more than 50 years already. As far as I’m aware they are good for a while yet.

      I reckon that if they were to be built today then pumped storage for many would be the most sensible option.

  3. robinedwards36 permalink
    January 14, 2015 10:34 pm

    A pretty good summary for others who are outside the “sceptic” camp to read. I shall distribute this (or its URL) to some friends.

  4. January 14, 2015 10:53 pm

    Reblogged this on leclinton and commented:
    Got to say well said ;>)

  5. Richard Rounds permalink
    January 15, 2015 1:35 am

    An excellent summary. How does one get permission to use it?

    • January 15, 2015 9:29 am

      I second that! Would very much like to repost this one. And I notice that commenters on the original are quite hostile for the most part- which means he definitely hit a nerve!

  6. J Martin permalink
    January 15, 2015 7:50 pm

    Perhaps the greenhouse gases released in the manufacture of solar panels outweighs the co2 that will save over the course of their lifetimes.

  7. January 16, 2015 4:35 am

    This is an excellent article. Thank you.

    This article on renewable energy brought to mind recyclable products.

    I would like to know if anyone has done a study on whether or not there is any energy/materials savings on recyclables? I watch the recycling truck come by every week and, I dutifully recycle. But, that is a lot of gasoline and emissions being released by these trucks. Then, the bottles, cans, glass, paper, plastic etc. must all be taken to their respective recycling places which uses more fuel. Then, I have read that about one-third of plastics collected have reached the end of their recycling life and can’t even be recycled. Then, there is all the energy used to recycle all these products.

    It has always made me wonder if there is any savings at all or, if possible, there is a net increase in use of energy and increase in emissions? I suppose that if you live where you do not have room for landfills it might make sense? But, here in the US, we have an abundance of land.

    Does anyone know if someone has done a study on this?

  8. biniput permalink
    January 16, 2015 5:38 pm

    The thing is we don’t actually have any fusion reactors yet so how can you build a future on that?

    • January 16, 2015 6:25 pm

      Small-scale fusion plants have now produced more power than they consume. The first full-scale fusion plant is timetabled for 2027. Given that it is successful, it is expected that such plants will then be replicated within the following 5 to 10 years. 2037 may sound a long way away but within the scale of time with which we are considering, it is perfectly reasonable. At present, we are building a future on wind turbines that cost more than they produce, solar, the panels of which have a life of ten years, and water power, which does not seem to be feasible. Seen in that light, the future of fusion looks, to me, at least possible, and is worth developing.

  9. Brian H permalink
    January 25, 2015 8:04 pm

    Much, much better at miniscule fractions of the cost:
    Power forever, everywhere, at 0.3¢/kWh, 5¢/kW, no pollution.

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