If you want to save the earth, save the people first. If you want to save the people, get power to them. Affordable fuel and electricity will do more for the environment than anything else anyone can do, and it will save the humans and eliminate needless pain and suffering while doing so.

James Conca, writing for Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2015/04/20/the-ten-biggest-power-plants-in-america-not-what-everyone-claims/, points out some interesting facts about electrical power in the USA.

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station generates most of the electricity for Phoenix, Arizona, coal makes up the rest. Kinda cool, really.

Mr. Conca provides this table:

Energy Source         average cf         high cf

Coal                              65%                   75%

Natural gas                50%                   85%

Nuclear                       90%                   98%

Wind                           30%                   45%

Solar PV                     20%                   30%

Solar thermal            24%                   40%

Hydro                         40%                    45%

Geothermal               70%                   75%

It should really drive home the pitiful uselessness of all varieties of wind and solar.

Taking the items in turn, and overly simplistically, coal is not an ideal fuel, and it is hard to work with. The systems for it require significant maintenance. So, it is down some, about one-third of the time. We must have the power, and there is no other practical way to use coal; so, coal it is for large generation stations. We will continue to burn coal for a substantial portion of our electrical needs, or we will be killing people. Remember my words while you watch helplessly as the frantic doctors try to save your daughter in the emergency room with no lights, no electricity, no sterilizing equipment. Remember my words when you hear of someone’s grandmother found asleep in the garden, but frozen to death because she grew too tired of deciding between freezing and eating. We need coal. The alternative is clear and imminent death for far too many.

Natural gas is okay for generation, but we have much better uses for it. Heating a tea kettle with a natural gas burner in your kitchen puts 100% of the energy available from the fuel under your teapot. Generating electricity with that gas throws away over two-thirds of the fuel’s energy before it gets to the electrical heating element under your teapot. Seems immoral when you think about it.  Of course, the main reason natural gas generation plants sit idle half the time is because they are the peaking power and backup for those cursed bird-choppers.

Nuclear, well that is what the article is about, so be sure to read it. Nuclear power generation works on long cycles with minimal maintenance requirements for much of the major equipment, and it is quite easy to exceed 90% of production capacity.

Wind, well, wind blows but windmills suck.

Mostly wind doesn’t always blow, and sometimes it blows too strong, at which time, the windmills must be feathered (blades turned to minimize resistance) so as to not break it apart. Windmills are very erratic and unstable generators that horrifically destabilize the grid and jeopardize your children’s power in the operating room. (Good thing we have backup generators, but we get to pay for those, ya know.)

Regardless, even if the wind was tame and constant, the windmill requirements are self-defeating. The things are rotating machines. Thus, hard to maintain, requiring constant maintenance. Also, rotating machinery needs to be large, massive, and constantly maintained. Totally contrary to the requirements of an efficient wind turbine. Thus, we simply cannot properly maintain them up on those huge towers. Check the failure rates. Oklahoma does better than average, but that is because we currently have no alternatives, thanks to former State Treasurer Scott Meacham. He hated coal almost as much as he hates our grandmothers and poor children. Thus, we have no new coal-fired electric plants being built. Still, we Oklahomans will suffer for it. Remember Scott (Haman) Meacham when you must decide between groceries and the electric bill for the month. Also, per my recollection, 27% is a more typical average cf for many windmill wastelands. A windmill can be aesthetic. A bristled countryside is hideous.

Over and over for over 3,000 years we have abandoned windmills. We will this time too, and who will clean up the mess?

Solar PV is kind of a joke when you consider that the 20% average capacity factor is based on the horribly low conversion factor of the photovoltaic panels in the first place. PVs are really poor, so far, at converting the energy of the sun to actual kilowatt-hours. So when you realize the label of the PV is a small fraction of the solar energy striking the panel, and then only one-fifth of that label capacity makes it to customers, well, it is sad. Really sad. Solar PV makes sense when the governments have messed with electric rates and power production too much, like out in California, but even then, only for small setups by individuals who can hope to recover most of the cost of their system in a few years (around 10 years, usually), but that is mostly at the expense of other rate payers, their neighbors, who passively subsidize their solar installation on their roof.

Solar PV requires a lot more maintenance than would seem expected. Ask Germany.

Solar thermal, well, that is a bad implementation of a bad idea, and it only serves to prove how gullible we all are. Check this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/11/11/thermal-solar-energy-some-technologies-really-are-dumb/. Not to mention birds flash-frying in midair over the arrays.

Saving hydro for last, geothermal is a special case. In a very few sites, with limited scope, geothermal makes very good sense and is relatively easy to implement, but not in most places, and especially not on a large scale. 70% is pretty good, all things considered.

Now hydroelectric. The turbines in dams only run about 40% of the time, partly due to maintenance requirements, but mostly because electricity is a secondary or tertiary function of most of our dams. We have dams and the impoundments behind them for flood control and recreation, but most of all for water. Electricity is a bonus in that regard.

The Grand Coulee Dam is awesome. I highly recommend a visit if ever near it. Tour the dam, and stay for the historical story and laser light show just after dark. Those generators only run 35% to 40% of the time primarily because we need the water more than the electricity. That system of turbines and pumps, with Banks Lake and the Roosevelt Reservoir, is the basis for irrigation of much of Washington State’s agriculture. The water is much more important to all that desert land than the electricity. People need both, but there are other ways to generate electricity. Dams primarily provide water reserve. At least if politicians are smart enough, and resolute enough, to help see that they are built before they are needed.

So, hydro is mostly tapped out. Other, so called, renewable, options are too limited and too unreliable to matter. Natural gas is best used as point-of-use heat, not electricity generation. So, we are left with coal and nuclear.

I should probably mention biofuels. Mostly, that is wood burnt in a fireplace or stove. Great for spot heat on cold nights, and often romantic, but bad as an alternative fuel. Firewood is a significant portion of the total air pollution in the USA today. The other main biofuel is regular old dung. Really, really bad. Such used for fuel is directly contributing to far too many deaths and much too much poor health and suffering every day. Then there is food. Folks, it is an honest-to-God sin to burn edible food while people starve. Dang it, it is downright immoral to convert corn to liquid gasoline additive and various oil-rich foods to biodiesel. It is killing people directly. It takes food out of the mouths of starving babies. Shame on you. Shame on us all. Different (but valid) point, but I bear the blame…I share the shame… Where will it end? It’s over and done. The presses have run…Behind your disguise, your rhetoric lies, you’ve watched a baby starve…

We will burn coal as long as it is affordable, and that will be for decades, perhaps even a couple of centuries. And sooner or later, we will all be getting nearly all of our electricity from nuclear fission power generation. The alternative is pain, suffering, and death. I’m not talking possibilities and model projections. I’m talking practical sense. No electricity means dead people and desperation which means pain, suffering, and environmental destruction because people will take advantage of any available resource when it means the welfare of their family. You know it. You don’t need to ask an expert.

So, celebrate power. Celebrate coal and nuclear electricity, and celebrate petrol and natural gas as plentiful, affordable fuels for our heating and transportation. Remember that you have food in your refrigerator because of oil and natural gas, and your refrigerator is cold, keeping your food safe, because of coal and nuclear. These are good things. We, and our environment, are much better off because of coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium (and perhaps someday thorium and even plutonium).

Eventually, fusion, but that is a very long way off. We may not have fusion until after the coal runs out.

In the meantime, I’m not Tom Bodett, but I’ll keep a light on for ya.