'Saving' the Planet, Only to Despoil It

Richard Fernandez24 Oct, 2023 4 Min Read
To generate enough power cities would have to be roofed with solar panels.

Shifting the world's energy supply from petrochemicals to solar power involves solving two major challenges. The first is finding enough land to capture enough power from diffuse sources. The second is expanding the world's electrical grid capacity to at least double its present size to energize societies from which the internal combustion engine has been at least temporarily banned. "Saving the world: won't restore Gaia to its pristine state, rather it will disfigure the planet in different ways.

Renewable does not necessarily mean accessible. The sun delivers to the earth 1,300 to 1,400 watts of power per square meter at the equator on a clear day, theoretically enough power to run all of the electrical appliances of an average American household -- but only at the equator with 24 hours of sunlight per day. At latitudes farther north and south, direct available solar power diminishes. It's intermittent and requires a lot of resources to capture it.

So-called "Green Energy" is a physical quantity. Different fuel types need different amounts of space, and renewable energies generally need more space than petrochemicals. One way to compare them is to use the concept of power density – the average electrical power produced in one horizontal square meter of infrastructure. Researchers at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, gathered estimates of U.S. power densities for nine specific energy types. "They found that power densities can vary by as much as 1000 times, with biomass the lowest (at 0.8 W/m^2) and natural gas the highest (at 1000 W/m^2). Solar and wind power needs around 40-50 times more space than coal and 90-100 times more space than gas."

It's gonna get ugly.

Because of the low-power densities the more "green" energy a country uses the more land it must devote to the purpose. This means vast amounts of land must be converted from other uses. Densely populated countries far from the equator like Japan and Korea will have the hardest time. To generate enough electricity most cities would have to be roofed with solar panels. "If at least half of the produced electricity comes from solar power... land for solar would amount to over 50 percent of the current E.U. urban land, over 85 percent for India, and over 75 percent in Japan and South-Korea." Inevitably the area appetite of renewables will encroach on cropland, the more so if used to grow biofuels. To a very real degree, a commitment to renewables will lead to intensive land management by the government on a vast scale, the so-called "agrisolar" developments being of one type.

The magnitude of these land impacts are only now dawning upon climate activists. Time Magazine recently reported that Greta Thunberg protested wind farms in Norway. "Wind farms?" you might wonder: why is Thunberg protesting Green? "Completed in 2020, the wind farms sit on lands that the Saami use for reindeer herding—a central part of their lifestyle. Herders say their animals are terrified by the noise and sight of the turbines, which are 285 ft. tall, leaving the lands unsuitable for grazing and the fate of the area’s Saami in jeopardy." Thunberg belatedly realized that wind farms need space, not only for the terrifying turbines but for the expanded electric grid to bear the wattage away. That could destroy a tribe.

This comes amid a global land crunch triggered by the fight against climate change... Adding to land demand, Norway is also planning major electric grid expansions, new mines to provide minerals needed for batteries and electric vehicles, and forestry projects to absorb carbon dioxide from the air.

This hunger for land will affect not just a tribe, but everyone else.

Taking electric grid expansion by itself, "the IEA assessment of electricity grids around the globe found that achieving the climate goals set by the world’s governments would require adding or refurbishing 50 million miles of power lines by 2040 – an amount equal to the existing global grid in less than two decades." To have the remotest chance of achieving this goal at least $600 billion a year must be set aside to build nothing but grids. The Biden administration recently announced $3.5 billion for 58 projects across the U.S. to strengthen electric grids.

No wind farms, please, we're Samis.

To see how gargantuan an undertaking this is, consider one project among them: a sea-spanning transmission line connecting giant wind and solar farms in the Moroccan desert to southwest England. Morocco is already exporting solar power to Europe via two existing power links with Spain. It is considering three proposals for cables to link to Greece. Another planned submarine cable would link new solar farms in the desert of southern Tunisia to Italy’s electricity grid.

But the biggest megaproject aims to lay the world’s longest high-voltage submarine cables for 2,300 miles from giant energy farms in the Moroccan desert past the Atlantic coastlines of Portugal, Spain, and France to southwest England, from where it could provide 8 percent of the United Kingdom’s electricity. The cost of the proposed 10,500-megawatt Xlinks project is expected to be $22 billion.

These are not the small, community based, tribal-friendly projects that naïfs like Greta Thunberg imagined "green" energy to be, but gigantic, planet-changing undertakings that will be built by gargantuan engineering firms. Such titanic international energy infrastructure, especially when rooted in volatile Saharan Africa, home to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, must necessarily be protected. Grids systems are not designed to withstand or quickly recover from damage inflicted simultaneously on multiple components by knowledgeable attackers. Long-distance high-voltage transmission infrastructure will be as important as oil tanker routes and pipelines are today and guarded accordingly.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. "Green" energy was sold as a bucolic, virtuous enterprise you could put in your back yard and sing a song to. But it is really something else: an unlimited license to remake the globe through geo-engineering and titanic works projects on a scale humanity has never seen before.

Richard Fernandez is the author of the Belmont Club. He has been a software developer and co-authored Open Curtains which proposes privacy as an information property right.


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3 comments on “'Saving' the Planet, Only to Despoil It”

  1. Many Eco-Freaks support Wind and Solar dispite its negative effects upon large Birds(Eagles, Vultures Owls, Etc.)since most Eco-Freaks base everything upon a stupid ideology not facts

  2. But even at the equator you do NOT get 365.4 x 24 sunlight. It turns out that the intermittent, interruptible, part-time supplies of energy are a pain in the butt, you end up multiplying capacity and distribution to try to mitigate it, and it is *many* times more costly at the system level than what it replaces: 2x, 3x, 10x, maybe more, to achieve the same 99.9% reliability we're accustomed to.
    Wouldn't it be better if Morocco turned all that energy into something tangible, like green hydrocarbons, that could be shipped conventionally to the UK for less capital cost and less total cost over time?
    Another article was about green energy from Egypt, to the UK, by cable. Really? Losses over that distance? Vulnerability? Reliability? Right of ways?
    None of these giant scale studies comes out practical, at least not at anything like current prices.
    Nor are they necessary today, or in 100 years, or in 250 years. Possibly in 500 years. But we may have some better ideas before those dates arrive.

  3. they are misnamed ... instead of renewable they need to be called replaceable ... that is the "engine" (the solar panel or windmill) needs to be replaced every 10-15 years ...
    solar and wind fail on several levels ... for one they don't created energy ... they convert one form of energy (solar and wind) into another, electricity ...that electricity must be stored in order to be useable ...
    to be useable, any form of energy must satisfy these basic requirements:
    1) its located where you need it ... (i.e. it can be fed into an "engine" to produce power or heat or whatever where you need it)
    2) if you need it to travel it must be portable AND non explody ...
    3) it must be on demand

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