Two studies are out that show how hasty movements into favored technological fixes for environmental problems can backfire.
At Argonne National Laboratories, researchers were looking into claims that have been primarily anecdotal, namely, that wind power doesn’t really reduce emissions much because its intermittent availability means that backup power has to be cycled up and down in response to the wind, which is inefficient. The researchers looked at whether or not wind power would achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions expected of it, and the answer is, well, not really. Forbes reports:
Because the wind blows inconsistently, power companies would have to turn fossil-fuel plants on when windmills fall still. Turning fossil-fuel plants on and off adds inefficiencies, producing carbon emissions just to heat up boilers before energy production can begin.
“Turning these large plants on and off is inefficient. A certain percentage of the energy goes into just heating up the boilers again,” said Lauren Valentino, one of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The wind is fickle, who knew?
And solar isn’t looking quite like the pain-free panacea it was promised to be. Digital Journal reports that:
Solar cells do not offset greenhouse gases or curb fossil fuel use in the United States according to a new environmental book, Green Illusions (June 2012, University of Nebraska Press), written by University of California-Berkeley visiting scholar Ozzie Zehner. Green Illusions explains how the solar industry has grown to become one of the leading emitters of hexafluoroethane (C2F6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These three potent greenhouse gases, used by solar cell fabricators, make carbon dioxide (CO2) seem harmless. Hexafluoroethane has a global warming potential that is 12,000 times higher than CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is 100 percent manufactured by humans, and survives 10,000 years once released into the atmosphere. Nitrogen trifluoride is 17,000 times more virulent than CO2, and SF6, the most treacherous greenhouse gas, is over 23,000 times more threatening.
So there’s also no such thing as a free lunch. Amazing.