Renewable Energy Not So Energetic

September 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

We are paying through the nose for these renewables, Solar, Geothermal,Biomass, Landfill Gas, Wind

Renewable Energy Not So Energetic

By Jack Dini (Bio and Archives)  Tuesday, September 3, 2013
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Renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar have been under development since the 1980s so it is appropriate to review progress and look into the future to see what these technologies may be able to offer.

The EPA says that less than 2 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources such as solar, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and wind combined. In 2008, solar produced 0.09 percent and wind 0.5 percent of US energy. (1)

Bryan Leyland sums up past history in a recent report: “None of the renewable technologies can provide electricity when needed during times of peak demand. All of them are at the mercy of wind, sun and waves. In addition, the capacity factor, the ratio of the average output to the maximum output, varies between 10% and seldom exceeds 40%.� (2)

Bjorn Lomborg echoes the same sentiment; “Many today believe that renewable energy will let us get off fossil fuels soon. Unfortunately, the facts say otherwise. Solar and wind energy account for a trivial proportion of current renewables—about one-third of one percentage point. The vast majority comes from biomass, or wood and plant material—humanity’s oldest energy source.â€� (3)

Lomborg adds, “Europe today gets 1% of its energy from wind—less than before industrialization, when cozy windmills contributed about 2% (and ships sails provided another 1%). The UK set its record for wind in 1804, when its share reached 2.5%——almost three times its level today. According to International Energy Agency (IEA) data, 13.2% of the world’s energy came form renewables in 1971, the first year that IEA reported global statistics. In 2011, renewables’ share was actually lower, at 12.99%. Yet a new survey shows that Americans believe that the share of renewables in 2035 will be 30.2%.â€� (3)

Yet you will hear that there have been noticeable increases in both wind and solar, and this is true. Since 1990, wind-generated power has grown 26% per year and solar a phenomenal 48%. But the growth has been from almost nothing to slightly more than almost nothing. In 1990, wind produced 0.0038% of the world’s energy; it is now producing 0.29%. Solar-electric power has gone from essentially zero to 0.04%. (3)

Lets look around the world:


Germany is the renewable energy leader of Europe. In 2010, this country (about the size of Montana) had almost 23,000 wind turbine towers in operation, good for third place in the world behind China and the United States. According to figures from the German Federal Ministry, the wind turbines operating at the end of 2012 provided only 7.3 percent of the nation’s electricity and about 1.8 percent of the nation’s energy consumption. Despite the location of many turbines on the windy North Sea, German wind turbines operated at a capacity factor of only 17 percent in 2012. (4)

In 2010, total electricity output from Germany’s photovoltaic solar systems was only 7.7 percent of rated output. Also in 2010, wind turbine towers provided only 1.5 percent of Germany’s total energy needs, operating at a meager 16 percent capacity factor. (5)


Despite the country’s massive investment in solar and wind, it mostly sells solar panels to Western countries at subsidized prices. Wind makes up just 0.2 % of China’s energy and solar accounts for 0.01%. (3)


Spain now pays almost 1% of its GDP in subsidies for renewables, which is more than it spends on higher education. At the end of this century, Spain’s massive investment will have postponed global warming by 62 hours. (3)

The Spanish ‘renewables bubble’ burst in 2008. Over 20,000 green jobs disappeared. In early 2012, the government announced a suspension of all subsidies for wind, solar, and renewable energy, resulting in additional job losses. (5)

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has huge renewable goals, but little renewable energy output so far. In 2010, the UK got only 3 percent of its energy from renewable sources. The nation has a goal of 15 percent energy and 31 percent of electricity from renewables by the year 2020. Regarding solar, the UK has also been subsidizing the installation of solar systems. In 2010 solar systems in the UK produced only about 5 percent of the rated output. As Steve Goreham notes, “A nation must have solar to be truly green. At an average 53N latitude, solar in England is as useless as mango farming in Minnesota.� (5)

Some of Britain’s biggest wind farms are at times producing only enough electricity to make a few cups of tea. One wind farm in Anglesey, Wales, was producing just 0.001 percent of its maximum capacity.  (6)


A major argument people use to promote renewable electricity mandates is that the mandates can create jobs. But trying to create jobs through renewable subsidies has proven to be a failure. In Spain, for example, it is estimated that 2.2 jobs were lost as an opportunity for creating one job in the renewable sector. In Germany, per worker subsidies in the solar industry are as high as $240,000. The situation in Denmark is similar. Danes have to pay the highest electricity prices in the European Union and they pay subsidies of nearly $400 million a year to wind producers (in a country with less than 2 percent of the population of the United States). (7)

Other Observations

All wind farms require backup when the wind is not blowing. This backup is usually provided by coal and gas-fired power stations that have to operate at outputs below the best efficiency points and change outputs rapidly.

The operational life for wind turbines is just 20 years. This is much shorter than for coal, gas or nuclear, and is another factor making wind power an expensive option. (8)

One disincentive to solar power is the large land area required. A 1000MW concentrated solar power facility requires 6000 acres of land, enough for about ten coal-fired plants with the same rated output. Producing 1000MWfrom photovoltaics requires over 12,000 acres of land. Nuclear power stations need much less land than even coal-fired ones; their land use is miniscule compared with other renewables. (2)

Yet we are paying through the nose for these renewables. In the past 12 years, the world has invested $1.6 trillion in clean energy. By 2020. the effort to increase reliance on renewables will cost the European Union alone $250 billion annually. (3)


  1. Real Jean Isaac, Roosters of the Apocalypse, (Chicago, Illinois, The Heartland Institute, 2012), 29
  2. Bryan Leyland, “New renewable energy technologies: a monstrous boondoggle?�, Leyland Consultants, May 2013
  3. Bjorn Lomborg, “The decline of renewable energy,�, August 14, 2013
  4. Steve Goreham, “Wind turbines clutter the north German countryside,� The Washington Times, August 28, 2013
  5. Steve Goreham, The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism, (New Lenox, Illinois, New Lenox Books, 2013), 216
  6. Robert Mendick, “The wind farms that generate enough power to make a few cups of tea,� The Sunday Telegraph, August 25, 2013
  7. “The status of renewable electricity in the states,� Institute of Energy Research, February 9, 2011
  8. High Sharman, Bryan Leyland and Martin Livermore, “Renewable energy: vision or mirage?� Adam Smith Institute, December 12, 2011



Jack Dini, Livermore, CA, writes a monthly column on science and environmental issues for Plating Surface Finishing and also writes for other publications. He is the author of Challenging Environmental Mythology (2003). Jack can be reached at:  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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