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Windmill Plan Offers Slim Energy Pickens

America must break its addiction to foreign oil, but what's the best way to do it?

by
Robert Zubrin

Bio

August 9, 2008 - 12:15 am
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In recent weeks, America’s airwaves have been deluged by messages placed by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, warning that the country is being taken for $700 billion for foreign oil this year, with still more to follow, a devastating loss amounting to “the largest transfer of wealth in human history.”

While very shocking, the Pickens ads are in fact understated, because the OPEC oil cartel is not just looting the United States, but the whole world, and will accumulate over $1.5 trillion in net profits this year. The entire U.S. Fortune 500 is worth $18 trillion. At their current rate of take, OPEC will acquire enough cash to buy majority control of every leading company in the United States within six years. This is a direct threat to American independence. “It’s wrecking our economy,” Pickens says. He’s right about that too.

America owes a debt of gratitude to T. Boone Pickens for stepping forward to sound the alarm over this national emergency. This is all the more true, since as an oilman, Pickens could simply have followed the model of others in the business and just sat tight, enjoying record profits while the country goes under. Instead, he chose to act as a patriot.

So hats off to Mr. Pickens. That said, the plan he is advancing for dealing with the crisis — build windmills to release natural gas from electricity generation so it can be used to power compressed natural gas (CNG)-driven cars, displacing gasoline in the process — is technically flawed and needs to be revised.

While a net exporter twenty years ago, the United States today imports about 18% of its natural gas. So without a very substantial change in our electric power generation portfolio, shifting from gasoline to natural gas would just shift us from one imported fuel to another. Wind power is an improbable candidate for achieving such a shift. Simply to replace the 18% of our natural gas we currently import would require multiplying the nation’s current total wind power tenfold; to free up enough domestic natural gas to replace half our gasoline would require a thirty-fold wind power increase. The feasibility of doing this is very doubtful, not merely because of the size of the project but because wind power is intrinsically unreliable. When the wind speed drops in half, power output drops by a factor of eight, so wind simply cannot provide the baseload power. Rather, it can only be used as an as-available auxiliary to reduce somewhat the net overall fuel consumption of a fossil-fuel-driven baseload system that must have — and frequently run at — full power capacity to meet the needs of its customers. Replacing natural gas power generators with nuclear or coal-fired systems would be possible in principle, as both of these can provide reliable baseload power, but would take many years and entail many other problems.

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