The Rube Goldberg World of Wind and Solar Energy

When the Washington Post published an article Wednesday about the human tendency to be unable to reverse one's opinions, regardless of the evidence, I thought of wind energy and the Rube Goldberg devices that are being patched onto it because of its many serious issues.

For the young: Rube Goldberg was best known for his popular cartoons depicting complicated gadgets performing simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. The cartoons led to the expression "Rube Goldberg Machines" to describe similar gadgets and processes. (Wikipedia)

Below is an example. This machine was 'designed' to mail a letter. 

In the world of electricity generated by coal, gas, hydro and nuclear, things are done in a straightforward way. Unfortunately, wind and solar are so filled with flaws, their workarounds increasingly resemble Rube Goldberg Machines. As a reminder:  Wind turbines only turn when the wind speeds are between about 6 and 30 mph and when the temperature is warmer than -5°F. As narrow as the parameters are, the base issue is that, when it is extremely hot and extremely cold, the winds are usually too light to turn the turbines. Thus, wind electricity fails when demand is highest. 

In Australia, they have come up with a scheme to -- get this -- pump water uphill for no reason on the infrequent occasions when both wind and solar are working well and producing excess power. So, when winds are calm or the sky overcast, the water will run back downhill through hydroelectric turbines to make electricity when the wind turbines and solar panels do not. More upfront expense and more machines to maintain. 

Now, the machine that was going to bore under a mountain is stuck and they can't get it unstuck because of a landslide! The $10 billion "Snowy Hydro Project" is a classic Rube Goldberg machine. 
The Swiss have built giant cranes to -- get this -- lift blocks up when the wind is blowing and then let gravity lower them, when the wind isn't blowing, to generate a small amount of electricity. Any college physics 101 student could tell you this is a terrible idea. 

In the United States, some are proposing to spend additional trillions -- really -- to patch around the fact that wind and solar are delivering far less than expected. We want to do it with extremely expensive batteries that don't exist. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration wants to ban gas stoves, further subsidize electric cars, and electrify everything else into a grid that is increasingly fragile, especially in extreme weather. It is additional disasters in the making (think back to the Texas catastrophe two years ago this week where 200+ died and losses were well into the tens of billions). 

As if the Texas catastrophe was not warning enough, the gold standard IPCC predicted (see: here and go to section 12.4.6.3) that wind speeds in North America have decreased and will continue decreasing. No wind...no wind energy. 

My recommendation: Absolutely, make the most we can with the wind and solar we have. It's there, let's use it! However, we should not spend another dollar on wind and solar and, instead, bring on a crash program to build nuclear and hydro (the latter in the locations where it has already been approved, there are at least two) online. 

Finally, we need to understand the issues with decommissioning wind and solar. There are a lot of rare earth materials that should be recycled if possible. There are also a fair amount of hazmat. As far as I know, money and resources have not been set aside for that purpose even as the first generation of solar and, especially, wind turbines are wearing out. 

In congressional testimony this week, the price tag for the USA (only) to go carbon-neutral by 2050 is $50 trillion. One of the witnesses says we are doing things "stupidly." I couldn't agree more. 

Big Climate, of which the powerful wind lobby is definitely part, has made tremendous amounts of money by scaring people about climate change. They need to decide whether they want to solve the problem by decarbonizing energy (I certainly do) or whether they want the political issue. 

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