Alternative What?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some interesting emails from Lonewolf, who has done some serious investigation into switching from his gasoline power generation (generators) to wind turbines. Since he is located in a Class 4 to Class 5 wind zone (seasonal mean wind speeds of 13.4 to 14.4 mph) this would seem to make good sense.

Using only 200 kw per month (less then 1/5th of most households or less), the actual cost of the equipment for this conversion would run a whopping $13,000 – $20,000, with a break-even point far off in the distant future of 30 to 50 years.

Why so much? There are many reasons for this. Alternative energy suppliers are terribly expensive and have been hit hardest by the rising costs of metals, manufacturing and shipping, all of which are entirely petroleum dependent. Few people seem to be aware of just how much metals alone have risen in costs, but important and critical components such as copper having risen over 300%.

The other problem with alternative energy manufacturers is their stated electrical output is grossly exaggerated. Most manufacturers produce output curves under various conditions (but conditions are never static/always changing and rarely if ever optimum), and almost all claims are very ‘optimistic’ and under ideal conditions (ideal factors vary depending on what conversion forms one’s speaking of). To meet your actual demand, you will require an additional 30% of power generation over the published “stats”, and then double that for actual storage and conversion losses.

A competitive quote for 6 Air-X wind turbines was obtained, @$3392, including shipping, 6 stop switches and 6 50-amp breakers. Not too bad, but this is only a fraction of what is actually needed. Copper has dramatically increased in price and can cost up to $9 a foot for #4/0 heavy copper wiring. Online prices are better, and a source for the same wire was priced at $4.20 per foot + 10% in shipping. Even 10/3 UG wire is up to $1/ft.

Schedule 80 black pipe is used to mount the turbines high enough into the air for best positioning. A 21′ section of unthreaded pipe is a ridiculous $189 each, or $1134 just for pipe (actually more than 6 pieces are needed in this case). Pipe tee’s are $19 each, endcaps $11 each, threading $4 per cut and $0.50 per thread. It is desirable to install wind turbines far enough away from the living quarters to offset their noise as well as high enough to take advantage of smooth flow (non-turbulent) winds higher above the ground (even if on a ridge or peak).

After the PV panel or wind turbine generates the DC current, the first loss is in the transmission wire and connections. Resistance causes voltage drops on a per length basis (longer run= greater loss & smaller wire = more loss per unit length). Resistance is minimized with LARGE wire (think water in a pipe, lots of water in small pipe has lots of resistance (pressure and friction in case of water) but same water in large pipe flows easily – no pressure/friction to speak of.

Electrons flow on the outer surface of wire- not uniformlly across the cross-sectional area. Therefore, MANY fine strands of conductor have much more surface area and therefore much less resistance (power loss). The higher the current flow and longer the run the larger the wire must be to keep voltage drops to a minimum. Also, all connections must be ‘excellent’ (near ideal contact) to minimize resistance at these points.

Once the current reaches the batteries, there is a form conversion from DC electric current to electro-chemical (storage). For new, well maintained and warm batteries this varies, but with lead acid types this is around 10% each (both) ‘directions’. Worn out, improperly maintained and/or cold batteries are not as efficient. Basically, 100W to the battery = 90W stored as chemical energy (max., new). 90W stored = (chemical to electrical) 81W DC (max) ) to inverter (minus wire loses). 80W into the inverter (85% efficient max) => 69W out of inverter. In reality, if used from battery storage and converted to 120AC, one basically gets back about half the watts (power) that was ‘produced’ (transformed) by the panel or turbine.

If using power directly from the ‘source’ (no battery/inverter), then wire and connection losses are all one needs to be concerned with. There are many other factors and variables – I’ve tried to simplify them here. Also, Power (Watts) = Current (Amperes) X Potential (Voltage). So 1200 Watts = 100 Amps at 12V (‘read’ HUGE wire) 1200 Watts = 10 Amps at 120 V for given power (W), the higher the voltage the lower the current.

There are many other factors, such as wind speed at height (how high), how variable, how consistent the solar intensity is and it’s variability over the year, fixed orientation or tracking, etc., all which can dramatically increase costs when properly factored in to meet the average monthly demand.Even this very modest amount of power must be stored somewhere, since demand is never the same as current generation. Battery banks are employed, in this case using 12 sets (24 batt cases in series parallel) or 3300 Ah (amp hours) for new batteries (used batteries are even less). Each set is rated at 275 Amp hour at 12.8 Volts (assuming full charge). You cannot draw the batteries down below 10% (very bad idea) which means you really only have 3000 Ah total usable at 12.8 V, of which only 10% is useable (330 Ah). Household current doesn’t run on DC and must be converted, creating an additional 15% energy loss at the inverter.

Total project cost for only 200 kw a month is $13,000+ which does not include any photovoltic panels (PV) or labor for installation costs. Estimated costs for photovoltic panels (for non-windy days) is another $5,000, including panels, mounting hardware, wiring and shipping.

My electrical demands average 5 times higher then his, averaging at 1000 kw per month. Assuming I was also in a class 4 wind zone, scaling up to meet my current electrical demands, my actual costs would run a lot more, probably in excess of $50,000.

What about batteries and their costs? This depends on type and source and if you do it yourself with regards to the interconnects, wiring, etc. His chosen path/type is half or less what the alternative energy sites want (w/o shipping), and good ones are very expensive.

Now, compare this to generating 200 kw (power over time is measured in time kWh (kilowatt hours) – also producing 6 to 7 kWh/day to get back (use) 60% of that by gasoline generator (current method employed). Honda’s EU3000 generator, uses 2.25 gal/ 8-hour day on avg (0.2813 gal/hr run time). Honda’s EU2000 generator is more efficient, using 1.5 gal/8-hour day (0.1875 gal/hr run time).

Using the more efficient EU2000 generator for most use, daily costs are 1.5 gal x $2.50 x 365 = $1,369/yr ($114/mo). If gasoline is $4 per gallon (soon to happen), yearly cost become $2190 per year.

Now we can compare wind power generation costs .vs. gasoline generator costs. At current gasoline retail prices, you could generate 15+ years of gasoline power generation for the same initial costs of wind power. Even at $4 a gallon, you could generate 10 years of gasoline power for the initial startup costs of wind power. Gasoline would have to be well in excess of $10 per gallon to make wind power even remotely cost-effective since batteries need be replaced every 5-10 years (depending on type, use pattern and maintenance level), plus other maintenance/repair costs.

The actual wind power pay-back time is long past the useful life-span of the turbines, batteries, inverter and even the wire used. In other words, for a miserly 200 kw per month, wind power generation at todays prices and technology is never going to be cost effective.

Scaling this up, to my current household usage of 1000 kw per month, and the cost to convert to wind or solar energy is WAY over $50,000. This would required a pay-back time of forever – at 4.2 cents/kWh x 1000 – $42/mo, $50,000 at $42/mo is 1191 months or 100 years (aka NEVER).

The significance of this is alternative energy isn’t going to work – ever, for billions of people unless is become far, far more efficient and much, much cheaper then it is today. Right now, it’s a gigantic melting icecream sandwich being sold as a technological “fix” that can’t. It doesn’t even come close to the EROI (energy returned on energy invested) required to mine, manufacture, assemble, ship and install, to finally generate a fraction of the electricity it took to create it in the first place.

Over a year ago, the SunBall was considered a promising alternative energy provider. Built in Australia, the SunBall was to be exported around the world to provide clean, cheap solar power. Yet this dream never materialized and the SunBall was dropped. Instead, the SunCube was launched due to manufactering problems with the SunBall. Using a Fresnal lens, the SunCube was offered in a 4×5 configuration, rated at 330 W, but produced and average of 1.5 kWh/day (for this particular solar intensity location).

Yet even the SunCube isn’t (apparently) available as an off-grid model anymore, or rather already. Only last month these were listed as going into production at 6+ different sizes for off-grid applications. They will be now only available in a grid-tie configuration (and at 240V, 50 Hz) which is useless for off-grid applications. And it’s unknown when it will actually be availabe in the US, since the anticipated dates have been continually pushed back for over two years.

Solar energy has never been cheap, nor even cost effective when compared to grid power. But it has also doubled, or even tripled in price of component costs in the each year for the past 2-3 years as petroleum has gone up ( and resellers get greedy for other folks tax rebate/credit funds). For example, one each 1″ diameter by 3″ long (high) aluminum “standoff’s” for PV panel attachment to roof (at least 4 per panel ‘required’, more the better) are $11 to $17 EACH (plus frame, bracing, roof or mast/post plus active or passive tracking (if any). As with with turbines, it isn’t just the cost of the units, it’s the ALL the “system” costs that’ll kill you – easily two to three times (more like 3-4) the ‘production’ part being considered for electricity generation. That doesn’t include the required batteries, inverter, load dumper, distribution panel/breakers, metering, etc., all of which are necessary to actually use that energy.

Solar panels suffer from the same problems of costs .vs. energy produced. Actual costs are very high, (on sale at $6 to 7 per Watt plus shipping, mounting etc etc etc – easily $10/ per Watt without tracking or $10,000 per kW) and rising all the time. This figure is far beyond the reach of most people, and unless are tremendous (and actual) breakthrough occurs with alternative power generation, battery storage and material costs, alternative energy like solar or wind power will forever by beyond the reach of most people.

Taking this conclusion a bit further, this means that as the energy crisis deepens worldwide, the inability of billions of people to switch to alternative energy such as solar or wind power will continue to increase the demand upon non-sustainable technologies such as oil, coal, nuclear and gas-fired power plants. In turn, these conventional power generation technologies will become increasingly more expensive themselves as the costs and availability for raw materials skyrocket.
This also means that a “clean energy” future is not in the offering for the vast majority of people, businesses and industry. “Power down” will eventually mean “lights out” as dwindling energy supplies and horribly expensive alternative energy simply puts everyone out of business. You will either be connected to the grid paying whatever these corporations demand of you, or you will be sitting in the dark.
That in a semi-brief nutshell, is the power future of the entire world. Only the rich and wealthy businesses and individuals will be able to afford “alternative” electricity. Everyone else will do with less, much, much less. As petroleum supplies dwindle, material and manufacturing costs will continue to skyrocket, making “alternative energy” absolutely unaffordable for billions.

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2 thoughts on “Alternative What?

  • December 30, 2006 at 8:10 am
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    Well, as you know, there is much I could say. However, that would require prodigeous quantities of swear words strung together.

    I’d be better off stapling dollar bills to the wall for insulation – and perhaps all too soon that may be all they’re good for.

    A much better ‘investments’, right now, would be ‘internal energy’ (food) and ‘internal entertainment (drugs).

    Bottomline is this, AE/PV is a farce, hoax, fraud, scam and LIE -at least in this cruel lifetime.

  • December 30, 2006 at 2:06 pm
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    Here’s a couple of graphs tracking the price of gasoline and the price of ethanol.

    http://www.env-econ.net/2006/06/i_thought_ethan.html

    Notice how the price of ethanol on average is always higher than the price of gasoline.

    Few people outside of these forums understand that oil is the feed stock fuel to make the alternative energies, including the products that comprise the making of solar and wind devices.

    As the price of oil rises due to scarcity, the price of all alternatives will be that much more out of reach for the average person. Only the rich (and maybe debt free?)will be able to afford alternative energy.

    There is nothing that can replace fossil fuels on an economic, convenience, versatility, or quantity scale to support what we have now.

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