Visual illustration of energy foolishness

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

I just learned that Robert Wilson (@CountCarbon) does a huge amount of graphing. (Yeah, yeah, I’m slow to catch up with what’s happening. On the other hand, keeping up with change is the purpose of this blog.)

Here are two of his illustrations that shows the utter foolishness of two specific energy policies: ethanol and solar power.


Question along with graph to help figure out your answer:

corn used in ethanol

Question: Would corn be better used to feed people than cars?

Answer: Yes.

Burning corn to move cars instead of nourishing humans is foolish at so many levels. Here are just a few:

  • Diverting that much corn into ethanol drives up the worldwide price of corn, thus increasing poverty amongst the world’s most vulnerable.
  • Tearing up never-disturbed grassland to create more acres for growing corn releases far more carbon than can be saved in decades from using ethanol.
  • There is so much lobbying money involved in pushing corn-for-fuel that politicians who would otherwise support freedom and free enterprise become huge fans of crony capitalism. If we could separate out this specific issues, most people (when completely calm) would call those behaviors corruption.
  • If this point is of concern to you, consider that much (most?) of the benefit from burning corn flows to large agricultural companies. Some call that corporate welfare, others call it crony capitalism. Take your pick depending on your economic worldview.

Unreliability of solar power

Check out how variable the energy output is from solar power in Germany. As expected, there is massive variability during the day. That means there has to be a lot of backup for electricity needed in the evening which is otherwise provided by solar during the early afternoon.Look at the variability between months from January & February to April through July.  Look at the variability by day within a month. That means more backup.

Remember that in Germany backup means coal. And that means lignite, a particularly dirty coal.

Here is the graph. Watch especially December.

German solar output by month


Forget about the variability from 2 pm to 7 pm. There is a far more serious problem.

The collapse in December output  means that 80% or 90% of the input that the electrical grid relies on from solar in every other month of the year disappears in December. That means that essentially every watt of capacity provided by solar must have a watt of backup power from coal. Dirty coal.

Further compounding the economic waste is that the coal plants will sit idle for a large portion of every day and a large portion of 11 months. All those coal plants will be sitting idle. Except when they burn lignite.

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