Offshore wind beats oil

As the US counts the cost of offshore oil drilling Janet Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute has sensibly respondedwith a reminder of the advantages of offshore wind energy. Offshore drilling has tempered the rapid decline in US oil production which peaked in the early 1970s. But only somewhat and with increasing difficulty and apparently at a level of risk greater than credited until now.

We should leave oil before it leaves us” was the advice of Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency.  Larsen points out that it’s not as if there aren’t other options. One is expanded public transport and better space for bicycles and pedestrians. That’s not an insignificant contribution to lowered use, though it’s not one that has any appeal for our Minister of Transport who is intent on starving public transport in favour of roadbuilding over the next few years. A second is the electrification of vehicles and powering them through renewable energy sources. Larsen points to the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates that the current electrical infrastructure could power over 80 percent of the US car fleet, relying largely on off-peak electricity as cars are charged at night. She notes that upgrading to a stronger, smarter, and interconnected national grid that taps into the country’s enormous wind, solar, and geothermal resources completes the transition. Here in New Zealand the positive possibilities of powering our entire car fleet from renewable energy sources have been canvassed with similar optimism.

Wind-sourced electricity has the potential to work particularly effectively in powering vehicles. The Edison pilot project in Denmark will aim at showing how:

“The basic idea is to charge the vehicles at night when the wind continues to blow, but when there is low demand for electricity. During the day, each vehicle will become a mobile electricity storage unit that can be plugged back in after the morning commute, potentially supplying energy back to the grid during times of peak demand, thus smoothing out energy distribution woes.

“Electricity charging stations powered by wind turbines will be installed in private homes as well as in corporate and public parking lots. Both fast-charging stations as well as battery swapping alternatives will be explored by the project.”

Back to Larsen’s article. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that the world’s top carbon emitters have enough wind energy potential to meet their current electricity needs many times over. When land-based sites are included, the total US potential from wind is estimated at 22 times current electricity use. For China the wind resource potential is 15 times greater than the country’s current electricity consumption, and for Russia, it is a staggering 170 times higher.

Offshore wind alone, Larsen points out, has the potential in the US to provide four times the nation’s current electricity use.  Looking at only the offshore potential she provides a graph of the ten top CO2 emitting countries.

To date most of the offshore production has been in Europe, but China and Japan have begun developing offshore farms and it seems possible that the US will soon join them. The recent approval of the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts and other proposals under consideration point in that direction.

Wind energy is still much disputed, including here in New Zealand.  This statement from the Wind Energy Association was issued in March in reply to what it saw as the failure of the Institute of Professional Engineers to understand the potential wind power offers. But for all the naysayers the industry is growing rapidly in many countries, including the US and China.

I liked Janet Larsen’s final paragraph:

“Unlike oil, wind is widely-distributed and clean; it does not spill or disrupt climate. It is also becoming increasingly cheap. With wind, we have a well that will not run dry.”

Tell that to Gerry Brownlee as we offer extended tax breaks for offshore oil exploration in New Zealand.

10 thoughts on “Offshore wind beats oil”

  1. That estimate of 80% could even go higher if people will, over time, accept that for most tasks smaller, lighter, more efficient EVs are more than adequate.

    1. Wind is already economical on-shore and is being built.

      But Brownlee's policy of promoting fossil fuels over other forms of energy tilts the market in their favour.

      I would rather not use subsidies but rather let all forms of energy face the full costs they impose, including the costs they impose on the environment, and then let the market decide what is most cost effective.

  2. StephenR

    What part of "tax breaks" for petroleum is not clear to you?

    In addition, what Brownlee does matters directly and in this way. If a proposal for a petroleum project has potential adverse effects (such as potential to leak all over our coastlines or into waterways), councils and the Environment Court under the RMA have to measure the potential of those effects against the national interest.

    That national interest is determined by documents issued by the government of the day, including for example the action plan on petroleum with its stated objective:

    "To ensure New Zealand is a highly attractive global destination for petroleum exploration and production investment, such that we are able to develop the full potential of our petroleum resources."

    So what Brownlee says tilts the playing field in favour of petroleum. To put it another way, petroleum is not internalising all of its costs, Brownlee assists in allowing them to pass them off onto the rest of us.

    My recent post Travel industry imagines a world with far fewer flights

    1. Hmm. I think this is being harsh (and disclosure – I am in the business). I dont think there is any reasonable way to go cold turkey on petroleum for auto and air. I would be ecstatic if we had a wind down over 20 years. Improved public transport and electrification is going to take that long at least. Given that, it is very much in NZ corps interest for us to find our own petroleum. Even in a post-burn-it-cars era, petroleum is going to remain extremely useful fluid.

      That isnt necessarily incompatible with building wind onshore in thousands rather than current hundreds, which we will need.

      1. Phil, cold turkey is no doubt unreasonable, but I see far more enthusiasm from the government for further oil exploration than for long-term thinking about how renewable energy, wind power in particular, might be meshed with an electric vehicle fleet. One has to ask at what point the focus of political attention and subsidy can be expected to shift. The impression I have is that without pressure the current Minister is more likely to wait until the last drop of oil has been located and extracted before he turns serious attention to the alternative. That would be both a bit late for the vehicle fleet and not very sensible for emissions reduction either.

    2. Fair point about tax breaks Tom, but still no big deal, I think. Result we get some royalties/income tax/GST and the price of petrol in NZ doesn't change a jot. Effect on demand for electric cars and/or wind power pretty low, wouldn't you think?

  3. Just wait! The dinosaurs amongst us will declare -"Batteries", "Inconvenient", "Uneconomic", "Not as green as you think they are", etc etc !! And not in my Bay! Anything to avoid CHANGE. Because that is what they are really scared of. They don't like change – no matter how urgent it is, or how sensible, or needed; they will resist it with their dying breath, and for many it may be just that.

  4. I use an EV every day, an electric bike if the weather's good, a bigger EV if its wet or I have loads to carry. We do well over 2000km a year in small EVs round town. There is absolutely not impact on the power bill, the chargers cost about the same as a light bulb to run. Battery life has greatly exceeded manufacturer's life claims, replacements are getting cheaper by the day. Maintenance costs have been zero.

    Even the most sceptical people, when confronted by a working example, have to agree that it makes sense. I foresee a tipping point soon, probably when gas hits that magic 2 bucks a litre again. Common sense will prevail, not even the great gerry will be able to stop it.

    It's all here and now folks, get the sparky in to put a 3 point plug in your car port, you'll need it very soon.

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