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Sunday, August 23, 2009

American Wars and Wind power

It has often been opined that the real reason America gets involved in so many wars is to secure her energy imports. This always seemed a bit far fetched and I wondered how much extra energy America could have generated if she had used all the wealth expended on wars over the past decade or so to build wind turbines. The results are interesting but I have to depend on whatever information I can glean from the Internet. I'll put down the information I have found and where it comes from and show the calculations. If you have other figures, plug them in and see what you get. But first a word about units.

Two important concepts when you talk about electricity are power and energy. Think of a couple of lads who have to move a pile of bricks up from the ground to, say, the fifth floor. They walk up the stairs with the bricks. One of them is big and strong, the other small and weak. The more powerful chap can take the bricks 10 at a time and finishes the work in half a day. The smaller chap can only carry 5 bricks at a time and takes a full day to finish. When they both have finished, they have expended the same amount of energy (as measured by the weight of bricks times the height they have been moved to), but the big chap is more powerful. He has done the work faster. Power is a rate of expending energy (rate of doing work). In electricity the watt, kilowatt or megawatt is a measure of power. It is the rate at which you are expending energy. The Kilowatt hour is the measure of how much energy you have expended. If you expend energy at a rate of one kilowatt for one hour, you have used one kilowatt hour.
So what information do we have. From this web site, the electrical energy consumption of the United States in 2005 (latest I could find) was 3,816,000,000mWh/y (megawatt hours per year - a megawatt is a million watts). Incidentally, this was one of the few sites that used the correct units so perhaps its information is more trustworthy than some of the others.
From this web site, the cost to the Americans of the wars they have been engaged in since 2001(eight and a half years to August 2009) is $901,386,000,000US. Click on this site and watch the numbers go up.

From information from a friend in the wind turbine business, it costs about $2millionUS per megawatt of wind turbine generating capacity. Just a word here about what this means.

A wind turbine is rated for how much power it will generate when the wind speed is optimal (neither too much or too little). However, the wind does not blow all the time. Wind sites are monitored before a wind farm is constructed to find the capacity factor of the area. Below about 35%, a site is often rejected and a higher capacity factor is, of course, desirable. I will use the 35% figure since it is conservative for our example. What this means is that a one megawatt wind generator in a 35% site will be generating on average over the year just over a third of a megawatt or 350kilowatts of power. Over a year of 365 days of 24 hours this will produce 350 x 365 x 24 = 3066Mwh of electrical energy.

So how many megawatts of electrical generating capacity could we buy for the $901,386,000,000US of wealth that has been expended in the wars from 2001 to Aug. 2009. Dividing this figure by $2mUS per megawatt we get 450693Mw of generating capacity.

Since one megawatt of generating capacity in a 35% site will produce 3066mWh of electricity, 450,693 megawatts of generating capacity will generate 450,693 x 3066 = 1,381,824,738 mWh of electricity per year.

Since the electricity generation of the USA in 2005 was 3,816,000,000mWh/y, this is an extra 36% of the 2005 generation.

How much imported oil would this replace. How much better would the US balance of payments be. How many young lives would have been saved on both sides and would this have been enough to avoid the present economic melt down. How many terrorists would not have had a motivation to pursue their path of destruction. With the American example, how much further ahead would other countries be in their uptake of renewable energy. How much corruption and misery for their own people would have been avoided in the oil rich countries. If America is indeed fighting wars to secure her energy supplies, it is false economy. We should look at Ike's warning about the Industrio-military complex for the real motivation for all these wars the Americans loose.