Monday, December 03, 2007

How much things cost

Desertec solar thermal proposal to generate 10-25% of Europe, ME, and North Africa's energy by 2050: estimated $550 billion dollars. Estimates are always low, so let's double to 1.1 trillion. Divide by 43 years = 25 billion per year (actual estimate 12.5 billion per year) Let's assume a similar item could be constructed in the American deserts.

Raising U.S. fuel efficiency by 10 mpg in 10 years should reduce imports by 15%. Not knowing what percentage of energy production is imported versus domestic, let's halve that to say the overall effect is to decrease consumption 7%. Estimated cost: $100 billion. Always low, so double it and divide by the 10 years - $20 billion a year. (This cost should be offset by lower gas costs later, but let's ignore those to make a worst case scenario.)

Wind. OK, these numbers took some time to find. The largest online wind farm in the U.S. has 421 turbines producing 735 Megawatts of power a year. That's roughly 1.75 MWs per turbine. Moreover, the U.S. produces 11,600 MWs of power per year, which is supposed to be about 1% of U.S. energy consumption. If we wanted wind power to produce 10% of the U.S. energy supply, we would be generating 116,000 MWs a year. At 1.75 MWs per turbine, that would require a total of 66,285 turbines. To make my life easier, I'm going to pretend that we have to build all of these from scratch. The Wind Energy Association estimates about 1.5 million dollars per industrial turbine, so... about 100 billion dollars. Then if we wanted to do this in 10 years, it'd be about $10 billion a year. To be pessimistic, let's say $20 billion.

Time to add
Massive solar network: 12.5 billion a year for say 15% of U.S. energy needs
Increase fuel efficiency: 20 billion a year to reduce energy consumption by 7%
Increase wind power: 20 billion a year for 10% of the energy needs

That's $52.5 billion a year to get one third (32%) of U.S. energy needs off of fossil fuels, even doubling every number I calculated and getting absolutely zero return on investment, which is obviously completely false.

Let's be a bit more aggressive.
Wind power to 20%. But if you do it in 20 years instead of 10, the per annum cost is the same. (It would actually take longer, but that reduces per year cost, so...) That brings us to 43%.

These numbers are obviously a bogus economic forecast as some costs come and go, the projects finish at different timeframes, etc., but I think they will make my point. I just want to get a very basic, basic take on the amount of money involved.

Now according to the Boston Globe, one Congressional Office estimates the cost of the Iraq war at $2 billion a week. At 52 weeks per year, that's $104 billion. Almost twice my (already doubled) estimate of the costs of reducing fossil fuel dependence by 43% in 20 years with only three mechanisms.

My point is actually not that the Iraq War is evil. You are all welcome to make that decision or not as you please. My point is actually that you hear over and over that the costs of doing anything about global warming and carbon emissions is so huge that any aggressive plan to combat it will drag destroy the world economy. And yet we are already spending double the amount I've forecasted and our economy is doing okay. I'm sure there's a drag of all the Iraq war spending, but our economy can basically handle it. Spending $52.5 billion a year is not going to destroy our $13.3 trillion dollar a year economy. Instead, it's a matter of thinking it's worth doing. Is it? Would you pay more taxes to do it? If not, what would you cut?


Church Lady said...

Paca, I'm catching up on your blog. I didn't realize how long it's been since I've last visited.

First, congrats on the guinea pig. Soo cute! (I have adopted a pet on my blog. If you click on it, you can go to the site and adopt your own blog-pet. THEY HAVE A LLAMA!!!)

Second, third and fourth--I LOVE the Harry Chapin song you posted. It's haunting and beautiful. I will have to go out and buy one of his CDs. This is the kind of music I love. And I agree with you about the story-in-a-song.

Fifth--Congrats on being Staff!

I have to read this current post. I read the first paragraph. Desertec--sounds interesting. I want to click on the link. Jason (Clarity of Night) posted something a while back that referred to Nikola Tesla. When I saw that, I read a bit and made a posting about Nikola Tesla. Seems he had an idea about providing the whole planet with energy--at no cost! Papers of his were confiscated, burned. Lots of mystery around him.

Off to read your post for today....

Church Lady said...

But the war has hurt our economy. Tremendously. I have a friend who works at Walter Reed Hospital in DC (where they treat wounded soldiers after they return from Germany).

She's a doctor, okay. Just to put this in perspective. There are no supplies in the supply closets. The *doctors* are hoarding manilla folders, staplers, etc.

A small example --our country is running out of money.

A larger example: Citigroup, the largest bank in the U.S., just borrowed 7 1/2 billion dollars from Abu Dhabi (I blogged about Abu Dhabi building the largest Guggenheim museum) -at 11 percent interest. This loan is what stopped the DOW from a freefall last week. But it's only a bandaid.

We are in trouble, my friend. I hate to be a doom and gloomer, but, as you and Robin would say, 'there you go.'

Ello said...

I have to agree with Chris on this one, Paca, it isn't as easy as you have spelled it out. I think we are in alot of trouble also and while it is easy to point fingers at the republicans who helped bring us there, it is not going to be an easy time fixing it. Yes global warming has got to be on our forefront, but it has to be dealt with strategically and carefully without further harm to our economy. And God knows how we are going to fix it.

Michael said...

There is a new "world wide web" emerging right before our eyes. It is a global energy network and, like the internet, it will change our culture, society and how we do business. More importantly, it will alter how we use, transform and exchange energy. For more information, see

pacatrue said...

Well, I completely agree that the issue of global warming as well as fossil fuel "independence" (actually, I don't see independence for a century; I only see less of a reliance) is a complicated and difficult issue. However, I do think that expense as justification to do nothing is overblown. A single measure being debated at the federal level now has to do with a 10% cut in doctors payments in medicare and comes in at $9 billion. That's almost enough to cover one year of the wind program by itself. The money is there to start changing our energy future. We'd just rather not spend it in that way.