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The New Math of Alternative Energy

Rebecca Smith, The Wall Street Journal via YaleGlobal
Does going green finally make economic sense?
The numbers are starting to look promising.

For years, the big criticism of alternative energy was cost: It was too expensive compared with energy based on traditional fuels like coal and natural gas.

Even though the fuel was often free — such as wind or the sun’s rays — alternative-energy producers had to plow lots of money into finding the best way to capture that energy and convert it into electricity. Fossil-fuel producers, on the other hand, could draw on billions of dollars in infrastructure investments and decades of know-how.

Now the equation is showing significant signs of change. Costs are falling for some alternative-energy sources, driven by new technology and renewed development interest.

Alternative energy still can’t compete with fossil fuels on price. But the margins are narrowing, particularly since oil and gas prices have been rising. The math looks even more favorable if you consider the environmental cost of fossil fuels — which most purely economic calculations don’t.

Alternative energy still faces obstacles to mainstream success. Many projects need government or utility subsidies and incentives to be viable. Generating costs have risen recently for some types of renewable resources, pushed by higher materials prices, labor costs and demand. Supply chains are prone to hiccups, and wind and solar-energy resources need backup sources of power to compensate on windless or cloudy days.
(23 Feb 2007)
This WSJ article was published earlier, but now it is available online for public access.

Australia: Researcher wants renewable energy probe

AAP, Sydney Morning Herald
A leading environmental researcher has called for a government taskforce to look into renewable energy to balance up debate on Australia’s response to climate change.

Barney Foran, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s Centre for Research and Environmental Studies, says Australia is 10 or 20 years behind Europe in thinking on renewable energy.

He says current incentives are so small that they produce no incentive for action.

He was speaking at an ANU briefing at Parliament House called Climate Change and Australia.
(28 Feb 2007)

Wind drought causing farm water woes

Staff, ABC
Pastoralists in Western Australia’s mid-west say a ‘wind drought’ is causing major problems on their properties. Windmills are not catching enough wind to pump ground water to fill storage tanks.

Murchison pastoralist Simon Broad says in the past six weeks he has had to hand fill his water troughs. The manager of Boolardy Station, Mark Halleen, says the lack of wind is also affecting his property, 350 kilometres north-east of Geraldton.

He says he is working 16 hour days to ensure his stock is getting enough water. “What we’ve been doing is … we’ve actually sort of been walking stock between windmills and been pumping the waters to the extent where some of them are forking so we’ve actually had to shift stock to further places or cart water,” he said.

The Bureau of Meteorology confirms wind speeds in the Murchison area have been about six kilometres an hour below average in the past month.
(27 Feb 2007)
This is very sparsely populated and grazed country so the impact will not be large; long term average wind speed for February