No, Wired: Google Is Not and Cannot Be 100% Renewable

Published January 28, 2017

Nick Stockton’s comment (February Wired, p. 48) could hardly be more incorrect. Unless he’s talking about hydroelectric power, no 24/7/365 company like Google can be 100% renewable, much less this year. Accounting for nighttime, clouds and windless stretches, especially on the hottest and coldest days, 15-25% of the year is far more realistic.

Electricity the rest of the time must come from “backup” systems that are actually the primary energy sources, 75-85% of the year. That means still more concrete, steel, copper and numerous other materials, plus fossil fuel energy to mine, process, manufacture, haul and assemble the backup generators, plus coal or gas to run them.

The US Clean Power Plan is largely defunct under Trump. China’s cap-and-trade is mostly PR and mirage; it is building coal-fired power plants at a fevered pace and starting to frack for natural gas, while beginning (finally) to clean up its horrid air pollution. Ditto for India: its solar is for remote villages; its primary focus is on coal-based electricity.

Invest in “green business models,” Stockton says. How are wind, solar and batteries good for the environment, human health, wildlife or human rights? Their rare earth metals are mined and processed in Inner Mongolia, under conditions akin to what the USA wouldn’t tolerate in 1890. Cadmium for batteries comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where family and child labor extracts the metal under equally horrendous conditions.

Solar panels are land-hungry, while wind turbines butcher birds and bats and hammer the health of humans living near them. And don’t forget the concrete, steel, copper, plastics, fiberglass and other materials for the turbines, bases and solar panels, plus fossil fuel energy to mine, process, manufacture, haul and assemble them. It’s all hellishly unsustainable.

From my perch, the only green in “green” energy is greenbacks: beau coup cash for subsidies and feed-in tariffs. That too is unsustainable.

As to extreme weather causing a 400% increase in property damage and insurance payouts since 1980, that’s due to more expensive homes built in harm’s way, and to a few perfectly targeted storms: think Andrew, Katrina and Sandy. No category 3-5 hurricane has hit the US mainland since October 2005 – the longest such period in history.

Perhaps that hiatus is due to more plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Probably not. But neither are Gore, McKibben and Obama’s mythical “unprecedented” weather cataclysms.

Have our schools made an entire generation skilled only at regurgitating PC eco-speak, yet unable to do simple, honest analyses?

Paul Driessen
Former Wired subscriber, Fairfax, VA