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Source:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323723104578187623383055986.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLEThirdBucket

Fossil Fuels Vs. the Development of Renewable Energy

Robert Bryce's Dec. 17 op-ed ("Harvard Needs Remedial Energy Math") attacking campus efforts to have universities divest themselves of holdings in fossil-fuel companies is interesting for what it omits: even the slightest attempt to rebut the mathematical logic that shows fossil-fuel companies have become outlaws against the laws of physics. Here are the numbers: In order to prevent the two-degree Celsius rise in temperature that even the most conservative governments on earth have committed to avoiding, scientists tell us we can burn enough coal and oil and gas to produce 565 gigatons of CO2. Unfortunately, the planet's fossil-fuel companies, and the countries that operate like fossil-fuel companies (think Venezuela and Kuwait), have five times that much in their reserves. It's what their share prices are based on; they obviously plan to burn it; indeed, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars daily looking for more. If their business plan is carried out, the planet tanks.

Mr. Bryce is entirely correct that it will be hard to move away from fossil fuels, an enormous engineering challenge. But the Germans are demonstrating it can be done, and the most recent studies shows that we could rely on renewables for our power upwards of 99% of the time as early as 2030 if we got to work. Which we won't, if the fossil-fuel industry continues to exert its massive financial muscle to block change. That's why students in 189 campuses have so far risen up to demand divestment—this is the great moral challenge of our time, and maybe, given the stakes, of all time.

Bill McKibben

Founder, 350.org

Ripston, Vt.

Harvard may need a little remedial metaphysics (the study of being) as well. Solar panels and windmills do not spontaneously spring into existence. They need energy—lots of it—to make steel, aluminum, ultra-pure silicon and copper. They need energy for fabrication and oil for shipment and installation. My estimate is that one-quarter to one-third of the energy ultimately produced over solar panels and windmills' 20-to-30-year life expectancy went into making them. With China the main supplier, burning coal for energy, the manufacture of these products is anything but clean. Combining this with Mr. Bryce's analysis, solar and wind energy are just pipe-dreams that distract us from the real solution: nuclear electricity and carbon-neutral synthetic liquid fuels.

Richard J. McDonald, Ph.D.

Albany, Calif.

Mr. Bryce correctly illustrates the absurdity of a wind- and solar-energy future for many, many years. However, his calculations were much too generous. The short paragraph mentioning the intermittency of wind and solar is far more important than a casual reference. Wind- and solar-generation capacity is based on a 24/7 time scale with optimal wind and sun angle. When intermittency is included in generation capacity, wind ends up at approximately 15% and solar at approximately 12%. These intermittency factors are deeply hidden in wind and solar statistics and only show up when consumption statistics are shown. In 2010, solar energy consumption in the U.S. was eight one-hundredths of 1%.

Paul Quigg

Luray, Va.

A version of this article appeared December 26, 2012, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Fossil Fuels Vs. the Development of Renewable Energy.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law. For non-personal use or to order multiple copies, please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 1-800-843-0008 or visit

www.djreprints.com

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