President’s ‘Sputnik Moment’ Will Take America Back Into the Dark Ages

Posted on Thu 01/27/2011 by



In his State of the Union address, President Obama used the ‘Sputnik Moment’ metaphor in an effort to cover a broad range of things. Foremost among them is his call for a ramping up of ‘renewable energy, which he also referred to as clean energy. In that speech, the President said:

“I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.”

‘Sputnik Moment’!


I understand fully that it may only have been a metaphor, but when it comes to renewable power, he’s sadly misinformed. In this day and age when we are now beyond technological improvements like the Space Shuttle, the President wants to launch Sputnik, which, in effect, if this call is actually carried through, then the result will be the same, America going backwards, in fact back into the dark ages, literally.

If renewable energy is ramped up to the level he calls for, then consumption of electrical power as we use it today will disappear. We will literally be going back into the dark. No electrical power.

I know that’s a pretty bold thing to say, but renewable power CANNOT supply its power for the full 24/7/365 requirement that there is today, when 65% of every watt being generated in the U.S. is required for that full 24 hour basis, and to emphasise that, this simple, rarely referred to, and much maligned chart proves that.

This is a load curve for actual power consumption in the U.S. It doesn’t matter where for, because it is the same in every major city right down to every small town, North, South, East, West, exactly the same. The horizontal axis shows the hours in the day. The vertical axis is actual power consumption. The Orange line shows power consumption in the warmer Summer months, and the blue line is for the cooler Winter months.

Below the dark line is power that is being consumed ALL the time, and as you can easily see, that amounts to around 65% of all generated electrical power.

I have gone to inordinate lengths in numerous Posts to prove conclusively that renewable power cannot provide that level of power. At best, Wind power runs at a power delivery efficiency rate of 25%, or 6 hours a day, and Solar power runs at an efficiency rate of 15% at best, or around three and a half hours a day. Just in the last 12 months alone, the Series I am continuing shows exactly this, and if you take this link, you can click on any one of those Posts to see exactly why this so.

If as the President hopes, the U.S. is producing 80% of all its power from those renewable sources, that leaves 20% of power that actually can provide 24/7/365 power, and look again at that Load Curve where 65% of all power is required absolutely.

See now how America goes ‘into the dark’ literally, as power winks off all across the Country.

This is not just a metaphor any more.

This is absolute madness.

Let’s look at it, and actually attempt to spend dollars to introduce something like this.

Let’s take a huge lump of money, say $6 Billion in today’s dollars, and extrapolate it out to actual power requirements.

I promise that I won’t even attempt to do the sums for a ‘filthy’ coal fired plant, because the President only wants Clean Energy. I won’t even attempt to even suggest a coal fired plant that uses Carbon Capture and Sequestration (euphemistically labeled ‘Clean Coal’) technology, because, seriously, that will never be achieved on the scale required, if it ever can be achieved at all, another thing I have explained in great detail over the last three years.

For the sake of comparison with a Plant that actually can provide 24/7/365 power, let’s include a Nuclear power plant, because after all, it does not emit any Carbon Dioxide (CO2) that ‘filthy’ substance (we all breathe) that is causing this Climate Change/Global Warming that has put us in a place where the President tells us we need to ramp up renewable power.

Now, before any of you say that Nuclear power is subsidised on a large scale, if the truth is told here more money in Government subsidies goes to renewable power than to Nuclear Power.

Also, before any of you say that the cost will escalate because a Nuclear plant will take ten years before it actually produces a watt of power for consumers, that same time frame also applies for those Wind Plants, and Solar plants, and the ‘cost of money’ will increase the same rate for all of these plants.

The formula used for the following power calculations is NP X 24 X 365 X 1000 X ER, where NP is Nameplate Capacity, 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year, 1000 to convert from MW (million watts) to KWH (thousand watts) and ER the efficiency rate of actual power delivery.


Now, that $6 Billion will get us one large scale Nuclear power plant, and here I’m not talking technology that is still yet to be proven, but technology currently in use right now.

That $6 Billion will get us ONE large scale Nuclear power Plant, an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) plant. It will have two reactors, each reactor driving one huge turbine/generator complex. It will have a Nameplate Capacity (NP) of 2,200 MegaWatts. (MW)

These Nuclear plants have the greatest efficiency rate for delivery of power than for any form of power generation, and the current U.S. average is 95%. This efficiency rate takes into account down time for refuelling the rods, and maintenance, usually carried out during the refuelling process.

Using the standard calculation to give us the actual power provided to the grids for consumers, (NP X 24 X 365 X 1000 X ER) we come to a figure of 18.3 Billion KiloWattHours. (KWH)


For that same $6 Billion we will get a very large plant that will have 550 huge towers, each topped with a nacelle containing a generator that will produce 3MW while the plant is working. It will produce that 3MW while ever that huge three bladed fan out front is rotating, as explained at this link.

So, with 550 towers each with a 3MW nacelle, we have 1,650MW of Nameplate Capacity. Say, that’s reasonably close to what we are getting out of that big ‘nuke’, 2,200MW.

However, when we talk about power actually sent to the grids for consumption by all users, it is a completely different matter altogether.

As I mentioned above, the delivery rate of power from Wind Plants is currently averaging 25%, which is a little higher than the current Worldwide average of only 20%, but still not even close to the claimed 35%.

So, using the same formula for actual power available for consumers, we arrive at a total of 3.6 Billion KWH.


Keep in mind here that Solar Plants would be OK in the Southern regions of the U.S. but you won’t see any of these being constructed in the Norther States, where they will be next to useless.

Here it becomes a little complex, because there are two types of Solar Power, Solar Photovoltaic (Solar PV) which uses cells in large panels to generate the power, and Concentrating Solar, also called Solar Thermal, which uses mirrors to concentrate the Sunlight onto a compound, boiling this compound which is then used to boil water to steam to drive a conventional Turbine/Generator complex.

I won’t use Solar PV here, because they only produce power for on average a few hours a day.

So let’s construct a Concentrating Solar Plant, and here it also becomes a little more complex. These plants can still only produce power at a 50% rate at best, because that’s the longest time they can keep that compound boiling enough to boil water for the required steam to drive the complex. Because of that, these plants have to also install a Natural Gas Fired plant to provide power when the Solar plant goes off the boil.

So, in effect, they will still be emitting CO2 from the burning of that Natural Gas, and here I’m not talking small amounts but quite a considerable amount of CO2 emissions.

So there’s the quandary we are in when it comes to Solar Power.

So here that efficiency rate for delivery of power (just from the renewable portion of this plant is actually as high as 50%, and that’s a very conservative outlook there.

For that $6 Billion we can get three plants producing around 400MW each which is around the highest power currently obtainable from these types of plant.

That gives us a Nameplate Capacity of 1,200 MW.

Using the same formula we have used for all these Plants, that gives us power supplied to the grid, (just from the renewable portion of this plant) of 5.25 Billion KWH.


Nuclear Power – 18.3 Billion KWH

Wind Power – 3.6 Billion KWH

(Concentrating) Solar Power – 5.25 Billion KWH

You be the judge.

Now, let’s refer back to the President’s statement of 80% power from renewables by 2035. Let’s pretend for a minute or so that the time these plants can actually deliver these power for the 24/7/365 basis will be eased into the background, and let’s then do the Math for just the cost of all this.

The US. currently consumes 4 Trillion KWH of power each year.

80% of that comes to 3.2 Trillion KWH

The bulk of this power will have to come from Wind, as Solar will be virtually useless in the North, so, to supply that total amount of power at that 25% power delivery efficiency rate, that means we will need to construct 1,000 of those calculated wind plants above, costing $6 Trillion in today’s dollars, or extrapolated out, $240 Billion each year for each of those 25 years.

1,000 of those plants equates to 550,000 huge wind towers.

Let’s pretend we even have the factories and the work force for that already in place right now, and that’s for nacelle construction, tower construction, then on site construction, and then the power delivery transmission infrastructure.

It means that the U.S. will need to construct 40 of these plants each and every year until 2035, or 22,000 of those huge towers each year. Working around the clock, 24/7/365 that equates to one huge tower every 24 minutes. That 24/7/365 is unrealistic, so going on the average working day, that now equates to one every 6 minutes, for the next 25 years.

Now perhaps you can see how what the President says is outright rhetoric.

There is absolutely no way at all this can be achieved.

This whole ‘Sputnik moment’ when related to renewable power fails on every front.

It fails on the economic front.

It fails on the construction front.

Most importantly, it fails absolutely on the provision of actual power front, because even if this could actually be achieved, then the power delivered by all those half a billion towers will only be available for around 6 hours a day at best, and all you need do now is refer back to the load curve above when 65% of all power being generated is required absolutely, 24/7/365.

There’s a wonderful line from a quirky Australian movie that was a worldwide smash, ‘The Castle’. In that movie, the father says to his son ‘Tell him he’s dreamin’.

The same applies here.

When the President says we need to strive to have 80% of all power in the US generated from renewable sources, someone needs to say, and say right out loud:

‘Tell him he’s dreamin!’.