The Pros & Cons Of Renewable Energy

You are correct.
Electric motors typically are 75% to 95% efficient wherein ICEs are typically 15% to 30%. Another helpful property is this: an internal combustion motor increases power with speed (amount of gas burned proportional to how many times the thing explodes in a minute) and achieves its rated power at high rpm. So to get high horsepower, you need to rev it up. An electric motor on the other hand creates power from electricity proportionally to current squared. At start up (very low) speeds you can run an electric motor at very high power (often times a multiple of its rated power) for a short time because it is the heat build-up/dissipation that limits the power output ability). Electric motors match the use requirements better for cars and (diesel-electric) locomotives. Electric motors are also electric generators and in most cases easily recapture kinetic energy from braking, which is something fossil burning motors cannot do. I believe that this recapture of energy from locomotives is fairly recent as I know an engineer who did some pioneering work on it about 10 years ago.
For this reason many commercial, and particularly naval vessels and locomotives have gone to a diesel electric system wherein a diesel motor is run (typically at 3k rpm) at a continuous speed where it has highest efficiency and lasts a very long time, which turns a generator that converts the mechanical motion into electric at about 95% efficiency, and then this runs high efficiency electric motor(s). Its still a fossil powered system, but combines electric motors.
FOR THE RECORD: I have no expectation (and am not promoting the idea) that the AMERICAN WAY of life will continue if we just replace fossil fuel with renewables. I am a refugee from America who started a farm and wrote a book on how to scrape by with a DIFFERENT lifestyle that is much more similar to my farming grandparents. Please consider walking away

not a big lover of Michael Moore, but bravo to him for supporting this nice piece of work

Perhaps the biggest failure in the history of movements has been the environmental movement after the 70’s. It’s hard to pinpoint the biggest reasons for this out of so many. The hypocrisy of our rich and famous stands our as a pretty big slap in the face, with “climate envoy” John Kerry flying around in a private jet being only the latest example in a long list. One could google pictures of Al Gore’s mansions just to enjoy getting pissed off. I actually thought at one time that the world would embrace our way of thinking and we’d all become passionate together about renewable energy. I was an idiot. Politicizing the issue didn’t help since we now have a guaranteed 50% of the population who rightly believe that most environmentalists are full of shit. Too many people at this very moment believe that renewable energy will allow business as usual to continue and this will be a harsh awakening. Too many people don’t realize that there is no substitute for oil, at least for life as we know it. Renewables are a derivative of oil energy at this point, not anywhere near a replacement. Now it looks like we have an administration that will actively attack the oil/gas industry, much like shooting oneself in the testicles. Not that the fracking industry won’t crash anyway. The problem is that the core of what drives the economy is flying, sailing ships across the oceans, operating heavy machinery, and driving goods to market with diesel fuel. There is no realistic alternative to oil for any of this. In the end, when most of us are utterly destitute, we will consume much less and recycle items for survival. Hopefully this will be excellent for the environment. Until then, good luck with alternative energies.

EVs may be more efficient in some ways, I’m not sure that is helpful at this late stage. EVs have a voracious appetite for copper, nickel, lithium, cobalt, silver and whatever else that has to be mined using lots of diesel fuel and then transported all over the world using more fossil fuel. Lots of oil, rubber, fresh water etc… will be needed in the manufacture of all these EVs. A used vehicle is much greener than an EV. The other problem you run into is how are increasingly impoverished citizens around the world going to secure financing to replace over a billion internal combustion engines? Even if they could, would there be enough coal fired electric plants to recharge all of those vehicles or would we need many more? Nuclear isn’t going to work because it takes years (and lots of oil) to build up more capacity and we don’t have years anymore. It’s my opinion that smart people, such as those on this website will need to start focusing on walkable communities and scaled down activities as an adaption to the current predicament.

Mr Curious
I am happy to see that your feet are on the ground. The American way of life is as dead, going forward, as the dodo bird. Fossil fueled life is over, except for the elite. Renewables have no chance in hell to keep an American lifestyle. I am happy to see that you understand that and hope that you can help form a workable alternative to muddle through (which I examine in my book).
I think that we need to go past the passionate BIG corporate SCIENCE! has the answer to replace fossil fuel! BS and work with reasonable compromises, such as electric vehicles that go 5 times more slowly, weigh 10 times less, use 100 times less energy, and can be made of no rare earth or expensive metals. Actually this is so easy to do now and in fact is done in large scale in some major Chine cities but does not fit corporate America and arrogant consumers of their dream narrative and is completely ignored.
Everyone inside the US knows that everyone on the planet wants to emulate them and there is absolutely no alternative. Therefore renewables have no future, despite the fact that humans have more experience with renewables than with fossil fuels, and there have been a number of successful steady state civilizations.
I think that things are very different and more optimistic in Asia, particularly in China. Even in Japan we have a new class of vehicles to ameliorate the fossil energy issue and help us muddle through: 7 hp single occupancy commuter vehicles. Unfortunately its a struggle because American companies wont leave us alone to develop our own solutions.
Instead of <em>-alternative energies- can they replace fossil to keep our American Dream? YES OR NO!</em>' please think instead of what we can do to reasonably survive the best we can. Third world countries and advancing countries such as China have many insights that a humble person can take advantage of. This is no longer the American century, as Gerald Celente often points out, and America is not the go-to place for lifestyle answers or even for technology. We need to be more modest and humble and look past the crap that big corporations are offering us in the US. I have the very definite impression that American companies are a big part of the problem and keeping us away from practical solutions (not unlike what they do in the medical area preventing low cost/low energy medicines because of conflict with expensive interventions and vaccines). My grand parents would have been thrilled to incorporate (refashion/redevelop ie. throw out the Corporate crap and make their own appropriate solutions) the existing technology that we now have to make their lives better on the farm. My observations of how to do this were a major motivation to write my book. One cannot have a meaningful debate when the assumption is that renewable energy comprises negotiating with a bank to put solar panels on a McMansion and become integrated into pricing and distribution schemes that are optimized to enhance shareholder value, with resultant extremely low EROI (which begs the conclusion that renewables simply cant cut it). Or, whether to buy an electric car that weighs 3000 pounds and fits the interstate system, to continue to enjoy car culture, [using renewables instead of fossil fuel!] I suggest that for a beginning point (BEFORE seriously considering arguments about (-can renewables replace fossil fuel? YES or NO!- ) we should all get the hell out of our suburban McMansions and start dealing with the reality of wealth production. If all discussion of 'renewables Can or cannot!!! which is it!!! is from a perch from a McMansion, then the arguments are unmoored and the assumptions need some evaluation before proceeding.
The most common counter argument to this is: but we cant ALL go back to the land with renewables! How about the millions of people in the cities! How about the millions without skills! Yeah, so what about them. This is what happens when an empire collapses. No hand waving, renewable energies, big SCIENCE! or discussion can change that.

I’m about 1/3 through Mots’ book “Take Back the Power: Sustainable energy and freedom are within your grasp” and it’s a real gem! It has sparked numerous aha moments about why we have the grid system we do, what we could do instead at our local or individual level, and the change in thinking about energy usage it would entail.
JAG-It was interesting to hear you mention wanting to use solar electric for cooling water, I’m thinking of going the opposite direction this summer and heating water for thermal storage in a hoop house (but also for some lights, fans, etc.).
Anyway, if anyone is thinking of doing their own solar electric systems, buy this book!
Part of what made this book so delightful was the huge contrast to a previous book on the topic I made the mistake of reading (well 75% through it before I quit it): Gretchen Bakke’s “The Grid: The Fraying Wires between Americans and our energy.” (One of Bill Gates favorite books for 2016!). At 364 pages it should have been half as long. But the real problem was Bakke’s thesis about how to fix our grid: more investment, more top down “smart” control, and trust the experts and don’t do anything yourself.
Looking forward to finishing the remaining 2/3 of the book. And probably sending Mots some questions later this summer if I try to put it into practice.

It will require a fascination with energy efficiency by everyone.
That 7hp car fascinated me. Of course my soon to be solar powered e-bike (I have all the panels and parts, just haven’t gotten around to it yet…) to get to the local store is pretty fascinating, to me.

I read an advance copy and had my curiosity peeked, but was too deep in my internal chaos of divorce to study it.
Will come back on this topic now.
Really agree with David Henry above, to pay attention whether the author is decentralizing or centralizing control. A key axis.
Thanks Mots!


I wish I lived where you did DH, but my wife is addicted to the beach. Unless she divorces me (I won’t be divorcing her, lol) then I am stuck with 8-9 months of heat and humidity on the Texas Gulf Coast.
This may be old news to you, but this video shows the advantages of PV-direct water heating versus solar thermal water heating.

I also recommend Mots’ book “Take Back the Power!” - good ideas, good stories, and he has lots of experience using the innovative interrupted DC power circuits (that he invented) in his own house and community.
I’ve got one of his circuits (via SandPuppy - thanks!) wired up and running from some of my own solar panels. Haven’t used it much yet but looking forward to more experimentation.
For more info, buy the book or see

I second the interest in Mot’s book. I just finished reading it and am considering how the information should fit in to my far northern life. I already have a small PV system, but I think Mot is suggesting a fundamental shift in how we may decentralize energy production and shift our lifestyles for greater individual independence. This shift doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does require flexibility and releasing our death grip on fast everything.

I’m always glad to see energy up at the top of this list. It’s a deep subject and I am glad to see everyone chipping in.
It’s also pretty controversial now. I joke with my students that when I chose to go into engine design almost everyone I met would say how interesting it sounded and wished me luck. Now? At least on the 'net you typically get a reception normally reserved for an unemployed son-in-law or a noisy neighbor.
As far as engines and carbon footprint go? First ask where the car is to be driven (and therefore the source of the electricity). Then ask about other things like driving duties and personal finances. But at least for now, it really doesn’t make much difference.
I know this is not going to be popular, but it is true.
At this point you may, or may not, be doing mother nature a favor by driving a fully electric car. It depends on where you live. At least with natural gas turbines making the electricity it has transformed fully electric cars from a bad joke into a small improvement. But, to be honest, hybrids are almost always a good step wherever you live. None of it will make much difference as things stand now. A difference in total carbon emissions of 10 to 20 percent just doesn’t matter much. Could it be a part of a suite of technologies that could cut total societal carbon emissions by a quarter or even a third? I believe it could…
Again, so what?
That ain’t going to save the planet. It will make some people feel better I guess. But always remember this: carbon inputs in the build stage scale with cost. Not on a 1:1 basis but cost does mean increased carbon input. Energy is an enormous input to auto production. It takes years for an E-car to break even. Some never do. Remember this the next time some millionaire driving a $200k Tesla lectures you on driving a normal sedan.

excellent post will. yes troof is usually not popular

I would like to believe in EVs, but I drive what doesn’t stand out around here, and carries the loads and serves the utility (and never in the shop). A number of years ago, a friend borrowed my custom ordered suburban (plain with invisible add ons), and a (big) car dealership owner who dropped by, sneered at it, saying (sneeringly) ‘we get one or two a year that buy for ‘function’’.

i need the link. that is my neighbors place. lol

been driving ev’s for decades.
on the golf course.
had to be towed a number of times

I see a lot of comments about EV’s being powered by coal/natgas/etc. If you are concerned where your power for your EV comes from, put solar on your roof. The simple reality is that most people install solar for financial reasons, environment being secondary. In CA, PG&E territory- solar systems generally pay for themselves in 7 years or less. Its lot cheaper to fill your EV with solar power than your ICE car with gas in CA.
As for EV’s, I definitely second all the comments about the Chevy Volt. Its a great car. We have both a 1st and 2nd gen model. The 1st gen model had great build quality for a Chevy and gets about 40 miles EV only range and about 35 mpg on gas. You can pick up a nice used one for around $7,500. The 2nd gen is a lot more fun to drive and we routinely get 50-60 mile range and 40+mpg on gas. You can pick a nice one up for around $15K. Its too bad that Chevy discontinued it or at least didn’t resurrect as a small SUV. These are great cars at a good price. Just think of what they will start going for when gas hits $5/gallon…
I am also a bit of a car nut. So while EV’s are the likely future and many can be fun to drive, there’s is still a lot of fun to be had with a nice V8 and a manual transmission.

Thanks Mots for the reply. Didn’t realize you had an entire book on this. Anyway, you bring up a good point. The corporate model of strip mining the earth for it’s resources and citizens for their wealth and personal information is utterly incompatible with environmental harmony on earth. In other words our conundrum is that we can’t possibly nurture the environment and simultaneously support the corporate system, which is at the moment is presumably what keeps us from living in caves. How does one unplug from the system that is causing so much damage without unplugging oneself?

the idea of small scale alternative energy is a great idea. getting off the grid is almost as important as getting off the radar. the following quote is where i have some issues.
“The most common counter argument to this is: but we cant ALL go back to the land with renewables! How about the millions of people in the cities! How about the millions without skills! Yeah, so what about them. This is what happens when an empire collapses. No hand waving, renewable energies, big SCIENCE! or discussion can change that.”
i happen to have friends and family that live in cities. those people rely on a large range of centralized utilities and services. it is insulting to simply cast them aside for some kind of my way or the highway zealotry. these people make up over 80% of the us population. they contribute to the whole. can some of them move to the mtns. of western nc.? yeah i am sure samantha wants a bunch more neighbors. the truth is most can’t. a large % are boomers who are too old to start a homestead out in the boondocks.
i was a member of an earlier "back to the land " movement in the 60’s and 70’s. 95% of those people have moved back to the cities. the us landscape is littered with the well intentioned failures of that generation.
there is this myth about energy in china. 65% of electricity is still generated with coal. the biggest renewable energy source is hydro. solar is significant but considering china is the center of the universe for solar equipment the penetration is not what one would think. china is building nuclear. china is developing fusion. china is not decentralizing.
solar accounts for only 10% of japans electricity. fukushima is back online as are others. the reality is japan cannot operate with a solar or renewable economy. so what about the people in tokyo? maybe they should all move to communes on the islands.
depending on your bias solar has either a wildly optimistic or pessimistic eroei. do you calculate just the panels? the invertor? the storage? or everything?
whatever one’s bias one size fits all and the rest be damned does not work at any level