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InsiderOnline Blog: February 2012

Environmentalism Uses Up a Lot of Resources

Three pet projects of the environmental movement—biofuels, organic farming, and wind power—are each leading to energy sprawl, writes Robert Bryce (“Get Dense,” City Journal, Winter 2012):

Various recent studies have found that land devoted to organic farming produces 50 percent less wheat, 55 percent less asparagus and lettuce, and 23 percent less corn than conventionally farmed land of the same acreage does. […]

The leading biofuel at the moment is corn ethanol, whose “power density”—the amount of energy flow that can be harnessed from a given area of land—is abysmally low. Some energy analysts put it as low as 0.05 watts per square meter of farmland. By comparison, a relatively small natural-gas well that produces just 60,000 cubic feet of gas per day has a power density of 28 watts per square meter; […]

Cellulosic ethanol’s power density, though higher than corn ethanol’s, is nevertheless very low. Even the best-managed tree plantations achieve power densities of only about 1 watt per square meter of cultivated area. […] [T]o replace 10 percent of the country’s oil needs with cellulosic ethanol, you’d need to plant switchgrass in an area equal to 8 percent of all American cropland currently under cultivation. […]

Wind turbines have a power density of about 1 watt per square meter. Compare that with the two nuclear reactors at Indian Point in Westchester County, which provide as much as 30 percent of New York City’s electricity. Even if you include the entire footprint of the Indian Point project—about 250 acres—the site’s power density exceeds 2,000 watts per square meter. To generate as much electricity as Indian Point does, you’d need to pave at least 770 square miles of land with wind turbines, an area slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island.

Posted on 02/29/12 05:05 PM by Alex Adrianson

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