The greens want to go 'beyond oil,' but without it we'd freeze in the dark.
By ROBERT BRYCE WSJ.COM 11/8/12
Last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $50 million to the Sierra Club for its "beyond coal" campaign. But the mayor hasn't—and won't—be directing any cash to the club's parallel "beyond oil" campaign.
That is because oil—and, more specifically, diesel fuel and gasoline—are proving to be the most important commodities in the wake of the huge storm that recently pummeled the East Coast.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, all of the critical pieces of equipment were burning gasoline or diesel fuel: the pumps removing water from flooded basements and subway tunnels, the generators providing electricity to hospitals and businesses, and the cars, trucks and aircraft providing mobility.
The Sierra Club and its allies on the green left will doubtless continue their decades-long war on the oil and gas industry, but the Sandy disaster-response efforts are showing again that there is no substitute for oil. One of the first things that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie requested from the federal government after the storm was quick delivery of motor-fuel supplies. The Department of Defense responded with 250,000 gallons of gasoline and 500,000 gallons of diesel.
Petroleum is essential to modern society not because of some conspiracy cooked up by Exxon Mobil and its brethren. Instead, it is due to simple physics and basic math.
If oil didn't exist, we would have to invent it. No other substance comes close when it comes to energy density (the amount of energy contained in a given unit of volume or mass), ease of handling or flexibility. A single kilogram of diesel fuel contains about 13,000 watt-hours of energy. That is about twice the energy density of coal, six times that of wood, and about 300 times that of lead-acid batteries. (And those batteries are useful only if they have been charged by some other energy source.)
Combine diesel fuel's miraculous energy density with the power density and durability of a modern diesel engine—which can run for weeks at a time with little or no maintenance—and the size, speed, and cost advantages become apparent.
The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and other groups claim that we can run our economies solely on renewable-energy sources such as wind. But if you are trying to pump water out of your rapidly molding basement, would you prefer a wind turbine that operates at full power about one-third of the time, or a greasy, diesel-fueled V-8?
Let's consider what a wind-powered hospital in New York might look like. NYU's Langone Medical Center lost power shortly after Sandy hit. The hospital had diesel-fired emergency generators, but basement flooding caused them to fail. That required the evacuation of hundreds of patients.
Assume the hospital needs one megawatt of emergency electricity-generation capacity. Lives are at stake. It needs power immediately. That capability could easily be provided by a single, trailer-mounted diesel generator, which would occupy a small corner of the hospital's garage (and be safely removed from any flooding threat). By contrast, providing that much wind-generation capacity would require about 5.6 million square feet of land—an area of nearly 100 football fields. And all of that assumes that the land is available, the wind is blowing, and there are enough transmission lines to carry those wind-generated electrons from the countryside into Lower Manhattan.
This year, some 222 million engines will be manufactured around the world, according to Dennis Huibregtse of Power Systems Research. Those engines will power everything from hedge trimmers to supertankers, water pumps to generators. Every one of them will run on refined oil products.
Sandy left millions of East Coast residents in the cold and dark. If any of them have been demanding "green" energy, I haven't heard about it. In the storm's aftermath, the most hopeful sound of recovery is the joyous racket that comes from an internal-combustion engine burning fossil fuels.
Mr. Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is the author, most recently, of "Power Hungry: The Myths of 'Green' Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future" (PublicAffairs, 2010).