Another of my letters-to-the-editor that will never be published, so you can read it here. This one was sent to Scientific American regarding their November 2009 issue.
In September 2006, you published a special issue on “Energy’s Future” with a well-reasoned mix of articles on energy conservation, renewable energy, and nuclear power. I’ve referred to that issue frequently. It was a quality piece of work on a topic that is frequently demagogued.
Imagine my dismay, therefore, when this month’s issue arrived with a cover article promising “A plan to get all energy from wind, water, and solar power by 2030.” This is nonsense. One can be strongly in favor of greatly expanding renewable energy resources without supporting this illogical and impossible “plan.”
Just to take two issues:
(1) The authors have “assumed… that most fossil-fuel transportation can be replaced by battery and fuel-cell vehicles.” This is unsupported by any engineering reality. I suspect battery-powered vehicles will do a good job of replacing the four-door sedan for urban commuters. But without a fundamental breakthrough in battery technology, batteries will not be powering over-the-road trucks, or locomotives, or oceangoing vessels. Confusing “the transportation sector” with “automobiles” is an amateur error, and I would have expected better from these authors.
(2) In a single sentence, they declare that hydrogen, generated by electrically-driven hydrolysis, will fuel aircraft. No, it won’t. Even tossing aside the incredible inefficiencies in manufacturing, transporting, and storing liquid hydrogen, the energy density of liquid hydrogen is only one-seventh that of gasoline or jet fuel. Ask today’s airlines if they could survive with vastly more expensive fuel, but flights limited to only a few hundred miles.
It is certainly possible to greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels — especially through a renewed commitment to clean, safe, abundant nuclear energy — but the authors are not making that argument. By promoting an absurd vision for deriving “100% of the world’s energy, for all purposes… from wind, water, and solar resources,” the authors have actually done the clean-energy movement a disservice.
Which is nothing compared to the self-inflicted loss of credibility suffered by Scientific American. You should be ashamed of yourselves.