Why does large hydro count as renewable in some propaganda but not when counting for quotas or subsidies?

A question that critical thinkers interested in energy policy debates should think about is the fuzzy definition of “renewable energy.” It is a term whose definition shifts depending on the goals of the person or publication using the term. That feature should cause truth seeking people to avoid its use. At Atomic Insights, we prefer the term “unreliables.” For some reason, that tends to offend certain promoters.

Thermodynamically, no units of energy are reusable [renewable]. Once a unit of energy is consumed to do work or add heat, it is gone forever. The forces that came together to provide the unit of energy continue to exist and may provide additional units of energy in the future, but that is also true of fuel sources like petroleum, coal, and even uranium.

One clear indication that “renewable” is simply a warm-sounding marketing term is the way that power from large hydroelectric dams is either in or out. If a publication or promoter wants to claim that renewable energy has already captured a significant share of a particular market or that it is more important that a politically unpopular energy source like coal or nuclear, they will include the contributions of large hydroelectric dams.

If promoters want government action — in the form of quotas or subsidies — aimed at increasing “renewable” energy in the future, they will claim that large hydro does not count towards Renewable Portfolio Standards or the Clean Power Plan and that it should not be eligible for any production or investment tax credits.

This early morning musing was stimulated by the following tweet from the Economist magazine.

The inclusion or exclusion of wood burning [aka biomass] as a “renewable” in energy production statistics and incentive programs is just as interesting and revealing, but that is another topic for another short post someday.

SMRs – lots of noise but DOE budget that’s 1% of annual wind tax credit

I’ve been spending some time watching, rewatching and clipping interesting excerpts from the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water subcommittee hearings on the FY2016 Department of Energy budget. It’s not everyone’s idea of entertainment, but it’s fascinating to me to watch publicly accessible discussions about how our government makes decisions, sets priorities and spends the money […]

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Australia’s blinkered vision in China’s commitment to reduce global warming

By Robert Parker President, Australian Nuclear Association Two of the most powerful nations on earth have concluded an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Included in that agreement is reference to nuclear power being used to limit those emissions. Yet in Australia even discussion of nuclear power is taboo. We continue to frame the control […]

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Atomic Show #228 – Energiewende status

On November 18, 2014, I participated in a round table discussion hosted by the Global American Business Institute (GABI) and the Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER). The guest speaker for the round table was Georg Maue, First Secretary for Climate and Energy, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Washington, DC. The topic […]

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Northwest wind takes a week-long vacation

BPA Nov19-Nov25

Some Atomic Insights readers don’t like it when I use the term “unreliables” to describe weather dependent power sources like wind and solar energy. They believe that word is demeaning and not entirely accurate, especially in certain system designs where wind turbines are partnered with hydro or pumped storage. Even in that situation, however, the […]

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Helping people understand the power grid

Yesterday, the Institute for Energy Research launched a project to help people gain a better understanding of the electric power grid, a marvel of modern society that most people take for granted — unless its product delivery is interrupted for more than a few minutes. This information project is timely, especially considering all of the […]

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Amory Lovins continues Sowing Confusion About Renewable and Nuclear Energy

On August 5, 2014, Amory Lovins published a commentary on Forbes.com titled Sowing Confusion About Renewable Energy. He was responding to an opinion piece published in the July 26, 2014 issue of The Economist that was based on a working paper titled The Net Benefits of Low and No-Carbon Electricity Technologies written by Charles R. […]

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Atomic Show #217 – Michael Mariotte, President NIRS

At the suggestion of a long time Atomic Insights contributor and Atomic Show listener, I invited Michael Mariotte for a guest appearance on the Atomic Show. In the small world made up of active nuclear advocates and people adamantly opposed to nuclear energy, Mariotte and his organization are famous — or infamous, depending on one’s […]

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James Hansen is worried about CO2 and realistic about solutions

Dr. James Hansen is perhaps the world’s most famous and stubbornly insistent climate change activists. He bases his concerns on several decades worth of intensive research. During part of his career, he served as the director of a large laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Center, so it was not just his own research that he […]

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Where’s the Wind When You Need It?

The Bonneville Power Authority service area has more than 4,000 MW of wind energy capacity installed. They also provide a web-based information service that is updated every five minutes that reports on the service area load, thermal generation, hydro generation, and wind generation. Here is a picture reporting those numbers for the period from Jan […]

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Cape Wind scrambling to meet deadline to qualify for $780 million taxpayer gift

Cape Wind is the leading offshore wind energy project in the United States. In 2001, more than 12 years ago, Jim Gordon, the project founder, started the process of promoting his vision of a building a 430 MWe (peak capacity) field of 130 massive (rotor diameter – 110 m, hub height – 80 m, nacelle […]

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Energiewende – planned by industry and government without customer considerations

Jim Conca recently published a blog on Forbes titled European Economic Stability Threatened By Renewable Energy Subsidies. One of the earliest comments in the growing thread on that blog provided an interesting point of view about Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear energy in favor of unreliable power sources backed up by flexible lignite, coal and […]

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