The Iraq War And Renewable Energy

If we took the money spent on the Iraq war and instead spent it on renewable energy, the US would be getting 40-60% of its electricity from clean energy now.

Sad but true.

Future Americans will pay for the Iraq war because it was financed with debt. Now Austerians shout that our nation can no longer afford to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure because of the mounting interest on this debt, says Paul Gipe in his blog.

He writes:

Disregarding the human cost, and disregarding our "other" war in Afghanistan, how much renewable energy could we have built with the money we spent? How far along the road toward the renewable energy transition could we have traveled?

The answer: shockingly far.

The war in Iraq cost $1.7 trillion through fiscal year 2013, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. Including future costs for veterans’ care, and so on, it mounts to $2.2 trillion.

There’s also an interest charge on debt. The Iraq war’s share of cumulative interest on the US debt through 2053 will raise the total cost of the war to $3.9 trillion.

Renewable Energy Assumptions

Since wind and solar will provide the bulk of new generating capacity, I’ve simplified this analysis by considering that mix.

What should that mix look like? Research by French renewable authority Bernard Chabot concludes that the optimum mix requires that 60% of the generation – not of the capacity – must be from wind, and 40% from solar. Recent studies in Germany and Australia have confirmed Chabot’s work.

While the cost of solar has declined dramatically, it remains far more expensive than wind generation. Including solar as part of a mix of resources reduces the effective penetration of renewables, but is more realistic and, hence, more conservative than simply estimating how much wind could have been built.

I’ve liberally rounded the assumptions to indicate that these are all gross approximations.

The US consumes roughly 4,000 TWh of electricity per year.

Wind can be built for approximately $2,000 per kW of installed capacity.

In my initial calculation, I’ve assumed that a fleet of wind turbines will collectively generate 2,000 kWh per kW of installed capacity per year. This is conservative, as will be explained.

Solar PV can be installed in the US from $3,000 per kW to as much as $10,000 per kW. I’ve assumed a conservative estimate of $5,000 per kW of installed capacity.

The yield from solar – again on average – is significantly less than that from wind. I’ve used an average yield of 1,000 kWh per kW of installed solar capacity.

Based on a conservative estimate, the US could have built between a quarter-million to nearly a half-million megawatts of wind energy, and 300,000 to 600,000 megawatts of solar capacity.

For comparison, today there are only 60,000 MW of wind in the US, and a paltry 7,000 MW of solar.

If we had invested the $2.2 trillion in wind and solar, the US would be generating 21% of its electricity with renewable energy. If we had invested the $3.9 trillion that the war in Iraq will ultimately cost, we would generate nearly 40% of our electricity with new renewables. Combined with the 10% of supply from existing hydroelectricity, the US could have surpassed 50% of total renewables in supply.

However, this is a conservative estimate. If we include the reasonable assumptions suggested by Robert Freehling, the contribution by renewables would be even greater.

Freehling’s assumptions raise to as much as 60% the nation’s lost potential contribution by new renewables to US electricity supply by going to war in Iraq. With the addition of existing hydroelectric generation, the opportunity to develop as much as 70% of our nation’s electricity with renewable energy was lost.

And unlike the war in Iraq, which is an expense, the development of renewable energy instead of war would have been an investment in infrastructure at home that would have paid dividends to American citizens for decades to come.

Get the details by reading his blog:

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Comments on “The Iraq War And Renewable Energy”

  1. Robert E

    If life were only that simple? The world population is 7 billion individuals with the last 1 billion joining us between 1999 to 2011. The average individual carbon footprint is 4 tons/yr (20 tons in the US) or 4 billion extra tons from population growth alone regardless of green house gases from other sources. A large 400 MWe RE facility will offset ONLY about 450,000 tons/yr CO2


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