One of the advantages wind energy proponents claim for their industry is “energy security”. Everyone knows we import large amounts of oil, and thus the claim seems plausible. Who wants to be “hostage” to a potentially unfriendly foreign government? But even a cursory look at the energy market shows that there is little connection between wind turbines and oil imports, while there is a big connection between wind turbines and other resources that are controlled almost entirely by China.
First let’s discuss the non-relationship between wind turbines and oil. Wind turbines are used to generate electricity. Almost no oil (around 3% of our electricity is generated by oil, and about 3% of our oil is used to generate electricity) is used to generate electricity. Glen Schleede provides some facts and figures that shows how little wind can eliminate the use of oil. Aside from which roughly 40% of our oil imports come from Canada and Mexico, neither of which is particularly hostile to the U.S.
OK, maybe not oil. Coal?
Since coal supplies most of the electricity in the U.S., maybe you could make a case that we’ll save on imports of coal. Two problems with that are immediately apparent. First, the U.S. is a net exporter of coal – we have our own large supplies. Second, it is not clear how much less coal is actually burned due to wind being added to the grid. I have more details in my Emissions Savings topic.
So maybe we could use the wind to charge batteries in our electric cars. That way we wouldn’t be burning oil in them. In theory, this might work out. Wind produces the most energy at night, when usage is relatively light. Unfortunately theory runs into the real world pretty quickly. One of the key components of an electric car is the battery. The best and lightest batteries now available (and there’s no new technology evident to change this) require substantial amounts of rare earths.
To complicate matters, the generators in wind turbines need neodymium, one of the rare earths. So where do we go to get the neodymium? China has the world’s largest reserves, and produces something like 95% of all the neodymium in the world. So far China has been exporting adequate supplies, but obviously China is eager to create its own turbine manufacturing base. And as the demand for these earths continues to climb, at what point will that supply be cut off?
It looks to me that we may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.