I hate to dump all over Mark Neumann’s idea that Wisconsin could, with “green, renewable” energy, be 100% energy independent in a generation, but I’m afraid I must. First, I must state that I admire what he did with the “green” home his company built.
There are two primary sources of energy, electricity and fuel. I could not find specifically how much electricity Wisconsin uses, but American Transmission Company, which serves the eastern 2/3rds of the state, most of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the Rockford, Illinois area, delivered a total of 68,162,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in 2008, with a peak 1-hour load of 11,794 megawatts. Meanwhile, in 2007 (the last year figures were available), the consumption of “green power” in Wisconsin, including power produced outside the state, was 197,145 megawatt-hours, with a peak 1-hour capacity of just under 106 megawatts. Granted, that doesn’t include hydroelectric (which is 100% tapped), and it doesn’t include projects built since 2007, but somehow I doubt there’s anywhere close to either 50,000,000 megawatt-hours/year or a reliable peak capacity of anywhere near 9,000 megawatts in “green” power. Those requirements just go up exponentially if plug-in electric cars ever hit Wisconsin.
Second, there’s fuel. I will necessarily be overly simplistic because of a similar lack of reliable information, but that’s balanced by the fact that, unless synthetic fuels somehow can be made with the resources in Wisconsin, we will never be 100% fuel-independent. In 2007, Wisconsin drivers used about 2,950,000,000 gallons of fuel. I don’t know what the splits between gasoline and diesel were, so I will assume that it was all gasoline. Further, I’ll assume that 7% of that fuel was ethanol. That leaves 2,743,500 gallons of gasoline used. In a generation, I would expect, between fuel efficiency increases and population increases, that to be reduced by about 25%, or about 2,000,000 gallons of gasoline.
If that is replaced by ethanol, given the inefficiencies of it versus gasoline, we’re looking at 2,500,000 gallons of ethanol that would need to be produced to make every part of E85 that can be produced in Wisconsin actually produced in Wisconsin. Assuming all of that is produced from corn (which the outstate farmers would love), about 7,620,000 acres would need to be given over to ethanol production. Given there were just over 15,000,000 acres of farmland in 2007, divided between crops and livestock, where exactly is all that corn going to be grown?
I do note that using switchgrass to make ethanol uses half the land. Still, that’s over a quarter of the farmland. What farm products do we give up exporting? Wheat? Corn? Milk?
There is another alternative; hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Provided there is sufficient electricity to split water into its component hydrogen and oxygen, it would seem that Wisconsin, with Lake Michigan on the east, Lake Superior on the northwest, the Mississippi River on the southwest, and innumerable lakes and rivers, would be a prime source for hydrogen. However, there’s two bits of bad news. First, it takes a lot of energy to split water, and Wisconsin doesn’t exactly have a surplus of that, especially “green” energy. Second, does anybody believe for a second that the enviromentalists will let that water be used for energy on anything approaching a mass scale?
Revisions/extensions (9:32 pm 7/1/2009) – I originally forgot to take into account that E85 still is 15% gasoline. The affected numbers have been corrected.