A co-worked sent me a link today to an interesting Wall Street Journal article that talks about how water (or lack thereof) is beginning to influence the selection of electric generation options in the West. One of the constraints that needs to be evaluated and managed when siting conventional generation is water. Conventional generation requires a steady stream of water for cooling and/or steam. However, water is a scarce commodity in the West, and that scarcity is making wind power and solar power, which do not require large volumes of water, to become a more attractive option.
How significant is water use for electric generation? According to the article, power generation accounts for about half of all water appropriations in the U.S. (that's a lot of water, believe me).
I am pro-alternative energy, but I keep coming back to the fact that for a stable economy we need reliable energy, and for that we need reliable base generation. Tolerating brown-outs and lost productivity because it's cloudy or the wind is not blowing would not be an acceptable energy policy in our world as we know it.
However, these disadvantages can be mitigated to some extent (thought not entirely) by maximizing use of alternative electricity sources in favorable locations (and by the way, not all locations are favorable). There is clearly a need and a place for solar and wind in the energy mix, but there is also a place for coal, natural gas fired peaking plants, and dare I say it, nuclear energy in our generation portfolio.