Read enough of this green stuff and you gradually realize that almost everything you read about supposed solutions to climate change is completely delusional.
If you dutifully read your U.S. mainstream media, you undoubtedly have the impression that “clean” and “green” energy is rapidly sweeping all before it, and soon will supplant fossil fuels in powering our economy. After all, many major states, including California and New York, have mandated some form of “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, or in some cases even earlier. That’s only 30 years away. And reports are everywhere that investment in “renewables,” particularly wind and solar energy, continues to soar. For example, from Reuters in January we have “U.S. clean energy investment hits new record despite Trump administration views.” In the New York Times on May 13 it’s “In a First, Renewable Energy Is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S.” The final victory of wind and solar over the evil fossil fuels must then be right around the corner.
Actually, that’s all a myth. The inherent high cost and unreliability of wind and solar energy mean that they are highly unlikely ever to be more than niche players in the overall energy picture. Politicians claim progressive virtue by commissioning vast farms of wind turbines and solar panels, at taxpayer or ratepayer expense, without anyone ever figuring out — or even addressing — how these things can run a fully functioning electrical grid without complete fossil fuel backup. And the electrical grid is the easy part. How about airplanes? How about steel mills? I’m looking for someone to demonstrate that this “net zero” thing is something more than a ridiculous fantasy, but I can’t find it.
To stay grounded in reality, there is no better source than the multiple-times-weekly email from the Global Warming Policy Foundation. If you do not already receive these emails, you can go here to subscribe. As is typical, today’s email searches out back pages and specialized sources to bring us multiple pieces showing green energy running into its inevitable wall, with no known way to get past. (Full disclosure: I am on the Board of the GWPF’s American affiliate.)
We go first to green energy champion Germany, where Bloomberg reports on June 5 that “Germany’s Green Power Finance Is Becoming Unaffordable.” Excerpt:
The German program that’s spurred the nation’s switch to green power is buckling under the weight of surging costs and needs an urgent fix. That’s the assessment of one of the scheme’s chief designers, Hans Josef Fell. . . . Yet the system’s increasing costs have become glaring in the during the coronavirus pandemic, the veteran Green Party lawmaker said. High and guaranteed payments made to investors in clean power plants are the problem Fell said in an interview.
It seems that to get its wind and solar facilities built, Germany put in place guaranteed payments to producers that would kick in if market prices for power were insufficient. The guaranteed payments are divvied up and added to consumer electricity bills. This year, with prices for alternative fossil fuels plummeting, the guaranteed payments are projected to come in at some 26 billion euros — which is around $100 per month for every German household, on top of electricity prices that were already about triple the U.S. average. Of course, Chancellor Merkel is proposing a “fix,” which is a government bailout as part of a supposed coronavirus relief package. That may work for a little while. Then what?
Also from Germany, we have a piece from the Financial Times of June 8 with the headline “Environmentalists on back foot as Germany’s newest coal plant opens.” What?? — Opening a new coal power plant right in the midst of a transition away from fossil fuels?? What happened here is that they are closing all their nuclear plants, and they need something that works all the time, unlike the wind and the solar. Just in January, Germany enacted legislation to completely phase out coal power generation by 2038; and then in May, they went right ahead and opened this new Dateln 4 coal plant. The Financial Times piece quotes Greenpeace activist Lisa Göldner as calling the new plant a “climate crime.” Meanwhile, the crew members of a barge bringing coal to the plant are described as “whooping and whistling in mockery” at environmental protesters seeking to block the opening of the plant.
The fact is that Germany has nowhere further to go by building more wind and solar facilities. When the wind blows on a sunny day, they already have more power than they can use, and they are forced to give it away to Poland (or even pay the Poles to take it). On a calm night, no matter how much wind and solar they build, it all produces nothing. Without the coal plant, the lights go out. Talk about climate virtue all they want, but no one has yet even begun to work on a solution to get past this hurdle.
Which brings me to the most important piece in the GWPF email, from Cambridge Professor Michael Kelly, appearing in something called CapX on June 8, with the headline “Until we get a proper roadmap, Net Zero is a goal without a plan.” Kelly makes the point that seems to me obvious, but that somehow has slipped past the New York Times and all the rest of the MSM, which is that if wind and solar energy are ever going to surpass niche status, there is a gigantic engineering problem to solve. Somebody has to engineer an electrical system based on the intermittent sources that works 24/7/365. But in fact, even as major states and countries have piously proclaimed commitment to “net zero” energy, nobody has even started the engineering project. And as soon as you start to consider the question, you quickly realize that the whole endeavor is almost certainly impossible. As an example, Kelly addresses batteries:
Take batteries. It is estimated that current battery manufacturing capabilities will need to be in the order of 500-700 times bigger than now to support an all-electric global transport system. The materials needed just to allow the UK to transition to all electric transport involve amounts of materials equal to 200% the annual global production of cobalt, 75% of lithium carbonate, 100% of neodymium and 50% of copper. Scaling by a factor of 50 for the world transport, and you see what is now a showstopper. The materials demands just for batteries are beyond known reserves. Would one be prepared to dredge the ocean floor at very large scale for some of the material? Should securing the reserves not be a first priority?
And that’s just one of the issues.