Climate change activists have long touted the intrinsic virtue of renewable energy sources. What could be more pure than sun and wind and geothermal?
If these natural energy sources are goodness, fuels deriving from dark, ugly stuff like coal and fossil fuels are evil. To achieve true virtue we must replace the bad with the good, the impure with the pure, the disgusting with the fragrant.
Unfortunately, it can never work. If put it all into practice, it will immiserate and impoverish the people of the world.
It's fair to note that for some people, it would not be too high a price to pay.
Two engineers from Google have studied the question. A British publication called The Register brings us their conclusions:
Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that renewables will never permit the human race to cut CO2emissions to the levels demanded by climate activists. Whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible.
Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren't guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or "technology" of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the RE
This ought not to come as a surprise. The Register continues:
Koningstein and Fork aren't alone. Whenever somebody with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a fully renewables-powered civilised future for the human race with a reasonably open mind, they normally come to the conclusion that it simply isn't feasible. Merely generating the relatively small proportion of our energy that we consume today in the form of electricity is already an insuperably difficult task for renewables: generating huge amounts more on top to carry out the tasks we do today using fossil-fuelled heat isn't even vaguely plausible.
What would it take to replace the current energy production facilities with others that use renewables?
The engineers crunched the numbers and discovered:
Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms - and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.
What would happen to the real world if we tried to apply these ideas:
In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive - which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably). This in turn means that everyone would become miserably poor and economic growth would cease (the more honest hardline greens admit this openly). That, however, means that such expensive luxuries as welfare states and pensioners, proper healthcare (watch out for that pandemic), reasonable public services, affordable manufactured goods and transport, decent personal hygiene, space programmes (watch out for the meteor!) etc etc would all have to go - none of those things are sustainable without economic growth.