Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Are Renewables the Great Green Hope?

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.


Ares Olympus said...

When my greenie friends talk about how wonderful it is that Denmark produces much of their electricity by renewables, I enjoy asking them whether they prefer our $0.08-$0.12/kwh electricity to Demark's $0.40/kwh, 4 times higher.

Usually they agree its worth the cost, at least if everyone else has to pay the same as them. So if environmentalism is a religion, its one that requires collective worship, no opting out allowed.

But besides "sticker shock", the reality is we all pay what we have to pay, and so if you live in a country of vast supplies of fossilized carbon that can be burned cheaply (and mostly cleanly), you'll probably do so, while if you have no such fuels, and see your hard earned money going to pay for jet-setting 30,000 princes of Saudi Arabia, you might see things differently, and ask what the alternatives are, even if they are more costly.

Back when we invaded Iraq around 2003, I went to the Republican caucuses and passed a resolution for a new "Freedom tax" on gasoline, as a fixed percentage based on what fraction of oil the U.S. imports versus produces domestically, although most of the discussion was more about the fact that our roads and bridges needed maintenance.

On a different ground, we have a funny problem in that our sustained high global oil prices have been plummetting of late, and that's great for consumers, but less good for producers, especially in the Bakkan fields of the Dakotas.
“Crude is heading lower, with the high $40s or low $50s being touched by 2017,” Zimmerman said. The long-term cycle points to the dollar moving higher and the euro declining into 2016, while commodities move lower through 2016 and 2017, he said.

So if this is true, we can imagine higher gasoline mileage cars will become less popular, and we'll reverse our recent decline in oil consumption.

On the other hand, if $50 oil isn't economical for the Fracking oil fields, domestic oil production might plummet back down as fast as it went up. I tend to expect this.

Its still interesting to me, that talking about a $0.10/gallon gasoline tax is off limits politically, while we're dependent upon global oil markets for our transportation fuel.

If Al Gore promised in 2000 that he'd raise a $2/gallon gasoline tax if elected, economics would predict it would collapse the economy.

But if necessity says we have to pay $3-$4/gallon, then we grumble and give the Saudi princes their due homage.

Oh, and add $10 trillion to our federal debt, among other forms of debt. Its not going to be pretty when our next economic crisis happens, but at least we'll have cheap gas.

Dennis said...

One of the problems with big government is that it interfere with the product development cycle. When private enterprise takes the risks necessary in developing new products it will stand or fail on its own resources and there is an economic incentive to produces a viable product.
When government picks winners and losers it is the taxpayer who takes on the risk and we get the 8 track equivalent of resource development. As I have stated before solar and wind production is NOT the answer. That answer may lie in hydrogen, wave energy or the development of zero point modules et al.
I would posit that cheaper energy costs here will defund terrorism which is a much more laudable goal. It will provide revenue that will help drive development and economic advantages . Surely one understands that the Saudis are trying to drive the price lower in order to make production here more expensive for US concerns. Natural gas is a much cleaner form of fuel and our present vehicles are easy to convert. What is lacking is the logistic part of the equation.
I have read and listened to so many economic forecasts that were so wrong that I have come to discount most of them. I am not so sanguine as to believe that I have to think that we don't have the capacity to do better than just accept things the way some people think they should be. Get the government out of it and we have the capacity of being the masters of our own destiny.
I cannot understand how the young have lost the ability to dream the "Impossible Dream." There is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and we are going to sell freedom for security and not believe in ourselves.
Sometimes I wish I was 40 years younger because there are so many possibilities to create, innovate and be on the edge of the next great achievement.
And one wonders why I dislike the American education system that dumbs down peoples expectations and dreams of all that is possible if one believes in ones self. Where are all the people who used to develop whole new areas of science in their garages? Stop the whining and get on with the designing.

Sam L. said...

"It's fair to note that for some people, it would not be too high a price to pay." For other people to pay, not for themselves.

In Oregon, hydoroelectric dams are treated as "non-renewable" energy.

The Greens are not sane.

Dennis said...

Males in general, especially white males, have been willing to "tilt at windmills," take risks and dream what seemed impossible dreams at the time. We have let the do nothing Leftists dumb down the young male to the point that many of them are willing to accept the status quo and some how that they are bad human beings.
One only needs to look at what we males have created that has improved every person's life. Exponentially more positive than negative outcomes and results.
Just a small list of people who accepted the challenges and did great things: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2014/11/thank_a_white_male.htmIt hurts my soul to see young people so willing to believe the worse about their fellow human being and accept life as the government dictates to them. The only responsibility I have for anything is what I have done myself. There is nothing that is happening now that we do not have the capacity to change for the better if we are willing to accept the challenge. If people spent have the time they spend in whining and complaining we would have created new and innovative solutions, but whining is so much easier than getting off your "ASS" and doing something constructive.
GOD I just cannot abide what the indoctrination centers masquerading as institutions of higher learning have done to those who graduate.

n.n said...

The drivers (e.g. wind, sun) are green and renewable. The technology and logistics, from recovery to reclamation, are not. The marketing has distorted popular perception and caused misaligned development of the energy sector and science generally.

That said, each technology and energy source has a value in context, and its advantages and disadvantages should be considered for purpose. The irrational fear of nuclear technology needs to be address and resolved; the misconceptions (e.g. sources, hazards) about oil need to be addressed and resolved; etc.