This is the fifth and final post of a series to alert readers to a compilation of the scientific and economic case against the claims of IPCC supporters and anti-fossil fuel activists. David Stockman provides the evidence and the arguments against the IPCC policy framework in a series of five essays published at International Man under the title The GreenMageddon and What It Means for You. I have stated the five themes he develops in his essays, along with some excerpts and images to illustrate the main points. Here is the Fifth theme overview and discussion.
5. GreenMageddon is no hyperbole. It’s is the virtually certain outcome of attempting to purge CO2 emissions from a modern energy system and economy that literally breathes and exhales fossilized carbon.
Indeed, the very idea of converting today’s economy to an alternative energy respiratory system is so far beyond rational possibility as to defy common sense. Yet that is exactly where the COP26 powers that be and their megaphones in the MSM are leading us.
In Truth, Green Energy is Overrated and Supplies Little of the Energy We Use
In the first place, it needs be understood that the climate change advocates essentially lie about how much “green energy” we now use and therefore the scope for energy supply system displacement of fossil fuels which would be required to get to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
For instance, it is commonly claimed that 12% of US primary energy consumption (2020) is accounted for by “renewables”, implying that we are off to a decent start in eliminating the fossil fuel dependency of the system.
Actually, no—not even close. That’s because “renewables” and green energy defined as solar and wind are not remotely the same thing.
According to DOE, the US consumed 11.6 quads (quadrillion BTUs) of renewables in 2020, but 7.3 quads or 63% of that was accounted for by old-style non-fossil fuels including:
- Hydroelectric: 2.6 quads;
- Wood: 2.5 quads;
- Biofuels: 2.0 quads;
- Geothermal: 0.2 quads
Of course, there is nothing wrong with these non-fossil fuels and in some cases they can be quite efficient. But they are not part of the “green solution” to displace some or all of the 73 quads of fossil fuels consumed in 2020 because most of these sources are tapped out or not desirable to expand.
We have already seen, for instance, that hydroelectric—which was a favorite of the New Deal back in the 1930s—was tapped out long ago. Up to 80% of the long rivers in the US are already damned, and environmentalists haven’t permitted a new major hydroelectric project in decades. In fact, hydro-electric output of 291 billion kWh in 2020 was well below the peak level of 356 billion kWh recorded in 1997 and was even exceeded by the 304 kWh generated way back in 1974.
Nor do we hear the Climate Howlers beating the tom-toms for the original source of modern BTUs— more wood combustion! Actually, they advocate the opposite: Massive tree-planting as “offsets” to carbon emissions.
Likewise, most of the 2.0 quads attributable to biofuels is accounted for by ethanol produced from fermented corn. Yet any material increase in ethanol consumption—via higher mandated blending with gasoline—would likely wreck most of the IC engines on the highways, while turning the vast food production expanses of Iowa and Nebraska into fuel farms.
Finally, consider the implicit lesson in the small amount of consumption—0.2 quads—attributable to geothermal energy. As it happens, geothermal electricity is about as close to a perfect source of renewable energy as you can get, as one analysts recently noted, but there is a huge catch:
So why isn’t there more of it?
Because there wasn’t much of it to begin with. While renewable energy sources like wind and solar are exploitable to a greater or lesser extent almost everywhere, high-temperature geothermal resources are found only there is a coincidence of high heat flow and favorable hydrology, and…..these coincidences occur only in a few places.
Which Leaves Wind and Solar, Which Leaves a Lot to be Desired
This gets us to the only so-called “renewables” which are actually expandable at scale—-solar and wind. As to the former, it needs be noted that US consumption during 2020 amounted to only 1.2 quads, or less than half of the primary energy supplied by wood (including a small amount of industrial consumption of bio-waste such at pulp mills etc.).
That’s right. After decades of big time subsidies and endless government promotion, solar is still eclipsed by the fuel first used by cavemen!
The problem with wind power, however, is no less prohibitive. In the case of the 3.0 quads of primary energy attributed to wind in 2020, virtually 100% was used by utilities to generate electricity for the grid. Accordingly, only 90% of that wind energy ever makes it to a home, industrial plant or EV auto. The difference is accounted for by BTUs lost in downstream transmission and distribution lines (T&D losses). And when you add the fact that 64% of primary solar consumption was also used by electric utilities and also suffered T&D losses, you get a truly startling fact.
To wit, only 3.4 quads of solar and wind energy actually generated net electrical power to end users in the US economy in 2020.
In turn, that tiny figure represents only 4.9% of the 69.7 quads of net energy from all fuels (after deducting utility system waste from all fuel sources) used by the entire US economy in 2020. Yet even that tiny fraction was an artifact of the massive government subsidies which have been thrown at the two green fuels.
In the case of wind power, for example, there is a Federal subsidy of 2.5 cents per kWh, which happens to represent 69% of the average wholesale price for wind power, plus a 30% investment tax credit for the original installation of wind farm CapEx. Then again, no one charges for the wind—so wind power is massively capital intensive with CapEx representing 70% of lifetime wind power costs, meaning that another 21% of the cost of power is funded by Uncle Sucker.
Green Energy is fraught with obstacles and risks.
Still, the question recurs. How do you get to, say, a 50% replacement of fossil fuels with green energy by 2035, which would be the minimum path to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050—even assuming still more wasteful Joe Biden subsidies than we already have?
In a word, you don’t. That because even a surface investigation takes you smack into the unacknowledged elephant in the green energy room. To wit, the only practical way to deliver wind and solar to the end use sectors of the economy is through massive conversion of green BTUs to electricity and the distribution of them through the leaky power grid.
Needless to say, that process would be fraught with obstacles and risks that the Climate Howlers never even remotely acknowledge. In fact, as we will show below, to convert even 50% of current fossil fuel consumption to wind and solar, would require a near doubling of total primary energy consumption in the utility sector from the 35.7 quads reported for 2020 to nearly 66 quads by 2035.
More crucially, the 10.6% share of utility primary energy or 3.8 quads posted in 2020 for solar and wind would rise to nearly 67% and 44.0 quads by 2035 (see calculations below). That is to say, solar and wind production would have to rise by nearly 12-fold over the next 15 years. And the cost of subsidies to make it happen (including drastically rising retail utility prices to consumers) would be truly staggering
Now, here’s the thing. Given the inherent intermittency and unreliability of solar and wind energy, the electric grid would become dangerously more fragile and subject to brown-outs and blackouts during periods of peak demand and low solar/wind production. That’s because when you take out half or about 11 quads of fossil energy now used by the electric utility industry you are removing baseload capacity which is essentially available 100% of the time, save for scheduled maintenance and very occasional unplanned interruptions.
By contrast, when two-thirds of the grid is powered by solar and wind as we have projected for 2035 under the COP26’s net zero regime, you have fundamentally transformed the nature of the electric power system. There would essentially be no baseload power supply left, meaning that the system would have to be equipped with massive pumped-hydro, compressed air or battery storage facilities to back-fill for no wind or sun days— plus meet time of day and seasonal demand surges, which would get far more severe when nearly the entire economy gets electrified, as further explained below.
The problem, of course, is the production of electrical power so that it can be stored and drawn-down later is inherently inefficient and a BTU waster. That’s especially the case, with pumped storage, the only practical idea for large scale system storage and back-up. Of course, what that solution does is burn a lot of BTUs pumping water uphill to a reservoir—so that the sluice-gates can be opened to regenerate the very same hydroelectric power when needed at a latter date.
Overall, it is estimated that the range of available storage solutions would result in a 10-40% dissipation of the primary green energy supplied to the utility system. So not only would massive costs be incurred to finance power storage, but the loss of BTUs in the storage loading and extraction process would require even more primary green energy capacity to make up for the wasted BTUs!
Thus, if the energy loss owing to storage systems for 32.2 quads of incremental solar and wind conservatively averages 25%, another 8 quads of solar and wind primary capacity would be needed to supply projected 2035 power requirements. That is, by 2035 utility system would need 44 quads of solar and wind or 11.5-times more capacity than its actual green power output in 2020.
For want of doubt, first consider the implications of shifting 50% of fossil fuels used in the transportation sector to solar and wind fueled electrical power production. During 2020, the transportation sector used 24.23 quads of primary energy, of which fossil fuels—petroleum products and natural gas—supplied 22.85 quads or 94% of the total.
It’s also not the half of it. When you switch to EV vehicles and and distribution of 3X more quads of energy through the utility system you are also creating havoc with load management. That’s because travel surges around holidays create peak loads that drastically exceed day-in-and-day-out levels. In the case of air travel, for instance, during a typical year revenue passenger miles in July are equal to nearly 140% of the level for the seasonal low in February.
Just imagine a hot but cloudy and windless July 4th. The normal air-conditioning and commercial demand surge would be over-layed with a huge fleet of EVs on the holiday roads and hitting the charging stations with relentless effect. This year, for instance, an record 47 million travelers hit the road on the July 4th weekend.
Of course, that is not a problem for the existing motor fuel supply system. Average demand is about 9 million b/d, but motor fuel stocks range between 220 and 260 million bbls—plus another estimated rolling inventory of 50 million barrels in the tanks of the nation’s 285 million vehicles. So with upwards of 300 million bbls or 33 days of supply in the system, peak load fluctuations are readily absorbed by the system.
Needless to say, electrical power is another breed of cat.
It can’t be stored as produced. As indicated above, production must always meet instantaneous demand or the grid will collapse. The only solution is to store dispatchable electric power in another form—pumped storage reservoirs or batteries, and that’s damn expensive.
Moreover, unlike the vastly de-centralized motor fuel stocks which are efficiently market-driven, creating a massive system-wide dispatchable surplus on the utility grid for peak EV demands would be a daunting task. After all, you would need about 140 million EVs on US roads versus today’s 1.4 million plug-in EVs to displace 50% of motor fuel demand.
Nor is the transportation sector unique. Currently the industrial sector accounts for 22.1 quads (2020) of primary energy demand, of which 19.7 quads are supplied by fossil fuels. Those fossil fuels supply various combustion equipment, IC engine driven power plants and machinery, as well as feed stocks for chemical processing industries.
The story only gets more complicated when you add-in the residential and commercial sector. For instance, the residential sector is already heavily electrified owing to the electrical powering of lights, air conditioning and household appliances. Consequently, while the household sector has primary energy demand of 6.54 quads, it actually uses 11.53 quads counting the 5 million quads of indirect energy consumption supplied through the electrical utility grid.
That is to say, the single most variable energy demand sector—America’s 130 million housing units—-would become virtually all electric. Fully 9.0 quads out of total residential energy demand of 12.0 quads (including current electrical power use) of consumption would be supplied by the electrical grid by 2035.
Would that fact create an even more egregious disconnect between unreliable solar and wind power on the fuel side of the electrical grid and variable demand on the user side?
Most surely it would. And that’s especially true when you add in the last two elements of the supply-demand picture. To wit, the commercial sector is growing at about 0.6% per annum, so by 2035 total primary use would be 5.3 quads and the incremental wind and solar requirement to replace half of current fossil fuels, which currently account for 88% of primary energy demand in the sector, would total 2.9 quads.
Finally, the baseline demand for primary energy in the utility sector itself is about 37.0 quads (2019) and it has not been growing for years. So on a 2035 projection, current fossil and non-fossil sources of utility energy would be as follows before giving account to the displacement shifts estimated above in the four end-use sectors of the economy. And this optimistically assumes no loss of nuclear or hydro capacity in the interim.
On an all-in basis, therefore, the implicit transformation of the utility sector would be staggering, and that would only get you half-way to zero net carbon by 2050. Here is the summary of what would be required in terms of total solar and wind capacity in the utility sector by 2035:
- Current solar & wind: 3.8 quads;
- transportation sector replacement: +8.5 quads;
- residential sector replacement: +3.9 quads;
- industrial sector replacement: +12.9 quads;
- commercial sector replacement: +2.9 quads;
- utility sector replacement: +4.0 quads;
- back-up storage: +8.0 quads;
- Total Solar & Wind, 2035: 44.0 quads;
- Multiple of 2020 level: 11.6X
It goes without saying that the above is an economic train-wreck waiting to happen. You simply don’t go from 3.8 quads of solar and wind after decades of tepid gains to 44.0 quads in less than 15 years. Plain and simply, such a shift would take the US hostage to a centralized utility grid based energy respiratory system that would be dangerously unstable, imbalanced and subject to catastrophic black swan type events.
No electricity is stored in a grid; supply must match demand at all times, or it must shut down to save itself. Climatists want to electrify everything, especially heating and cars, thereby spiking and complicating demand. Meanwhile the plan is to increase intermittent and remote wind and solar plants, making supply unpredictable. Get ready to be stuck at home, freezing in the dark. That’s GreenMageddon.
The diagram at the top indicates many dimensions of modern life that are not discussed in this series of posts. The short video below reminds that fossil fuels yield a plethora of ancillary byproducts that enhance and extend our lives; which will also be taken away by the Green agenda.