Were it not for the hydrocarbon-fueled industrial and agricultural revolutions, you and I, along with all the whales that provided blubber oil for lamps, wouldn’t likely be around today.
But since we are already here, what if that petroleum and coal we in America and the rest of the world now depend upon for about 80% of our energy were, for whatever unfathomable reason, to be taken away?
Imagine, for example — as proposed by Green New Dealers - that all that hydrocarbon energy is mandated to be replaced by vastly expanding the 2% of global energy presently provided by so-called "renewable" technologies (e.g., wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal).
Several authors of a September 2017 article in the journal Energy & Environmental Science advocate programs to do exactly that.
Referred to as the "Wind, Water and Sunlight" (WWS) plan, 80%-85% of existing energy sectors would be electrified by 2030, and 100% would be replaced by zero-emission technologies by 2050. Included are all conversion demands for transportation, heating/cooling, industrial, and agriculture/forestry/fishing.
The WWS vision is obviously dominated by wind and solar energy. Water (as in hydropower) already faces strong environmental lobby opposition, and in any case, has few suitable new sites for expansion.
Writing in Friends of Science, U.K. Cambridge University electrical engineering professor Michael Kelly and energy economist Robert Lyman have compiled some illustrative data as a basis to assess whether that alternate WWS universe is either desirable or feasible.
Here are but a very few sobering examples:
- Accommodating the 46,480 solar photovoltaic (PV) plants envisioned in the WWS for just the U.S. would take up 650,720 square miles, almost 20% of the lower 48 states. This is close in size to the combined areas of Texas, California, Arizona, and Nevada.
- Western Europe has extensive experience with investments in renewables to replace fossils. By the end of 2014, the generating capacity renewable energy sources amounted to 22% of Europe’s capacity, while actual output was only 3%.
- Meeting 8% of the U.K.’s real energy needs would require having to build 44,000 offshore wind turbines. Doing this, would fill the entire 2,000 mile U.K. coastline with a strip about 2.5 miles wide.
- To replace the 440 MW of U.S. generation expected to be retired over the next 25 years would take 29.3 billion solar PV panels and 4.4 million battery modules. The area covered by these panels would be equal to that of the state of New Jersey. It would require 929 years to build this many panels at the rate of one per second.
- A central component of WWS calls for the electrification of all transportation uses. This is technically impossible now as the technologies have not yet been developed that would allow battery storage applicable to heavy-duty trucks, marine vehicles and aircraft.
- Even in the case of automobiles, despite taxpayer subsidies of $7,500 per vehicle and up, the number of all-electric vehicles sold has consistently fallen far short of governments’ goals.
- The costs of electrifying passenger rail systems are so high that no private railway would ever take them on. Electrification of freight railway systems makes even less sense, and would cost at least $1 trillion each.
- The proponents of WWS grossly underestimate the costs of integrating renewable energy sources into the electricity system. The costs of backup generation, storage, load balancing and transmission would be enormous.
- About 60 pounds of batteries are needed to store the energy equivalent to that in one pound of hydrocarbons. Meanwhile, 50-100 pounds of various materials are mined, moved, and processed by hydrocarbons for one pound of battery produced. In rough terms, it requires the energy equivalent of about 100 barrels of oil to fabricate a quantity of batteries that can store a single barrel of oil-equivalent energy.
- Even at the present rate of growth, mining required to make batteries will soon dominate the production of many minerals. Lithium battery production today already accounts for about 40% and 25% respectively, of all lithium and cobalt mining.
Nevertheless, the WWS includes a call to shut down all coal, oil and natural gas production. This, in turn, will also force closings of all emissions-intensive industries, such as mining, petrochemicals, refining, cement, and auto and parts manufacturing.
That WWS vision depicts a scene from a woe begotten pre-industrialized past era rather than any future to wish for.
By all means, let’s enthusiastically support research, innovation and investments in non-fossil energy sources — nuclear in particular — that may one day become significant, maybe even primary sources of global energy.
Meanwhile, let’s be very grateful for our marvelous times and opportunities made possible by a fortunate abundance of hydrocarbon energy.
Until some entirely revolutionary new source is discovered, humankind has yet to invent anything so remarkable as oil and natural gas in terms of combined energy density, efficiency, portability, reliability, and yes, environmental responsibility too.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of several books, including “The Weaponization of AI and the Internet: How Global Networks of Infotech Overlords are Expanding Their Control Over Our Lives” (2019), "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful” (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax” (2011). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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