From STOP THESE THINGS
Believe the MSM, and you’d think that the grand wind and solar ‘transition’ is a race that’s already won. Peel the onion back, however, and you’ll find a very different picture, indeed. The wilder claims from rent-seekers the louder the cheers of witless approval from the stands.
At present, the USA and Australia are running neck and neck in a contest to make the most outlandish promises about an all wind and sun powered future, where, we are told, electricity will be free, plentiful and as clean as a whistle.
There is an adage about telling big lies, so often, that the audience will, inevitably, believe every last bit of it.
So it is with the narrative that surrounds the so-called ‘net-zero energy transition’. The Australian’s Adam Creighton unpacks that glittering falsehood, below.
US energy transition? Don’t hold your breath waiting
27 July 2023
A casual perusal of the news would leave anyone with the impression we’re well on the way to the sunlit uplands of our net-zero future, where the vast bulk of our energy is supplied by the wind and the sun.
In reality we’ve barely started the transition and it’s not going to happen, despite the trillions of dollars already thrown at the effort around the world. Last year, about 3 per cent of the world’s energy was supplied by wind and solar power, and only 4 per cent in the US – the remainder overwhelmingly came from coal, oil, gas and nuclear power stations.
Talk of transition has been conducted in inverse proportion to the actual transition. Science and economics have got in the way. The cost of batteries already has started to increase as government mandates to buy electric cars (new combustion engine cars won’t be available in California, for instance, after 2035) kick in.
Indeed, to accommodate the desired rollout of electric vehicles, the mining and processing of the minerals that underpin them, such as cobalt, nickel and lithium, would need to increase by several thousand per cent by 2040, according to Mark Mills, an energy expert at the Manhattan Institute.
“If it were to be achievable, it would be the largest single increase in demand or the supply of metals in all of human history,” he said earlier this year at an energy conference in New York.
A lesser known reason the transition is likely to prove elusive is the vast, unrealistic, increase required in the length and quality of transmission networks, as evidenced by research in the US published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“While the United States is building more transmission, the current pace of investment is well below what would be required for the net-zero future,” three economists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the universities of California and Michigan conclude in their paper, entitled Transmission Impossible.
Unlike, coal, gas and nuclear power stations, which can be built relatively close to centres of energy demand, wind and solar power generation must be located in windy and sunny locations.
In the US, wind power stations are in the middle of the country, in states such as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which alone accounts for 26 per cent of US wind generation. California produces 27 per cent of the nation’s solar power, almost as much as the next three states combined. No matter how much those regions produce, the power is trapped, surplus to local requirements and unable to reach other parts of the country – in other words, those areas that will be forced to foot the bill.
“There are hundreds of locations mostly in the middle of the country that now experience negative electricity prices during more than 20 per cent of all hours,” study authors Nancy Rose, Lucas Davis and Catherine Hausman find. In Australia the government has earmarked $20bn to build an extra 10,000km of transmission lines. The situation is more challenging in the US, with more dispersed population centres and a patchwork grid of poles and wires, often up to 100 years old.
“Even the least aggressive scenario entails more than a doubling of transmission capacity by 2050 … It is difficult to overstate the scope of such an increase,” the study authors argue, pointing out that the cost would exceed the historically huge investment in the national highway system that began under Dwight Eisenhower, a project that occurred across a 35-year period.
As the world is gearing up to supercharge battery production it will need vast amounts of manpower, steel, transformers and copper to achieve such an enormous expansion of the grid.
To rely exclusively on wind and solar power to reach the Biden administration’s net-zero 2050 target (nuclear power is not popular) would require “three, four or five-fold” increases in transmission capacity by 2050. In other words, absent some epoch-changing technological development, it’s not going to happen.
In May, author and energy expert Robert Bryce calculated it would take the US, at current rates of transmission expansion, about 80 years to expand the existing network by 57 per cent.
Focusing on cost alone ignores the political and regulatory difficulty of co-ordinating new power lines across local and state jurisdictions, as well as pushback from local energy suppliers who won’t want to see new power lines that reduce consumers’ energy costs.
Possibly because of that, the bulk of the fiscal cost of the climate change provisions in the Biden administration’s signature Inflation Reduction Act, which amount to about $US400bn ($591.5bn) in total, relates to incentives to buy electric cars and for more wind and solar generation capacity.
It is true solar and wind power have declined significantly in cost in recent years, enabling rich nations to diversify their power supplies. But cost comparisons typically ignore the vast sums required to be spent on improving the transmission grid, which of course will be passed on to consumers via higher power prices.
For all the rhetoric about transition, it’s hard to see such an immense diversion of resources taking place. If it does, the “gold plating” problem that pushed up prices last decade will seem like a rounding error as investors in poles and wires recoup their costs from customers.
The fervour for the “clean energy transition”, including the widespread belief that it’s happening, is a triumph of politics over science and economics. In truth the world has no chance of becoming like renewable energy poster child Norway, which is unique in terms of its hydro-electric potential and extremely wealthy thanks to its vast oil and gas reserves it exports to the rest of the world.