Why technology could slow down the transition to clean energy
About 84% of the world’s electricity comes from oil, natural gas and coal. The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a sobering report on the mining and infrastructure requirements needed for decarbonization and / or net-zero to take shape. Mining to move away from hydrocarbons will require 4,200% more lithium, 2,500% more graphite, 1,900% more nickel, and at least 700% more rare earth metals and minerals.
For example, an offshore wind turbine needs sixty-three thousand pounds of copper. Currently, China, Russia, the Congo and the lithium triangle in South America provide the components needed to build solar panels, wind turbines, battery storage systems for homes and grids; and electric vehicles (EVs). America does not provide the necessary rare earths and metals, due to political backlash and technological constraints.
The IEA report adds that the world does not have the mining capacity, basic infrastructure, funds, technology or plans to “build the necessary mines and refineries”. Attempts to advance this transition by the Biden administration, the EU, the UN, and Western environmentalists rarely take into account the geopolitical, environmental, economic, and social disaster challenges that large-scale mining operations have on countries. and the continents. We don’t have the technology to mitigate the destruction of large parts of the earth mining for minerals and rare earth metals.
Energy density – defined as “the amount of energy stored in a system, substance, region of space per unit of given volume” – is the main reason why fossil fuels will not be replaced in the near future by renewable energies, electric vehicles, storage systems and grids. The IEA explains why:
âA typical electric car requires six times more minerals than a conventional car, an onshore wind power plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas power plant. Since 2010, the average amount of minerals needed for a new unit of power generation capacity has increased by 50% as the share of renewables has increased. ”
Wind and solar only represent â10% of global electricityâ. Solar like wind requires millions of tons of minerals and metals, lithium needs for energy storage are huge, and upgrading / building new power grids takes decades to build and thousands billions of dollars in costs. A better solution to reduce emissions is to use low carbon or low carbon nuclear power plants on renewables for electricity from industrial wind and solar farms:
“Requiring 300 to 400 times more land than nuclear or natural gas power plants, and 100% renewable energy (for the United States) would reduce the land used for energy by 0.5% today at 25-50%. ”
Because of the energy density problem, a two hundred megawatt wind farm probably needs nineteen square miles of turbines, while a natural gas-fired power plant fits within a city block. Technological constraints mean that solar panels and wind turbines do not have the energy density vital to replace fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Eliminating all fossil and nuclear fuels in America before accounting for environmental destruction for mining to run renewables would require the “equivalent area of ââArkansas, Iowa, Kansas , Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma combined. â
The intermittency of renewables is just as bad for electricity and spiraling prices in places like California on top of technological problems. Economically storing power to electricity on a grid scale makes solar and wind farms technologically incapable of competing with fossil fuels and nuclear power. Physics and economics dictate that large-scale storage systems are an insignificant part of power grids providing electricity to consumers and taxpayers. Hydrogen is also unrealistic.
âConverting the (US) grid to run on renewable energy will also require doubling the amount of high-voltage transmission capacity,â according to the National Renewable Laboratory. The United States has about 240,000 miles of high-transmission lines; the renewable conversion “means adding enough high voltage transmission lines to circle the earth about ten times.” Then add in wind turbines and solar panels that typically need repairs and upgrades after two to ten years of use, and we’re dealing with outdated technology.
Neither are reliable sources of energy while still requiring more steel, concrete and copper than fossil fuels or nuclear. Yet ninety global central banks and the Network of Supervisors for Greening Financial Systems meet in June to discuss climate change and clean energy.
Then, the IEA promotes these conferences by recently declaring “no further exploration of fossil fuels is required”, and lists policies such as the phase-out of sales of internal combustion engines and the ban on hydrocarbons. without consulting their recent report on the unplanned amounts of mining and infrastructure needed for the clean energy transition. The IEA is speaking both sides of its mouth at energy, leading countries like Spain to believe their rhetoric and pass laws banning new permits for the exploration and production of fossil fuels.
Whether a person believes in clean energy transitions, net zero goals, decarbonization, climate change, or global warming, none of these government agencies, central banks, West-aligned countries or their environmental allies do have a plan or discussion in place of how renewables, EVs, power grids or battery storage systems will replace the more than six thousand products that come from a barrel of crude oil.
Ironically, the aforementioned products and environmental slogans cannot function without a barrel of crude oil. Nowhere soon, or probably this century, are we getting rid of crude oil, petroleum, natural gas, coal or nuclear. In current technological scenarios, this is simply not possible.
Wind, solar, electric vehicles and utility-scale storage only work if they are backed by massive and endless tax subsidies. Tech issues aside, renewables, EVs, and storage systems would be gone without taxpayer dollars. Fossil fuels and nuclear can see their subsidies ceased, and they persist – the unreliable nature of the entire clean energy transition is forcing governments to pay for these so-called industries year after year with no end date in sight. The money is huge for unconventional energy.
End all subsidies for solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and energy storage systems and they will flourish or perish horse and buggy style. For now, science, engineering, land use, raw materials, intermittency via natural limits, grid outages, excessively expensive basic electricity, unreliable generation, the nightmare geopolitics about the allocation of vast resources, uncontrolled mining and low intensity energy density should make one think about a green dream or clean energy present or future.
Todd Royal is an author and consultant specializing in global threat assessment, energy development and policy for oil, gas and renewable energy based in Los Angeles, California.