Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A research effort by Google corporation to make renewable energy viable has been a complete failure, according to the scientists who led the programme. After 4 years of effort, their conclusion is that renewable energy “simply won’t work”.
According to an interview with the engineers, published in IEEE;
“At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope …
Renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.”
There is simply no getout clause for renewables supporters. The people who ran the study are very much committed to the belief that CO2 is dangerous – they are supporters of James Hansen. Their sincere goal was not to simply install a few solar cells, but to find a way to fundamentally transform the economics of energy production – to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. To this end, the study considered exotic innovations barely on the drawing board, such as self erecting wind turbines, using robotic technology to create new wind farms without human intervention. The result however was total failure – even these exotic possibilities couldn’t deliver the necessary economic model.
The key problem appears to be that the cost of manufacturing the components of the renewable power facilities is far too close to the total recoverable energy – the facilities never, or just barely, produce enough energy to balance the budget of what was consumed in their construction. This leads to a runaway cycle of constructing more and more renewable plants simply to produce the energy required to manufacture and maintain renewable energy plants – an obvious practical absurdity.
As a review by The Register of the IEEE article states.
“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.”
I must say I’m personally surprised at the conclusion of this study. I genuinely thought that we were maybe a few solar innovations and battery technology breakthroughs away from truly viable solar power. But if this study is to be believed, solar and other renewables will never in the foreseeable future deliver meaningful amounts of energy.
[Post updated at Eric’s request to correct the source of the second quote – Anthony]