Energy Realism at RFF (Krugman rebutted, decarbonization drawbacks specified)

By Robert Bradley Jr. of Master Resource

A recent blog post by Daniel Raimi and Alan Krupnick of Resources for the Future (RFF) is unusual, even remarkable, given the institutional history of their organization. For RFF in recent decades has gone Left, way Left, for the cause of climate alarmism/forced energy transformation (see here).

” … there are still numerous economic and societal barriers to rapid decarbonization.”

“And it is not like wind and solar come free of environmental concerns. The sheer size of wind and solar installations needed to underpin our electricity system is significant.”

“… lower income households will bear the largest relative burdens of the higher energy costs that are likely as a result of climate policies. While there are ways of mitigating these unequal impacts, they require difficult trade-offs.”

– Daniel Raimi and Alan Krupnick, “Decarbonization: It Ain’t That Easy, RFF Blog Post, April 20, 2018.

In “Decarbonization: It Ain’t That Easy,” these two PhD’s caught up to what Robert Murphy and Mary Hutzler at the Institute for Energy Research (IER) have been arguing for a long time: renewables and electric transportation do not hunt against fossil fuels. (And in Murphy’s case, that Paul Krugman is a serial deceiver on energy and elsewhere).

New Energy Era

The RFF contribution is one of a growing number of signs that the Left intelligensia is making room for energy realism. Vaclav Smil was interviewed at Science magazine on basically the same points that the RFF twosome make, for example.

All of this is being made possible by several reinforcing intellectual and political trends.

  1. The rapid technological improvement of oil and gas to negate, market-wise, the improvements of (heavily subsidized) wind, solar, and EVs.
  2. The continuing, even growing, reliance of China and India on (cleaned-up) coal–and growing US exports to meet this demand.
  3. The real-world problems of wind and solar in forced applications around the world.
  4. Trump’s about-face of Obama energy/climate policy.
  5. Tiring energy-subsidy efforts worldwide..

At the same time as RFF gets energy-realistic, fossil-fuel foes are isolating themselves with emotional outbursts (see Jaffe and Sachs here). And pretend free-market carbon taxers at R Street and Niskanen Center are getting nowhere–and increasingly ignore/violate classical liberalism in their (Left-funder-driven) pleas.

The big shame is that RFF could have “gone there” much earlier to prevent all the waste of inferior energies. But given the funding largesse and motivation, RFF’s bevy of Ph.D economists found plenty to do short of examining fundamental premises.

Here are some salient quotations (with my four subtitles) for the Raimi/Krupnick post:

Krugman Exaggeration

“This week, the New York Times published an editorial entitled “Earth, Wind, and Liars” by economist Paul Krugman. In it, Krugman argues that the costs of renewable energy—wind in particular—have fallen so dramatically that

…there is no longer any reason to believe that it would be hard to drastically “decarbonize” the economy. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that doing so would impose any significant economic cost.”

“… the op-ed leaves readers with the impression that decarbonization would be cheap and easy if it weren’t for entrenched fossil fuel interests impeding government policy. We disagree.”

Dense Energy Winning

” … there are still numerous economic and societal barriers to rapid decarbonization.”

“The energy system is enormous, and it changes slowly. Globally, fossil fuels currently provide 81 percent of global primary energy. In the United States, the number is 80 percent.”

“While wind and solar have grown rapidly in recent years, they together account for just 1 percent of the global energy supply, and in the United States just 2 percent. Even if they grow rapidly, the sheer scale of the energy system means that even the most rapid transition would take many decades.”

” … growth in renewables we’ve seen to date has been supported by government subsidies, both in the United States and internationally.”

” … in many parts of the United States and the world, fossil fuels continue to offer the lowest cost option for electricity generation, even with subsidies. This is particularly true in the United States, where the shale revolution will likely provide a low-cost supply of natural gas for decades to come.”

Environmental Issues (back to Jevons)

“And it is not like wind and solar come free of environmental concerns. The sheer size of wind and solar installations needed to underpin our electricity system is significant.”

“According to MIT’s Future of Solar Energy study, solar to power one-third of the US 2050 electricity demand would require 4,000 to 11,000 square kilometers (for context, Massachusetts’s area is 27,000 square kilometers).”

“Wind farms take more land for the same power—66,000 square kilometers, although only a small portion of that is actually disturbed by installations (TheEnergyCollective has an insightful discussion on this topic).”

“Even for relatively modest (from a national perspective) proposals—such as Texas’s goal for 14 to 28 gigawatts of new solar by 2030—there are concerns about habitat fragmentation, loss of endangered species and other impacts on the environment.”

” … decarbonization isn’t just about electricity. Achieving steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will require large reductions from the transportation, industrial, and heating sectors which, in 2017, accounted for 62 percent of US primary energy consumption.”

” … wind and solar is no replacement for fossil fuels in certain industrial and transportation applications (to his credit, Krugman acknowledges the impracticality of electrifying air travel).”

” … despite years of subsidies, the percentage of electric vehicles in the fleet remains miniscule.”

” … consumption of petroleum products internationally is galloping ahead. This year alone, global demand for oil is set to grow by about 1.5 million barrels per day. This growth isn’t driven by lobbyists on Capitol Hill, but instead by strong economic growth, spurred by developing countries in Asia.”

“Social Justice” Concerns

“Setting aside the technological hurdles of decarbonization, it is important to remember that reducing GHG emissions will have winners and losers…. [T]he distributional effects of such a massive shift have political and social impacts that can’t be wished away.”

“… lower income households will bear the largest relative burdens of the higher energy costs that are likely as a result of climate policies. While there are ways of mitigating these unequal impacts, they require difficult trade-offs.”

“Second, consider the effects of the downturn in Appalachian coal mining, where an entire region has struggled to cope with an energy transition. Now apply a similar logic to the hundreds of communities around the country that are, or have become, heavily reliant on oil and gas extraction as their economic base.”

“Cities like Midland, Texas, or Williston, North Dakota … would face fundamental challenges in a world devoid of fossil fuels. Is it any wonder that politicians representing these regions fight for the economic engine that underlies the wellbeing of their regions?”

“Providing assistance to the individuals and communities negatively affected by climate policies has been an important component of past legislative efforts, and must be acknowledged as a complex and daunting challenge in and of itself.”

“What to Do”: Three Questions

The final part of the the Raimi/Krupnick post, “What to Do,” retreats to the RFF’s mantra of forced decarbonization via government policy. Raimi and Krupnick hope that a big technical fix that would be enabled by a large carbon tax on oil, natural gas, and coal.

But it is here that RFF’s best and brightest should entertain what is politically incorrect inside their walls.

  • How high a carbon tax and for what climate gain? The climate math between fossil-fuel rationing and reversing the assumed anthropogenic influence on climate is extremely bad today–and getting worse by the month, week, even day.
  • Where’s tending climate science in terms of the problem in the first place? What about “global lukewarming” and the benefits of CO2 fertilization? Just reviewing the Happer, Koonin, Lindzen tutorialshould be a high priority.
  • How is the climate math shifting the debate from (government) mitigation to (free-market) adaptation?

It is high time to check your premises. And as time goes by, expect more leaks in the intellectual underpinnings of the climate-industrial complex.

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46 thoughts on “Energy Realism at RFF (Krugman rebutted, decarbonization drawbacks specified)

  1. ““What to Do”: Three Questions
    The final part of the the Raimi/Krupnick post, “What to Do,” retreats to the RFF’s mantra of forced decarbonization via government policy. Raimi and Krupnick hope that a big technical fix that would be enabled by a large carbon tax on oil, natural gas, and coal.”

    This policy is well known in both government and coroporate worlds.
    It is called “Throw money at the problem“; and is considered one of the worst possible options.
    Rarely does “throw money at the problem” solve anything, advance science or develop solutions.
    Leaving Raimi and Krupnick deep in fantasy lands.

    • “Throw money at the problem” usually ends up enriching those who espouse the policy.

  2. An honest presentation or editorial on energy policy would include the cost to society of tax credits in place of deductions, the implied cost of new transmission to wind producers, and the irrational choices made by tax credit inducements like rooftop solar over utility scale. But then the true scarcity is honesty in energy policy. The lobbyist and advocacy groups win and the consumer loses at various stages later. Add regulated utilities to the list of corrupted institutions with subverted promises.

  3. Paul Krugman is the NY Times trained lapdog who is trotted out anytime the Times wants to
    provide an “independent view of an expert,” which, of course, is exactly the same as the Times’ views. Of course,Krugman shows his ignorance of renewable economics by focusing on the lower cost of solar panels (actually, solar roofs from Tesla cost a small fortune) and wind turbines, while ignoring the increases in side effect costs as wind/solar gains a larger footprint on the grid.

    • ,”Krugman shows his ignorance of renewable economics by focusing on the lower cost of solar panels (actually, solar roofs from Tesla cost a small fortune) and wind turbines, while ignoring the increases in side effect costs as wind/solar gains a larger footprint on the grid.”
      Not sure krugman is showing his ignorance – Closer to showing his intentional deception/lying.
      It is true that the marginal cost of producing a watt of electricity from Solar or Wind has dropped, but the fixed costs have remained high, including the fixed costs of maintaining backup power which is almost always ignored.
      Renewable advocates never can explain why overall costs go up when renewables are added to the mix.

      • Hi Joe,
        not sure it can accurately be stated that the marginal cost of producing a watt of electricity from solar and wind has dropped if the increased and increasing costs of the “ancillary services” required to back up those intermittent resources if included in the cost calculation. In any case as always political solutions to real or imaginary problems are always inefficient and very costly to tax payers!
        Cheers!
        Joe

      • Joe Civics – let me clarify my comment on marginal costs – The renewable advocates point out (argue) that once the solar panel and/or windmill is installed, the additional cost/marginal cost of producing additional watt of electricity is near zero as the wind blows or as the sun shines since there is no fuel cost ie the wind and sun is free.
        The cost of the ancilliary facilities to maintain based load, etc is not factored in as a marginal cost since it is not a renewable.
        Again, the overall costs rise, when renewables are added to the mix..

      • The marginal cost of solar and wind may have dropped but the value has remained negative. Even if it is free it is a losing proposition. Electrical energy is a service, not a commodity. If it is available when you don’t need and can’t use it is worthless and may cost money to dispose of it.

      • AND they “wear out” and need repair and maintenance and eventually REPLACEMENT by highly
        skilled people who have to be highly paid………………so EQUIPMENT COST must also be
        factored in to that “free wind and free solar ” equation.
        ACTUALLY……..”free” comes at a considerable cost !

    • When has Krugman been correct about anything? I was going to say right, but that ain’t happenin’. Even the Nobel in economics is non real world award for political correctness.

    • “Decarbonization: It Ain’t That Easy … ”
      Although it must be easier than establishing a sound reason for Decarbonization, otherwise we’d be doing that first.

    • “Decarbonization” belief is a defacto indication of relative insanity, given it’s physically impossible to do, and entirely unnecessary anyway, so is just another dishonest plaything for the idiotocracy, same as their laughably false claim of “ocean acidification”.
      The point of it is to get even skeptics all arguing/debating using such farcical dishonest warped starting-points, and nebulous terns for fictional nothings.
      And it’s working!
      Call it “greenhouse warming”, or “greenhouse effect”, not “AGW”—just don’t use their preferred terms, make them use your starting-points, and your preferred term,.

  4. Proponents of “forced decarbonization” would do well to study the effects of “forced collectivization” in the USSR and the results thereof. Are they advocating the same implementation strategy?

  5. Much of the “energy policy” is lobbying by rent-seeking renewable energy investors, and much of the remainder is lobbying by true believer greens who oppose industrial society. The bugaboo of the greens is the evil fossil fuel interests lobby rather less, so the demonized Koch brothers stand out in contrast.

  6. It’s harder and harder to find a trustworthy voice on energy and economic empowerment these days. Like the evolution of “global warming,” it all depends on who is choosing the words, the “relevant facts” and who is doing the math. It simply depresses me beyond belief.

  7. P.S. “In all likelihood, the United States will live up to its Paris commitment, not because of the White House, but because of the private sector.”
    Erik Solheim, UN Energy Program chief

    • because of the private sector
      ===========
      Fracking is what lowered CO2. Which is why so many activists and politicians are against it. If a working solution is found the activists and politicians no longer are needed.

    • Likely also because of government actions at the sub-national levels, states and cities levels on “climate action” to meet the Paris commitment?

  8. Were it not for fossil fuels, 14th Century, ‘modern’ renewable energy technology wouldn’t exist.
    The environmental cost of renewable energy far outstrips any supposed benefit. http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/wind-still-making-zero-energy/ (short, and very worth reading)
    And it seems ‘dumb’ climate change alarmists are less likely to participate in environmentally friendly activity than ‘informed’ climate sceptics.
    Frankly, we sceptics care to get of our arses and ask the difficult questions.

  9. The funny part about all of this… it begins by asseting that Wind and Solar are now so cheap there’s no reason not to use them. However, if this is actually so, then there’s no reason to try to legislate them… if they truely are cost competitive or even the lowest cost offering, then companies will use them with no government carrots or sticks.
    Then they go on to argue carrots and sticks.

    • kcrucible
      It makes no sense that fossil fuels replaced windmills hundreds of years ago, and are now being resurrected as a viable competitor.
      Subsidies or not, the concept is ludicrous.

  10. Having lived for 75 years on this earth I have seen many forms of stupidity, however the recent shift of giving the keys of the asylum to the inmates just about tops it all. The Winters and the Summers are no different today than when I was a child. Storms, hurricanes’, floods and heat waves we used to call this weather until someone discovered they could make money by providing the people with an idea that would , through the herd instinct become a religion. Dragon Slayers of the 21st century…………………we can cure the problem just send more money. But! we only have a short time to save the planet so best make that lots of money.

  11. TOLD YOU SO, 16 YEARS AGO:
    We confidently wrote in 2002:
    “The ultimate agenda of pro-Kyoto advocates is to eliminate fossil fuels, but this would result in a catastrophic shortfall in global energy supply – THE WASTEFUL, INEFFICIENT ENERGY SOLUTIONS PROPOSED BY KYOTO ADVOCATES SIMPLY CANNOT REPLACE FOSSIL FUELS.”
    Source:
    DEBATE ON THE KYOTO ACCORD
    PEGG, reprinted in edited form at their request by several other professional journals, THE GLOBE AND MAIL and LA PRESSE in translation, by Baliunas, Patterson and MacRae.
    http://www.apega.ca/members/publications/peggs/WEB11_02/kyoto_pt.htm
    http://www.friendsofscience.org/assets/documents/KyotoAPEGA2002REV1.pdf

    • WE also TOLD YOU SO, 16 YEARS AGO:
      We confidently wrote in the same 2002 published APEGA debate:
      “CLIMATE SCIENCE DOES NOT SUPPORT THE THEORY OF CATASTROPHIC HUMAN-MADE GLOBAL WARMING – THE ALLEGED WARMING CRISIS DOES NOT EXIST.”
      Result: By the time the cooling after the recent El Nino is completed, the ~20-year “Pause” will have been re-established and there will continue to be no real global warming crisis, despite large increases in atmospheric CO2 – the sensitivity of climate to increasing CO2 will continue to be small and any minor warming will not be dangerous but will be beneficial for humanity and the environment.

  12. Electrifying air and shipping isn’t some crazy task. Ammonia can be made from hydrogen from water, nitrogen from air, and electricity. Ammonia has similar energy density to jet fuel and can be used in modified jet engines for air and reciprocating engines for marine and terrestrial shipping.
    The economics are ugly. The technology is doable.

    • Imagine if we could find a fuel that increases the base of the food chain when burned. We’d get the use of the energy, AND increased food production.

  13. And as time goes by, expect more leaks in the intellectual underpinnings of the climate-industrial complex.

    Not at all.
    The tolerant Left does not tolerate dissent, even in it’s mildest form. Anybody who breaks rank will be viciously attacked. They will be forced to recant their heresy or be destroyed. RFF is pushing to the limits of what is allowed, as it is. Any further movement in this direction risks serious repercussions.

  14. WHAT IS GRID-CONNECTED WIND POWER REALLY WORTH?
    Wind power is intermittent and non-dispatchable and therefore should be valued much lower than the reliable, dispatchable power typically available from conventional electric power sources such as fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear.
    In practice, one should assume the need for almost 100% conventional backup for wind power (in the absence of a hypothetical grid-scale “super-battery”, which does not exist in practical reality). When wind dies, typically on very hot or very cold days, the amount of wind power generated approaches zero.
    Capacity Factor equals {total actual power output)/(total rated capacity assuming 100% utilization). The Capacity Factor of wind power in Germany equals about 28%*. However, Capacity Factor is not a true measure of actual usefulness of grid-connected wind power. The following paragraph explains why:
    Current government regulations typically force wind power into the grid ahead of conventional power, and pay the wind power producer equal of greater sums for wind power versus conventional power, which artificially makes wind power appear more economic. This practice typically requires spinning backup of conventional power to be instantly available, since wind power fluctuates wildly, reportedly at the cube of the wind speed. The cost of this spinning backup is typically not deducted from the price paid to the wind power producer.
    The true factor that reflects the intermittency of wind power Is the Substitution Capacity*, which is about 5% in Germany – a large grid with a large wind power component. Substitution Capacity is the amount of dispatchable (conventional) power you can permanently retire when you add more wind power to the grid. In Germany they have to add ~20 units of wind power to replace 1 unit of dispatchable power. This is extremely uneconomic.
    I SUGGEST THAT THE SUBSTITUTION CAPACITY OF ~5% IS A REASONABLE FIRST APPROXIMATION FOR WHAT WIND POWER IS REALLY WORTH – that is 1/20th of the value of reliable, dispatchable power from conventional sources. Anything above that 5% requires spinning conventional backup, which makes the remaining wind power redundant and essentially worthless.
    This is a first-approximation of the subject. Improvements are welcomed, provided they are well-researched and logical.
    Regards, Allan

    • Renewable energy developers have gotten away with a project can produce such and such an amount of electricity on an annualized basis. Or supply X number of homes on an annual basis.
      Even annualized can’t be proven one way or another due to proprietary issues.

    • Wind power is intermittent and non-dispatchable

      – too true
      The wind power monitoring site http://anero.id/energy/wind-energy shows Australia is currently generating 250-300MW from an installed, nameplate base of 4,917MW.
      There was 3,000MW being generated at 3PM yesterday but this has been steadily falling until now. Time for South Australia (where I live) to crank up their diesel generators.
      I have passed these figures on to our esteemed Minister for the Environment and Energy to point out the stupidity of our current policies.

  15. “… lower income households will bear the largest relative burdens of the higher energy costs that are likely as a result of climate policies. While there are ways of mitigating these unequal impacts, they require difficult trade-offs.”
    The “difficult trade-offs” are in essence finding ways to get their hands on OPM to feed the hungry masses. If they fail, they will find themselves at the end of pitchforks.
    One has to understand that each Green Blob faction comes to the feeding trough of government policy and tax payer dollars with differing agendas that propose a common solution.
    The lower income voters are the group the socialists want to capture as obedient voters in exchange for hand-outs. Further, destroy an affluent middle-class, a middle-class that holds on to democracy and civil liberties and reduce them to the lower-class (for example: Venezuela under Chavez-Maduro). Get them dependent on government energy subsidies in an otherwise expensive electricity market, and you’ve got a loyal voter for life. This is where Socialism meets reality of holding on to people who would otherwise tell Big Government to stick it.
    The investors like Soros, Steyer, and the many investment firms listed on Ceres.org ‘s investor network come to the Climate pork trough because upsetting the existing energy mix status quo and using government mandates to force renewables adoption offers the potential of huge profit for the early investors. Most are bright enough to understand there is no climate crisis, only a manufactured narrative from which they seek to profit.
    The tort bar in the US comes to the climate pork trough lured by the prospect of fossil fuel lawsuit mega-payday settlements.

  16. I want to decarbonize but please show me how that can be done. Currently all the goods and services where I live involve the use of fossil fuels including the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the house I live in, and even most of the surfaces that I walk on. The closest nuclear plant has been decommissioned. Some people in our neighborhood have solar panels but they were made and transported via the use of fossil fuels. I would love to have an all electric car and a solar energy system to change it but I cannot afford to buy such things and no one has come forward and offered what I need for free. I would like to live off the grid but I myself cannot afford to do that. All the solar energy systems in my neighborhood are not off grid. Horses are no longer the center of transportation where I live and are not even allowed on most streets. There are even severe limitations of solar clothes dryers in my neighborhood..

  17. Just imagine the howls of outrage from the mid-western corn belt / ethanol lobby when their industry is threatened with destruction. I can’t see how decarbonization will survive the democratic process. Combine that with the mounting evidence of divergence between model-based predictions and reality. Just hope I’m around to see the wheels fall off the climate-industrial bandwagon….

  18. The European Union’s public sector apparently has no respect or zero trust in the private sector: “If we are going to ramp up ambition, then we need to ensure the fossil fuel industries are kept out these talks,” according to Pascoe Sabido, Corporate Europe Observatory, at Emission Trading Scheme Meeting, recently: All the while, the first 13 years of the Emission Trading Scheme has severely under-performed, all on its own.
    I say less politics and more economic development leadership from the European Union. Certainlty, they need to exhibit more awareness about the global importance of economic empowerment, especially in the developing world.

  19. ‘Transitioning’ to a fossil-fuel free society seems to assume that the oil/gas/coal industry will continue to function and pay the imposition of taxes until the ‘clean green’ energy sources are able to replace them.
    Private businesses do not function without profit (unless you are Tesla) and the full effects of the folly of wind/solar energy policies will be felt when it becomes uneconomical for the miners/drillers to stay in business, well before the replacements are littering the landscape.

  20. If Krugman really is an economist he may be the worst in history. It might be he spend far too much time in doors because apparently he is not aware that the wind doesn’t always blow nor does the sun always shine.

  21. “… lower income households will bear the largest relative burdens of the higher energy costs that are likely as a result of climate policies. While there are ways of mitigating these unequal impacts, they require difficult trade-offs.”
    But … but … but … Kristi said, “Show me where anyone is arguing against people improving their standard of living. I’m not going to believe the echo chamber.”

  22. Krugman. Ugh.
    Has there ever been a more smug, condescending, know-it-all city boy in the history of Planet Earth?
    Thank God he and Friedman can’t breed together. (Sure they can try …)

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