Report: Green Energy Economy Is Simply ‘Impossible’

A new report is out from The Manhattan Institute

Date: 03/26/19 Mark P. Mills, Manhattan Institute

Hydrocarbons—oil, natural gas, and coal—are the world’s principal energy resource today and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Wind turbines, solar arrays, and batteries, meanwhile, constitute a small source of energy, and physics dictates that they will remain so. Meanwhile, there is simply no possibility that the world is undergoing—or can undergo—a near-term transition to a “new energy economy.”

The article continues.

A movement has been growing for decades to replace hydrocarbons, which collectively supply 84% of the world’s energy. It began with the fear that we were running out of oil. That fear has since migrated to the belief that, because of climate change and other environmental concerns, society can no longer tolerate burning oil, natural gas, and coal—all of which have turned out to be abundant.

So far, wind, solar, and batteries—the favored alternatives to hydrocarbons—provide about 2% of the world’s energy and 3% of America’s. Nonetheless, a bold new claim has gained popularity: that we’re on the cusp of a tech-driven energy revolution that not only can, but inevitably will, rapidly replace all hydrocarbons.

This “new energy economy” rests on the belief—a centerpiece of the Green New Deal and other similar proposals both here and in Europe—that the technologies of wind and solar power and battery storage are undergoing the kind of disruption experienced in computing and communications, dramatically lowering costs and increasing efficiency. But this core analogy glosses over profound differences, grounded in physics, between systems that produce energy and those that produce information.

In the world of people, cars, planes, and factories, increases in consumption, speed, or carrying capacity cause hardware to expand, not shrink. The energy needed to move a ton of people, heat a ton of steel or silicon, or grow a ton of food is determined by properties of nature whose boundaries are set by laws of gravity, inertia, friction, mass, and thermodynamics—not clever software.

This paper highlights the physics of energy to illustrate why there is no possibility that the world is undergoing—or can undergo—a near-term transition to a “new energy economy.”

A rather stark set of examples including:

* The annual output of Tesla’s Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery factory, could store three minutes’ worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. It would require 1,000 years of production to make enough batteries for two days’ worth of U.S. electricity demand. Meanwhile, 50–100 pounds of materials are mined, moved, and processed for every pound of battery produced.

The full pdf may be downloaded here.

66 thoughts on “Report: Green Energy Economy Is Simply ‘Impossible’

  1. “The annual output of Tesla’s Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery factory, could store three minutes’ worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. ”

    So much for the claim that “grid level batteries” are the solution to the intermittency of so called renewable power sources.

    • but batteries are not intended to store/provide all of a nation’s electricity demand…

      The are for fast frequency response (replacing running reserve), smoothing of supply as a renewable resource falls of according to a predicted pattern (solar declining toward evening) and for providing peak period additional response, replacing peaker gas plants…

      • The problem is batteries of any kind are way more expensive per kilowatt hour than any fossil fueled alternative. Single stage gas turbines can respond as fast as batteries at maybe 1/3 the cost. If you have a decent peaking response gas power plant no batteries are needed for the grid. Simple as that.

        South Australia had a battery. It was useless after they shut down their only coal fired plant and all the interconnected states

        Not to mention the blood, sweat. tears. pollution and lives that go into mining rare earths, heavy metals, and other costly materials.

  2. Fossil Fuels will continue to reign until Greens either Embrace Nuclear and large scale Hydro as options or Thorium and/or Fusion becomes a reality (always 10 – 15 years away)

  3. Hydrocarbons are effective in their space. Gray energy has niche applications. Neither is a universally viable choice.

  4. The cult of CAGW and the fake news outlets have created a fairy tale like belief concerning costs vs benefits of the so called ‘green’ energy.

    It is pathetic that we have ignored reality for so long

    Germany has shown, that massive (580 billion dollars by 2025 plus a loss of 500 billion dollars in electrical utility share price) ‘investment’ in green scams results in very, very expensive electrical power for almost no CO2 emission reduction, if the energy cost of the green scams and new power lines, the reduction in grid efficiency, and the forced outsourcing of high energy products, is considered.

    http://notrickszone.com/2017/02/28/german-electricity-price-projected-to-quadruple-by-2020-to-over-40-cents-per-kilowatt-hour/

    Currently German power costs about 30 euro-cents per kilowatt-hour, and so are among the highest worldwide. The price is projected to soar another 50% rise to 45 cents by 2020. That would make German power 4 times more expensive than US power, and more than double that of France. This poses a real threat to German economic competitiveness.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/22/shocker-top-google-engineers-say-renewable-energy-simply-wont-work/

    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.

    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”.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/renewable_energy_simply_wont_work_google_renewables_engineers/

    “RE<C was a failure, and Google closed it down after four years. Now, Koningstein and Fork have explained the conclusions they came to after a lengthy period of applying their considerable technological expertise to renewables, in an article posted at IEEE Spectrum.

    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."

    • “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 …”.
      ==============================================
      That has been intuitively obvious for years, it doesn’t take a PhD in anything to understand that if so-called renewables were so cost-effective as claimed every manufacturer of wind generators would rely solely on wind energy, solar panel manufacturers on solar energy.
      The problem now is the sunk cost fallacy: “… the justification of increased investment of money, time, lives, etc. in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment (“sunk cost”) despite new evidence suggesting that the cost, beginning immediately, of continuing the decision outweighs the expected benefit …” (Wiki).

      • Ah the “sunk cost fallacy” or as I had learned it, “Throwing away good money to chase bad money.”
        “We lose money on every widget we sell…but we’ll make up for it with volume!”

    • Ahh .. but you forget to include the cost savings of Social Justice!! ….. and that cost can be adjusted just like the historical temperature graphs to meet the needs of the body politic.

  5. It took this long for someone to point out that the shoot, ready, aim methodology of the Green movement won’t work? Any first year engineering student in college could easily come to the same conclusion if given the chance. People have been saying all along that wind and solar cannot produce enough energy to manufacture itself.

    • Maybe that’s the key to killing off this boondoggle for all time. Require that renewable energy infrastructure is produced using renewable energy sources.

      Maybe we can sneak that one past the greenies. What could be their objection? That doing so is impossible?

  6. “that the technologies of wind and solar power and battery storage are undergoing the kind of disruption experienced in computing and communications, dramatically lowering costs and increasing efficiencies”

    That thinking is incredibly stupid. There are physical limits to efficiency and even without those, you cannot extract more kinetic energy from the wind than the kinetic energy it has, or more solar energy/m^2 than the energy that actually comes from the sun on that m^2. And that is low. You don’t get a spectacular increase even in such impossible case.

    We could, though, replace a good deal of hydrocarbons energy with nuclear, but those with the ‘green’ delusion are against it.

    • “that the technologies of wind and solar power and battery storage are undergoing the kind of disruption experienced in computing and communications, dramatically lowering costs and increasing efficiencies”

      The response to that should be, “Great, so why buy now? Why not wait 3 years until we can pay much less?

    • When AOC is elected president in 2020, one of her first actions will be to repeal the law of physics. Problem solved.

      • “When AOC is elected president in 2020, one of her first actions will be to repeal the law of physics.”

        Her first act should be to “repeal” the Constitution. She won’t be 35 in 2020, as the Constitution requires. (Considering how Donald Trump got on Barack Obama about Obama allegedly not being a U.S. citizen, imagine what a big deal he’d make about AOC not being 35.) (And this time he’d actually be making a legitimate point…imagine that!)

  7. “It would require 1,000 years of production to make enough batteries for two days’ worth of U.S. electricity demand.”

    But we have only 12 years left, which will allow to product batteries for only 35 minutes of U.S. electricity demand … is it worth it ?

    I wonder how many apartment bikes can be produced in 12 years … perhaps it’s a better option.

    • Oh wait, what is the lifetime of these batteries ? 5 years ?

      So with this technology all the batteries have to be replaced each 5 years, and with the available batteries plants, it is not possible to fulfill more than 15 minutes of U.S. electricity demand.

      Ridiculous !

  8. Greens are always selling the future. Which never comes making it difficult to demolish quickly in peoples minds. Lots suckers out there.

  9. “Into the foreseeable future” is a joke. Molten salt small modular reactors , burning either uranium or Thorium, both virtually inexhaustible whe uranium is reprocessed, will arrive latter 2020’s and there is nothing that can produce power cheaper or more safely and requiring virtually no peak load generators (hydro, natural gas, batteries,etc). My estimate is that , couiple with our urrent light water reactors capacity (20%) and hydro capacity (10%) , we could build enough molten SMRs to supply the remaining power the U.S, requires and it would cost less than a trillion bucks and that would also provide all of the electricity required by an all-electric vehicular transportation fleet. The SMRs should have a 60 year plus lifespan.

    • You can’t let go, can’t you? There is no Molten Salt Small Modular Reactor in operation right now, so your wishes may come true or not. You wrote it yourself:
      … My estimate is … we could build … it would cost less … that would also provide all of the electricity required … should have a 60 year plus lifespan.

  10. Now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute: I have it on good authority that unicorn farts, pixie dust, and fairy magic will create all the energy we could ever need, and then some. You just gotta Believe! Evil deniers.

  11. “Wind turbines, solar arrays, and batteries, meanwhile, constitute a small source of energy,…”

    Batteries are not a true source of energy for the grid. They merely store excess power until it is needed to be returned to the grid, and then they have to recharged again. And at grid scale, they usually can only return a load for a few minutes at best to bring on-line a fossil fuel or hydropower dispatchable power source.

  12. About once a month I check out google hits for ammonia fuel. There is a steady drum beat of new work and it looks like ammonia is now viable as a fuel in some niche applications. link

    Ammonia is really just an easier to store version of hydrogen. It can be used in fuel cells directly, or the hydrogen can be recovered and used in fuel cells or ammonia can be burned in internal combustion engines and turbines. Surplus wind and solar and nuclear energy could be used to produce ammonia in a completely carbon free way. Ammonia already has a large distribution network. (One tiny fly in the ointment is that ammonia is seriously poisonous.)

    Surprisingly, there is a lot of interest in using ammonia to fuel the large two stroke diesel engines that power ocean going ships.

    Because existing generators can be converted to use ammonia, that gets around most of the problems of grid scale batteries.

    On the other hand … over the years I have followed a number of promising technologies that got to the pilot plant stage and even into initial production. The record of those technologies is dismal. They usually fail, not because the technology doesn’t work, but because of economics.

      • I’d take the ammonia over diesel, every time. I’m actually quite fond of the smell of ammonia, in small doses. When working with it I could never resist taking a whiff of the cap when I opened the bottle. It is quite harmless at these concentrations.

        I’ve heard that it is making a comeback in refrigeration. With care, it is possible to use it safely, but I’m sure they would still ban it if it looked like being used successfully as a transportation fuel.

        • About 20 (??) years ago there was a Time magazine cover story on a company near Buffalo NOBODY that had developed an ammonia-type fuel for diesel engines and was using it successfully in diesel locomotives. But the company ran into business-related contract issues and folded.

    • Liquid anhydrous ammonia was used in exactly one rocket application (3 different rockets of the same model): the X-15 was powered by a LOX/NH3 engine. It worked rather well, and no one got killed as a result of the propellants (one flight fatality, flight 191, killed Mike Adams, due to control issues).

      Part of the problem with ammonia is that it is not liquid at ambient conditions. Its boiling point is -33.34 C (-28.01 F), which isn’t terribly low. But one would like something that has a boiling point more like gasoline as a motor fuel.

      The next step up from ammonia is hydrazine (N2H4). It is a liquid at room temperature, though freezes at 35.6 F, slightly higher than water. Its density is slightly higher than water, an unusual feature for a fuel. It is also a monopropellant, decomposing into nitrogen and hydrogen with a fairly high energy release, and is used in small rocket motors in many applications. Its combustion properties in air are quite nice, and it would make a great substitute for motor fuels if one of its other properties were not so overhyped.

      Hydrazine is toxic, and like many toxic substances, its effects have been amplified by legend to beyond rational proportions. I did a flight test program at NASA/Armstrong (Dryden at the time). Once I was given a tour of all of the facilities, and we passed by the F-16 hangars. The engineer giving me the tour remarked on the F-16 Emergency Power Unit’s use of hydrazine as its fuel, and said “Around here we have a rule: If there’s a hydrazine leak, you are to bend over, put your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye.”

      That’s as much BS as some of the nuclear crap one sees. My wife and I are both rocket propulsion engineers, and have gone out to countless test sites after a hydrazine fueled engine has been fired, looking over hardware, measuring throat diameters, even wiping wet areas with our fingers and sniffing to see if the stuff was water or monomethylhydrazine (in my case it was the latter).

      Hydrazine has gotten a bum rap, undeserved IMHO. It would make a great substitute for gasoline in virtually any application. In fact, it can be gelled with the addition of 1 or 2% cabosil, and rendered even safer than a pure liquid. But I see that happening just after nuclear fission reactors are installed in homes.

      • Michael,
        What are the combustion Products from burning ammonia or hyrdrazine in an engine?

        Hans K

  13. There is no foreseeable replacement for the transportation fuel for aviation, Jet-A.
    Large harvesting equipment for grain crops can run on CNG, propane, or petroleum derived diesel or gasoline, but batteries are not likely to ever find their way to those applications.
    Large trains pulling bulk cargo (lumber, building materials, finished goods) across the US are quite unlikely to ever be electric-battery. Diesel will always predominate here.

    And the more electrification of small scale transportation simply drives up the demand for increasing amounts of copper, cobalt, and lithium. Mining those raw mineral stocks is and will be dependent on the heavy machinery and big mining trucks to extract and move the ore to smelters/refiners.

    Here in So Arizona, the local Dumbocrats and econutter socialists have been fighting a new copper mine for several decades. Yet to a person, those same Dumbocrats-/ocialists demand we keep building out solar, wind and electric vehicles, while never considering where all that new copper in those systems must come from. Dumbocrats are always demanded that other make the sacrifices for their demands.

    • Large trains pulling bulk cargo (lumber, building materials, finished goods) across the US are quite unlikely to ever be electric-battery. Diesel will always predominate here.

      I got an idea! Run charging current thru the rails to keep the battery-powered locos constantly charged! A virtue-signaler’s wet-dream at least. 🙂

  14. I posted the following comment over on ‘ The Saker’ website a couple of weeks ago:

    “Global Warming is a ‘Globalist’ hoax in order to attract the naive and uneducated to support the ‘Globalists’. After all, only the ‘Globalists’ can solve such a Global Problem, and Save the Earth.
    The ‘Green New Deal’ is a fairy story that would make even Disney blush. It will never be enacted. It is designed only to attract the votes of the gullible.
    If it were ever actually enacted It would set off massive inflation, gut the U.S. economy and destroy its energy and transportation infrastructure. It would set the U.S. back 200 years to a time before the use of energy enabled dramatic improvements to human life. All the while having zero effect on climate.
    Good Luck! ”

    For this comment I was called ‘paranoid’ and ‘wrong-headed’.

  15. I did a little thought experiment using a couple of Mark Mills numbers. Mills provided an estimate that 50 pounds to 100 pounds of raw materials raw materials are needed for each pound of Tesla battery. I found some Tesla materials that give a minimum and maximum weights for Tesla batteries of 1,200 pounds and 1,700 pounds. Using an average of 60 pounds of raw materials per pound of battery and 1,300 pounds per battery yields conservative estimate 78,000 pounds of raw materials for an average Tesla battery. I was not able to find information on the percentage of rare earth materials in a typical Tesla battery but it all comes from either China or Africa. Since shipping companies no longer use clipper ships one must assume that hydrocarbon powered ships are used.

    The only problem is that this battle is not being fought on the science but on religious grounds.

    • All these common sense solutions are not on the elite globaliist agenda. They probably could have worked these all out on the back of an envelope in the back of a cab 30 years ago.

      It’s all intentional, folks.

  16. An interesting report. I haven’t finished it but one thing caught my eye:

    Similarly, it was the astounding gains in computing’s
    energy efficiency that drove the meteoric rise in data
    traffic on the Internet—which resulted in far more
    energy used by computing. Global computing and com-
    munications, all told, now consumes the energy equiv-
    alent of 3 billion barrels of oil per year,
    more energy than global aviation.

    Ironies abound. All those people taking to social media to support “action against climate change”, or mine bitcoins, or watch YouTube videos are contributing more to global warming than Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio flying around on private jets to Climate conferences. Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and Google are enemies of the planet’s future.

    Can someone please tell AOC that we don’t need to ban airplanes; we need to ban computers and networks?

    • In Lois McMaster Bujold’s fictional universe, the first entry in the high-tech ‘Betan’ Bill of Rights is “A citizen’s access to information shall not be curtailed”. And one of her characters (a Betan) gets upset when she sees a slum house on a different planet with no ‘screen. Her husband had to explain that that area didn’t have electricity either.
      Power comes before info!

  17. I read a piece some years ago that pointed out that the story of energy is from less concentrated to more concentrated sources, from wood to coal to oil to nuclear. Wind and solar are “turning back the clock” to less concentrated sources.

    Wot I want to know is whether there is a sub-nuclear source of energy that “the physicists” don’t even know about yet…

    • Christopher,
      We don’t know, yet.
      Oddly.

      Auto – hoping that there might be, perhaps involving manipulating quarks . . .

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