Column: Enthusiastic Idiocy vs. Infrastructure Optimization – Two Strategies for an Energy Transition

From BOE REPORT

 Terry Etam

Last week, buried in the flow of weird crap that fills the mailbox these days, was a small treat – the Lee Valley catalogue. It is a booklet of wonder, even if delivery apparently might take a year…not sure how I’m going to survive without the $80 “Discover Whittling Set” or the $135 Camera Lucida. 

Beyond those staples a German tool caught my eye – the Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher (wow did spell checker ever get mad at that). It is pretty much what it sounds like; a metal egg cup with a long rod sticking out the top with a weight on the rod that drops down and ‘drives the rim cleanly through the shell’ allowing users to access the yolk of soft-boiled eggs without shell shards. 

It warms one’s heart to see such a precise bit of engineering that so precisely and purposely solves an issue. Bless those Germans. 

I pondered this Germanic engineering precision when contemplating a car racing series called ElectricGT (born 2017, died 2018). The series’ idiotic flop made me think there couldn’t possibly have been a German engineer involved. (Although, Germany’s current energy policy is working about as well as WWII…the egg crackers and cars are exquisite but maybe the really macro stuff isn’t their strong suit.)

The tale of ElectricGT is worth dissecting, as it is a perfect metaphor for the utter failure that a too-rushed energy transition will create. In a hundred years of eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher-ing, I couldn’t have come up with a better analogy.

Developing an international racing series is a formidable undertaking. It must be sanctioned by the world racing regulator, the same Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile that governs Formula 1. Multiple deep-pocketed sponsors are a must. Tracks must to be rented far in advance, and Formula 1 tracks do not presumably come cheap. Cars, teams, team crews, and drivers must be found, hired, and organized. Cars were purchased and modified with roll cages, etc. Some serious promotion ensued to get the world’s attention.

Organizers did all of that, and did it well. The professional website shows the whole sh*teree – a ten-race initial season. Races across Europe. Tracks booked. A five-year development plan. Each race a ‘weekend festival’ with a structured practice/race schedule: “Rounds will consist of a 20-minute practice session, 60-minute qualifying heat, a day race (60km) and a dusk race (60km).” The series was officially launched in Ibiza, Euro-party headquarters. All systems go!

But then, dead silence for four years. Not a peep, until a few weeks ago.

Some news about the series surfaced in an article on the website The Verge. The story wasn’t news, it was more like one of those “I’m finally ready to talk about it’  emotional belches people emit when enough time has passed. The story: The racer/writer reported how, in 2017, he had shown up in the south of France to film a promo video at the first race. Strapped into the seat, he headed out for the first practice session of the first race. The practice time had been reduced to ten minutes, but no matter. First lap impressions were that the car felt great – lots of grip thanks to the racing slicks, and it was fast.

Second lap impressions never materialized – the car packed it in before he could begin. The battery overheated at the end of Lap 1, the car went into half-power limp mode, and that was that – for the practice session, for the race, for the whole racing series. The car, despite all the external foliage of a race car, was not just ill-suited – it was an impossibility. Any one of the people involved could have taken the car to a track for 30 minutes to see what would happen. Not only did they not do that, they spent millions only to find out the dog didn’t hunt.

And there we have the perfect metaphor for the too-rushed energy transition that the flamboyantly elite ignoramuses at COP26 envisioned. When you look at that cast of attendees, the global who’s who of do as I say but not as I do, the not-yet-dead colonialists lecturing Africa/India/China to take emissions seriously from the steps of private jets, you might think that it is impossible that such a powerhouse dream-team of 30,000 globe-trotting superiors could get an energy transition so wrong, so completely.

That’s why the ElectricGT lesson is so valuable, because it shows the process of failure. Let your project be guided by a moral ‘imperative’ rather than the laws of reality, and that’s what you get. And it keeps happening, at a larger scale, because even COP26 global kingpins make the same mistake.

COP26 supremos pushed agendas onto developing nations, who pointed out that the metaphorical car would not work. India was asked to put forth a plan to stop using coal, and they said no thanks. China would not support it either, nor even would the US. Even the EU – the EU! – threw up their own roadblocks by refusing to place nuclear power in its green energy category (nuclear is the only zero-emission mid-term hope to dramatically reduce hydrocarbon consumption). In the ultimate irony, as the EU-led COP26 forum made progress on the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, some EU member states were creating brand new fossil fuel subsidies (in the form of capped energy bills for citizens) to help their populations deal with hydrocarbon shortages/soaring prices.

It’s the exact same pattern – start with their vision, build grandiose plans, spend a fortune, then realize the whole thing (Europe’s insistence on renewables as a solution) doesn’t work. To underscore the point, global consumption of hydrocarbons, the fuel squarely in the crosshairs at COP26, is now being consumed at all-time high levels, with global consumption still growing. Hydrocarbons remain stuck firmly as source for about 80% of the world’s energy needs for decades now, despite a trillion or two thrown at renewables.

None of the above is to trash the idea of an energy transition, of course. One will happen. One is happening. What is key about the one that is happening though is that it is progressing because it is dovetailing with the existing hydrocarbon system, not trying to dance on its grave.

Here’s what transition success looks like. The other week, TC Energy announced a partnership with Hyzon Motors, a supplier of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Under the partnership, the pair will “collaborate on development, construction, operation, and ownership of hydrogen production facilities (hubs) across North America.”

TC Energy will operate the hubs, supply power/gas, and provide asset development, management services, and power and gas sales marketing. Hyzon will get an enormous leg up on its plans for widespread adoption of its fuel-cell commercial vehicles. The venture will market hydrogen to other industrial customers, which will help establish a hydrogen network. 

Note the key distinction here between these concrete plans and the ephemeral wishlist of COP26 jetsetters. The Hyzon/TC Energy plan will utilize and leverage the existing hydrocarbon-based system – TC Energy’s vast network of pipelines and associated infrastructure. COP26 visions refuse to talk about hydrocarbons at all, other than to disparage them.

Every now and then, as quick green illusions get shattered, some commentators get snarky: Of course it won’t happen quickly, it’s a transition, everyone knows it will be hard. If such critics really understood that though, they would not be so quick to pile on to the anti-hydrocarbon movement, or to stand by silently and be complicit. There are indeed intelligent commentators that emphasize the need for a healthy hydrocarbon industry for upcoming decades, but they are few and far between – many are like the Pembina Institute, cloaking an anti-hydrocarbon bias in guise of endless studies of how rapidly the sector will disappear. And the unchallenged leaders of the mobs are crystal clear, such as George Monbiot in The Guardian: “What we needed at the Cop26 climate conference was a decision to burn no more fossil fuels after 2030…positive feedbacks will rapidly drive fossil fuels to extinction…The plummeting prices of solar electricity and offshore wind – already cheaper than hydrocarbons in many countries – are making fossil fuel plants look like a filthy extravagance.” Tell me again, dear noveau-energy-transitionists, how that unchallenged nonsense is constructive, and why it goes unchallenged by those who claim to want progress. 

The Hyzon/TC model will be the blueprint for the energy transition. It will succeed because it is a planned step-out of known equipment, processes, and technologies. The COP26 model will fail as spectacularly as ElectricGT, because it is built on a normative vision of ‘what ought to be’ that is untethered to reality.

The hydrocarbon sector must remain healthy to ensure the infrastructure remains healthy, as it is key to any successful transition. Hate-mongering and ‘divest fossil fuels’ campaigns are gradually decimating the industry, at least in Europe and NA. It is being starved of capital. Excess cash flow is being returned to shareholders. Fewer young people are willing to join the industry because who needs the hassle. 

(By the way, there is as of yet no energy transition at all – globally, the growth in renewable energy supply is lower than the rise in global energy demand. According to an analyst at Platts, the global supply of renewables will grow by 35 gigawatts from 2021 to 2022, but global power demand growth will increase by 100 gigawatts over the same period.)

The energy transition is going to be exciting, creative, profitable, and rewarding, because it is going to leverage all the skill and expertise (and product) of the hydrocarbon industry – the industry that works rather well at keeping 7.7 billion people alive. It can be helped by proper government support, in productive ways, as long as those governments know where to start. 

The COP26 model, the one built around a future temperature, is going nowhere, as was proven these past few weeks. Neither enthusiasm nor perceived need will, in fact, move mountains. Anyone that has any doubt about that, this winter’s looming energy shortage will provide all the proof anyone will need.

Quick! Distribute some copies while the thought police are all at COP26. Pick up “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.caIndigo.ca, or Amazon.com. Thanks for the support.29dk2902lhttps://boereport.com/29dk2902l.html

Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here, or email Terry here. PS: Dear email correspondents, the email flow is wonderful and welcome, however I am having trouble keeping up. In past I replied to everything but am getting stretched. Apologies if comments/questions go unanswered; they are not ignored.

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Zig Zag Wanderer
November 27, 2021 6:23 pm

It’s like déjà-vu all over again

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
November 27, 2021 6:29 pm

Copy/paste previous comments to save time.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
November 27, 2021 8:16 pm

Someone re-published an older article. Hmm.

PaulH
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
November 28, 2021 1:54 pm

Yep. I still like the Lee Valley catalog. 🙂

shrnfr
November 27, 2021 6:47 pm

All of this is neither hare nor there.

Chaswarnertoo
Reply to  shrnfr
November 28, 2021 12:37 am

Coat!

Oldseadog
Reply to  shrnfr
November 28, 2021 2:41 am

Looks more like a rabbit to me.

Clyde Spencer
November 27, 2021 7:13 pm

I’m reminded of the old joke about how one can recognize pioneers: They are the ones with arrows in their backs.

Early adopters are going to have to be people who have money they can throw away. Electric vehicles make a great second car with cachet. But, they aren’t ready for prime time as working vehicles.

Abolition Man
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 27, 2021 8:54 pm

Clyde,
That reminds me of the scene from “Dances With Wolves” where the crusty, old teamster is looking at a skeleton with arrows in it, and says; “Someone back home is saying why don’t he ever write!”

Robert Hanson
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 28, 2021 11:20 am

they aren’t ready for prime time as working vehicles”

Mostly used that way right now. Average mileage driven for ICE vehicles is 15K per year. For EVs it’s 5K per year. Perfect for driving to Church and the grocery store, useless for even mid range commuting.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 28, 2021 1:03 pm

There was no mention in the article that this was an electric vehicle. (Until it mentions that the battery overheated)
Isn’t that the most important point of the article?

Paul
Reply to  JON PETERSON
November 28, 2021 3:49 pm

I pondered this Germanic engineering precision when contemplating a car racing series called ElectricGT (born 2017, died 2018). The series’ idiotic flop made me think there couldn’t possibly have been a German engineer involved. (Although, Germany’s current energy policy is working about as well as WWII…the egg crackers and cars are exquisite but maybe the really macro stuff isn’t their strong suit.)

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  JON PETERSON
November 28, 2021 9:22 pm

ElectricGT

navy bob
November 27, 2021 7:17 pm

Great idea! And how will the hydrogen be produced? Most likely steam-methane reforming:
CH4 + H2O ⇌ CO + 3 H2
CO + H2O ⇌ CO2 + H2
Given the inefficiencies of the conversion, more CO2 will result than if the methane were just burned directly in car engines. And the warmist fantasy of windmill and solar-powered electrolyzers will never happen.

Kit P
Reply to  navy bob
November 27, 2021 8:09 pm

I did not get the memo that HFC work very well.

markl
November 27, 2021 7:45 pm

The whole “going green” meme is shoot – ready – aim

Abolition Man
Reply to  markl
November 27, 2021 9:00 pm

markl,
The whole green agenda is one humongous con and it’s leaders are conmen of first order! There is no lie too big for them to utter as long as they can convince their useful idiots of the sincerity of their beliefs! They make corrupt televangelists look like pikers by comparison

DHR
November 27, 2021 7:48 pm

Mr. Etam touts hydrogen gas as a savior. Hydrogen has a high energy content per pound but not per cubic foot. Since its a gas, energy per cubic foot is what counts. Much of the energy value of hydrogen will be expended just to compress it and keeping it compressed as it makes its way through entirely new gas distribution systems. The existing systems will not work because hydrogen leakage through steel pipes and mechanical joints (it leaks a lot) will be to high. The energy content of compressed hydrogen is so low that it would take over 20 compressed gas trucks to deliver to a “gas” station the same amount of energy contained in a single gasoline tanker truck. Because of its lousy thermodynamic properties, hydrogen has little chance of ever becoming a major way of distributing energy around the country. I am sure that the Hyzon/TC company knows all about the problems but is more than happy to collect many many millions or ever billions in Government subsidies until it all turns to dust.

Eric Worrall(@eworrall1)
Admin
Reply to  DHR
November 27, 2021 8:13 pm

Agreed, if we ever have hydrogen on tap as the main source of transport fuel it will likely be when gas stations have a nuclear reactor out back and can produce hydrogen on demand.

Last edited 1 month ago by Eric Worrall
Abolition Man
Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 27, 2021 9:05 pm

Eric,
That’s an excellent idea! A full-service service station; all of your transportation needs in one location: gasoline, diesel, and a small modular reactor for hydrogen, and the recharging of the occasional electric vehicle! But will they wash windows?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 27, 2021 9:10 pm

Maybe deuterium or tritium will work better. At least it won’t diffuse through the walls of the ‘gastank’.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Gary Pearse
November 29, 2021 5:58 am

Yeah, pure tritium, that’s the ticket. Now there’s a cost-effective and inherently safe fuel! 😜

Randle Dewees
Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 27, 2021 9:30 pm

If it gets to that stage maybe they will also provide cheap anti-matter.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Randle Dewees
November 27, 2021 9:57 pm

Di-lithium crystals

Ron Long
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
November 28, 2021 2:41 am

Beam me up, Scotty, there isn’t any intelligent life on this planet.

ex-KaliforniaKook
Reply to  Randle Dewees
November 28, 2021 4:50 pm

Seems more likely.

H.R.
Reply to  DHR
November 28, 2021 2:03 am

But CUFT will solve all of those problems, DHR. It’s the future!

commieBob
Reply to  DHR
November 28, 2021 6:06 am

Because of the storage problem, hydrogen doesn’t seem like a likely contender as a transportation fuel.

I’ve been following ammonia as a fuel. Its chemical formula is NH4. The nitrogen comes from the air and the hydrogen can come from the electrolysis of water. It can be burned in a combustion engine or it can used in fuel cells to make electricity. There’s infrastructure because ammonia is used for fertilizer. In WW2 it was used as a fuel when people couldn’t get gasoline. And, it’s way easier to store than hydrogen.

The marine industry is particularly interested in ammonia as a fuel. Here’s a link to one project due to be completed in 2022.

So, what do I think about ammonia’s chances. I’ve followed a number of interesting energy technologies over the years. They all worked at the pilot plant stage. None of them succeeded past that. Zero. Zip. Nada.

I wouldn’t bet the farm on ammonia becoming the transportation fuel of choice.

navy bob
Reply to  commieBob
November 28, 2021 7:13 am

You shouldn’t. Stress corrosion cracking of steel tanks is a big problem that must be controlled by

  1. thoroughly purging vessels to eliminate air contamination.(Do you want to do that every time you fill up? And then how do you get fuel out if there’s no atmospheric pressure to push it?)
  2. adding at least 0.2 percent water (Not conducive to burning.)

And don’t even think about what happens to people belowdecks if the poisonous fumes leak.

Rich Davis
Reply to  commieBob
November 29, 2021 6:05 am

How about a complex mixture of alkanes and aromatic compounds that is liquid over a wide range of operating temperatures yet readily vaporizes and ignites in a conventional internal combustion engine? Maybe we should try that.

ex-KaliforniaKook
Reply to  DHR
November 28, 2021 4:49 pm

Oh, so right! As a McDonnell Douglas (bought by Boeing) retiree, I still remember the DC-10 Hydrogen design. Carried about 50 passengers. The rest of the wings and fuselage was a hydrogen fuel tank.

We didn’t bother building it. No one was interested. Duh!

Dave Andrews
Reply to  ex-KaliforniaKook
November 29, 2021 8:31 am

Here in the UK Network Rail have looked into hydrogen powered trains and decided that since the energy density of hydrogen means you need a fuel tank eight times bigger than a diesel tank such trains are not suitable for freight or high speed passenger services.

They are therefore talking about electrification of 13,000 km of track to add to all the EVs and other things that ‘need to go electric.’

Chris Hanley
November 27, 2021 8:10 pm

The energy transition is going to be exciting, creative, profitable, and rewarding …

If the transition is government mandated via subsidies and prohibitions from dense energy sources to far less dense sources as is the case so far it is likely to be very exciting, but not in a good way.
The only profits and rewards from such a forced transition will likely end up in the pockets of crony capitalists rent-seekers and a new class or ‘hyper-bureaucracy’ e.g. the EU.

Last edited 1 month ago by Chris Hanley
Abolition Man
Reply to  Chris Hanley
November 27, 2021 9:08 pm

Chris,
Nothing like blending the worst parts of capitalism, fascism and communism! Voila! The climate conjob; where the wealthy feast on the carcass of the middle class!

commieBob
Reply to  Abolition Man
November 28, 2021 7:23 pm

The joke is on them. Modern technology needs a market of a certain size to be viable. The problem dominoes all the way down the supply chain. For instance, if you take away the 99% of the market for large jets, there won’t be any large jets. That, in turn, will probably drive many part suppliers out of business. That means something required to build small jets won’t be available. So, no biz jets for the jet set.

Imagine the same scenario for things like medicine and cell phones, etc. The wealthy will still be richer than the rest of us, but their standard of living will take a big hit. My wild ass guess is that it will lop about 20 years off their lifespans and they’ll spend a lot more time being sick.

Right now the average member of the middle class has a standard of living that exceeds the kings and emperors of yore. If folks deliberately bork the economy, the wealthy will have trouble mustering what we would now call a mere middle class existence.

Abolition Man
November 27, 2021 8:50 pm

Interesting article.
I would have thought that the lack of roaring, high powered ICE engines would have been a major drawback to the racing circuit’s success! Race promoters would have had to provide pillows and cushions so that spectators could nap during the less exciting portions of the competition. Which exactly those portions would be will always be left unanswered now!

Thinking that H2 will be a competitive fuel source any time in the near future is wishful thinking at best! The cost of producing, storing and transporting hydrogen are much too high at present to make it a viable fuel! Far better is to add enough carbon atoms into the mix to give you a safer molecule or mixture, that is easier to store and distribute. Perhaps a liquid at normal Earth temperatures!

A saner approach to energy is to develop every available source without playing favorites. If we got rid of all the unnecessary regulations stifling the nuclear power industry, we could have a large fleet of breeder reactors in a few decades that would make the transition away from fossil fuels easier to survive, and the use of hydrogen more feasible!

Rory Forbes
Reply to  Abolition Man
November 27, 2021 10:21 pm

Here in British Columbia, back in 2010, BC Transit ran an experiment with 20 hydrogen fuel cell buses for the winter Olympics. The project cost $90 million of tax payers money and was a failure.

According to Burnaby’s Ballard Power Systems, which manufactures fuel cell engines, Whistler’s hydrogen buses cost $1.34 per kilometer to maintain, versus 65 cents per kilometer for diesel-powered buses.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-transit-s-90m-hydrogen-bus-fleet-to-be-sold-off-converted-to-diesel-1.2861060

Chaswarnertoo
Reply to  Abolition Man
November 28, 2021 12:36 am

If Joe Public doesn’t step back when you start it, it ain’t a race car.

Ben Vorlich
November 28, 2021 12:16 am

Formula E has been running since 2014/15. Initially two cars per race per driver because of battery performance. Currently a race is 45 minutes plus one lap I think, I’m not a fan or even interested.

“Formula E – Wikipedia” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_E

ex-KaliforniaKook
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
November 28, 2021 5:17 pm

I’ve watched a few. I love racing. Except for Formula E. What a yawn. They don’t replace the battery or the driver – they replace the car! WTF? In the middle of a race?

TMTisFree
November 28, 2021 12:54 am
H.R.
November 28, 2021 1:57 am

I nipped into Walmart to pick up an eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher and they were sold out, darn it!

BTW, the author is correct. Spellcheck does not approve of the word ‘eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher’. My computer coughed up a hairball and I had to reboot.

I did add it to my spellcheck dictionary, just in case I’m using it in a comment. I don’t want the Spelling Nazis on my case if I make a typo.
😜

Martin
November 28, 2021 2:58 am

While this is an interesting parable, the Formula E electric car championships are in their 8th year of racing :
The Official Home of Formula E | FIA Formula E

Last edited 1 month ago by Martin
2hotel9
Reply to  Martin
November 28, 2021 5:37 am

Another participation trophy fail. About as exciting as watching paint drive and far less productive. Far more fun racing RC cars.

Robert Hanson
Reply to  2hotel9
November 28, 2021 11:12 am

the Formula E electric car championships are in their 8th year of racing”

And so successful most of us have never even heard of it.

ex-KaliforniaKook
Reply to  Robert Hanson
November 28, 2021 5:21 pm

I’ve heard of it – and per my comment above – I pass. Who replaces the whole car in the middle of the race? remember when FIA got upset over Ford replacing the brake assembly halfway during a Le Mans?

2hotel9
November 28, 2021 4:47 am

The only “energy transition” humans need is to real renewables, oi/gas/coal/hydro/nuclear. Wnidmills and solar panels are sh*t and can’t even produce enough power to operate their own systems.

ex-KaliforniaKook
Reply to  2hotel9
November 28, 2021 5:22 pm

They operate – they just can’t generate enough power to reproduce.

2hotel9
Reply to  ex-KaliforniaKook
November 29, 2021 4:32 am

Cool, cut the feed of electricity going to them and let them stand on their own! Oh, yea, without a constant supply of electricity from real generation sources they fail. Never mind.

TomR
November 28, 2021 5:39 am

Diesel is popular for a reason, and its safety. Its very difficult to ignite. During pre-WW2 times Soviets were choosing a fuel for their tanks. Diesel won, supported by a demonstration to the deciders – engineers put 2 barrels, one with gasoline, one with diesel. Then threw torches in the barrels. The gasoline barrel was on fire, while there was no fire at all in the diesel barrel.
The hydrogen-based transportation will last as long as first major hydrogen explosions appear.

Robert Hanson
Reply to  TomR
November 28, 2021 11:16 am

 as long as first major hydrogen explosions appear”

That’s already happened. 1937. Look up Hindenburg. 😉

David Sulik
November 28, 2021 6:39 am

I’m confident you meant to say, “…this winter’s looming energy SABOTAGE…”

sid
November 28, 2021 7:29 am

Hay guys, this is important, its a rabbit

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