A couple of posts a week ago at this site on the subject of the enormous storage requirements of a fully wind/solar electricity generation system attracted several commenters who confidently asserted that a fully wind/solar energy generation system will prove cheaper than fossil fuels as soon as it is given a real chance. I invited those commenters to provide their own detailed calculations of how much storage it would take to get a fully wind/solar electric generation system through a year without fossil fuel backup with real-world weather conditions, but so far none of them have taken up my invitation. While waiting for to hear from those people, the most serious effort I have seen to estimate the storage requirements and cost of a fully wind/solar/battery electricity system for the United States, with everything electrified, is Ken Gregory’s workup at Friends of Science. Gregory’s estimated cost (rounded) is around $400 trillion.
But meanwhile, the really smart people — or perhaps I should say, the really, really smart people — have a different approach. These people — who, as mentioned, are really, really smart — have figured out a much easier and quicker way to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and get right to the holy grail of “net zero” emissions. That method is to force large corporations, through capital allocations and shareholder votes, to pledge to achieve the “net zero” target.
Leading the charge is a guy named Larry Fink. Have you heard of him? He is the Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, a mutual fund company with some $10 trillion under management. That $10 trillion would appear to put BlackRock in the number one position among U.S. money managers. If you have any retirement savings, as likely as not some or all of them are managed by BlackRock. Oh, and they get to determine how to vote the shares representing your money when it comes time to elect directors or approve various propositions that come before shareholders. Here is a picture of Mr. Fink from BlackRock’s website:
In January 2020 Fink created something of a stir when he sent out simultaneous letters to all public company CEOs and all BlackRock investors announcing a commitment to “sustainable” investment. That commitment included both investing massively in things like the “renewable power infrastructure business, which invests in the private markets in wind and solar power; green bond funds; LEAF, the industry’s first environmental sustainability-focused cash management strategy,” etc., etc. etc.; and also using the power of shareholder votes to force managements to make commitments to “sustainability”:
This year, we will be mapping our engagement priorities to specific UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as Gender Equality and Affordable and Clean Energy.
Fink’s 2022 letter to CEOs, just out, doubles down, making clear that BlackRock expects every company it invests in to get aboard the “net zero” train:
Every company and every industry will be transformed by the transition to a net zero world. The question is, will you lead, or will you be led? . . . Engineers and scientists are working around the clock on how to decarbonize cement, steel, and plastics; shipping, trucking, and aviation; agriculture, energy, and construction. I believe the decarbonizing of the global economy is going to create the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime. It will also leave behind the companies that don’t adapt, regardless of what industry they are in.
Let me for the moment just pass over the concept of “decarbonized” plastics. (What the hell does Fink think plastics are made of?). But we do know that Fink is really, really smart, and therefore he must know that by “decarbonizing” of these industries, he means converting them all to electric power, with the electricity generated only by the wind and the sun. Does he have any idea how much excess generation capacity and battery storage might be required to make that happen, or how much that might cost? Or how much that might in turn drive up the costs of all of these things? Or whether such vastly increased costs might impact the viability of any of these “sustainable” investments? You won’t find anything on those subject in this letter. Hey, we are dealing here with an existential crisis of the planet that makes the application of critical thinking to any of these matters strictly off limits.
And I don’t mean to suggest that Mr. Fink is alone in his delusions. Look at the websites of any of the other big money managers like Vanguard, Fidelity, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, etc., and you will find them all making similar noises (although I think that BlackRock is the farthest-gone of the bunch).
Which brings us to how this all plays out at the upper reaches of the public companies that actually produce and deliver the things we are trying to consume. The Wall Street Journal on January 26 reports on one resolution that just got approved by the shareholders of Costco.
Costco Wholesale Corp. shareholders voted Thursday for a proposal that called on the retailer to set out plans to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with scientific recommendations to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The resolution included difficult-to-track emissions in Costco’s supply chain, known as Scope 3 emissions, which the company said were the “overwhelming bulk” of its emissions.
You can be quite sure that BlackRock — and probably all those other big money managers, controlling the votes based on everyone’s retirement savings — voted for this. Now, Costco is a merchant that basically buys stuff made by others, transports it into stores or warehouses, and resells it to customers. What exactly are they supposed to do to change the “carbon emissions” content of that frozen chicken or chair or blender or whatever it is you are buying from them? Well, their shareholders, via these genius intermediaries, have now decreed that they had better start figuring it out.
And don’t think it’s just Costco. Further from the same piece in the Journal:
U.S. companies are facing 57 votes on greenhouse-gas emissions this year, . . . Ms. Welsh said. Last year, there were 10 such votes.
But surely the shareholders are smart enough to figure this out and vote this craziness down? No, of course not, because in practice their votes are controlled by the BlackRocks, Vanguards, Fidelities, etc., etc.:
Support for shareholder proposals on greenhouse-gas emissions rose to an average of around 59% last year, compared with 25% in 2017, according to Heidi Welsh, director of the nonprofit Sustainable Investments Institute.
Eventually we will come up against Stein’s Law, propounded by economist Herbert Stein in 1986: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”