Letter: Some questions about the elimination of fossil fuels

The serious pursuit of such a fantasy would be destructive both economically and socially

To the Expositor:

Just a few more facts and figures to help confuse the issue of renewable energy replacing fossil fuels!

How ill-considered and easy has become for politicians (and people in general) to say, with an almost religious zeal, “we have to get rid of fossil fuels!” It’s gotten so fashionable that any election platform without some version of this mantra is just not going to be a contender even if the platform virtually ignores many other more realistic and significant issues. 

The Canadian Green Party’s platform purports to eliminate fossil fuels by the year 2050. Similarly, the US Green New Deal aims to eliminate fossil fuels from the US power grid by 2030 and also to phase out gasoline from the transportation sector. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has proclaimed that Canada’s oil industry is on the way out! Both the Liberal and Conservative platforms appear to be heading in the zero carbon (dioxide) direction. Are such objectives realistic or even possible (and we are not arguing climate change per se)?

In 2018, the world consumption of fossil fuels reached roughly 12,000 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE). This is roughly 16,000 GWy. To reach a 2050 target of zero (roughly 11,000 days from now) would mean we need to replace just over one MTOE of fossil fuel consumption (presumably with some combination of renewables) every day starting right now! How can we possibly manage this? How about building hydro power dams? To reach our 2050 target we would need to build 2.5 new hydro power dams, each the size of BC’s $13.6 billion Site C project, every year leading up to 2050. Well, how about wind turbines? On average, an on-shore wind turbine can yield about 0.0032 GW. To reach our target would require building about 430 new wind turbines every day from now until 2050, or almost five million new turbines—and you better make sure the wind is blowing all the time! Are solar panels the answer? Apparently, it requires about 3,000,000 solar panels to yield one GW. At that rate we would need an absolutely staggering number of such panels. Well, let’s not leave out my favourite choice, nuclear! This alternative would require building one new 1.5 GW nuclear plant every day for the next 30 years. Yikes! Even some mix of all these renewable alternatives is in the realm of the impossible. Are our politicians (and people in general) being realistic and honest? It looks to me like the phasing out of fossil fuels is an economic, scientific and political fantasy. The serious pursuit of such a fantasy would be destructive, both economically and socially. 

Sam Bondi