LETTERS: Writer shares “some realities associated with a low carbon economy”

To the Expositor:

I note that several articles have appeared recently regarding carbon taxes. They of course are part of the federal government’s plans as a result of the Paris Climate Accord. No one has made a more accurate assessment of the accord than Bjorn Lomborg, president of The Copenhagen Consensus Centre. He points out that if everyone does what they have agreed to in the accord, one percent of the reductions necessary can be accomplished. This at a cost of between one and two trillion dollars per year. The calculations have been done using the UN’s own information. In other words, we will spend an enormous amount of money to accomplish very little. We have been trying to lower greenhouse gases for more than 25 years and have accomplished nothing. His major point is that spending this amount of money is a really bad deal and there are many additional issues that call for our attention. For example, indoor air pollution in developing countries kill millions of people. Low cost energy would solve this problem.

His other major point is that wind and solar will not displace hydrocarbons for reliability and cost reasons.

Here are a few more realities regarding wind and solar.

Twenty years ago, hydrocarbons produced about 87 percent of global energy. Presently the number is about 84 percent. During this period, energy consumption increased by 50 percent. There has been no significant shift. 

One million dollars of solar panels will produce 40 million kw hrs over 30 years. Wind turbines about the same. The same investment in shale oil technology will produce 300 million units of energy.

Batteries are a central feature of “low carbon economy” aspirations. They are necessary to ensure energy availability when wind and solar are the source of power. A barrel of oil weighs 300 lbs and can be stored in a $20 container. Two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of Tesla batteries weighing over 20,000 pounds are needed to store the equivalent of one barrel of oil.

The Tesla battery factory in Nevada is currently the world’s biggest facility. Its total annual production could store three minutes worth of US energy demand. To provide for two days’ power would require 1,000 years of Tesla production from the Nevada plant.

Are there breakthroughs coming that will see radical improvements in battery and wind/solar technology? The short answer is – no! it is often claimed that energy technology will follow the same trajectory that the digital world has experienced. The laws of physics says it can’t happen. Modern turbines capture ~ 45 percent of the kinetic energy in moving air. Maximum possible is ~ 60 percent. PV cells convert 26 percent of incoming photons. Maximum conversion possible is ~ 33 percent.

A decade ago, Google launched a project to develop renewable energy so that it would compete with coal. The project was cancelled in 2014. The engineering team statement was, “Incremental improvements to existing energy technologies aren’t enough; we don’t have the answers.”

An energy revolution will only come from the pursuit of basic sciences, not from yesterday’s technologies.

Hydrocarbons—oil, natural gas and coal—are the world’s principal energy resource today and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Wind, solar and batteries constitute a small source of energy and physics dictates that they will remain so. There is simply no possibility that the world is undergoing—or can undergo—a near-term transition to a low carbon economy. It and unicorns don’t exist. 

Note: most of the technical information contained in this article regarding wind/solar energy has been taken from a paper recently published by Mark P. Mills entitled – ‘The New Energy Economy: An Exercise in Magical Thinking.’

Shane Desjardins