Understanding Why the Green New Deal Won’t Really Work

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Yves here. This important Green New Deal post gives a much more thorough explanation of some issues with renewables we’ve raised but did not unpack adequately. For instance, most advocates of renewables present the cost of production as if that were a set number. In fact, the actual cost of providing power includes providing it at the time it is needed. That means the cost of time-shifting, ie battery storage, and the energy loss in getting it in an out of storage. This is not trivial. Even for solar in the summer in California, peak supply is in the afternoon, while peak use is 8 PM….meaning sunset or after dark.

By Gail Tverberg, an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Originally published at Our Finite World

The reasons why the Green New Deal won’t really work are fairly subtle. A person really has to look into the details to see what goes wrong. In this post, I try to explain at least a few of the issues involved.

[1] None of the new renewables can easily be relied upon to produce enough energy in winter. 

The world’s energy needs vary, depending on location. In locations near the poles, there will be a significant need for light and heat during the winter months. Energy needs will be relatively more equal throughout the year near the equator.

Solar energy is particularly a problem in winter. In northern latitudes, if utilities want to use solar energy to provide electricity in winter, they will likely need to build several times the amount of solar generation capacity required for summer to have enough electricity available for winter.

Figure 1. US daily average solar production, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.Hydroelectric tends to be a spring-dominated resource. Its quantity tends to vary significantly from year to year, making it difficult to count on.

Figure 2. US daily average hydroelectric production, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Another issue with hydroelectric is the fact that most suitable locations have already been developed. Even if additional hydroelectric might help with winter energy needs, adding more hydroelectric is often not an option.

Wind energy (Figure 3) comes closest to being suitable for matching the winter consumption needs of the economy. In at least some parts of the world, wind energy seems to continue at a reasonable level during winter.

Figure 3. US daily average wind production, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Unfortunately, wind tends to be quite variable from year to year and month to month. This makes it difficult to rely on without considerable overbuilding.

Wind energy is also very dependent upon the continuation of our current economy. With many moving parts, wind turbines need frequent replacement of parts. These parts need to be precisely correct, with virtually no tolerance for change. Sometimes, helicopters are needed to install the new parts. Because of the need for continued high-technology maintenance services, wind energy cannot be expected to continue to operate for very long unless the world economy, with all of its globalization, can continue pretty much as today.

[2] Depending upon burned biomass in winter is an option, but we already know that this path is likely to lead to massive deforestation.

Historically, people burned wood and other biomass to provide heat and light in winter. If biomass is burned for heat and light, it is an easy step to using charcoal for smelting metals for goods such as nails and shovels. But with today’s population of 7.7 billion people, the huge demand for biomass would quickly deforest the whole world. There is already a problem with growing deforestation, especially in tropical areas.

It is my understanding that the Green New Deal is focusing primarily on wind, hydroelectric, and solar rather than biomass, because of these issues.

[3] Battery backup for renewables is very expensive. Because of their high cost, batteries tend to be used only for very short time periods. At a 3-day storage level, batteries do nothing to smooth out season-to-season and year-to-year variation.

The cost of batteries is not simplytheir purchase price. There seem to be several related costs associated with the use of batteries:

  • The initial cost of the batteries
  • The cost of replacements, because batteries are typically not very long-lived compared to, say, solar panels
  • The cost of recycling the battery components rather than simply leaving the batteries to pollute the nearby surroundings
  • The loss of electric charge that occurs as the battery sits idle for a period of time and the loss related to electricity storage and retrieval

We can get some idea of the cost of batteries from an analysis by Roger Andrews of a Tesla/Solar City system installed on the island of Ta’u. The island is in American Samoa, near the equator. This island received a grant that was used to add solar panels, plus 3-day battery backup, to provide electricity for the tiny island. Any outages longer than the battery capacity would continue to be handled by a diesel generator. The goal was to reduce the quantity of diesel used, not to eliminate its use completely.

Based on Andrews’ analysis, adding a 3-day battery backup more than doubled the cost of the PV-alone system. (It added 1.6 times as much as the cost of the installed batteries.) The catch, as I pointed out above, is that the cost doesn’t stop with purchasing the initial batteries. At least one set of replacement batteries is likely to be needed during the lifetime of the system. And there are other costs that are more subtle and difficult to evaluate.

Furthermore, this analysis was for a solar system. There seems to be more variation over longer periods for wind. It is not clear that the relative amount of batteries would be enough for 3-day backup of a wind system, or for a combination of wind, hydroelectric and solar. The long-term cost of a solar panel plus battery system might easily come to four times the cost of a wind or solar system alone.

There is also the issue of necessary overbuilding to make the system work. On Ta’u, near the equator, with diesel power backup, the system is set up in such a way that 40% of the solar generation is in excess of the island’s day-to-day electricity consumption. This constitutes another cost of the system, over and above the cost of the 3-day battery backup.

If we also eliminate the diesel backup, then we start adding more costs because the level of overbuilding would need to be even higher. And, if we were to create a similar system in a location with substantial seasonal temperature variation, even more overbuilding would be required if enough capacity is to be made available to provide sufficient generation in winter.

[4] Even in sunny, warm California, it appears that substantial excess capacity needs to be added to avoid the problem of inadequate generation during the winter months, if the electrical system used is based on wind, hydroelectric, solar, and a 3-day backup battery.

Suppose that we want to replace California’s electricity consumption (excluding other energy, including oil products) with a new system using wind, hydro, solar, and 3-day battery backup. Current California renewable generation, compared to current consumption, is as shown on Figure 4, based on EIA data.

Figure 4. California total electricity consumption compared to the sum of California solar, wind, and hydroelectric production, on a monthly average basis. Data used from the US Energy Information Administration through June 30, 2019.

California’s electricity consumption peaks about August, presumably due to all of its air conditioning usage (Figure 5). This is two months after the June peak in the output of solar panels. Also, electricity usage doesn’t drop back nearly as much during winter as solar production does. (Compare Figures 1 and 5.)

Figure 5. California electricity consumption by month, based on US Energy Information Administration data.

We note from Figure 4 that hydroelectric production is extremely variable. It appears that hydroelectric generation can vary by a factor of five comparing high years to low years. California hydroelectric generation uses all available rivers, so any new energy generation will need to come from wind and solar.

Even with 3-day backup batteries, we need the system to reliably produce enough electricity that it can meet the average electricity generation needs of each separate month. I did a rough estimate of how much wind and solar the system would need to add to bring total generation sufficiently high so as to prevent electricity problems during the winter. In making the analysis, I assumed that the proportion of added wind and solar would be similar to their relative proportions on June 30, 2019.

My analysis suggests that to reliably bridge the gap between production and consumption (see Figure 4), approximately six times as much wind and solar would need to be added (making 7 = 6 +1 times as much generation in total), as was in place on June 30 , 2019. With this arrangement, there would be a huge amount of wind and solar whose production would need to be curtailed during the summer months.

Figure 6. Estimated share of wind and solar production that would need to be curtailed, to provide adequate winter generation. The assumption is made that hydroelectric generation would not be curtailed.

Figure 6 shows the proportion of wind and solar output that would be in excess of the system’s expected consumption. Note that in winter, this drops to close to zero.

[5] None of the researchers studying the usefulness of wind and solar have understood the need for overbuilding, or alternatively, paying backup electricity providers adequately for their services. Instead, they have assumed that the only costs involved relate to the devices themselves, plus the inverters. This approach makes wind and intermittent solar appear far more helpful than they really are.

Wind and solar have been operating in almost a fantasy world. They have been given the subsidy of “going first.” If we change to a renewables-only system, this subsidy of going first disappears. Instead, the system needs to be hugely overbuilt to provide the 24/7/365 generation that backup electricity providers have made possible with either no compensation at all, or with far too little compensation. (This lack of adequate compensation for backup providers is causing problems for the current system, but it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss them here.)

Analysts have not understood that there are substantial costs that are not being reimbursed today, which allow wind and solar to have the subsidy of going first. For example, if natural gas is to be used as backup during winter, there will still need to be underground storage allowing natural gas to be stored for use in winter. There will also need to be pipelines that are not used much of the year. Workers will need to be paid year around if they are to continue to specialize in natural gas work. Annual costs of the natural gas system will not be greatly reduced simply because wind, hydro, and water can replace natural gas usage most months of the year.

Analysts of many types have issued reports indicating that wind and solar have “positive net energy” or other favorable characteristics. These favorable analyses would disappear if either (a) the necessary overbuilding of the system or (b) the real cost of backup services were properly recognized. This problem pervades studies of many types, including Levelized Cost of Energy studies, Energy Returned on Energy Invested studies, and Life Cycle Analyses.

This strange but necessary overbuilding situation also has implications for how much homeowners should be paid for their rooftop solar electricity. Once it is clear that only a small fraction of the electricity provided by the solar panels will actually be used (because it comes in the summer, and the system has been overbuilt in order to produce enough generation in winter), then payments to homeowners for electricity generated by rooftop systems will need to decrease dramatically.

A question arises regarding what to do with all of the electricity production that is in excess of the needs of customers. Many people would suggest using this excess electricity to make liquid fuels. The catch with this approach is that the liquid fuel needs to be very inexpensive to be affordable by consumers. We cannot expect consumers to be able to afford higher prices than they are currently paying for fossil fuel products. Also, the new liquid fuels ideally should power current devices. If consumers need to purchase new devices in order to utilize the new fuels, this further reduces the affordability of a planned changeover to a new fuel.

Alternatively, owners of solar panels might be encouraged to use the summer overproduction themselves. They might set the temperatures of their air conditioners to a lower setting or heat a swimming pool. It is unlikely that the excess could be profitably sold to nearby utilities because they are likely encounter the same problem in summer, if they are using a similar generation mix.

[6] As appealing as an all-electric economy would seem to be, the transition to such an economy can be expected to take 150 years, based on the speed of the transition since 1985.

Clearly, the economy uses a lot of energy products that are not electricity. We are familiar with oil products burned in many vehicles, for example. Oil is also used in many ways that do not require burning (for example, lubricating oils and asphalt). Natural gas and propane are used to heat homes and cook food, among other uses. Coal is sometimes burned in making pig iron and cement in China.

Figure 7. Electricity as a share of total energy use for selected areas, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Electricity’s share of total energy consumption has gradually been rising (Figure 7).* We can make a rough estimate of how quickly the changeover has been taking place since 1985. For the world as a whole, electricity consumption amounted to 43.4% of energy consumption in 2018, rising from 31.2% in 1985. On average, the increase has been 0.37%, over the 33-year period shown. If we assume this same linear growth pattern holds going forward, it will take 153 years (until 2171) until the world economy can operate using only electricity. This is not a quick change!

[7] While moving away from fossil fuels sounds appealing, pretty much everything in today’s economy is made and transported to its final destination using fossil fuels. If a mis-step takes place and leaves the world with too little total energy consumption, the world could be left without an operating financial system and with way too little food. 

Over 80% of today’s energy consumption is from fossil fuels. In fact, the other types of energy shown on Figure 8 would not be possible without the use of fossil fuels.

Figure 8. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

With over 80% of energy consumption coming from fossil fuels, pretty much everything we have in our economy today is available thanks to fossil fuels. We wouldn’t have today’s homes, schools or grocery stores without fossil fuels. Even solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and modern hydroelectric dams would not be possible without fossil fuels. In fact, for the foreseeable future, we cannot make any of these devices with electricity alone.

In Figure 8, the little notch in world energy consumption corresponds to the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The connection between low energy consumption and poor economic outcomes goes back to many earlier periods. Energy consumption growth was unusually low about the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s and about the time of the US Civil War. The vulnerability of the financial system and the possibility of major wars are two reasons why a person should be concerned about the possibility of an energy changeover that doesn’t provide the economic system with adequate energy to operate. The laws of physics require energy dissipation for essentially every activity that is part of GDP. Without adequate energy, an economy tends to collapse. Economists are generally not aware of this important point.

Agriculture is dependent upon fossil fuels, particularly oil. Petrochemicals are used directly to make herbicides, pesticides, medications for animals and nitrogen fertilizer. Huge quantities of energy are necessary to make metals of all kinds, such as the steel in agricultural equipment and in irrigation pumps. Refrigerated vehicles transport produce to market, using mostly oil-based fuel. If the transition does not go as favorably as hoped, food supplies could prove to be hopelessly inadequate.

[8] The scale of the transition to hydroelectric, wind, and solar would be unimaginably large.

Today, wind, hydroelectric, and solar amount to about 10% of world energy production. Hydroelectric amounts to about 7% of energy consumption, wind about 2%, and solar about 1%. This can be seen on Figure 8 above. A different way of seeing this same relationship is shown in Figure 9, below.

Figure 9. World hydroelectric, wind and solar production as share of world energy supply, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 9 shows that hydroelectric power is pretty well maxed out, as a percentage of energy supply. This is especially the case in advanced economies. This means that any increases that are made in the future will likely have to come from wind and solar. If hydroelectric, wind and solar are together to produce 100% of the world’s energy supply, then wind and solar, which today comprise 3% of today’s energy supply, will need to ramp up to 93% of energy supply. This amounts to a 30-fold increase in wind and solar between 2018 and 2030, based on one version of the Green New Deal’s planned timing. We would need to be building wind and solar absolutely everywhere, very quickly, to accomplish this.

[9] Moving to electric vehicles (EVs) for private passenger autos is not likely to be as helpful as many people hope.

One issue is that it is possible to mandate the use of EVs, but if the automobiles cost more than citizens can afford, many citizens will simply stop buying cars at all. At least part of the worldwide reduction in automobile sales seems to be related to changes in rules that are intended to reduce auto emissions. The slowdown in auto sales is part of what is pushing the world into recession.

Another issue is that private passenger autos represent a smaller share of oil consumption than many people would expect. BP data indicate that 26% of worldwide oil consumption is gasoline. Gasoline powers the vast majority of the world’s private passenger automobiles today. While an oil savings of 26% would be good, there would still be a very long way to go.

One study of EV sales in Norway suggests that, with large subsidies, these cars are disproportionately sold to high-income families as a second vehicle. The new second vehicles are often used for commuting to work, when prior to the EV ownership, the owner had been taking public transportation. When this pattern is followed, the savings in oil use from the adoption of EVs becomes very small because building and transporting EVs also requires oil use.

Figure 10. Source: Holtsmark and Skonhoft The Norwegian support and subsidy policy of electric cars. Should it be adopted by other countries?

If one of the goals of the Green New Deal is to level out differences between the rich and the poor, mandating EVs would seem to be a step in the wrong direction. It would make more sense to mandate walking or the use of pedal bicycles, rather than EVs.

[10] Wind, solar, and hydroelectric have pollution problems themselves.

With respect to solar panels, a major concern is that if the panels are broken (for example, by a storm or near the end of their lives), water alone can leach toxic substances into the water supply. Another issue is that recycling needs to be subsidized, to be economic. The price of solar panels needs to be surcharged at the front end, if adequate funds are to be collected to cover recycling costs. This is not being done in the US.

Wind turbines are better in terms of not being made of toxic substances, but they disturb bird, bat, and marine life in their vicinity. Humans also complain about their vibrations, if the devices are close to homes. The fiberglass blades of wind turbines are not recyclable, and many of them are too big to fit into standard crushing machines. They need to be chopped into pieces, in order to fit into landfills.

Adding huge amounts of 3-day battery backup for wind turbines and solar panels will create a new set of recycling issues. The extent of the recycling issues will depend on the battery materials used.

Of course, if we try to ramp up wind and solar by a huge factor, pollution problems will rise accordingly. The chance that raw materials will prove to be scarce will increase as well.

There will also be an increasing problem with finding suitable sites to install all of the devices and batteries. There are limits on how densely wind turbines can be spaced before the output of one wind turbine interferes with the output of other nearby turbines. This problem is not too different from the problem of declining per-well oil production caused by  too closely spaced shale wells.  


I could explain further, but that would make this make this post too long. For example, using an overbuilt renewables system, there is not enough net energy to provide the high salaries almost everyone would like to see.

Also, the new renewable energy systems are likely to be more local than many have hoped. For example, I think it is highly unlikely that the people of North Africa would allow contractors to build a solar system in North Africa for the benefit of Europeans.


*There are two different ways of comparing electricity’s value to that of total energy. Figure 7 uses the more generous approach. In it, the value of electricity is based on the amount of fossil fuels that would need to be burned to produce the electricity amounts shown. In the case of electricity types that do not involve burning of fossil fuels, these amounts are estimated amounts. The less generous approach compares the heat value of the electricity produced to the total heat value of primary energy sources. Using the less generous approach, electricity corresponds to only about 20% of primary energy supply. The transition to an all-electric economy would be much farther away using the heat value approach.

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  1. pavseni

    There is a old solution substituting batteries. It is simply a water pump, using electricity to transfer water in higher reservoir. When energy is needed, water is used to generate it in simple water turbine.

    Low technology, low effectivity, but also very long lasting…

    I wonder what are the downsides and why aren’t those more discussed.

    1. fajensen

      One needs a mountain, a lake on top of the mountain, a body of water at the bottom of the mountain, the two bodies of water cannot be too far apart, yet they must have a large vertical separation for good efficiency :).

      Most of the good spots in possession of all those features are already used for hydro electric power or storage.

      Which means that, for scalability, we need better batteries and better electrical power distribution systems.

      1. GF

        One can also build the infrastructure to make the system happen.

        Here’s an example of this type of power project in AZ:


        There is also one in NW AZ going through the permitting process:

        This one will use many acre feet of scarce groundwater to get things going.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Potable water is the resource in most scarce supply. And it’s being too often deployed in fracking fluid.

          This is Easter-Islandism writ large if it goes anywhere.

    2. smashsc

      It is really a matter of scale, and the impacts of creating the sites. This study shows the potential for 100s of thousands of Pumped Hydro sites worldwide. I drilled down in the map to the Eastern US, and the proposed sites would involve blowing the tops off of various Appalachian mountains to provide the upper storage (something that gets rightly criticized when coal strip miners do it). So it would mean destroying natural vistas just to supply a backup for the electricity supply.

      1. Egghat

        Well, we‘re digging deep holes into the ground to get coal (USA) or (tar) oil (Canada). Better than some dams in a valley with water flowing and pumping between them?

      2. John B

        Interesting study! I hope their plan might work. If the main impediment to it is cutting the tops off some mountains, that is very minor in comparison to the other transgressions that will eventually be required to prevent a mass extinction crisis. (I mean, even more mass extinction than we are experiencing already).

        I fear the environmental community is not yet willing to contemplate the triage that will be necessary to limit climate change. For example, Endangered Species Act review may have to be relaxed if we are going to start building a whole new infrastructure system fast enough to do much good. But a few species may need to be sacrificed to save all the rest. We may have to accept some new toxins from solar panels. Or even social inequality … If we reach the Jackpot stage, all sorts of moral compromises will become routine, if morality as a concept survives at all.

      3. Grumpy Engineer


        You said, “Most of the good spots in possession of all those features are already used for hydro electric power or storage.

        This is true. Pumped storage stations have fairly strict siting requirements. If the land isn’t already shaped (at least mostly) like two reservoirs at different altitudes, the earth-moving costs and environment damage become prohibitive. And you need water flowing into at least one reservoir to make up seepage and evaporation losses. Trying to build a pumped storage station in central Kansas would be a fool’s errand.

        But as for “better batteries“? I fear they will never be “better enough”. The reason for this is simply an issue of scale. The amount of battery required for a 100% renewable energy system is simply too great.

        I’ve seen studies that indicate that we’d need about 100 TWh of storage to convert today’s grid to 100% renewable power while keeping it reliable. The largest battery stations being built today are on the order of 100 MWh. Which means we’ll need about a MILLION of these stations. The Wikipedia page lists less than a dozen.

        And that’s just for today’s grid. If also we try to replace all oil- and gas-fired furnaces used for heating, we’ll need over 500 TWh. [And no, I’m not making this stupendous number up. Check out Stanford professor Mark Jacobson’s paper describing a 100% renewable energy scheme for the US, including heating: http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf. Page 64 lists the total energy storage requirement at 541.6 TWh.]

        There is no hope of us building that much energy storage (whether batteries or pumped storage or whatever) by even 2050. Much less by 2030. We simply don’t have enough resources (i.e., raw materials, equipment, energy, and labor) available to do it. Even if everybody worked “flat out” in pursuit of this goal, we’d still fall short by several orders of magnitude.

      4. r.j. sigmund

        i have long advocated for using Lake Ontario as a lower reservoir and Lakes Huron and Michigan as an upper reservoir, making use of the canal systems thru Lake Simcoe and the adjacent smaller Ontario lakes to reduce the pumping distance…this idea was discussed (and objected to) by myself and others extensively in comments on a pumped hydro post by Roger Andrews, who was cited above by Gail (as both cut their blogging teeth at the Oil Drum):

        one of the major objections was that the lake front property owners around Lake Ontario would object to fluctuations in the level of the Lake as water was pumped up to Huron, or released back to generate power…this year, with all the rain the great lakes received this spring, Lake Ontario’s level rose to 249 ft above sea level in June, 6 ft above normal, flooding adjacent properties…that flooding could have been partially alleviated if pumps had been in place to store that excess water in the upper lakes for late summer power generation..

    3. notabanker

      There was a link I found through this site of a UAE grad student who built a working CAES prototype. The link, indeed the entire site, is behind a firewall now, funny how that works. It was on energystoragesense dot com. Was out there for everyone to see for years and years, but within six months of publishing in the comments here, poof.

      It was built using old propane tanks and hardware store parts and the heat and cooling generated from the energy storage and release was captured for re-use. This is something that could augment home solar and take millions of houses off of the grid. But can’t have that no, must throw money at grid scale solutions that will never work.

      One of the few CAES startups that had some early success was funded by Gates and Theil and once they hit $80 million in funding, it was shut down. We can throw billions at fracking, which has been proven to be unprofitable at any scale, but alt energy storage? Here’s some pocket change, nothing? Ok next?

      This is yet another reason I’m in the jackpot camp. There are tons and tons of solutions out there, including living in negative growth, cutting consumption etc….it will never see the light of day. The planet is infested with sociopathic power-profit hoarders, and unless they miraculously become extinct, we are doomed.

    4. UserFriendly

      1. Stagnant water + organic matter = methane.
      2. does not work in winter (the season it’s needed most for) anywhere it gets below zero.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        i’ve wanted to experiment with that for decades, but never got around to it.
        it’s almost an extension of my current composting toilet regime….but with gas-tight fittings and other gashandling things that i’m only sort of adept at.
        the leftovers at the end of the digesting, gas-making process is sterile compost, ready to be inoculated with good dirt bugs.
        and, of course, burning methane(“natural gas” is a marketing term) sends CO2 out the chimney, but it ain’t fossil carbon…it’s already in the environment, and much of it is locked up in the solids left over.
        i talked to one of the two guys at the DEP office that does methane digesters…this is some 15 years ago. most depressed government person i’ve ever encountered…just felt ignored and cast aside…all the digesters made in usa were being shipped to china(of course) with restrictions on domestic use(these were the smaller versions…size of an average septic tank….you could easily get a million dollar model,lol. this idiocy was the reason for my call)
        you could almost see the tears from the guy…and feel the frustration.

    5. Skip Intro

      Basing the cost of storage on Tesla Li-Ion storage is not a reasonable way to estimate storage costs. Large, fixed installations have many better options.
      This laundry list of problems is glib and somewhat incoherent, complaining about cost at one point, other pollutants at another, when the issue is the absolute necessity of eliminating CO2 and CH4 emissions.

  2. jeremyharrison

    Thanks. This is a great article for me to give to friends who wonder how I suddenly became a crypto-Trump-loving Nazi whenever I try to point out some of the problems with the GND.

    Greta Thunberg might give ya the stink eye, though.

  3. IdahoSpud

    As I guy who has spent his career in power generation (nuclear, coal-fired, geothermal, and natural gas-fired), I reluctantly have to agree with this article.

    It can’t hurt to move toward renewable energy sources as quickly as possible, because what we are doing is neither good, nor sustainable. However, renewables clearly have several warts that nobody seems to be aware of, or addressing.

    The overbuilding issue has been clear within the industry for quite some time. Not everyone recognizes the reality that the supply of power has to match the demand for power in real time, all the time. This is the reason that batteries are such an attractive notion for such intermittent power sources. Batteries somewhat loosen the need to instantly and at all times adjust generation to meet load demand.

    Until battery capacity can buffer the need for load matching, operations currently work as follows: Typically a gas turbine-powered facility will operate at reduced load (called “spinning reserve”), prepared to ramp up to full power whenever a renewable source falters. In the biz it’s called “chasing the wind”. A fossil-fuel facility may ramp up and down many times each day as renewable energy waxes and wanes.

    Sadly, solid-fuel (coal) plants, being by far the most difficult to start, are often base-loaded, meaning that they operate at full power continuously, shutting down only for maintenance outages. Additionally, since these (older) large coal-fired facilities were engineered to operate at full power, they can be unstable and finicky about emissions when operated at the reduced fuel and air flows required for a role as spinning reserve .

    Just a couple of extra thoughts to go along with the article.

    1. LawyerCat

      Are power transmission losses over distances such that, as an extreme example, a solar panel in Chile could never provide energy for heat in in Alaska (and vice versa)? And more generally, wouldn’t bigger grids and larger generation areas mitigate the daily fluctuations and over-build/storage problems?

      Not that efficiency, reduced consumption, and even syncing industrial production to better coincide with the natural forces that we rely on for renewable generation won’t be important factors, but I understand some of the issues raised as problems with small-scale renewable energy grids rather than totally intractable problems.

      1. Leroy

        Lawyer Cat, Having had some practical experience here, the loss through transmission is fairly substantial. Small grids locally located would be a better solution. The troubling part of this study (?) is it’s a primer for why we can’t get it done. If it said “presented by Exxon Mobile” at the end I’d understand. Just for kicks, follow the progression of the automobile from the time it first arrived to todays car. Barney Oldfield once said 60 mph was just about as fast as we could go. There are promising technologies that have barely been exploited and many not thought of yet. I guess I’m a glass half full guy. Especially since we really haven’t any choice, have we ??

      2. xkeyscored

        Are power transmission losses over distances such that, as an extreme example, a solar panel in Chile could never provide energy for heat in in Alaska (and vice versa)?

        You’re basically right, though the details are a bit more subtle and involved.

        1. Alex Cox

          Electricity transmission losses are massive: according to this article


          6-10 percent of electricity generated is lost in transmission or distribution – 69 trillion Btus in the U.S. in 2013. And in power plants even more energy (65% of the energy expended to make electricity) is simply lost – 22 quadrillion Btus in the U.S. in 2013!

          So greater efficiency in electricity generation, transmission, and distribution is crucial (I resisted the temptation to write the last work in caps). And anything that reduces residential/industrial/agricultural demand for power should be prioritized (insulation as opposed to heating or A/C, etc…).

          This is a very interesting and useful article, but it isn’t the end of the story, as these additional considerations can be a major part of the GND, together with as the development of less-complex and less-toxic renewables.

          1. Michael

            It should be pointed out that the article does not discuss DC power transmission, that cuts transmission costs in half. Their primary problem in the past has been that they were point to point and do not integrate well in AC grids.

            There is, however, growing research on AC/DC networks that hope to resolve this problem,


    2. Will Cooper

      It can’t hurt to move toward renewable energy sources as quickly as possible, because what we are doing is neither good, nor sustainable. However, renewables clearly have several warts that nobody seems to be aware of, or addressing.

      Humanity must quickly transition away from burning fossil fuels. That is an inescapable conclusion, given the rapid pace of climate change and global warming.

      Technologists can debate how to accomplish this necessary work, whether the limitations of hydropower, solar, and wind point into the necessity of incorporating other sources of energy in the “green” mix. The option that cannot be considered is to continue to use carbon-based fuels. This would lead to eco-suicide and ever-increasing physical, social, and economic disruption, the cost of which would far exceed whatever the world must spend to cease the extraction and application of petroleum, natural gas, and coal for energy production.

      The author of the article did not mention other technologies that could be harnessed to produce “clean” energy; for instance, geothermal, ocean thermal electric, wave, subterranean compressed air, and carbon neutral biofuels. A sector of the “alternative energy” community also pushes for thorium-powered nuclear reactors, claiming that they pose a far lower risk to health and the environment than traditional uranium-fueled power plants.

      Another odd aspect of the piece was the author’s continual referral to “3-day backup” battery storage. Why only three days? The amount of excess capacity that can be stored is a function of the mass of the battery pack, which can be augmented as need. Also, the expected lifetime of Li-ion batteries continues to improve, favorably impacting cost; moreover, other grid-class electrical storage systems have begun to be implemented that could provide lengthy backup periods.

      I don’t question that the author’s conclusions make sense with the restricted scope of renewables she looked at and her limitation of analysis to a narrow range of technologies. But to repeat: humanity doesn’t have any choice, if it wishes to have a future on planet Earth. We must urgently and swiftly end the burning of fossil fuels.

      1. John Wright

        I suspect the response of many will be to pull the burning of fossil fuels forward to create renewable energy sources locally.

        The building of one’s local energy source (solar, wind, geothermal) will consume a large quantity of hydrocarbons for the initial build.

        In this case, local optimization could lead to even more CO2 global emissions as people choose to be first in the queue of assuring THEIR energy supply for the future.

        As you say, humanity does not have a choice, but observing single driver cars on clogged SF Bay area freeways, the building/remodelling of ever larger resource consuming houses and the full shopping carts of consumers at the big box stores indicates, to me, that drastic changes to American lifestyle, even for critical climate change reasons, will be resisted greatly.

        And this is in “environmentally friendly” California.

        To paraphrase Russell Long “don’t climate change me, don’t climate change thee, climate change the man behind the tree”.

        1. Will Cooper

          I agree with you. Because goods and durables got progressively cheaper-—in both price an quality—since the late 1070’s while wages remained flat, Americans acquired immoderate consumer habits. Lust to acquire the “latest thing” and built-in obsolescence multiply the amount of waste and pollution discharged into the environment by stimulating rapid turnover and steady or steadily increasing demand. Add to that population growth and the zillions of dollars dropped on advertising, and what you get is a society that expends ever-growing amounts of energy. Lifestyle changes will have to take place, and you’re right that there will be massive resistance to such change.

          1. Amfortas the hippie

            I think “Lifestyle” is a large, unexamined part of this.
            Demand is just assumed.
            but i recently learned that the accidentally hybridized sunflowers(big eatable kinds mixed with native maximillian sunflowers)…have a high oil content.
            ie: my hands were greasy after pulling them to make sure they didn’t reseed right there.
            so i collected a bunch, put them between two appropriate bits of junk concave sheetmetal i had laying around, and placed a bunch of rocks on top….and lo and behold, sunflower oil.
            tasted just like the store bought stuff.
            this is fuel.
            put it in a bowl, drape a wick of some kind into it, and you have light.
            similarly, reading this article, i thought about beeswax candles and even rushlights…rendered goosefat?
            we assume that we need light as soon as the sun goes down…but isn’t this because our daily schedules are all screwed up?
            do all those lights in office buildings really need to be on all the time?
            i’ve gone without electricity, for extended periods, on a number of occasions….you get into a rhythm, for one, and learn to do most of the necessaries before full dark. and while oil lanterns are not halogen lights, they serve to read or do the dishes by.
            manage expectations, please….we’re not gonna run the current “Normal” on solar and wind.
            as for heat…she mentions “biomass”…which i guess means firewood. I know a lot about that topic. it can be both sustainable(coppicing…something mesquite is well suited for) and relatively clean, if appropriate measures are taken…2 of my 3 stoves give off little smoke at all, except when one is starting a fire from scratch. their norweigian, and built to be efficient as all getout.
            and surely there’s some stack scrubber that can be invented(and given away for free, dammit) to capture the carbon, etc that does escape up the flue.
            with the inclusion of sufficient passive mass(even a water wall), the efficiency goes up even more.
            i’m afraid places like phoenix will likely hafta be abandoned to that strange minority of congenital desert rats among us.
            politically is where the real challenge lies…both from above(exxon: oil is actually good for you!) and below(nimby, and i want that energy wasteful accoutrement in my house, and you cant tell me not to)
            as for line loss…i’ve seen numbers as large as 40% lost of what’s generated…but, lots of variables, as stated.
            answer is to forgo the hydraulic despotism bidness model and distribute power generation far and wide.
            if your neighborhood is big enough to have it’s own dog park, playground or pool, it’s big enough to justify generating it’s own energy…then the demand side becomes a function of neighbors policing neighbors for their wasteful ways, shaming them for keeping all their lights on all night, etc(tragedy of commons was silly when he wrote it, and contrary to thousands of years of lived communal experience)

              1. Amfortas the hippie

                it was within living memory of people i currently know that the one town in my county ran off a generator….you’ve heard of small towns rolling up the sidewalks at night?…here, they turned off the genny at a specific time.
                FDR and especially LBJ(Stonewall is about 65 miles to the south, he’s still remembered for lights and paved roads out here) changed that…and it was Fiat Lux! for the Hill Country.
                with the growing sophistication of grid tie-in tech, there’s simply no good reason not to have distributed power generation….except for greed and authoritarianism.
                from line loss(even 10% matters) to resiliency(downed powerline in Arkansas=grid failure in New England), I’ve yet to hear a good argument for the current hypercentralisation regime.
                this includes arguments about how high tech windmills “need” to be.
                (there was a guy in Waller, texas(or thereabouts) some 35 years ago who built a wind genny from a piper cub prop and fought the power company in court for the right to generate his own power….ended up being the case that led to power co’s being required to buy the excess)

    3. RDE

      Gail is basically correct on all points— except the One That Shall not Be Mentioned.

      The only potential energy technology on the horizon with sufficient resource availability, scaleability, siting flexibility and inherent safety capable of powering a technological society for a century or two into the future is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. The technology is not without its problems, but none defy solutions and the potential cost per GW using standardized mass production would be far lower than any other energy source.

      However if that particular silver bullet should provide the foundation for another round of exponential growth, mathematical reality will still triumph as 16 billion and then 32 billion humans destroy the remaining habitat, poison the oceans, and exterminate the remaining species that render the Earth habitable.

      1. Garl

        The population is already leveling out with declining birth rates in many places, even 16 billion is fanciful and 32 is simply ridiculous. Capitalism is what destroys the environment, not the (highly racist and eugenicist) malthusian phantasm of ‘overpopulation’.

  4. Eduardo

    Using less is going to be an important part of the equation for most. Because … economics and we will eventually have no choice. And yes, that will have significant impact on society.

    But that is not a winning message for any politician. Ask James Earl Carter.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > Carter

      Carter would have done better if the Democrat Establishment of that time had not set out to cripple him (althogh sadly he bought into neoliberal assumptions just when the neoliberal turn was beginning, and MMT wasn’t there for him yet). At least he wasn’t a contemptible weasel, as his later life shows.

      1. Phacops

        Carter crippled himself. He was pushing to eliminate wasteful water projects by the BuRec and have the benificiaries of our huge dam projects pay all expenses going forward. Tip O’Neil twisted a lot of arms to prepare for the congressional fight over popular projects and really stuck his neck out only to have Carter drop the matter, leaving O’Neil holding the bag. After that, there was little cooperation between the Speaker of the House and Carter.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Carter made a lot of mistakes. My feeling was that he deserved to lose – even though the country didn’t deserve Reagan. Well, they elected him. Among more obvious things, Carter refused to promote photovoltaics wih a huge military order, as was done for transistors.

          And the digression between wages and productivity started under Carter, not Reagan, as a graph here a while back showed.

    2. Steve H.

      This. That the framing still contains mass use of cars is a tell. Planning then requires accommodation at the vehicle scale, not human scale. The energy costs go far beyond the first-order costs of driving and secondarily production. The 26 lanes of Houston’s Katy Highway are a form of metastasis.

      I spent a few months living at Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, decades ago. Human scale meant shade was simpler. In the middle of Arizona, we could be productive without air conditioning being necessary. In Indianapolis and the Netherlands, there is proof-in-fact that greenhouses can supply dense populations while keeping supply lines short. The cases are out there, they are just being ignored.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Oh come on. Tell me how we get rid of cars in the US in anything less than a 30+ year time frame. This is why our theme at NC is The Jackpot is Coming.

        Small scale experiment don’t translate into a re-do of the very dispersed US. Tverberg points out that changing infrastructure would require heavy use of current technology, particularly for transportation of materials. As in fossil fuels.

        1. Steve H.

          The Jackpot is Coming. The fossil fuels are going to get used, with the advantages going to who uses them first.

          What material structures are in place when the fossil fuel wealth has been mostly consumed impacts the amount of suffering. If, in thirty years, it’s more 26 lane highways, the suffering will be greater.

          There is a scenario which could vastly shift things. It is improbable, but possible. Right now, the incentive structure in the US is toward single family homes and automobiles. A twenty year mortgage is the traditional time-frame. If (big if; enormous if) the construction of those structures were taxed concomitant with their future consequences, it would force less energy dependent solutions.

          I don’t see the will for it. Too many sardine cans would get opened. However, like the GND, there would be money to be made constructing the alternatives. If dollar hegemony is a limited time offer, it would make good use of it.

          I mean no disrespect here. It’s not just the US that is very dispersed, it’s the entire global supply chain. It’s a value judgement to say, that must change; it’s an analytic assessment to say, that is going to change. Will we be able to use our wonderful minds to direct the outcome?

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            No, you are not up on what is happening in the oil biz. Big Oil is NOT investing in new development much if at all. This is widely reported. Lead times are long for this sort of thing. Experts are wondering what happens in the mid 2020s as oil field production in aggregate falls, not to Peak Oil in the traditional sense (fields being played out) but what amounts to stranded carbon due to underinvestment in developments.

            1. Thomas Jennings

              Yves – Thank you for posting this article.

              In your estimation, what is the role of energy returned on energy invested (ERoEI) approaching 1, in Big Oil’s lack of investment in new development? Or if not that, what is driving underinvestment?

            2. James

              Cribbing from Peter Zeihan, oil companies in the US and Canada are not investing in new oil fields because they have too much oil/natural gas locally. The current goal is to build out the pipeline infrastructure and create LNG terminals so the oil and natural gas can get to the global market.

        2. Lee

          The general feeling that The Jackpot is a high probability event in the not too distant future goes a long way in explaining the growing popular support for hardening borders, limiting immigration, and centralizing authoritarian power so as to maintain a semblance of social order when the trains stop running on time or, as is likely, stop running at all. I’m getting ever more twitchy about continuing to live in a densely populated area. I might not fare any better in a more rural area but at least the scenery would be nice.

  5. Mattski

    I guess I missed something–isn’t it ‘A Green New Deal’ rather than ‘the,’ with open admission by those trying to get the ball rolling that the elements are to be agreed by community and experts together in an unfolding democratic process?

      1. John

        I think Mother Nature, Cause and Effect, call it what you will has plans to institute a rather harsh “ecofacist” future. I have always assumed the Green New Deal is a way to start the ball rolling to even consider some sort of managing the Jackpot. Not some magic panacea to allow the Great Squander to continue indefinitely.
        I lived in south Asia for most of 1981 where electricity was intermittently available if at all, there were few personal vehicles other than bicycles and livestock powered, no central heating or cooling and diet was basic veg for most everyone snd high mortality rates. We will be lucky if we can manage that.
        Gibson was wildly positive and optimistic in The Peripheral…as in all his books..loved them all.

      2. Susan the other`

        I haven’t seen any discussion about totally decentralizing the leaky wasteful old grid and/or mandating every community to address its own energy needs. We are avoiding discussing an energy budget or economizing in any way. That’s odd; to me that’s the first place to start. Otherwise we are not really treating the problem, we’re just painting over it. Flash back to the innocent 50s: We probably used less than half the energy we use today per capita and nobody was particularly deprived by not having endless bowls of microwave popcorn. Back further in the 1920s hydropower was the only source of electricity. Most little towns had dams and generated electricity reliably. Solar and wind are maybe not so good for transmitting power long distances because they don’t generate it in those capacities, but if you keep it local it might be more successful. We should also look at a backup system. Every house could have a generator that only got used when the power went out. What does the analysis of all these options tell us; what are the comparisons? I wouldn’t advocate going back to coal and I’m afraid of nuclear. Maybe just some old reliable rationing would be best. When the energy is unavailable people adapt. In India little neighborhoods do biomass. I do sometimes think we are too proud to be practical. My overriding question is: how bad can it be if we go local?

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “I haven’t seen any discussion about totally decentralizing the leaky wasteful old grid and/or mandating every community to address its own energy needs.”

          “My overriding question is: how bad can it be if we go local?”

          Very bad.

          The reason the current infrastructure is based on large generating plants is because they work very well and very efficiently compared to a fragmented amateur run expensive alternative. And they have much smaller ecological footprints, as well as much greater safety.

          Furthermore, you can’t just connect power sources randomly to an electrical grid…. even if your goal is simply to have a local and a remote source of electricity. It gets more complicated if you want to feed power from a local source onto the grid. The potential complexities and interactions of millions of sources is daunting, and may well be beyond our ability to manage adequately.

          Local sources would also create more pollution.

          Putting backup generators in each house or other building would require a huge number of internal combustion engine, lots of petrochemical fuel, and the discipline and knowledge on the part of hundreds of thousands of people to maintain, test, and operate properly. Backup generators that are actually expected to be used are tested, by running them for a half hour or so, every month. Most of those are diesel, not gas engines, which probably increases the longevity of the fuel. Again, there are reasons you get rid of the old gas, and put new gas in your lawn mower every spring.

          ” Flash back to the innocent 50s: We probably used less than half the energy we use today per capita and nobody was particularly deprived by not having endless bowls of microwave popcorn.”

          This is an interesting example, given that microwave ovens are probably the most energy efficient way of cooking things, by a huge margin. Given your advocacy of energy conservation, you might want to pick a different metaphor for frivolity.

          Also in the innocent 50s, they use x-ray machines in shoe stores so your could see how your shoes fit. And people died a lot younger. Furnaces were much less efficient and many, perhaps most, ran on coal. Women mainly worked as telephone and elevator operators, and store clerks. I don’t think that ‘going back’ to that era is at all useful.

          “Back further in the 1920s hydropower was the only source of electricity.”

          Not really. The first commercial power station in the US, Edison’s Pearl Street Station, used coal fired steam engines. In many areas hydro-electric power was not an easy option or even possible due to local geography.

          In other areas, dams are necessary, often causing a great deal of ecological and other forms of damage. Not only are these very expensive, but they can pose a huge risk to local or not so local citizens.

          You might peruse these articles:



          “When the energy is unavailable people adapt. In India little neighborhoods do biomass.”

          Parts of India are a few centuries behind in infrastructure, hanging on and waiting for relief. Currently >75% of their power comes from thermal plants, mostly burning coal (about 56% of total electric generation).

          They are also building nuclear plants at a good rate, planning to increase nuclear generation to 9% in 2032 and 25% in 2050, up from 1.9% in 2019.

          Conventional sources (thermal, mostly) are planned to grow by 6.45% between 2019 and 2020. I expect India will continue building out power plants at a similar rate for decades.

          There is also a big push on to build up distribution infrastructure to cover the entire country. Currently they are working on building a national grid, having combined state grids into five regional grids to allow efficient matching of generation to load.

          India is projected to need another 600 to 1200 GW of generation by 2050. By comparison, the EU generated 740 GW in 2015.

          As for biomass, 11% of Indians (about 136 million) use firewood, agricultural waste, and dry dung for cooking and heating. This is inefficient and produces lots of smoke, particulate pollution, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, formaldehyde, and other chemicals. An estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people die of indoor air pollution and carbon monoxide poisoning every year because of these biomass fuels, which produce from 5 to 15 times the pollution of burning coal.

          Currently the majority of government sewage treatment plants are usually closed due to a lack of reliable electric power.


          “I do sometimes think we are too proud to be practical”

          Determining practicality accurately involves gathering the data, especially numerical data, and doing sound analysis, not relying on anecdotal accounts and personal experience. I think too many of us are doing too little comprehensive analysis, but relying on ‘common sense’, ‘personal opinion’, and ‘group consensus (among the people one talks to)’ or other unreliable sources.

          ” I’m afraid of nuclear.”

          That’s a lot of the problem. Many people are afraid of anything with the word ‘nuclear’ in the name (which is why they renamed NMR scanners to MRI scanners). It doesn’t help disperse irrational fears that nuclear power is by far the safest significant power generation.

          Check the statistics yourself – search on something like ‘power generation safety statistics by source’.

          People also worry about escape of radioactivity. Here is what one cell biologist has to say about the area affected by Chernobyl:


          For a good and accurate presentation of relative radiation exposures see https://xkcd.com/radiation/
          which provides a bit of perspective on what is really going on.

          If you like video format, look find ‘Gerry Thomas Highlights Misconceptions over Health Impacts of Nuclear Accidents’ on youtube. Gerry Thomas is a professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College, London.

          This post is long enough… stopping now, not because there is not more to say.

          1. Susan the other`

            Thank you Math. That was good info. I keep saying I’m an optimist, but I’m an impatient one. I want these problems solved already. And I do trust serious technology. These points you’ve made are pretty encouraging. I’m almost coming around to nuclear as well.

      3. Skip Intro

        Would ecofascism oppose ecoterrorism? Where would ecomoderates go? I am disappointed that you are adopting this eco+’bad thing’ trope.

    1. GF

      AOC’s Green New Deal version has many components, not just electricity generation. The full text:

      Some issues presented:

      There are five goals, which the resolution says should be accomplished in a 10-year mobilization effort:

      – Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.

      – Create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.

      – Invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.

      – Secure for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment.

      – Promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, de-industrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the un-housed, people with disabilities, and youth (“frontline and vulnerable communities”).

  6. fajensen

    I do not see the ‘won’t really work’-part: The article is discussing engineering problems and political problems which of course exists. The article is not presenting any ‘new physics required’-problems.

    We know that engineering- and political- problem categories can be reliably ‘dissolved’ with the proper application of time, people and money. We know more or less how to do that stuff, and we have done this kind of thing so often that we have processes, rules and institutions for it.

    For the ‘new-physics required’-situation, we have relax and wait for another Feynman or Einstein to be born into circumstances where he/she will grow to become a solver of physics riddles! *That* is a *hard* problem.

    From my perspective, the article is just saying that ‘no sparkly unicorns will appear and fix it for us’ which is not the same as ‘won’t really work’ (unless ‘really work’ implies the idea that sparkly …. et. cetera are part of the solution).

    1. Lambert Strether

      Technical problems are never the hard problems. The hard problems are always political (with a health admixture of culture, ideology, and plain old naked self-interest).

      1. xkeyscored

        Quite so. We need to stop using fossil fuels. Simple physics. But will we? That’s a political, economic, social and cultural conundrum.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “We need to stop using fossil fuels. Simple physics”

          That’s not physics, that’s a personal, political, and philosophical opinion.

          The issue is global warming, and its effects.

          The assumption that it can be ‘fixed’ by reducing greenhouse gasses by eliminating fossil fuels is exactly that, an assumption.

          There is a high probability that the attempt will fail for political, economic, social, and cultural reasons. To put it simply, about half the population of the planet or more will decide it’s in their best interests to use fossil fuels for the next 50 or 100 years. What you and your country does will be irrelevant because of the rapid growth of fossil fuel use in other parts of the world.

          Oh, and the physics that comes into this is the huge amount of fossil fuels that would be required to rush a ‘green infrastructure’ into existence in only 30 or 40 years… if that can be done at all. You *may* be able to build a replacement for centuries of accumulated infrastructure resources in several decades, but you’ll see a lot of unavoidable carbon generation if you try.

          That’s why it is important to avoid incorrect assumptions that may lead one to very much ‘think inside the box’. Another solution is needed, that approaches the problem differently.

          1. It bites but the truth always has

            Then there is all the methane, carbon dioxide, amine, and other greenhouse bio-gases that are being released from warming permafrost, (both above and below current seawater levels). It’s already started and will blow past current human emissions. I’ve seen comments starting 4 years or more ago on this very blog on reports from U. of Alaska, USSR, and other states on the rapid increases in out-gassing. They under report the impact to keep from being scalped, and it’s still doom.

            It’s going to require a “miracle of science” in three areas, or rather it required them, considering we’re way past the time it normally takes for new technologies to reach scale vs impending doom.,

            (1) energy so cheap, plentiful and carbon neutral that it will even power a
            (2) new un-discovered carbon/methane atmospheric exaction and capture method that can do so on a scale that will dwarf all current human industrial activity, and
            (3) new materials sciences to build all of this in record time without wiping out the current ecology

            In other words, be grateful if you don’t have children and are over 50, you can afford to deceive yourself that this is all going to happen. Everyone else is just getting an opiate of false hope.

          2. xkeyscored

            We need to stop using fossil fuels. Simple physics.
            I was simplifying somewhat!
            If we want to stop global warming, we need to stop using fossil fuels or find some viable way of countering their effect, by carbon capture etc (pipedream tech so far, at least on any scale that would make a difference), SAI (reflective stuff in the stratosphere), or something. Physics.
            As for “What you and your country does will be irrelevant because of the rapid growth of fossil fuel use in other parts of the world,” I was talking about us, humanity, not this or that country. Countries are a political/social/cultural thing. Physics doesn’t come into it.
            Likewise, “the huge amount of fossil fuels that would be required to rush a ‘green infrastructure’ into existence” more or less assumes we’re going to maintain our current lifestyles etc. Wanting to do that is again a social/cultural thing. Physics does not dictate that.
            We do not need to stop using fossil fuels, true. My guess is that we won’t, and it’ll end up as a race between SAI and methane from melting permafrost etc to decide whether our civilisation goes down the plughole. (And by ‘our’, I mean our, not UK/US or wherever.)

            1. xkeyscored

              And, at the risk of promoting my ideas ad nauseam, you could see my October 3, 2019 at 1:21 pm comment on 2:00PM Water Cooler 10/2/2019.

    2. smashsc

      Gayle also mentions the economic problems – if owners of rooftop solar can’t sell their power back (as it is not needed on the grid), is it economically feasible to install? And as she mentioned, is is feasible to pay for natural gas workers year-round if the equipment they maintain is only needed for a few months of the year? We can currently reference the significant costs that generators quote for supplying electricity only
      during peaks – a magnitude higher than baseload plants.

      1. fajensen

        Gayle also mentions the economic problems – if owners of rooftop solar can’t sell their power back (as it is not needed on the grid), is it economically feasible to install?

        ‘Economically feasible’ when compared to the alternatives: Homes having no power for days on end, then residents eating cold food as the freezer thaws out and quite possibly getting Botulism (cooking reliably destroys the toxins, which are everywhere).

        The problem and lure with the rooftop solar panels is one of resilience – when one really needs to have them, as we are getting into potential Jackpot Territory, they will not be available at any price. So one has to move some time before that.

        I don’t like our obsession with never paying for anything in wages, at least for as long as one can pay much more for complex IT-systems and Automation instead. I.M.O. it comes from core neo-liberal religious dogma. It is never about costs, it is about power and leaving nothing on the table for anyone else out of the principle that ‘starvation’ will prevent the growth of potential competitions.

        In this case, the financing and fuel costs for a MW-sized gas-turbine power plant will swamp the wages of 8 – 10 techies ‘sitting around drinking tea all the time’ (or the plant owners are doing it wrong).

        Back in the day, it was economically feasible to employ people to live along railway tracks and change the signals and points. In the future we could have some of those otherwise homeless or unemployed people living quietly around the power installations under similar contracts.

        I do assume that a responsible government will – if nothing else, then out of fear for personal safety and a desire for convenience – not just decide that ‘Everything outside of our fortified compound is Puerto Rico from now on’ and let things fall apart where they stand. They will plan and redirect resources before.

      2. Oregoncharles

        ” is is feasible to pay for natural gas workers year-round if the equipment they maintain is only needed for a few months of the year?”

        While most of her technical considerations make sense, this one verges on silly. They can’t learn another, maybe related skill – like plumbing – to work with the rest of the year? Consider: teachers already do this. They work, and are paid for, 9 months of the year – one reason they make less than other professionals. Some work another job in the summer; some just relax, or garden, or travel. And a lot of them work on improving their skills. Furthermore, in that gas scenario, most of the maintenance work would be done in the down time – they might be busier then.

        Tverberg raises some very important challenges; eg, it’s obvious that battery storage will be a small factor; there are lots of other ways – hydrogen, for one. But social adaptations will be the biggest, and Tverberg doesn’t touch those. A generation of living within the Earth’s energy budget, and we wouldn’t even recognize the society. And they’ll think we were spoiled brats.

        This IS what Ecotopia was really about.

        One obvious conclusion is that conservation is key. Apparently Europeans live on about half the energy per capita tthe US uses. I hear their standard of living is just terrible. But even that will require huge investments of both money and resources.

  7. Pat

    This article is making assumptions that:

    1) continued fossil fuel consumption is an option.
    2) “costs too much money” matters to the global crisis we are in the midst of.

    Physical forces don’t care about economics. CO2 will continue to trap heat regardless of how “costly” it is to stop burning fossil fuels.

    If the situation is as “bad” as the author feels, then civilization can choice to:

    1. manage a reduced energy consumption and preserve our civilization,


    2. be in denial until a catastrophic reduced energy consumption is forced upon humanity – at which point global civilization may be collapsing.

    Humans think that our species is immune to species extinction. We are like any other species – we can go extinct. Yes, we may take a lot of species with us – but we can go extinct.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I do not see the article as making those assumptions. She is merely taking GND assumptions and playing them out.

      Tverberg has been writing for years that fossil fuel use will drop and drop sooner than expected because low prices = low investment and development. The feedback loop is actually accelerating the peak oil dynamic.

      1. charles 2

        I do not see the article as making those assumptions. She is merely taking GND assumptions and playing them out.

        Not really, various GND plans around the world makes explicit assumptions ( both in magnitude and timing) about a massive improvement in efficiency and cost of renewables and energy storage solutions. We are talking about things like electricity in the vicinity of 2 cents an hour, and synthetic hydrocarbons at a price level comparable to today’s shale plays.
        Gail Tverberg is perfectly entitled to her opinion that these assumptions will not be backed by future reality, but I think that this article doesn’t make the demonstration that, assuming that these assumptions are met, the GND would still not work. It doesn’t mean she is wrong …
        Personally, my inclination is that renewables (and for reasons that are too long for a comment, I consider that nuclear is renewable…) can power a reasonably affluent industrial economy (I.e. an economy where global consumption of energy per capita is close to the one prevailing in rich countries at the end of the second millenium), but will not be ready on time, thus leading to a big « temporary » dip lasting decades or even a century. Call it « Jackpot » if you like, but it is not going to be fun…

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Ahem, you handwave away issues of the low efficiency of solar due to the need to time shift, both during the day and across seasons. Batteries don’t hold charge well for long periods.

          See this, for instance:

          Solar power is not physically reliable because it is inconsistent, inefficient, and cannot meet electricity demand. Because sunlight is not always available, the actual energy output of solar plants is much lower than their potential output. For example, the median output of concentrated solar power (CSP) plants is only 38 percent of their potential, and the median output of photovoltaic (PV) panels is only 20 percent of their potential.

          Because it is inconsistent, solar energy depends on more reliable sources of energy for backup such as coal and natural gas. Energy storage could alleviate some of solar power’s intermittency and dependence on backup generators, but grid level energy storage is still a developing technology.

          As solar power plants continue to be built in remote locations, electricity providers will need to invest more in grid infrastructure, such as new transmission lines, which cost billions of dollars. These costs will be passed on to energy consumers and taxpayers

          In other words, looking at the cost of solar power of a panel in isolation greatly understates the fully loaded cost of widespread use of solar.

          And there is no battery revolution on the horizon:


          I’d like to see you links on why we should expect such large increases in the efficiency of solar, fully loaded. I’ve worked with cutting edge tech and exaggeration is the norm.

          1. solar jay

            Efficiency isn’t the correct term. Efficiency is specifically about the efficiency of a solar module wattage vs size. A 1MW power plant is 1MW. More efficient PV makes it a smaller foot print, thats it.
            Solar has loss’s due to weather etc, but thats not an efficiency issue. Thats production.

            In regards to the overall concept of the article, yes Gail is correct and those of us in the solar industry have known this for years. Many studies have been done to show that the relationship between production vs storage. More production = less need for storage.

            But I think what’s missing is like a lot of things, its easy to get to the 90-95% point, hard to get those last points. And energy is the same. Its easy for the utilities to provide the 90%, but they have to have lots of reserve for those last few %’s.
            Renewables will be no different and will rely on other fuels for base load and peak power.

            I would also disagree with many of the statements about batteries. Their standby loss’s or self discharge is measured about 1% month.

            And agreed that the issues are not mechanical, but political.

          2. Charles 2

            On the storage side, Battery power is not the main pillar of recent GND plans, at least the one I have seen in Europe. Power to Gas/Liquids (I.e. hydrogen and hydrocarbon from electricity, water, and captured CO2) is.
            IF the technology is really there, it indeed is a progress toward a solution because gas and even better liquid can be stored for a long time, enabling to pass the winters AND can be traded internationally, without supergrids (tankers or pipeline are enough) allowing solar panels to be built where the sun is shining, say North Western Australia, vs where the consumer is, say Germany. For instance, the difference in sun energy between these two locations is enough to cover the conversion losses.

            You can find a decent review of PTG economics at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148115301610

            I agree with you that exaggeration is the norm in tech In the short term Because of pressure from VC, banks and the stock market. On a longer term basis, I would say that tech both undershoots and exceeds expectations. The worst outcome is not garanteed.

            1. greenerpastures

              I have to add a little bit here, as well. I am certainly no techno-optimist and think that the focus on climate change obscures a great deal of other long-term ecological threats – most notably plastics and industrial chemical waste, and mass extinctions due to overdevelopment and the aforementioned chemicals.

              However, I find the technological/economic arguments against the GND to be disingenuous, precisely because we do not need to develop new technologies, simply deploy existing ones. About ten years ago the argument was that renewables were far too expensive to ever replace coal/oil/natural gas. Now that it is quite clear that on a pure generation basis renewables are competitive on price, or cheaper, than existing fossil fuels, the argument has shifted to energy storage.

              Well, we can quite easily ‘store’ energy in chemicals by, for example, growing switchgrass for ethanol or direct biomass burning (switchgrass can be grown in marginal lands or allow for switchgrass farms to be grown in concert with nonharvested grasses to be managed as prairie, which store soil carbon on a massive scale. We can generate hydrogen from water in areas with abundant water and sunshine at least part of the year. We can use, as mentioned before, compressed air or water pumping where the geology is right. Finally, we can also shift from fossil fuel heating to geothermal pumps which work in many climates, as well as all the standard stuff like increase building standards to have more insulation which on its own cuts energy demand by a significant fraction. This all can be done without requiring deus ex machinas or sudden paradigm shifts by things like OTEC, high-temperature superconductors, fusion, or thorium reactors which are all certainly possible and would likely obviate many of the problems we have today.

              We certainly have to pay for all of it but this article presents a lot of old problems and frankly NIMBYism (wind turbines produce vibrations that people think are unpleasant? perhaps you should link to some articles about what happens to people in the vicinity of fracking operations? Pollution threat from cracked solar panels? How about the benefits of reducing groundwater pollution from aquifer or oil spills from tankers and pipelines?) that renders her argument the equivalent of saying ‘nothing can be done so we might as well embrace the apocalypse.’

          3. Pat Moore


            Solar plants come in two forms:

            1) PV : the direct conversion to electricity form.
            2) solar thermal: this kind of plant heats a liquid with the sun which then drives a turbine.

            solar thermal – are their own storage system. The heated liquid can be stored and at some later hour be used to drive that turbine. Solar thermal also can provide power reasonably well during days that are partially cloudy.

    2. Pelham

      Maybe a third option would be to ramp up production of nuclear power plants, specifically small modular reactors that can be produced with high quality control on an assembly line? This would seem at the moment to be the most available and realistic option — with thorium-fueled molten-salt reactors a possible medium-term alternative.

      BTW, even taking into account Fukushima, Chernobyl and other disasters, nuclear has a long record as the safest power source when one takes into account the many deaths caused by the fossil-fuel alternatives.

  8. kimyo

    i think it was yesterday that a saudi official stated that production was back to pre-attack levels.

    some of the initial analysis by outside experts indicated a timeframe of 8 to 24 months to effect repairs.

    if the saudi’s are lying about current production, it’s not a long stretch to imagine that they are also lying about their reserves. if so, global growth is over and a financial system built on same can only collapse. if so, niceties like upgrading california’s grid or replacing the lead-containing water delivery infrastructure around the country are not going to happen, much less any green new deal transition to ‘renewables’.

    as yves says, radical conservation is the only option.

  9. Henry Moon Pie

    Thanks for this article, Yves. It should be required reading for everybody spouting rosy solutions to our situation.

    Behind all this is a question of goal(s). If the goal is to continue with life and civilization traveling down the same road as now, this article blows that out of the water. The end of SUVS, McMansions and expansive, mowed lawns is in sight. Renewables are not going to enable our addiction to la dolce vita that really isn’t all that sweet in the first place.

    So if continuation of life and society as it now exists is not a realistic possibility, what is the goal? Restoration of the Earth to its pre-industrial state might be one possibility, but that will require a ruthless attitude toward human life now that we’ve reached 7 billion of us. A commitment to save as many lives as possible is another possibility, and that could be coupled with reducing population as quickly and humanely as possible.

    Thinking about ultimate goals in this way can also help us sort out some of the trade-offs involved. Preserving as many human lives as possible would impact both maintaining current consumption levels for the affluent and restoring the Earth. Maintaining consumption levels for the affluent negatively affects both preserving human life and restoring the Earth.

    The first step in this analysis is to do what this article does: reject fake fixes that purport to preserve our cake while letting us chow down on a nice big icing-laden piece just as it is necessary to get past climate change denialism. It’s way past time for us as a society to engage in this discussion and to enlarge it to involve the rest of humanity. We’re already in a triage situation, but let’s have a humanity-wide discussion of what we’re trying to save.

    1. Rod

      Starting with telling the truth is the best place to start.
      Imo—-The lifestyle promoted in 1st world consumer capitalism countries is killing our planet.
      What needs to change so that doesn’t happen?

      1. lambert strether

        I like the time-shift argument because it connects so neatly to lifestyle. The peak is because everybody gets home at more or less the same times, turns up the air-con or the heat, turns in the TV, and fires up the microwave. And, I suppose, plugs in the EV to recharge. Much of that can be ameliorated (though that’s not a complete solution). Who said that work schedules have to be as they are?

      2. notabanktoadie

        What needs to change so that doesn’t happen?

        1) An ethical finance system to replace the current one.

        2) Asset and land redistribution as restitution for the current finance system.

        Both would encourage better lifestyles rather than pointless consumption as compensation for having been looted.

  10. CoryP

    From reading this and some of Tverberg’s other work, it seems she is operating solely in the context of our current economy. Which makes perfect sense.

    I’m curious about how the idea of EROI changes if the unthinkable happens and we adopt some other economic system. As in, how does “too expensive to produce/extract” change? If economic activity is just a way of measuring energy flow/dissipation, then there must be some point at which production or extraction is uneconomical even in some hypothetical egalitarian communist-type world.

    I’ve thought about this when I’ve read here that the fracking boom has been fueled by cheap debt and can’t survive otherwise. Would these energy sources be “worth it” to extract if we didn’t have to keep these companies’ stock prices afloat?

    Not that I think that this is anything other than a thought experiment.

    1. the suck of sorrow

      Forget about the money! That is an unnecessary abstraction.
      Think about EROEI, energy returned on energy invested. For all fossil fuels, this ratio is getting worse. And correspondingly, renewable energy production is going to be harder to develop and maintain.
      We are at the tail end of an energy boom that enabled our species to take over our planet.

      1. CoryP

        Thanks. Short and logical. I swear I used know this answer before letting it slip out of my mind into confusion again.

      2. Glen

        Or the front end of a energy bust that gives our planet back to mother nature in a poorly used condition., But nothing that 100 million years of nature won’t fix.

        It was fun while it lasted.

        I still want a GND since doing something beats doing nothing unless we want world wide societal collapse.

  11. Hank Linderman

    So, as currently proposed, the GND will fall short of what we need to survive. We need to do more.

    Stopping climate damage means changing what we do to the climate. One proposal I heard on the radio recently was to use machinery to remove carbon from the atmosphere and to *sequester* it on the ocean floor. As preposterous as that sounds, it indicates the desperate nature of the problem.

    I visited Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave Kentucky yesterday. The cave used to provide electricity for the town with a generator powered by the river; of course, the river is a trickle for several months every year. Walking down into the hollow and then into the mouth of the cave was like walking into an air-conditioned room, at street level it was 95 degrees. I say this to indicate the potential uses of earth forces that are all around us – housing that is built into the ground instead of sitting on top of it for example. I guess the point I am making is that if the GND as currently proposed won’t do enough, it must be expanded much further, in ways large and small.

  12. Christopher Herbert

    I’ve been reading this author for some time. She provides quite a few cautionary observations. Over all she proves that we have to make some major changes in our point of view. Progress can no longer be equated with ‘more’ but more likely with ‘less’ and changes in composition. MMT will be helpful, in my point of view, because it is more efficient, realistic and jettisons the need for mountains of debt expense. If our current ‘free market’ capitalism continues we are in for a massive liquidation of assets. Some of those assets being human beings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=ahbpzsjLGZI Bill Mitchell on the GND

    1. jefemt

      When I ponder the hours I spend keeping the banks and local governments at bay, I realize I am a Trurnspit dog! Thought I was merely a tax mule and consumer. All self-aggrandizing aside, my first reaction to the article was there is very very little about the real, positive impacts that individual, conscious choices can have on energy use. Amory Lovins discussed this decades ago in Soft Energy paths. He was co-opted by the US Military and virtually disappeared (bring ’em in, pay them well, and muzzle ’em).

      The article points out the many hidden costs that are NOT shared or acknowledged in the energy marketplace. IF we all had perfect information, and recognized the full life-cycle impacts of our demands and choices, we might:
      -walk occasionally instead of driving;
      -ride a bike occasionally instead of driving;
      -assert a right to our employers to telecommute, or allow our employees to telecommute;
      -do our laundry and run our dishwashers at peak solar production- mid-day, rather than when it suits our whim, after dark;
      -wait for sunny days to do our laundy;
      -turn our lawns into gardens and fields of flowers;
      -turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater and lightweight beanie (toque for our Canuck pals);
      -insulate our homes—( remember conservation is the lowest-cost option in energy use, and I didn’t see much of that as a viable subject in the article)
      -turn off our devices and do handiwork, read, visit.

      Yes, choose to change our lifestyle and demands.

      I earn my keep in the fossil fuel industry, and dither like a Turnspit dog, spending many hours driving around the western US pondering energy.

      My personal view is that as long as we have centralized systems with control and profits aggregated into a few hands, as opposed to decentralized autonomous local production, we are doomed.
      The demands we place on utilities, with our expectations of flip-a- light-switch-let-there-be-light miracle taken for grated convenience as an expectation, imply we need to waaaaaay overbuild the energy infrastructure. And so we have, and so we do, and so we imagine that’s the way it has to be…

      If everyone had a rooftop solar system, and an opportunity to sell the energy they produce to their proximate neighbors (not a national grid), that would incentivize additional solar and/or wind, micro-hydro, conservation, and a revolutionary re-set. Every unit produced, not used by generator, and sold would be $ for that household or farm. Think Bitcoin production in reverse. Utiilities and energy producing businesses will not let this happen.

      Now, Bucky Fuller had the notion that a global electrical grid on Spaceship Earth would be the obvious simple answer— 1/2 the world is asleep while the other half is awake. Despite transmission loss, inefficiencies, it is a plausible option.

      The fly in the ointment, of course, is that it implies cooperation globally, sharing and optimizing resource use, for us all. Waking up and recognizing the closed-loop fragile spaceship we stand on.
      So, political will by-and-for the collective we, of all genders, creeds and colors, all over the world.

      Last time I looked, this is NOT how Homo sapiens, nation-states, and for-profit corporations and their banker ‘partners’ work. Divide and conquer.

      Circle back to doomed. This turnspit dog needs some new paradigms

      1. Lee

        Instead of achieving Fuller’s dream of ephemeralization, doing more and more with less and less until we can do everything with nothing, the growth imperative of finance capital plus population growth appear to be driving us in a much different direction. Under our current system, our technologies cannot keep up with our burgeoning demands and preserve our resource base at the same time.

        I am a retired turn spit dog and so have been converted into a conduit for other people’s money as in my retirement income comes in one door and exits the other in very short order.

  13. Greg Horrall

    The answer to the renewable energy and the production of renewable liquid/gas hydrocarbon feedstocks transition lies here in techs like these:





    Renewable Fischer Tropsch Synthesis liquid/gas pure hydrocarbons and artifical photsynthesis too, will enable us to overcome all hurdles for breaking away from fossil fuels. These techs + advanced non-Li-chemistry (non rare metals) batteries (for EVs) + increasing our efficiency to compensate for increased per unit of energy costs relative to our actually now greatly under-priced fossil fuels (They’ll get more expensive now that we’ve passed their finding peak.) will enable the transition, but the investment will need to be made in R&D and implementation, much of which may occur naturally via the ongoing need to replace old fossil plants at the ends of their normal life cycles. EROEI is also acceptably high at 10+ for this renewable path so that we can maintain high-enough levels of economic output, at least as far as energy supply is concerned, but we will still have many other current unsustainable earth resource issues to handle…materials, food, water…Our energy problems look soluble but we’re far from out of the woods just yet.

  14. Eclair

    I have a lot of respect for Gail Tverberg, having been following her analyses from back in the Oil Drum days. If she has the data on why the Green New Deal won’t really work, then we need to pay attention. And, I think that one reason why it won’t work it because it deals with some solutions on a macro, nation-wide level.

    Two examples, heating and air-conditioning, and food supply. The US is a huge country and different solutions apply. We lived in Southern California for almost 30 years and never had air conditioning. In two of our three houses, we used heat in the winter only on a few occasions; and both these houses had absolutely no insulation. But they both had enormous southern exposures, with lots of windows. Of course, we were within a couple of miles of the ocean, not in the interior. Years ago, in the Jimmy Carter keep-your-thermostat-at-55 era, we lived in Rochester, NY. Again, we had a house with a windowed southern exposure, and a tiny wood-stove. We did use the natural gas furnace in the dead of winter, but by March, the heat from solar radiation provided a major amount of warmth. And Rochester, NY has about the same amount of sunlight as Seattle. But lots more snow and low temperatures.

    So, all we have to do is tear down most of the energy-hogging domestic architecture we have built over the past 50 years and replace it with heavily insulated, energy-efficient, passive solar housing. Jobs! (OK, maybe that is overly-optimistic.)

    But, we should probably consider revamping our food supply first. Devise regional food-growing districts, based on climate and natural boundaries. You probably don’t want a mountain range running down the middle of a region. Raise foods that are sustainable within that region. And, yeah, Southern California would be a foodie paradise …. fresh fruits and veggies 12 months of the year. That is if Developers could be persuaded that there was more money in farming than in building more 5,000 foot air-conditioned houses. And, North Dakota, um, not so much. Probably the northern-most regions would develop a meat and dairy-based food supply, supplemented with fruits and veggies that could grow in a short season, or in (energy-hogging) green houses over the winter.

    So, no more fresh strawberries in January that have been shipped for 3,000 miles. Or, as some headline screamed the other day, “Greta Thunberg is coming after your coffee!” Our French wines, imported cheeses and olives will be more expensive, thanks to Trump’s tariffs. Why not develop robust local cuisines and get used to eating stuff that is grown within a few hundred miles.

    1. anon y'mouse

      water and food is the first need, shelter the second.

      how about just passive solar retrofitting? you can do a lot with adding a sunspace, or a porch with properly sized awnings. solar collectors are helpful, but not attractive (too bad!).


  15. Marshall Massey

    An article about renewable energy that discusses battery storage but not pumped storage? How did this happen? This is a technology that has been in active use in Europe since the 1890s, and in the U.S. since 1930. The U.S. presently has 25 GW of pumped storage, including in places like Michigan where you might think that was not possible (they do it underground). Two more big pumped storage projects are in the works in the Pacific Northwest, and the total of existing+proposed pumped storage in this country is already over 50 GW. Plenty more is possible. You can have pumped storage anywhere you can have two reservoirs, one above the other.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You appear to have missed a comment by fajensen that already addressed that issue:

      One needs a mountain, a lake on top of the mountain, a body of water at the bottom of the mountain, the two bodies of water cannot be too far apart, yet they must have a large vertical separation for good efficiency :).

      Most of the good spots in possession of all those features are already used for hydro electric power or storage.

      Which means that, for scalability, we need better batteries and better electrical power distribution systems.

      Tverberg was explicit that she was only addressing some issues, she could not be comprehensive.

      1. Doug McLain

        Liquid while an abundant and efficient method for storing power isn’t required. Potential energy storage of solids such as rock is actually easier and cheaper. It allows for community based storage of power that water reservoirs don’t.

      2. lyle

        actually if you look at orriville dam it is a pumped storage facility. Much would depend on building hvdc transmission, which is used for example to move power from Churchill falls Labrador to new england. But much of this has to eliminate the nimby about high voltage lines. The big problem with pumped storage is that in the coastal plain region you don’t have enough relief for it. Now for solar in the east it works well with hvdc lines from the plains east using the up to 2 hour difference in sunset times. As the article points out nights at least in tx are windier than days. Now one solution for the peak usage would be to tell folks to delay dishwasher runs till 10 pm. Longer term if one has a pool it could be used as a heat sink for ac with pool heat coming for free. Also just a change in setting the timers for ac so they cool the house before 5 and keep the ac off till 8:30.

      3. Marshall Massey

        Thank you for your response, Yves. But actually, I didn’t miss that comment. You may notice that I pointed out that pumped storage is also working in Michigan, without a mountain; that location does it underground.

        Locations already in use for hydro power or storage are often ideal for conversion to pumped storage. One simply needs to pair two dams, and install an additional set of pumps.

        Omitting a better solution than batteries does not strike me, personally, as sensible.

  16. OldOwl

    Starting from the headline there is so much wrong with this post, that it would take an equal length reply to set everything straight.

    Being a physicist, I’m quite annoyed with the sloppy use of units in this piece. As most people know energy is conserved in the universe, can be converted from one form into another, and is measured in J. To express large quantities you can use prefixes like G for Giga, etc. If you express different forms of energy in different units, they can’t be easily compared. In the age of GOOGLE, there is no excuse not converting units to a common standard. Btw. 1 million BTUs = 1.06 GJ, which took 30 sec on a computer to find out.

    Secondly energy conservation is not mentioned as prominently as it needs to be.
    If we only reduce the energy conservation per capita of the US of ~300 GJ/a to that of Portugal ~100 GJ/a, (Wikipedia for 2013, another 30 sec GOOGLE use) we’ve reduced the problem by a factor of 3 ! There are most likely many studies/plans/ideas already available to reduce energy use easily another factor of 3x say to 30 GJ/a.

    Then instead of looking at the energy production from renewables in the USA, which is one of the slowest in adopting, one should look at countries like Germany, which at least spend some effort developing this technology. Again Wikipedia comes up with 200000 GWh/a in 2016. With a little bit of 7th grade math this turns into 9 GJ/a per person ( 1 GWh = 3600 GJ, population = 80 million).

    This simple calculation turns your insurmountable problem into a factor of 3 in efficiency and a factor of 3 in generation, which technically is very doable in a generation.

    These numbers are actually known since before the 1980. One of the problem that no one seems to understand these things is actually people like the author of this article, who use numbers, science and math to obfuscate instead of to illuminate.

    Now let’s talk about the real problems, which are political.

    Just my 2 cents,
    or ~ 1 microJ (which is one of the estimates of the energy usage of a 10 kB e-mail)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, saying you are a physicist and handwaving is not a rebuttal.

      Energy use in the US is still rising:


      This CFR article talks around the problem but 5G implementation is expected to take a lot of energy, so the powers that be are pushing to go in the wrong direction on important fronts:


      Please tell me about any significant conservation efforts underway in the US. The big ones are things like the military and our use of cars, and there aren’t easy solutions for many of them. There is some low hanging fruit like better insulation but that won’t get you far.

      And your comment on Germany suggests you aren’t current. See Der Spiegel: German Failure on the Road to a Renewable Future

      1. a different chris

        Thanks. Occasionally somebody needs to listen to us engineers, which Tverberg is so not one. Stealing a quote from above:

        >From reading this and some of Tverberg’s other work, it seems she is operating solely in the context of our current economy.

        Yes. Tverberg is a font of conventional wisdom. Is there something she posted, say 2015 or thereabouts, that we can look at to evaluate her prognostication abilities re “green” energy? I suspect they are not good – not that I’m saying anything but the major reproductive belt-tightening the young-uns are now doing is going to help, but she isn’t any use either.

        Shorter me: Since our politics are incapable of processing anything else then yeah we’re doomed, but only a little of the doom is because of physics, and certainly not the “physics” presented in this article.

    2. OldOwl

      It looks like my last reply got eaten by gremlins, so I try again. (Reply to Yves)

      Everything you quote are political issues, not technical ones.

      Could you please be so kind and clarify, which of my arguments are hand waving.
      I thought I’ve used real numbers, which are all referenced by sources and can be easily verified with a few minutes of GOOGLE use, and a little bit of math for making my point.

      If you did find a mistake in my evaluation, I’m happy to correct it.

      So please let’s go back and discuss the real problems, which are political !

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Bullshit. Asserting you are not handwaving is another handwave.

        You are now arguing in bad faith, a violation of house rules. Please tell me how Germany’s failure to get as far as it intended to in its POLITICAL commitment to renewables, is a POLITICAL failure.

        Let us start with the fact that we have to use fossil fuels to convert to renewables and to re-do roads and housing to be more energy efficient. Did you miss that the US is a physically dispersed country? Pray tell, how do we get rid of cars or greatly reduce use of them. This is not a mere political problem, this is a massive “existing conditions” problem.

        Oh, and the cost of new housing (which we would have to build to increase population densities) is >10x the annual energy cost of a house. So we’d be front loading greenhouse gas emissions.

        I could go on. You’ve provided nothing but hot air and that is not on. This site is not a chat board. Commenting here is a privilege, not a right.

  17. The Rev Kev

    Is geothermal power an option that should have been mentioned? Certainly the potential of tapping the heat in the earth should be considered if it does not result in underground pollutants being released.

    1. jefemt

      You bet. Small scale, as well. Simple gradient-based heat differential— earth = 55 degrees, and the ambient air is generally above or below that 55 degree benchmark. SO, heat exchangers. Whether one lives in a cold place or a hot place.

      Combine with super-insulated homes with ultra-efficient electric appliances, roof-top solar, and a conservation-oriented lifestyle— it’s very doable.

      One thing that fascinates me— folks have money ‘invested’ in Wall Street and ‘markets’, and can’t fathom throwing $25K to make their home have these attributes (insulation, sealing home, solar, mini-split heat exchangers and geothermal heat pumps and fresh-air exchange.

      It’s not just a lack of political will at the top, its also a lack of personal individual will.

      I am Judging and Sniping. Apologies… BUT, there are a lot of concerned folks who have lots of ‘money’ in the ‘bank’ who simply will not make those very meaningful changes. And if those of relative affluence did so, it would make a difference. Increased fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet, even of a magnitude of 2-3% increased efficiency, has made a very large impact on energy use and demand.
      It also would warm the cockles of my cold heart to see some coins leave the pockets of the financial markets, re-patriated into individual homes and communities. But that’s just me.

      This article has been great fodder for thought!

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        It’s getting late ( or “early”) so I can’t say much just now. It is a lack of personal will for some, a lack of personal money and energy for others . . . due to multiple part-time-job lives leaving too little personal energy to address these issues and too little personal money to address them with. There is nothing those others can do about any of this until the social and physical society is re-engineered all around them to make such conservation living even possible for them to pursue.

        But back to those “some” for whom it “is” a matter of personal will. It may be a matter of deep demoralization, deep demotivation, etc. It may be a deep lack of information fostered by the anti-information society and culture they live in. These are some heavy cinder-block walls that these “some” would have to ram-punch-kick their way through to get to the ability to do conservation living.

        But some of those “some” are already right now today in a position to do some genuine and visible conservation living. If all those who could do so, and know they could do so, were to do so . . . their example and visible knowledge and transferable access to knowledge might get the rest of those “some” able to do the same.

        And if all of the people who could do conservation living really were doing conservation living, they might co-organize with eachother into a visible subculture and then support a political-conquest movement on that subculture, and begin to force the issue of general social re-engineering for general public and private conservation living.

    2. Eclair

      My spouse’s cousins in Sweden all have geo-thermal heating. They regard us as a bit barbarian for using natural gas. But, a geo-thermal system, as well as being quite expensive up-front (requires lots of digging and trenching), always needs a reliable source of electricity to keep the pumps running. All year round.

      My brother-in law, in western New York (157 days of sunlight annually, versus 205 US average; and 278 days of sunlight in Orange County, California), installed a geothermal system to heat and cool his enormous, insulated garage, including a heated concrete floor. His electric bill can run as high as $200 per month. For a (*&#!) garage!

  18. Birkeland

    Missing in all this discussion: HYDROGEN. Fuel Cells once, a couple of generations ago, were dismissed as uneconomic because H2 required fossil fuels for its production. The difference in direct cost (even disregarding environmental costs!!!) between fossil and renewable energy has now quite reversed that calculus. Alas, the dead end of battery technology has completely eclipsed fuel-cell technology and become another mountain of Sunk Costs obstructing the path to economic energy storage.

  19. Felix FitzRoy

    OldOwl is right – Very misleading and superficial article – ignores rigorous estimates of transition to zero carbon by real experts such as Mark Jacobson, see

    Tverberg never mentions how continental, high voltage, low -loss DC smart grids could smooth demand, avoid overbuilding and much storage. Necessary switch from unsustainable industrial -to sustainable regenerative- agriculture (and lower meat consumption) could cut fossil fuel use by 25%, (and sequester carbon in soil organic mater). Similarly for urban cycling and public transit instead of most private car use. Surplus nighttime wind generation could produce hydrogen for heavy road transport – obstacles are all political, reinforced by pseudo-scientific critics such as Tverberg.

    Co-benefits of transition are also ignored – 7 – 9 million annual deaths worldwide from FF pollution, 600,000 in Europe. Health cost savings would ultimately pay for most of the transition investment cost.

    1. OldOwl

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Just to clarify, I don’t want to create the impression that the energy problems can be solved by technology alone, allowing us to keep our lifestyles the same.

      There needs to be a mix of changes in lifestyle (land use, traffic, vacation, … (the list goes on and on) and technological improvements to solve the problem of energy use on a finite planet.

      Additionally, as many have pointed out, the current population growth rates are unsustainable. This planet will definitely not be able to sustain >10 billion people with a lifestyle that uses ~300 GJ/a like someone in the US does.

      I agree with you there will be many extra benefits by changing to a less energy intensive society, which are typically not accounted for in the usual studies.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      This study has already been debunked by an authoritative body:

      On Monday, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published a scathing critique of Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson’s analysis, which claims a full transition of all sectors of the U.S. energy system to wind, water, and solar power by 2050 is “technically and economically feasible with little downside.”

      The article, authored by 21 leading energy researchers from institutions including U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Jacobson’s own Stanford University, found that Jacobson’s analysis “used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions.” Thus, they conclude, Jacobson’s findings on the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of a full transition to wind, water, and solar “are not supported by adequate and realistic analysis and do not provide a reliable guide to whether and at what cost such a transition might be achieved.”


      You ought to know better. You should be ashamed of yourself for posting an article I found was tripe with less than 1 minute of searching on Google.

      Stop misleading readers to score points.

  20. David B Harrison

    The problem here is simple;materialism.I find it fascinating that everybody involved with sites like this complain about various political entities being purely self serving and then refuse to look in the mirror and realize that they too are being self serving.To me the most evil word in the English language is can’t.What man has made man can unmake.The solutions are already out there.Lewis Mumfords’ garden cities for example.We are producing too much worthless crap(the propaganda minister for the retail federation said 80% of what you see on retail shelves never sells and as a retail worker I believe it).We have built an empire of waste and wonder why it is a soulless materialistic hell.We refuse to love our fellow human beings so that we can love things.We are now in a race to see which destroys us first global warming or social breakdown.Look in the mirror(I have) and yourself what is happiness.Every major study about happiness on Earth list three common things: being with other people,helping other people,and physical activity.There’s your foundation for change.

    1. lordkoos

      While individual behaviors are a problem, the real problem is a total failure of leadership. It’s not like American “consumers” are offered a lot of choices by the current system. The choices are there but you have to work too hard to find them and most people are too busy making ends meet. Under the current social structure it is quite difficult to do things like living off the grid or doing without plastic.

      1. David B Harrison

        It has been said that people get the leaders they deserve,that having been said,most of the people on this site didn’t choose those leaders.

    2. JE

      Yes! This. We need to change how we measure success. Ending the marketing of consumerism would be a good start. Our values are out of whack and simply electrifying our existing lifestyle is both very very difficult as explained above and a terrible waste. Literally in terms of crap products and figuratively in terms of the opportunity to redefine our society, values and seek actual happiness.

      1. David B Harrison

        It’s a matter of what are you willing to give up and what are you willing to gain(which is the first question you ask yourself when you embark to make the world a better place).

  21. chuck roast

    Kill your car!!
    Trust me…the sun will rise tomorrow…everything will be OK.
    Walk. Take the bus (just bring a seat pad). Get a bike (wear a helmet and use a blinker). Hitchhike (wear a nice dress shirt; look like a citizen; take off your sunglasses and your hat; use a nice sign that can be seen for 100′, and no hitchhiking in Massachusetts – the Massholes would not piss on you if you were on fire).
    Enjoy your wonderful new life!

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      This advice could be useful to some, but not to all. If you have a minimum-wage job in one of America’s social-class Johannesbergs where housing of any kind is so expensive you are forced to live in one of the social-class Sowetos which surround those social-class Johannesbergs, and there is no bus-service getting you over the unwalkable unbikeable distance from your home to your work; then killing your car means losing your job.

      In this no money = you die society, that means you die.

      1. David B Harrison

        True but no one is even doing simple remedies.Perhaps people could pool their resources together and build cheap apartment or housing complexes for each other.A refusal to work together on the simplest things will not accomplish anything.How about a community and nation of we instead of me.

  22. juliania

    “[2] Depending upon burned biomass in winter is an option, but we already know that this path is likely to lead to massive deforestation.”

    I don’t think we know this at all. For many years in New Mexico it has been possible for individuals to harvest dead and downed wood from the local mountaints. This didn’t affect the forests at all, since it wasn’t a big corporate clearing operation. This year for the first time those forests are declared off limits. This will be a hardship for the poor people of New Mexico, some who have relied on this time honored process for income, and others who supplement the solar energy we hope to benefit from in our houses over the winter by having a small woodburning stove in operation. I don’t know how many less wealthy New Mexicans will cope this winter, with the forests now banned.

    What did affect our forests was climate change and the droughts accompanying that. The massive fires wrongly attributed to forest service practices ‘preventing’ them are actually due to global warming. And to ‘prescribed burns’ getting woefully out of hand.

    The Chinese have a good way of testing new ideas – they put them in practice in a small way to see if they work. The US should do that. And in a small way, individual wood gathering processes have worked here in New Mexico for a considerable length of time.

  23. Youngblood

    Livy – Nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus.

    We can endure neither our vices nor the remedies for them.

    Technology can at least ease our descent from the current energy-expensive way of life to an impending future state where less energy usage will be imposed on all of us by climate change, economic limits, and geopolitical conflict. The author’s analysis is correct that what many people are expecting of a GND would not be adequate, as many do not understand the need to overbuild capacity in an energy infrastructure based on renewables. But that does not mean that the challenge of a transition away from fossil fuels cannot be overcome.

    I live offgrid. I have a 5 kW solar array and batteries for 2-3 days at minimal energy usage. When the batteries are charged and house energy consumption is low, I don’t do anything with my excess capacity. I have overbuilt. There is no harm to the panels by not drawing power from them when it is not needed. I agree that the prospect of overbuilding, on a global scale, will be expensive and have its own environmental consequences in terms of resource extraction and material fabrication, assembly, transport, and installation/maintenance. Nevertheless, to do so seems much less bad than an alternative of not installing such infrastructure, either in a business as usual scenario, or a resort to BECCS technologies trying to thwart the effects (but not the process) of climate change, or just drawing down to some sort of neo-Stone Age of reduced energy production/use.

    Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t do it. We can, and we should.

  24. Skip in DC

    I was recently beaten up by waves on the Delaware beaches and struggled around some rip tides. It left me wondering if the green new deal proposals include much research into cost-effective generation from waves and tides, cost-effective being a relative term as the climate noose tightens. I wondered if it’s possible to construct depressions that create rip tides through funnels with generators, perhaps with grills to protect the hapless. Unless the moon defects, tides are pretty reliable, and much of the world’s population lives in proximity to coastal areas.

    In the little things add up category, slapping some bright white and UV reflective goop on the flat, sloping parts of my roof in DC made a huge difference in the air conditioning requirement, a reduction by at least half, with an assist from a couple fans and a slight personal adjustment of family members’ expectations. If done widespread where the climate warrants it – most roof designs could come up with bright white materials even for shingles – the cumulative reduction in air conditioning demand would be more than small beans. I wish someone would figure out ways to cheaply whiten road surface materials, what a difference that would make in the urban heat sinks.

    Not every measure taken requires reinventing the wheel.

    1. Tomonthebeach

      Skip, you read my mind – I had the same reaction – where is the mention of tidal hydro.

      While I found this essay informative, it makes me wonder what else it ignored. Tides do all the heavy lifting, all one has to do is pour the tables, connect to some gears and generators, and let global warming do all the work. In addition, MIT and several other schools are exploring alternatives to lithium batteries that are low polluting and renewable – R&D funding is a problem perhaps exacerbated by monopolies that do not want competition.

  25. JohnB

    If you overbuild the system (and you want/need to), just find productive uses for the excess energy.

    Use the excess energy for carbon sequestration, even for producing biofuel that can then be used for aviation and/or carbon-neutral backup power. If it’s produced from surplus energy, why would it be expensive? (the article assumes it would be, without citing why)

    The assumption of oil use in every step of manufacturing in the present is valid, but we need rapid mass-substitution and inclusion of sequestration in exactly the area of manufacturing, so it’s not valid to assume that stays the same.

    If the GND is to level out differences between the rich and poor, it has to do it by eating capital costs of e.g. retrofitting residential buildings, drilling ground sourced heat pumps, putting an equitable amount of solar on every residential building etc. (with local storage and enough panels, that can both power+heat every home off-grid, even in the middle of winter) – it has to bypass ‘the market’, not rely on market-solutions – so I don’t like how these articles frame the cost to consumers, as I think a good number of those costs must be footed by the GND.

    The technology is not ready for all of this – in fact, it’s not even ready for a mass rollout of solar+storage, simply because of the need for substituting rare earths first – but that’s what the R&D from the GND is for.

    We don’t have the necessary technology today, but we do have enough of the pieces to begin reshaping our economic/power infrastructure, while we perfect the tech. We do need an unprecedented and urgent publicly-funded R&D effort to do this, though – many orders of magnitude greater than we have in private industry at present.

    There is some low-hanging fruit out there, in terms of material substitution and storage – and we have to pursue that at an enormous scale, urgently – so that proper worldwide mass-production, without costly and polluting resource constraints, can be undertaken to properly transition energy production/infrastructure, very rapidly.

  26. Ignacio

    I din’t read the long post although I would like, but scrolled the article and got hung on the graphic about new vehicle vs public transport use in Norway which I think doesn’t add much. The text self explains the issue: currently EVs are luxury items that is why they aren’t a solution. The moment EVs are mainstream, if it ever comes, the effect seen in the graphic will disappear. It is circumstantial and doesn’t hold for long term analysis.

  27. Peter Dorman

    The OP is largely correct, within an unavoidable margin of uncertainty about future technological developments. What’s missing is the quantitative connection to a carbon budget consistent with climate stabilization at or below 2 degrees C. I won’t go through the exercise here, but the bottom lines are:

    1. The use of fossil fuels will need to be actively suppressed. It isn’t enough to promote alternatives. That won’t work because of the reasons set out above, and because we live in a world of rising energy demand — more renewables and more fossil fuels. My preference is for a carbon permit system, comprehensive with no loopholes.

    2. The expansion of renewables is an essential part of the solution (I’m tempted to put that word in scare quotes), and that’s why a GND is necessary, but to get through this we’ll need massive changes throughout the economy in energy use. This can only happen through a dramatic increase in energy prices. We now know that energy has been radically underpriced for centuries, and to correct this within a few decades will be wrenching. We’ve built the wrong capital stock, we have the wrong geography, everything that stems from mispriced energy is wrong and has to be changed. The linchpin is rapidly increasing the price of energy. And that can be ethically and politically viable only if we use those enormous revenues to defray the costs for the majority of the world’s population. On this point most of the GND advocacy is a handicap.

    I will have a paper on this at the economics meetings in San Diego in January and will be happy to share it when it’s drafted.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      James Hansen has suggested a way to actively suppress the use of fossil fuels, suppressing coal hardest of all. And that is a carbon fee-tax charged at the wellhead or minemouth .. . which must be paid by the would-be seller before he can sell that fuel onward to the “first buyer” in the chain of buy-sell-buy-sell-use-gone. Every seller-reseller-user along the way would be absolutely free to “pass along” the price of the fee-tax first charged at very first point-of-sale into the system. In fact the plan reQUIRES that passing along of costs to be able to work at all.

      The plan would be to start with in inconvenient fee-tax, slowly and steadily rising to irksome, painful, torturous and finally utterly exterminative. The goal would be to price-exterminate these industries in a manner acceptable to the Aztec Market Gods. Because Markets.

      This could work in a big country like America IF America were to ban economic contact with any country which did not adopt the exact same fee-tax at the exact same rates and timetables. That would protect America from “carbon dumping” by America’s trading-enemies and by American Class-Enemy bussiness operations in those trading-enemies, using those trading-enemies as export aggression platforms against the American body political-economic.

  28. TD

    The political issues surrounding any massive changes are not a trivial thing. In most of the industrial democracies, we seem to be trending towards legislative stalemate and fruitless conflict over peripheral issues. Any politicians that propose restrictions to the standard of living of a substantial portion of the population will tend to become political history in short order. That is why stating that the problems are mainly political is, in fact, mostly hand-waving.

    In addition, global trade will come under fire simply because the first countries to move towards sustainability in their industries will be clobbered by cheap imports from the coal-burners.

    To wit,

    – China burns 50% of the world’s coal and two-thirds of their power generation comes from coal. In the process, they generate 30% of the GHG.
    – If you carefully read their policy pronouncements, they promise to stop increasing the output of greenhouse gases by 2035.
    – Most of the components in wind turbines now come from China, and it takes several years of operation before their carbon footprint achieves zero.
    -Therefore, import controls become necessary and money costs go up quite a lot.

    I see no signs that the political classes intend anything except pious pronouncements any time soon and anyone who feels this is easily solved is perhaps asleep, perchance to dream.

  29. xkeyscored

    Just seen this. Not the magic solution to everything, but a small step?
    We Just Made a Breakthrough on a Genius Concept For Eco-Friendly Batteries – Science Alert

    “The material costs and environmental impacts that we envisage from our new concept are much lower than what we see today, making them feasible for large-scale usage, such as solar cell parks, or storage of wind energy, for example,” says physicist Patrik Johansson, from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

  30. David in Santa Cruz

    The Green New Deal makes terrific sense as a jobs program, which just might promote greater social cohesion and stability in North America and Europe. Not so much sense as a recipe to ameliorate Climate Change. Climate scientists tell us that most of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere has been added since 1990.

    This has coincided with massive population growth in South and East Asia. After a global decline in population growth from 1963-1990, the growth rate accelerated during 1990-2015, coinciding with the massive growth of carbon emissions.


    There were 3 Billion human beings alive in 1960. The global population has increased by roughly 1 Billion people every 12 years since then — to 7.7 Billion people living today. Nearly 6 Billion of these people live in Asia and Africa, and those two regions account for nearly 80 percent of the world’s population.

    Even if North America and Europe implement a GND (which I support as a jobs program), it is questionable what difference it will make for Climate Change if South and East Asia, along with Africa and Latin America, continue on their current resource consumption trajectory — which by all evidence, the ideologies prevailing in those regions suggest that they will.

    The Jackpot is coming.

      1. David in Santa Cruz

        It may be political theater in terms of Climate Change, but the GND surely beats the current Jobs Program: war-without-end keeping missile factories humming by turning brown people into red mist over. and over, and over, ad infinitum

    1. lordkoos

      Part of any Green New Deal should be repairing and replacing America’s aging infrastructure, which is a twofer, creating jobs and improving the commons.

  31. Colin

    This article seems to about about solving climate change in general, rather than the Green New Deal specifically. A better title would be something like “Why climate change is unsolvable,” or “Why we are all f*ked”.

  32. Jeremy Grimm

    I believe the Green New Deal as AOC proposed it — ref GF October 3, 2019 at 11:17 am in this post — is quite simply too-good-to-be-true, and too broad to be meaningfully actionable. Gail Tverberg nicely dismantles the practicality of claims that solar and wind and what-have-you with batteries, electric cars, efficiencies and more what-have-yous can replace burning of fossil fuels. I believe the Green New Deal is too-good-to-be-true, cannot be made actionable, and as Tverberg elaborates — is not practicable. Is it overly cynical to wonder what gives the Green New Deal its long legs? I am already more than a little skeptical about AOC given some of her political moves — like her change of relations with Pelosi — although I suppose a newbie in Congress has little choice but defer to a leader of their party.

    I am very suspicious of how earlier legislation favorable to renewable energy found its way into the law, given my belief that nothing has come into U.S. law for many years that didn’t benefit some big financial interests — and these interests had to have more pull than the utility companies whose ox they gored. Who are these behind the scenes heroes of Renewables and Greeness? Little things like Standford professor Mark Jacobson’s research papers [https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/08/50states-renewable-energy-060815/], organizations like [www.thesolutionsproject.org] — the Solutions Project is affiliated with Prof. Jacobson in some way, and companies like Eight Minute [https://www.8minute.com/] suggest some Big Money is behind the renewables and Green New Deal. Too-good-to-be-true, too glossy, too glib — all make me suspicious. I suppose a place to start might be a point-by-point breakdown of Jacobson’s paper “100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States”, and its critique in PNAS (Clack et al.) “Stanford University Professor Mark Z. Jacobson Sues Prestigious Team of Scientists for Debunking 100% Renewables” [https://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/11/1/stanford-university-professor-mark-z-jacobson-sues-prestigious-team-of-scientists-for-debunking-100-renewables] coupled with a detailed review of Tverberg’s writings. After spending time in the past checking into some climate denial ‘scientific’ literature I think I’ll just stick with Tverberg.

    This is not to suggest nothing can or should be done about energy or Climate Chaos. I prefer more mundane actions that deal with specific problems and can deliver what they promise. I could grow slightly optimistic if we manage to pass a local ordinance banning leaf blowers, or thinking big — banning herbicide drying of oats and other grains, or maybe a program to require triple redundant inventories of key components of the GRID.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      @Jeremy Grimm: In addition to the PNAS critique and Gail Tverberg, you might consider reading the “Energy Matters” blog at http://euanmearns.com/. Unfortunately, their rate of article production has dropped markedly since Roger Andrews (whom Tverberg quoted in her article) passed away, but there are still plenty of good articles on the site. In particular, they’ve excelled at “supply vs demand” analyses in the time domain, which are critical to understanding energy storage requirements.

      One particular gem is the Roger Andrew’s breakdown of Jacobson’s “worldwide energy roadmap”: http://euanmearns.com/the-cost-of-100-renewables-the-jacobson-et-al-2018-study/. Key quote is as follows:

      I’ve been complaining about how renewable energy studies tend to underestimate the massive amounts of storage that will be needed to support high levels of intermittent renewables penetration, yet J2018’s global storage requirements for cases A and B amount to more than 15,000 terawatt-hours, an astronomical number.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Thanks for the links. It will take me time to absorb and assess the content but I love the image from the Matrix used in the page header of the Euan Mearns blog.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          I took a quick look at the second link you gave me — it goes into the latest paper from Jacobson and links to the PNAS critique while also putting some numbers to Jacobson’s assertions. THANKS!

          I remain very suspicious of the who behind all the glossy ‘greeness’. [And did Jacobson come up with the idea and wherewithal to sue those in PNAS who critiqued his 2016 paper?]

  33. Andrew Thomas

    All of this seems to point to the very grim conclusion that the GND needed to be introduced in 1989, which was the latest date anyone can honestly say we didn’t know this was a CRISIS. It is simply too late now. Hydrogen and carbon removal and technical fixes are pipedreams. I am reminded of the lyrical coda of Carly Simon’s song Anticipation. “These are the good old days.” She was right then, and more right than ever now. We have little time left. Hug the people you love and tell them and live that love. It is truly all that matters now. In some ways, it is all that ever mattered.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Was it clear in 1989 “this was a CRISIS”? Action by 1989 or sooner would definitely have helped mitigate the serious of the present Climate Chaos we face — but was the issue really so clear then? I don’t recall it held a presence in the minds of most of the populace as I like to believe it does now — nor am I certain the scientific community was as unified.

      1. Andrew Thomas

        Jeremy, I really think it was. There were a few more outliers, by by that time the science was very clear to those not in the pay of the fossil fuel industry. The savage counterattack on the real science was so reminiscent of what happened in the 1960s to the real science on tobacco use it was eerie. Like they were just repeating the same strategy, which, as it turned out, was what they did. We were told then this had to be fixed within a decade, and, more ominously, if we waited until the effects could be actually felt and seen, it would be too late. Two years later, by the time of the Rio conference, the doubt machine was rolling along and the US has been largely in its thrall ever since.

  34. buermann

    “None of the researchers studying the usefulness of wind and solar have understood the need for overbuilding, or alternatively, paying backup electricity providers adequately for their services.”

    I feel with these anti-GND posts like I’m reading CATO/denier pieces from the late 90s (“gee golly willickers these sources are intermittent! it’ll never work!”), because there’s never been a time when it hasn’t been absolutely dead simple obvious that the supplies are indeed intermittent and to rely entirely on renewables you’ll need some combination of overcapacity and storage, depending on the prices of either.

    Denmark’s grid is 50% wind at this point and frequently overproduces, so Norway buys that and stores it in its hydro system, then sells it back when Denmark underproduces. Denmark has, minus the taxes that make it the most expensive (pretty good answer to the rebound effect from higher efficiencies, if you ask me), some of the cheapest power in the Europe. Turns out intermittency is a relatively simple grid management problem.

    Why this author relies on storage costs of the most expensive commercial battery technology is beyond me, Li-ion batteries are all going to be needed in the transportation sector for one thing and if you’re not putting a battery on wheels then deep cycle lead acid batteries — for which a well developed closed loop recycling market already exists, unlike Li-ion — are half the cost. As some other commenters have noted gravity storage systems (as dead simple as attaching an induction motor to a wheel and lifting heavy) will last far longer with lower maintenance costs than any imaginable battery system.

    Because almost nobody is anywhere near the boundary condition where over-capacity becomes a sufficient challenge there is no market for new mass storage tech. If over-capacity is too rare for the market to justify building storage you end up with negative spot prices to pay for curtailment: this is why you hear about Denmark or California paying somebody to take their electricity, because it costs money to shut down and restart fossil and nuke generation. In the meantime tech like ARES gravity storage systems can only develop in the tiny market for ancillary services.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      This is not an anti-GND post. It is a post that questions whether GND is practicable as advertised. In discussing GND the intermittency of solar and wind, and hydro is often swept under the rug. Although you find it obvious that renewables will need some combination of overcapacity and storage — I am not sure it is true this obvious consideration is given the attention it deserves in many of the feasibility and costing studies for renewable energy. When Tverberg works the numbers, they don’t work out particularly nicely. I am happy for Denmark and Norway but something is missing — the GRID, power demand and usage patterns of Denmark and Norway are not the same as in the U.S. Simply tossing them into your argument doesn’t contribute much one way or another. Your assertion: “Turns out intermittency is a relatively simple grid management problem” — hardly strikes me as obvious or well substantiated, and runs quite opposite to the experience of engineers managing the U.S. Grid. And where does Tverberg indicate she is discussing Li-ion batteries?

      Do you really believe all the promises of the GND are physically possible and are as inexpensive and effective as promised, and will create all sorts of great jobs, stimulate industry, and right the injustices “promoting justice and equity” and repair the harm done to “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, de-industrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the un-housed, people with disabilities, and youth (“frontline and vulnerable communities”)? Do you really believe solar and wind power supplemented by hydro, wave-action, nuclear and geothermal power will be able to somehow satisfy the current demands for power? If so, I sincerely hope your assessment of matters is correct. But forgive me if I am doubtful, and remain unconvinced by your attempts at an argument.

      1. buermann

        “where does Tverberg indicate she is discussing Li-ion batteries?”

        A Tesla/Solar City system installed on the island of Ta’u is necessarily using Teslsa power packs built with Li-ion batteries.

        If you can scale up wind and solar with gravity storage for a population of roughly 100 million (Denmark, Germany, and Norway, which collectively would be approaching a 0 emissions grid at this point if Germany had used their solar installations to replace coal instead of nuclear) it’s hard to see why you couldn’t do it for 1 billion.

    2. It bites but the truth always has

      Holly cow, do you even know the population of Denmark? it’s not even a medium size city for China, India, or most of South America. Denmark started producing wind turbines as industrial policy 45 years ago, figuring the market was too small to have competitor, and it’s taken them this long to build out and take advantage of Norway’s overbuilt hydro (dirty industry moved to China), total capacity of which is less that half of one of China’s EPR 2 unit nuclear power stations. China builds in one month more coal fired power than Demarks entire grid.

      You need better opiate than that to calm the masses.

  35. lylr

    As hinted in posts electrolysising water and then either making it into methane or using it directly will solve the storage issue. Using methane has the advantage that a lot of infrastructure is already in place. In addition if one were to do as some suggest and pump the O2 down storage reservoirs then both the fuel and oxidizer would come from electrolysis. If you put the electrolysis facilities where gas plants are you have the transmission infrastructure already in place. It turns out that the Sabitier process (hydrogen + co2 goes to methane plus water is also exothermic, so it could run all the time with H2 storage between the
    electrolysis and the other process. In addition I think the next step is that old electric car batteries would be
    used to provide home storage, since the rates of discharge in a car would be far higthe her, than home use. So batteries that can no longer handle the car demands could handle the home needs. So you would peak demand shave for . 5-9 period with the old car batteries. It would likely mean peak shifting running dryers to late at night, as well as doing as was done 100 years ago when traction companies would offer very low rates in the 12 am to 6 am period to other customers as the street cars and interurbans were not running at that time.

  36. Titus

    Beyond the merits of the the actual article posted, and Yves wisdom to post, I find the comments to be incredible in both their depth and breadth. I do believe that, this post and comments taken together may represent more intelligent thoughtful expression on the subject then had ever been expressed anywhere. I find this both sad that yet again our leaders fail us, but with great hope that so many have expressed such intelligence and passion. To Yves, I thank you for your thoughtful and light touch in moderation and encouraging intelligence expression. As Lambert might say the quiet parts have now been said. If we are to deal with climate disturbance, it is in this manner we proceed. God, today was good.

  37. Hoppy



    Small victories celebrated :)

    But we must convince our families, our neighbors, and our communities too.

Comments are closed.