Will Clean Energy Kickstart A New Resource War?

Yves here. This post on how the transition to green energy will upend geopolitical relations is far too short to do more than pose a few questions. But those questions are worth considering and I hope the commentariat will add some more meat.

By Haley Zaremba, a writer and journalist based in Mexico City with extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the Bay Area. Originally published at OilPrice

Before a United States-owned oil well drilled into what no one yet knew was the largest single source of petroleum on the planet on March 3, 1938, Saudi Arabia was a sparsely populated country of desert nomads. The nation’s largest source of revenue was from Islamic pilgrims. To the average person outside of the muslim world, Saudi Arabia was an easy overlooked patch of sand associated with little more than Arabian Nights.

Just 12 years after that first discovery, on the eve of the Cold War, Saudi Arabia’s international status had been so radically transformed that U.S. President Harry Truman was pleading allegiance to the Saudi King. “No threat to your Kingdom,” the president wrote to King Ibn Saud, “could occur which would not be a matter of immediate concern to the United States.” We live in a world shaped, mapped, and powered by oil. How many of the world’s alliances, conflicts, invasions, and eras of prosperity and poverty can be traced back to oil or lack thereof? “In the modern era, no other commodity has played such a pivotal role in driving political and economic turmoil, and there is every reason to expect this to continue,” read a Brookings Institution study. The world’s geopolitical map has been drawn and redrawn by oil over the last century.

After the world began to turn around the Gulf States the balance was upset and recalibrated by the United States’ shale revolution which flooded the market with cheap crude which loosened the Middle East’s chokehold on the global energy industry seemingly overnight. And now the geopolitical power of the shale revolution, too, is fading as the flood of cheap crude out of the Permian Basin slows and peak oil demand is suddenly upon us.

What will the world look like when oil is no longer a leading force in global geopolitics? Some of the world’s leading research organizations, universities, and even some countries are hard at work trying to answer just that question. The Rand Corporation, which has been designing war games alongside the Pentagon for nearly 70 years, is now aiming its arsenal of brainiacs toward the newest pressing geopolitical question: what will the green energy transition do to the world?

Now that China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter (by a huge margin) is on board with global decarbonization targets, the European Union is producing more clean energy than carbon-based energy, and the United States has elected a president who features climate change and clean energy initiatives as a focal point of his platform, it’s not a question of if, but when, oil will become a thing of the past and we have a new geopolitical sheriff in town.

Gaming out what this will mean for peace and conflict is a tricky challenge. On one hand, clean energy will be a democratizing resource which allows countries to produce their own energy and become energy secure and sovereign regardless of what natural resources they sit on top of. “After all, a latter-day Saddam Hussein would have little reason to invade Kuwait to seize its solar parks, as he did in 1990 for its oil wells, because there would no longer be anything special about Kuwait’s patch of desert,” points out Bloomberg Green. “It would be cheaper to buy panels to put on his own.”

On the other hand, many countries are sure to be left behind in the new green world order. New struggles, inequities, and competitions will arise over access to technology, infrastructure, finance, and a new set of world-building raw materials. In the near future, rare earth metals–needed to construct clean energy technologies such as photovoltaic solar panels and electric vehicle batteries–will be the new oil. As of now, China controls over 90 percent of some of these essential ingredients and has shown that it’s more than willing to wield that power for political gain and intimidation.

What’s more, if the bottom falls out of the oil markets before the world’s petro-states can diversify their economies, economic turmoil and conflict are sure to ensue, opening up power vacuums and clearing the way for violent radicalism to flourish. “Beyond Petrostates: The burning need to cut oil dependence in the energy transition,” a new study by U.K.-based think tank Carbon Tracker found that 40 fossil-fuel dependent nations around the world will lose more than half of their oil and gas revenues if we meet global climate targets, which in turn “could destabilize governments and leave the likes of Nigeria or Iraq unable to afford security to deal with threats from terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram and Islamic State.”

In order for a successful and peaceful green transition, richer countries will have to plug these financial holes, concluded a February report by the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s hard to see a smooth, rapid energy transition taking place in the current competitive and nationalistic environment,” said Bloomberg.  Making countries more energy-independent will not necessarily create the conditions necessary to lessen that competitive and nationalistic environment. The kind of global trade that oil encourages makes countries more interdependent which can actually dampen appetites for conflict.

What is clear is that the green energy transition will require cooperation on a global scale the likes of which we’ve never seen. Climate change could be the great uniter if the global community is able to set aside political and geopolitical squabbles in the interest of combatting this common enemy. If not, global warming will likely be accompanied by great and accelerating global conflict.

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  1. Halcyon

    Oh, I feel the cleantech resource war is already over. China won it years ago with hardly any other parties firing a shot.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I wouldn’t be so sure. China has dominated solar through sheer scale, but there are many other links in a clean tech chain – Europe leads on wind (especially off-shore), South Korea and Germany are very strong in electricity infrastructure and EV’s, Japan is strong in batteries. The US may be behind, but the sheer potential size of the US market and its research edge gives it leverage to catch up in many areas.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        But only if we can seccede from the Free Trade System and re-protectionize our own economy.

        Otherwise, we will always be suppressed by carbon dumping and green dumping from all the slavery havens and pollution havens of the world.

    2. Alex Morfesis

      Because horse shoes can only be made with iron and the world never evolves and there can be no possible other materials which could ever be found to substitute for the current batch of elements…there is not much in this world which can not price itself out of a market or a profit… Manhattan was traded for what was imagined a never to end chokehold on “valuable” bitcoin…urgh…i mean spices from that little island in Asia…let them eat the moment…

    3. JE

      It depends. In regards to rare earths, regions outside of China have deposits, including the USA. We’ve let development languish because of the high cost of developing these deposits in nations with environmental protections. Nobody can compete with China’s price, so here we are.

      Regarding China’s dominance of solar manufacture, there are still emerging technologies like perovskite panels that the USA could potentially be a leader in. However the toxic materials currently used in such panels (lead for example) aren’t all that green.

      Overall, the so called green revolution has a large potential to create a lot of pollution and environmental destruction. Especially in a resource war type of scenario where environmental protections are rolled back for expediency. The sulfide ore mines being proposed in Northern Minnesota for example have the potential to be ramrodded through for national security as sources for nickel and catalytic metals needed for electric cars etc. Until we can accept the need to rethink our society, the push to keep the wheels on (literally) our energy intensive, car based “western” lifestyle the prospect of resource war is real.

      1. Anthony G Stegman

        In my view the so-called green revolution will die in its cradle. Primarily because it is not possible to have a truly “green” economy”. Photo-voltaic, wind, geothermal, hydro-electric, and nuclear energy are not at all “green” . Rather than transitioning to all electric vehicles, we need to sharply reduce private vehicle use everywhere in the world, regardless of how it is powered. Collectively, we all need to produce less and consume less, thereby requiring less energy. This means downsizing our economies and downsizing our lifestyles. Will we do it? Probably not, but it is our only real choice if we are to avert climate catastrophe and ecocide.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          I’ll downscale my consumption after I see the richer-than-me classes have been forced to downscale their consumption all the way down to the level I am supposed to downscale to.

          Otherwise not.

          Except if I can do certain kinds of downscaling which can be weaponised in such a way as to inflict economic damage and destruction directly on the richer-than-me classes.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Its a complicated issue, but in general I think a drive to renewables will significantly reduce conflict, for two reasons:

    1. Wind and sunshine is far more equitably spread out throughout the globe than oil and gas.
    2. The need for expanding grids for greater stability will drive a need to promote good governance to secure the necessary physical linkages.

    With (1) I think its self evident that renewable based grids are less dependant on a constant supply of imported fuel, and are in general more robust as they are more decentralised. On a related point, electric transport requires less heavy engineering so the actual manufacture of cars, electric bikes and so on, could well become more decentralised too. There will be choke points for the resources needed, such as some rare earths (e.g. in the Congo), but materials such as lithium are quite well distributed around the world – there won’t be a future Middle East of lithium for straightforward geological reasons.

    With (2), to take one example, North Africa has the potential to be a major source of solar and wind for Europe, and to act as the location of energy intensive industries. But Europe will not invest right now as with the possible exception of Morocco, none of those countries has the stability or institutional strength to guarantee the sort of 20-30 year contract that would make this investment low risk. I see this as a positive, as it will be in Europes interest to promote stability and law in those countries rather than the sort of quasi colonial relationship that now exists. There are plenty of other examples, such as the potential for extended grids linking Australias near endless sunshine with the energy hungry growing cities of SE Asia.

    The main source of instability in the short term will be those countries completely dependent on the supply of high cost oil (such as heavy grades or offshore). They will be the first to lose customers, and unfortunately they are usually in countries which are not models of stability. Things don’t look good for places like Nigeria or Venezuela unless they can wean themselves off oil dependancy. Its also bad news for for a future independent Scotland.

    Its an interesting question to wonder whether we would see a conflict whereby country A with lots of solar decides to cut off the supply of electricity to country B because they want to raise the price (this has happened with, for example, gas supplies). Maybe Country B would invade to secure ‘our’ electricity as has happened in the past with oil, but I suspect that it would not be in any way practical to do so.

    Long distance power grids do of course have vulnerabilities. In the 1970’s, the IRA in Ireland successfully stopped cross-grid connections between the Republic and NI as it was pretty easy to blow up power lines. In the 1930’s a young Brendan Behan was sent by the IRA to England to blow up transformers (probably for the best for everyone, he was arrested en route). But I don’t see this type of infrastructure as fundamentally more fragile than gas pipelines or fibre optic cables.

    1. upstater

      The main problem is transmission capital investment for either wind or grid scale PV. While North Africa could supply Europe, Australia supply SE Asia or the US supplied by Southwest and Great Plains with renewables, the long distance HVDC ties from sources are incredibly expensive. And submarine HVDC doubly expensive.

      While there are some HVDC ties in Europe, nothing exists on a scale to supplant fossil with renewables; they are merely very expensive supplemental sources (e.g. the Sweden-Lithuania cable). In the US there hasn’t been. major HVDC construction in 50 years. The engineering expertise isn’t there anymore; it would become a transmission project like the Vogtle or Sumner nuclear plants in GA and SC (200% over budget, decade late or cancelled outright).

      In the US such a HVDC grid would cost trillions. Only a government entity such as a 2020s version of TVA or Bonneville could pull that off. What does anyone think the prospects of that happening in the US? Ditto for the EU; they can’t seem to manage any major technical initiative. And linking Australia with Southeast Asia isn’t something we’re likely to see in our lifetimes.

    2. Pelham

      Wouldn’t nuclear power using widely available, easily accessed thorium as a fuel (or possibly even stockpiles of nuclear waste), and transportation fuels created from carbon pulled from the atmosphere at about $4 a gallon or less be more promising? For one thing, I’ve read that lithium mining is a particularly dirty proposition. And battery recycling is definitely dirty, inefficient and energy intensive.

      That said, it appears the world is committed to wind, solar and EVs even though the record of the past 50 years suggests they’re not making much of a dent. (Also, let’s not forget that China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter by a long shot largely because so many Western nations congratulating themselves on decarbonizing have shifted their relatively dirty manufacturing to that country.)

      1. PlutoniumKun

        There are no commercially available thorium reactors. And there are no commercially available processes for using nuclear waste as fuel – the existing reactors are subsidised at an enormous rate in order to keep waste stockpiles down. The only commercially viable nuclear plants are light water reactors, and they are only marginally so, they are undercut in most circumstances by fossil fuels and renewables.

        Lithium is dirty – compared to what? Drilling for Oil? Uranium mining? Fracking? Thorium mining? Thats a meaningless statement unless you compare it to the alternatives. And no, battery recycling is not dirty, inefficient, or energy intensive, unless you are talking about old lead or cadmium based batteries, and they are rarely used now. Lithium is a relatively simple product to recycle.

        20% of all energy use in the EU is from renewables, a figure which has doubled in the last 15 years. In the US the figure is 11.8% of total energy consumption and 17% of electricity production – a tripling since 2000. Worldwide, renewables are by far the fastest growing energy sector. Thats more than ‘a dent’.

        And no, most Chinese pollution isn’t for the export market, by far the biggest polluting sector in China is the domestic use of concrete and steel. CO2 emission for the export market accounts for around 14% of Chinese emissions, and this has been dropping significantly over time.

        1. JE

          My understanding is that recycling lithium electric vehicle batteries is not in fact all that easy, efficient or clean.

          The only way true out of this mess is to redefine “success” and what “quality of life” really is. For me, the ability to work from home, achieve a decent income at reduced hours, and walk or bike to anyplace I’d like to go safely would be a big improvement when compared to the hectic, driving all the time, 60+ hours per week drudgery in the name of growth, growth, growth that we call success today. As many have pointed out, automation will be reducing the jobs available, and what we need is a national dividend in the increasing productivity of the world economy, an economy that is directed to “good” projects, where “good” is what is good for the earth, the people, the ecosphere. I was turned on to “The Ministry for the Future” in the comments section here and honestly I have not seen a better road map to getting out of this. Read it, share it, talk about it.

        2. UserFriendlyyy

          Lithium is a relatively simple product to recycle.

          On what planet? Literally, it might be easy on a planet without water but not here. We don’t have a process to recycle them that doesn’t involve very strong acids and there is the whole hygroscopic factor so this is just the most wrong bit in you comment full of renewables propaganda.
          Days late to the party but I couldn’t just let that howler pass.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Oh my, the horrors, ‘they use strong acids’. Seriously, do a little reading, there is lots of information available on lithium recycling and battery recycling. There was a very good article on it last year in Wired magazine – its behind a paywall now.

            Its not a major industry at the moment simply because virgin lithium is too cheap and plentiful – existing recycling techniques focus on extracting the higher value metals in the batteries. As the latest batteries use significantly less rare earths this is making recycling less viable at the moment. The industry is anticipating that the ‘crunch’ for lithium where recycling becomes viable and necessary is around 2030. I linked to a research paper on this in a more detailed comment on the topic I made here a few weeks ago, it contained plenty of information, I can’t be bothered to go look for it right now. A multi-step process is needed to break down existing batteries, but bio-hydrometallurgy (bio-leaching as a first stage before conventional processes are used) seems the favoured approach by the industry, from what I recall from my past reading on this, but there are several other promising avenues.

            There are many, many huge environmental and technical issues involved in decarbonising our economy. Lithium production and recycling is a very minor issue in the overall picture.

      2. taunger

        That’s what I thought 20 years ago, but no one has made those ideas market competitive. Yet.

  3. Linden S.

    This is somewhat of a tangent but one thing I have seen barely discussed at all is that the bulk of solar manufacturing is Chinese. The enormous cost decreases in solar over this past decade I believe are largely the result of Chinese manufacturing scale and efficiency, so if those gains got hidden behind tariffs/sanctions would the ability to install cheap solar in EU/USA go away? Here’s an article I saw on XInjiang, sanctions, and PV. PV manufacturing listed by company (note Canadian Solar I believe has most of its manufacturing in China despite it’s name). I think wind turbine manufacturing is a bit more spread out (Vestas/Siemens/GE) though lots of that is in China as well. WHat happens if the case for renewables (very, very cheap) suddenly disappears for 5-10 years due to increasing tension with China? Things like that might waste enough time to make 3C of warming even more likely.

  4. NotTimothyGeithner

    Re: fueling violent radicalsim in oil producing countries

    Without money, who is funding the Wahhabi Madrasas? ISIS was born where the US handed out cash and guns. My god what if the rich in those countries had to pay labor to produce values instead of extraction based economies. Not that won’t be discord in the short term, but cutting the funding is not going to fuel extremism. The dreams of an oil boom have just produced well Saudi Arabia.

  5. ejf

    I do have a question. Doesn’t solar, wind, electric cars require lots of plastic? Doesn’t plastic require lots of oil? Maybe not as much oil, but still oil. Who’s gonna have the chokehold on the plastic manufacturing, never mind the rare earth extraction?
    Yes, we could go the de-growth route, but how many of us unruly masses are going to opt for the ox cart instead of that new electric train when we gotta go to the mall 20 miles away?

    1. James Simpson

      I’ve been asking those questions for some years but I’ve yet to receive a coherent answer. I suspect that most Green activists haven’t thought through many of their demands such as ‘leave it in the ground’. Plastic is in pretty much everything these days and any viable replacements, being used in vast quantities, will come with their own problems. Perhaps someone will provide us with ideas because this is one I don’t see being solved simply or easily.

      1. Pelham

        I agree, even though I’ve read for years about promising substitutes for plastics made from various renewable plant sources. So? Where are they? Nowhere.

      2. Plastique_fantastique

        Warning that I’ve not fully thought this through on the plastics side, but some initial ideas:
        -Of course plastics will still be needed. But if some very significant part of oil demand disappears, the prices for oil – and hence revenue to petrostates – will of necessity fall too.
        -How much is used for plastics? Here’s some EIA info: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/oil-and-petroleum-products/use-of-oil.php
        -You may have to click through and make some judgments/guesses – at the top end, perhaps 28% of oil used for ‘industrial uses.’ Call it a third if you want. The vast majority is transportation. (Note this doesn’t have info about how much of natural gas is used for plastics, I have no idea).
        -One can be ‘against’ plastics but plastics are in a different ‘risk’ bucket for climate change than burning fuel outright.
        -I _think_ – but I’m not certain – that a lot of the inputs for plastics from oil are basically secondary to producing gasoline. I.e. you make plastics out of the leftovers after you refine crude into the most valuable products (gasoline and diesel). That has really unclear implications for what happens if the most valuable products start to be less valuable. Wild guess, probably cheaper plastics, and probably minimal appreciable demand/revenue to the oil producers.

        This doesn’t give straigthforward answers but it’s still not rosy for petrostates.

        I’d be most worried about Nigeria – it’s barely holding together on any given day, take away the vast majority of its revenue, it’ll get ugly.

        1. JTMcPhee

          I wonder if there is some geopolitical or national-scale equivalent to the geological/physical concept of the “angle of repose?” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angle_of_repose

          “History” indicates that massive drivers of change like resource location fortuity and consumptive demand produce often violent and destructive redoing of power and personal relationships. Maybe Nigeria and Venezuela (latter a special case due to US imperial interference) might be the sites of “ugliness,” but what will be the new patterns and structures that manifest after the last grain is added to the sand pile and it slumps to a new configuration?

    2. lordkoos

      From what I understand the main resource used in plastic is natural gas. Natural gas is plentiful and cheap which is why plastic products are cheap. If the primary ingredient was oil, would plastic be commercially feasible?

        1. lordkoos

          Hemp is again legal in many states now but industrial-scale production doesn’t seem to be happening yet. It certainly could replace plastic in some instances but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of investment in hemp to date, at least I haven’t heard about it. If growing hemp is like growing cannabis, it will need a fair amount of water.

          1. Donna

            I have a 30 year old comb. Yes, comb for my hair. It is stamped DuPont Nylon. I couldn’t begin to contribute to this conversation on a technical level. But just wondered what we did before plastic and is there no going back?

  6. schmoe

    Crude oil has had prolonged periods of very low prices, such as an average of $12/barrel in 1998, so there should be a good template for how some countries will fare, although the Gulf states had sufficient reserves to withstand several years of low prices. Now, counties can see low crude prices coming and try to prepare. LNG might provide a buffer for some countries, including Russia and Qatar, and Russia will also presumably continue to develop its agricultural commodity sector.

    There have been a few articles over the past years about how Iran has (somewhat) adapted its economy away from crude and it would be pretty ironic if Nettenyahoo’s (sp?)sanctions resulted in Iran building a post-crude economy, while UAE and Saudi Arabia whither. Good luck on MBS and his diversification efforts if that requires most Saudis to actually work.

  7. Solar jay

    About 97% of all solar panels are crystalline which use no rare earth. They are made with silicon.
    The 3% are thin film, First solar being the largest and it uses a cadmium/telluride formula.
    So disappointing to continue to see people keep saying solar uses lots or rare earth. No they do not.
    Solar won’t get any cheaper in the future. Right now it’s about 18c a watt at the factory.

    Yes China makes most of the cells and panels in the world.
    Candian solar is a Chinese company, great marketing.

    Wind machines are mostly steel, some composites for the blades. And a bit of rare earth magnets for the PM motors.

    The USA has had tariffs on solar since Obummer. Trump did it too, Biden isn’t changing it. It’s done basically nothing to add production here in the US but has increased the cost of solar panels between 20-40%.

    New transmission line will require a lot of steel for the towers and aluminum for the wire. ( pretty much all power lines in the USA are aluminum because it’s way cheaper and lighter than copper).

    1. Pelham

      But re silicon, I understand that the kind of silicon required can’t be gathered from sand but must be mined in a rather dirty, energy-intensive process that also requires a lot of energy-intensive refining.

      In general, turbines and solar panels must be widely distributed and produced and reproduced (they wear out) in vast quantities that require enormous energy inputs. Better solutions would tap into highly concentrated sources of energy — nuclear fuels — that require far fewer resources and materials to produce and yield far greater quantities of power.

        1. juno mas

          As I’ve said, that is “construction sand”. Meaning sharp angled aggregate used in concrete. Most construction aggregates come from legacy geologic deposits; and the sand sized particles are manufactured (not natural).

        1. MarqueJaune

          That article on the Bulletin is a bit biased, to say the least…
          The comments on said article give a more broad and ballanced perspective.
          Unfortunately biased articles on the Bulletin are becoming more common than I’m confortable with
          FWIW, one recent example

  8. Bob


    Aren’t we forgetting the strangle hold that the Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) have over power generation ?

    “On Tuesday, the news broke that the FBI had arrested Ohio Speaker of the House of Representatives Larry Householder, the architect of HB 6, a law that passed in July 2019. That bill, widely recognized as the worst energy policy in the country, gutted Ohio’s renewables and energy efficiency laws while bailing out several coal and nuclear plants.

    As I wrote in my book, Short Circuiting Policy, the law was a multibillion-dollar gift to FirstEnergy, a private electric utility that has resisted climate policy for decades. It turns out it was a gift paid for with $61 million in bribes.

    Spending a few million to get more than a billion dollars? Not a bad return on investment.

    Unfortunately, this kind of corruption is not an aberration for the electric utility industry. Across the country, most private utilities are resisting the clean energy transition, and many are buying off politicians with campaign contributions to do it. What’s more, the industry celebrates it — the Edison Electric Institute, the national private utility association, gave FirstEnergy an award for its work to pass HB 6.

    Corruption like this within the electric utility industry is a barrier to solving the climate crisis. But the way forward is clear: Citizens must demand that politicians stop taking money from these fossil fuel companies and start holding them accountable.

    Something is rotten in the state of Ohio.” https://www.vox.com/2020/7/22/21334366/larry-householder-affidavit-ohio-bribery-firstenergy

    1. upstater

      Andrew Cuomo’s giveaway to Exelon will cost New York ratepayers $8B over its 10 year lifetime; it subsidizes 50 year old Fukushima type plants operating long past design life. There are only modest incentives for household solar and virtually nothing about conservation. Meanwhile in central NY hundreds of acres or agricultural land is gobbled up for grid scale solar, while brownfield sites sit empty (think of the Allied Chemical waste beds).

      Much of Cuomo’s “clean energy” plan was imposed by fiat by the Public Service Commission, some was legislated. No idea of how much corruption was involved… but if it involved Cuomo, it stinks.

    2. Susan the other

      We could call them “investor terrorists”. Maybe the new Sheriff in town should be Mother. Amazing how the narrative changes by just using words in a new context. “Competition” is now bad when it is competition for resources among and between terrorist-nationalists. Aka “patriots”. How do we de-incentivize competition – the miracle-of-the-20th century? We give everybody credit. That’s how. Literally a credit card. We ration all the resources. We protect society and the environment from all the sneaky profiteers. Do only clean technology; bring back some good low tech solutions like passive solar construction. We produce nothing that cannot be recycled – like say only wood-fiber wind turbines – you’d almost think we could “repurpose” trees, no?. That grove of tall trees over there is the new Valley Power and Light Co. We promote human rights everywhere. In short, we finally become those mythological better angels. I’ll believe it when I see it, but it looks timely. We should use oil and other high-energy sources of fuel sparingly for the most important industrial and agricultural purposes – the benefit of which will go to everyone so we can all continue to be good little girls and boys. Not being sarcastic here – I think all this is inevitable.

  9. Charger01

    The fundamental issues of renewables aren’t mysterious. Its a fungible asset (electrons) that requires storage and efficient transmission to be utilized, absent a change in demand. Oil/coal/nat gas is great because it stores fairly easily, can be consumed for a known quantity of energy, and it is dispatchable (i.e. you turn on the power plant and you produce electricity, simple?).
    The issue with renewables is the lack of control for the energy inputs, you can’t control the weather to provide the energy you want. The only way, to my mind, that renewables make sense, is to modify demand AND provide storage (pumped storage hydro or yet-to-be developed battery storage) so we can provide a known quantity of on-demand energy when the weather isn’t available to provide the energy upon demand.
    That’s it.

  10. lincoln

    If by clean energy the author means doing away with crude oil, then what she’s really talking about is electrifying all internal combustion vehicles. This means electrifying consumer vehicles, commercial trucks, freight railroads, agricultural equipment, heavy machinery (construction & mining), ship propulsion systems, aircraft engines, military vehicles, and military aircraft. At its most basic level this will involve an enormous number of batteries, possibly more than can be created from our planets obtainable resources, and a global ’round the clock’ operation to recharge them. The upside to this is more renewable energy, because long duration recharging batteries are not disrupted by renewable interruptions or intermittencies. Renewables wouldn’t be charging electric grid batteries, but rather they would be changing vast clusters of batteries to swap into and out of vehicles. The downside to this is that dense population centers, with little space and high energy needs, will probably require a lot more cheap and consistent centralized electricity from carbon based sources like combined cycle natural gas generators.

  11. Bob

    Please – this battery storage theory / battery argument smells of an IOU canard.

    While there are a few utility scale battery installations and it is possible to store hydro power either through impoundments or pumped storage nearly all of the changes(swings) in electrical demand are met by bringing fossil fueled generators on line. And historically the IOUs have done an excellent job of meeting the constant dynamically changing or swinging electrical demand.

    In any discussion of electrical power generation a good understanding of the levelized cost of generation ought to be the basis of discussion.

    See Lazard or EIA.


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