The Energy Transition Will Take Decades Not Years

Yves here. Yesterday we had an exchange in comments over how ending all subsidies to carbon-generating energy source would greatly accelerate making do with less energy use as well as speeding the shift to cleaner energy sources. Other readers pointed out that most consumers would be wrecked by >$12 gas at the pump; the retort was to take the money formerly spent on subsidies to households with income under $75,000.

The article below instead takes a “business as usual” position and assumes that officials are more concerned about preserving the current normal and not upsetting consumer lifestyles than taking effective action. It’s not hard to see that this viewpoint will prevail until we have catastrophic outcomes, like bona fide food and water shortages. Look at our response to Covid. As Damien Contandriopoulos wrote:

Most jurisdictions in Western countries adopted “balanced-containment” strategies regarding COVID. This approach is characterized by the ambition to balance, on the one hand, the number of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths and, on the other hand, the economic and social disruptions caused by strict infection control measures such as lockdowns (Oliu-Barton et al., 2021)…

… it also soon became clear that most Western state-run public health bureaucracies – as well as international public health bodies such as the WHO – actively defended erroneous initial theories on COVID transmission long after it was rational to do so. Instead of working toward the development and communication of evidence-based COVID prevention strategies, public health institutions found themselves stonewalling and actively contradicting scientific developments in the field (Greenhalgh, Ozbilgin, & Contandriopoulos, 2021)…

Over the same period, the focus of containment strategies shifted. Economic actors impacted by lockdowns and infection control measures successfully convinced many governments to slowly push the balance of the containment strategies toward looser infection control measures and the acceptance of higher infection rates. The reference point of balanced-containment strategies slowly shifted from minimizing cases to optimizing intensive care bed occupancy rates near or above 100%. The combination of outdated and misguided infection prevention advice and looser restrictions contributed to fuel higher and higher waves of cases.

In the meantime – and unsurprisingly – the balanced-containment strategies were also shown to be deeply inequitable. Both the incidence and relative risk of death from COVID were highly correlated with income, social status and racialized status…

At the time of writing this commentary, those disconnects have grown too deep to be hidden. More efforts seem to go in controlling the political spin and rationing the information made available than in trying to correct documented deficiencies (Daflos, 2021; Thomas & Gervais, 2021)…

Somewhere in the last year public health lost its soul. The goal of fostering individual and collective health and well-being became secondary to disputable economic growth indicators and radical utilitarianism regarding the value of human lives.

Shorter: Covid has confirmed that advanced economies are unwilling to change their mode of operation to respond adequately to emergencies. And climate change is a way more complicated problem than Covid.

By Tsvetana Paraskova, a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. Originally published at OilPrice

  • With natural gas, coal, and oil prices all soaring this summer, it is clear that a successful energy transition will take decades not years
  • Some energy transition proponents may have confused Covid energy demand destruction with a change in consumer behavior
  • The truth is that an energy transition can only occur when clean energy can be provided both cheaply and reliably

This year’s global demand for all three fossil fuels has sent a message to overly enthusiastic proponents of the energy transition – hold your horses.

Those who predicted last year the demise of oil, gas, and coal after the pandemic and those who said that peak oil demand was already behind us because lasting changes in consumer behavior would reduce the use of crude are now facing reality.

Global oil demand is just a few months away from reaching pre-pandemic levels, while natural gas and coal demand have already exceeded the 2019 volumes.

Sure, international airline travel is still struggling because of COVID-related travel restrictions in place in many countries. But economies are bouncing back, industries are growing, and the world needs a lot of energy, once again.

Fossil Fuels Support Economic Growth

And fossil fuels continue to supply most of that energy and will do so for years to come. Last year’s slump in fossil fuel consumption is being erased, and those who expected oil, gas, and coal demand to never return to pre-COVID levels now know they were wrong.

Also wrong were all those who hoped the ‘build back greener’ policies that governments pledged last year would suddenly lead to solar, wind, biofuels, sustainable aviation fuels, and hydrogen displacing fossil fuel-generated energy overnight.

Economies are recovering post-COVID, and consumer habits haven’t changed all that much: consumers still want a warm home, power, the latest tech gadgets, and to be able to freely travel and spend money.

Apart from a share of renewables for power generation, solar and wind, for example, are not really providing the energy and all the stuff consumers buy. Fossil fuels do. And they will continue to do so for at least another decade until the energy transition – including in industries other than power generation – accelerates.

The share of renewable energy sources in electricity generation continues to rise, but renewables are incapable of meeting the rebounding power demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in July.

The IEA also says that if the world were to meet a net-zero target in 2050, it should stop investing in new oil, gas, and coal supply now.

Yet, these days, both the most developed economies in Europe and the fastest-growing developing economies in Asia – China and India – are experiencing first-hand what undersupplied coal and gas markets mean: very high prices of energy commodities and power supply, and industries halting factories because of shortage of electricity or gas.

Coal And Gas Demand Back Above Pre-Covid Levels

The post-COVID economic recovery drove demand for oil, coal, and gas, with coal and gas consumption already exceeding pre-pandemic levels. As a result, the record slump in global emissions from 2020 is also being erased, posing another conundrum to the global fight against climate change.

On average, coal demand declined by 4 percent last year – the steepest drop since World War II – but it was already back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2020, the IEA says.

“Coal use in the fourth quarter was 3.5% higher than in the same period in 2019, contributing to a resurgence in global CO2 emissions,” Carlos Fernández Alvarez, Senior Energy Analyst at the IEA, wrote in a commentary in March.

This year, coal demand is rebounding strongly in 2021, driven by the power sector, the agency said in its Global Energy Review 2021 in April. Natural gas demand is also bouncing back and is expected to erase the 2020 loss and push demand 1.3 percent above 2019 levels, as per IEA estimates in the same review.

Oil Demand Set To Reach 2019 Levels Within A Few Months

Oil demand is also on track to soon reach 2019 levels and exceed them. Many analysts and oil companies see global oil demand returning to the pre-crisis levels of 2019 as early as the start of next year, if not earlier, by the end of 2021. According to OPEC’s latest estimate, global oil demand in 2022 will average 100.8 million bpd and exceed pre-COVID levels.

The current gas, coal, and power crisis in Europe and Asia is also set to accelerate oil demand recovery in the winter if gas-to-oil switching becomes more widespread.

By early 2022, demand for all fossil fuels is expected to have reached or exceeded pre-pandemic levels, highlighting the challenges of the energy transition to secure reliable – and preferably affordable – energy for the world.

“The energy transition and decarbonisation are decade-long strategies and do not happen overnight,” Cuneyt Kazokoglu, head of oil demand analysis at consultancy FGE, told Reuters.

Last year’s slump in fossil fuel demand had nothing to do with the energy transition: it had everything to do with the lockdowns and economic decline, Kazokoglu said.

A rushed transition without considering the still enormous role that fossil fuels play in the economy and consumers’ lifestyle risks exposing the global energy market to supply crunches and price spikes.

“Prices for fossil fuels will remain volatile, perhaps more so than today since the risk of a supply-demand imbalance is greater in a market that is shrinking where the case for further investment is weak, which could produce short-term rallies,” Nikos Tsafos, the James R. Schlesinger Chair for Energy and Geopolitics with at Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), wrote in a commentary last month.

The price of commodities critical for the energy transition – such as the key metals lithium, cobalt, nickel, or copper – are also prone to volatility, Tsafos notes.

The energy transition will not be smooth sailing and will take decades. In the meantime, fossil fuels will continue to support the global economy and the security of the energy supply.

Even the IEA, while saying that well-managed energy transitions would be the solution – not the problem – in the current gas and power crises, acknowledged that “The links between electricity and gas markets are not going to go away anytime soon. Gas remains an important tool for balancing electricity markets in many regions today.”

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135 comments

  1. Jtanon

    I’m linking to pretty sophisticated recent analysis by Lazard comparing costs of fossil fuels and renewables. Renewables are currently cheaper. Pay particular attention to the charts on marginal production costs. This OilPrice article extracts from recent consumption trends, which is the wrong way to look at it. Renewables have reached cost equality with nat gas and further innovation is proceeding furiously. The electricity grid will rapidly decarbonize.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That does not solve the car and truck problem. EVs are still out of the price range for a lot of consumers. The cheapest new cars are just under $20K v. the cheapest EV is $30K. The poors I know can barely round up $8 to $10k for wheels and buy only used cars.

      Reply
      1. Eric377

        EVs also have some serious “mission” shortfalls currently. Payload/range and time needed to resestablish full range among them. Keep developing technology in this sector while the power generation sector moves away from carbon. As you say, don’t force people into highly difficult purchases, particularly if a lot of them will be dissatisfied and the true source of energy is still heavily carbon. I don’t know if 20 years will solve all the issues, but the issues might change a lot by then also.

        Reply
        1. John Steinbach

          Unfortunately, the world doesn’t have 20 years. The problem with articles like this is that they extrapolate BAU into the future. Their incessant use of the word “demand” ignores the real world issue of supply constraints (expensive, hard to access oil & coal, nuke opportunity costs, environmental constraints, climate change, etc.)

          We had a saying in the early 70s, “Mother Earth bats last.” It’s the bottom of the 9th & Mother is on deck.

          Reply
          1. Eric377

            Yes, the earth has 20 years. It has more than that even. Decarbonizing electrical generation is hardly BAU, but shoving a huge incremental demand like ground transportation on the system while you attempt it is reckless. Consider the absolute catastrophe that would happen in California with its rolling brownouts if electricity also was the energy source for even a quarter of vehicle transportation. Maybe I got this wrong, but renewables are being promoted as being cheaper than carbon energy. Carbon is going to wither away, but don’t seriously harm the reputation of new energy paradigm by ambitions that will screw it up while it still is needing political support of various kinds.

            Reply
      2. bob

        They just need a little more fury in their innovation.

        When your “investment white paper” uses language like –

        “Selected renewable energy generation technologies are cost-competitive with conventional generation technologies under certain circumstances

        It is also only about COST. Not less carbon, just less cost. It says nothing about the carbon required to make the renewable energy infrastructure. “just go ahead and assume a windmill, and a subsidy, and a power grid….”

        Reply
        1. Larry Gilman

          “It says nothing about the carbon required . . . ” Lazard does not, but the question of the carbon required to make renewable energy infrastructure is thoroughly covered in the engineering literature.

          CarbonBrief, 2017: “Building solar, wind or nuclear plants creates an insignificant carbon footprint compared with savings from avoiding fossil fuels, a new study suggests.” — https://www.carbonbrief.org/solar-wind-nuclear-amazingly-low-carbon-footprints

          Original study: Pehl, M., Arvesen, A., Humpenöder, F., Popp, A., Hertwich, E. G., & Luderer, G. (2017). Understanding future emissions from low-carbon power systems by integration of life-cycle assessment and integrated energy modelling. Nature Energy, 2(12), 939–945.

          Download at: https://www.dropbox.com/t/8iEYrHz5wYMIScvd

          As for the grid, one certainly can assume most of it, because it already exists. It needs revision, not creation. And as for not mentioning subsidies, you seem to have missed the title of the graph on page 2 of the linked Lazard document: “Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison—Unsubsidized Analysis.”

          Reply
          1. James Simpson

            Your techno-optimism is sadly misinformed. For one, the amount of extraction required to build all those EVs, windmills, solar panels by the millions etc. is utterly gigantic. For ongoing information take a look at the Green Rocks blog. The environmental and societal impacts of all that new mining will be catastrophic.

            Reply
            1. Larry Gilman

              I am not a techno-optimist, I am an electrical engineer with strong Luddite and techno-pessimist tendencies. In any case, my misinformation, if that is what is is, comes from the peer-reviewed scientific literature, as illustratively cited, while yours comes from — a blog. Which I would look at, but the link doesn’t work.

              Re. mining: there is no such thing as a free lunch, including a free wind lunch or solar lunch. Generation alternatives to renewables also entail massively polluting and destructive mining, refining, shipping, and processing. The best kWh is the one never used, hence the need to foreground end-use efficiency over generation of whatever kind. Perhaps we might agree on that?

              Reply
              1. Larry Gilman

                Interestingly, James, I notice we’re both socialists. It is in the great longstanding tradition of socialism that we claw each other bloody, so have at it!

                Solidarity, sort of,

                Larry

                Reply
          2. Henry Moon Pie

            That’s an interesting paper, useful for arguing against shills for Big Carbon trying to claim, unbelievably, that coal and gas power plants have a lower lifetime carbon footprint per unit of power generated.

            It is not so useful, however, in laying out how the carbon footprints of solar, wind and nukes are distributed over time. The problem is that these options basically front load their carbon emissions during construction since their footprints are very small (except for continuing uranium mining) once they’re operating. People who have looked at this, like Richard Heinberg, argue that those front-end carbon emissions, combined with the manufacture of EVs whose carbon footprints are also front-loaded, will take us over the 2 degree (funny how that keeps slipping) mark before we ever have a chance to enjoy their low-carbon benefits. That’s not going to do us much good.

            And constructing nukes when industries and regulators are so infested with corruption and when social strife is rising so rapidly is crazy.

            Start with eliminating unnecessary activities in rich countries (most air travel, most of the entertainment and tourism industries, large vehicles) while funding a massive shift to regenerative agriculture (which has little to no front-loading carbon emissions) and what Kate Raworth calls “design to regenerate” efforts in poor and middle income countries.

            The only way to avoid 2 degrees is to CUT power needs beginning NOW. Remember that UN study in 2019 that we had to cut global carbon emissions by 7.6% every year between 2020 and 2030 to meet the Paris Accord numbers and stay within 1.5 degrees (before the goal slipped). We can’t wait years, much less decades, and engaging in a massive carbon emitting build to try preserving the “middle class lifestyle” in rich countries will send us over the brink in and of itself.

            Reply
            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              If preserving the “middle class lifestyle” sends us over the brink, will the upper class and the OverClass go over the brink with us? Or will they stay happy and healthy in their Big Heat Jackpot Survival Bunkers no matter what the brink the rest of us go over?

              Reply
              1. synoia

                But of Course. The Queen set an example, and will walk from Buck House to Windsor or Balmoral.

                In the walk she will combiner her game shooting with a demonstration of how to reduce peasant population counts.

                Reply
      3. Code Name D

        EV’s are also examples of “acceptable thinking” that only deals with a narrow aspect of the problem – specifically emissions at the tail pipe. It ignores more comprehensive solutions such as mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure, smarter city design and rational zoning policies that reduces the need for transportation. Local sourcing for goods and reductions in supply chain distances. These systems can greatly reduce CO2 emissions even while using the same CO2 producing technologies.

        Reply
      4. Bob

        Hmm.

        So we must rely on gasoline ??

        Natural gas is widely available and compressed natural gas is commonly used for municipal vehicles.

        “Flaring from oil wells is a significant source of greenhouse gases. The World Bank estimated that 145 billion cubic meters of natural gas were flared in 2018; the equivalent of the entire gas consumption of Central and South America combined.” skytruth.org/flaring/

        The resource exists and is presently being wasted.

        And in some areas compressed natural gas vehicles were promoted. And are still promoted -https://www.pge.com/en_US/residential/solar-and-vehicles/options/clean-vehicles/natural-gas/compressed-natural-gas.page

        A simple solution would be for US military installations (Stateside) to switch to the use of Natural gas for gasoline powered vehicles. Switching would require some changes to the fuel systems and the installation of a compressed natural gas storage tank. These are minor changes.
        Since the DOD is a very large energy user this change has the potential to directly impact gasoline / diesel availability and if Mr. Market works a direct impact of gasoline diesel pricing.

        Reply
        1. synoia

          Err, Most Military vehicles are Diesel Powered due to the relative difficulty in igniting diesel.

          Natural gas is not so safe. I personally would avoid, widely avoid, a NG powered vehicle in a battle zone.

          Reply
          1. Soredemos

            >Most Military vehicles are Diesel Powered due to the relative difficulty in igniting diesel.

            Nah, that’s a myth. It usually crops up in regards to tanks. It’s technically true that diesel is harder to ignite, but a heated shell is still likely to ignite it. And if the fuel doesn’t ignite, something else (grease, oil, gunpowder etc) will. The primary way to avoid your military vehicle catching fire is armor. Diesel or gas comes down to a. what is easiest on the supply train, and b. what is the engine going to be pulling. Diesel is often preferred because it produces more torque.

            Reply
      5. Grumpy Engineer

        That does not solve the car and truck problem.

        Agreed. And it also doesn’t solve the “windless winter night problem”. Wind turbines and photovoltaics can produce power very cheaply during favorable weather conditions. But when conditions are unfavorable, they don’t work at all. The low marginal production costs are irrelevant. Backup sources of power must be used to keep people’s heat pumps running.

        And what will the backups be, and how much will they cost? If the solution is batteries charged by surplus power generated during windy days, the costs will be astronomical. Other possible solutions include nuclear and/or electrolyzed hydrogen/ammonia, but these aren’t cheap either. Nor politically popular. But low-carbon backups must be part of the transition. Having the grid collapse during a windless winter night simply isn’t acceptable. Lazard’s analysis doesn’t talk about this at all.

        And then there are the people in really cold climates with oil- or gas-fired furnaces. They can’t use ordinary heat pumps, as they don’t work effectively in sub-zero temperatures. Geothermal heat pumps can do the job, but they can cost $25k to install. Tack that onto the $30k EVs that apparently everybody are supposed to buy, and now people have to pony up $55k to make the change. Ouch.

        Your article headline is correct: The energy transition will take decades, not years.

        Reply
      6. char

        The Dacia Spring is 20k EURO and people who buy 10 year old cars need to buy 10 year old electric cars. But that will take some time. The number of Ev sold ten year ago was small. But will be solved by time

        Reply
      7. Peter Lynch

        Yves – I read your articles and appreciate you insight. However, there is a saying by the stoic Seneca – “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare” If we had adopted talking about why something could not be done instead of doing it we would all be speaking German now.

        It can be done and the numbers show that – these changes are NOT linear they are Nonlinear. We need nonlinear thinkers because they think outside the lines and sometimes use unorthodox methods to solve problems.

        Reference on of the most prescient thinkers in this area that I am aware of: Tony Seba – https://www.rethinkx.com/energy-reports. I am an investor and one think you have to consider heavily is someones “track record” and his is very very impressive.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ-HlykM1LU

        Reply
        1. Eric377

          Thanks. Very interesting. But I think this supports a general plan to transition electrical generation more fully and then move non-electric sectors to electricity. “Carbon” energy has no true value for current electrical demands: we throw the switch and the light goes on….don’t care, so long as the light goes on. Maybe not with transportation…..”you mean I can’t go over Snoqualmie Pass, drop mom at Seatac Airport, pick up Bill and come back to Yakima via Chinook Pass without an intervening 48 minute battery recharge? That’s not good.” Or, “this truck is probably good for another 9 years, but you want me to get rid of it now, at depressed prices because you need everyone to do the same, and replace it with a vehicle $9000 more expensive that doesn’t quite do my missions as well as this one? That’s not good”. Work very hard to eliminate the “that’s not goods”.

          Reply
      8. Ben Oldfield

        Because of the very large anount of energy locked up in producing the electric cars it could be greener to by a second hand car.

        Reply
    2. Eric377

      Agree, but abundance and reliability will be key factors. I think reliably satisfying current demand without carbon is a big enough challenge for the next couple decades that seriously moving ground transportation to electrical power right now would not be helpful. If there is some non-carbon energy that is not simply electricity at a deeper level, that would be interesting. In the meanwhile keep developing technologies that will give best shot at consumer acceptance when enough non-carbon energy is available for transition.

      Reply
      1. Zamfir

        If we want to have mostly electric transportation in the 2040s, then it’s wise to sell mostly electric cars in 2030. Cars last 15 or 20 years, it takes a long time to replace the fleet.

        In that light, the current industry ramp-up in battery vehicles is not particularly premature. Ironically, it’s the kind of calm, forward-looking policy that we should have more of.

        Reply
        1. Eric377

          So long as enough electricity is generated to handle demand, fine. My worry is that just reliably satisfying demand even with ground transportation nearly fully hydrocarbon powered is a much longer process than some suspect. Better current electrically-powered sectors get all the benefit of decarbonizing and ground transportation waits it’s turn.

          Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Maybe the best cars to sell would be efficient little semi-lightweight plug-in hybrid engine-electric cars. If the carbon-free electricity-generation problem is solved, they can be driven from re-charge to re-charge to re-charge. Till then, they can be driven by electro-power from their own battery with engine re-charge ongoing along the way.

          And if they are so efficient and so lightweight and so universaly driven below the speed of hitting-the-air-wall that gas-use for driving falls to 25% of what it now is, then we buy a little time to get the electro-generation problem solved so that they can all be driven from recharge to recharge to recharge without using the engine at all. And if people discover they can drive for years at a time without ever even having to use the engine at all for on-board while-driving battery-recharge, they can have the engine removed to reduce further the weight of the car.

          Reply
    3. Louis Fyne

      Since when are Lazard analysts the authoritative word on thermodynamics?

      one example of the current “market equilibrium”…Let’s look at a Tesla 3, which holds ~80 kWh of lithium-ion batteries. 1 Toyota conventional hybrid holds 0.9 – 1.9 kWh’s worth of battery.

      1 Tesla hogs up batteries that could’ve have been put in 40 to 80 conventional hybrids.

      What’s better for the environment? 1 Tesla driver going 12,000 miles w/o petrol. Or 40 to 80 drivers whose petrol usage is cut by 40% (192,000 to 384,000 miles of petrol unused by the Tesla batteries going to hybrid drivers)

      The current set of incentives, green-washing, virtue-signalling are producing ridiculous environmental consequence because Western culture is fixated on the idea that Rube Goldberg tech solutions (Tesla) is always better than “old” ideas (Toyota’s hybrid tech which has been sold since the late 1990’s and continually updated since introduction).

      Reply
        1. James Simpson

          Electric cars are not in any meaning of the term part of the solutions for climate change. Private vehicle ownership will have to end, and as soon as possible. A socialist society, which is the only kind viable for human survival, takes a non-market view of transport so that we all have enough – not luxuries like our own personal massive metal & plastic box with wheels that mostly sits motionless.

          Reply
          1. cnchal

            You will have to pry my cold dead fingers off the steering wheel and handle bars.

            I am far from alone.

            @ troutcreek

            An early 2000’s VW Tdi gets that or better, without the gigantic embodied energy of the digital crapola buried in that Toyota or every other newish car, they can be bought for used go-kart money and last a half million miles or moar.

            The car that is never bought . . . uses nothing.

            Reply
            1. Soredemos

              You will have to pry my cold dead fingers off the steering wheel and handle bars.

              I am far from alone.

              One of two things is going to happen. Your fingers will be pried off by eco-fascist types, or you’ll voluntarily let go when the fuel runs out. Either way, it IS going to happen.

              Reply
    4. Harry

      Renewables are cheaper than building a new fossil fuel power generation facility. They are not cheaper than simply running the existing facilities.

      So one might expect new facilities to be renewable. The caveat to this is the intermittency problem. Everyone has some kind of solution to intermittency, no one has a solution which wont require some very expensive power storage, or nuclear.

      But this has been a very lucrative trade that a lot of us could see coming. The fraud of shale, combined with the attempt to move to ESG, but without much preparatory infrastructure guaranteed this outcome. It also has created a bull in carbon futures.

      I would suggest that this is not a bug, but a feature. If you want to make renewables profitable, then energy prices had to rise. Get used to it.

      Reply
      1. Larry Gilman

        Renewables “are not cheaper than simply running the existing facilities.”

        The Lazard unsubsidized analysis linked at the top of this thread explicitly includes operating costs: see the orange diamonds on the graph on p. 2 for operating costs of coal, gas, and nuclear. Newbuild PV is, in fact, now definitively cheaper than the average operating cost for coal plants, comparable to that of nuclear, and a little higher than that for gas. For many nuclear plants in the US, the balance has already flipped (more expensive just to run than to replace with solar and wind: here, p. 238-247).

        “f you want to make renewables profitable, then energy prices had to rise. Get used to it.”

        I’m not sure what you’re referring to. In newbuild, wind and solar have already crushed the competition by producing cheaper energy. Since they are still getting steadily cheaper while their competitors are not, it’s game over. In 2020, 90% of new generation installed globally was renewables, the bulk wind and solar. “Renewables will overtake coal to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide in 2025″—International Energy Agency, 2020.

        Indeed, I am getting used to it.

        Reply
        1. Harry

          Its not the operating cost that is relevant. Im sure thats lower. The point is you have an existing coal or gas fired plant. Its sitting there. You need to build a new renewables facility. So one of the choices has a large capital cost component, and the other doesn’t.

          When one of the existing fossil fuel plants reaches end of life it will be replaced by renewables. But what do you do till then? Bulldoze an existing facility to build a new one? I suppose you might if you thought the carbon costs were too high. But I dont think Europeans are there yet.

          You will still need baseload. You will still need to build out a smart grid. And you will still need electricity storage. The net effect is that energy costs need to be higher to persuade us to switch quickly.

          Incidentally your last point is pretty much precisely what I was saying. The new generation will be renewable. But that doesnt give you an economic case (in itself) for switching off existing generation.

          Reply
          1. Larry Gilman

            Hi Harry,

            When Lazard says that the LCOE (levelized cost of energy) of PV is lower than the operating cost of coal, that calculation includes the capital cost of building the PV. An LCOE calculation includes capital cost, financing cost (interest on debt), operation & maintenance cost (including fuel, if any), and decommissioning cost.

            So the Lazard figures mean precisely that it would be cheaper to shut off that coal plant today and decommission it, and to replace its output with brand-new solar built from scratch, including all the costs of both enterprises, than to keep the coal plant up and running.

            This is largely why Europe is already halfway to shutting down all its coal plants by 2030: the low cost of wind and solar power is making this not only possible but economic. According to a coal-plant closure announcement from UK firm EDF Energy, “A series of factors have contributed to coal’s rapid decline in Europe. Chief among them has been the dramatic fall in the cost of solar and wind, which saw power generated by renewable energy sources eclipse that produced by all fossil fuels for the first time in the EU in 2020.” The economic case for switching off existing generation already exists and in some large first-world markets is already prevailing.

            Solar costs (LCOE, $/kWh) have fallen 90% in the last decade, wind 70%, and both continue to drop. These changes are more radical and more rapid than many observers have been able to register and process.

            As for the need for baseload, it’s a myth, if taken to mean that the grid must contain large individual generators that rarely shut down (there is no such thing as a generator that never shuts down). We need reliable 24/7 power but that can be, and in Europe increasingly is, supplied without such generators. Denmark got two-thirds of its electricity last year from wind and solar — with higher grid reliability than the US.

            Yes, we need a smart grid, and we need storage, but the latter is mainly for ancillary services such as voltage regulation. The need for bulk storage is not imperative until very high solar/wind penetration levels, as actually operating grids demonstrate.

            Reply
            1. Harry

              Forgive me Larry but are you sure? Cos in one case the capital cost is sunk and in the other it isnt. So it would be very difficult to construct that measure. We are not comparing two new plants with each other. We are comparing one which is built with one which is not.

              It might well be true for new plant but that isnt the question we are discussing. In fact, if it were true, then the profit incentive alone (without all the subsidies which are available for doing this) would prompt the private sector to build new plants to shut down existing ones. Hence the much slower private sector response.

              Im not sure that arguing that Denmark got 2/3s of its electricity from wind and solar proves what you want it to prove. Its the one third of generating capacity that you need in the event that its a wind free night in winter. Hence the need for either or storage or an invariant electricity source.

              None of these arguments suggest we should not be investing in renewables. However you will need a lot of renewable electricity capacity to completely eliminate fossil fuels + smart grig + storage. I recall reading through a study which suggested that switching to gas was the single biggest affordable change we could make to hitting climate goals.

              Still, it wouldnt be the first time I misunderstood something.

              Reply
              1. Larry Gilman

                Lazard’s methodology, if you dig into the document, includes equity and cost of equity, which (I’m not an accountant) may go to your query about sunk cost. These people know more about modeling than I know about how to pick my own nose. My own thought is that putting additional money into any enterprise because of one’s sunk costs is irrational, an action known in investing as the fallacy of sunk costs, or more colloquially as throwing good money after bad. If you can save money now by closing a coal plant and building solar/wind instead, then you can. It doesn’t matter what you spent in the past. In any case, such closures aren’t speculative, they’ve already begun (against great systemic inertia and often politicized resistance).

                We will indeed need some “invariant electricity source” (more particularly, we will need dispatchable sources which generate on command, since there is no such thing as a truly invariant or non-intermittent energy source) even after all the type-and-region complementarities of wind/solar have smoothed their contribution to the grid. I’m not saying that we can build a 100% renewable grid hooked to nothing but solar panels and wind turbines — only that (a) we in the US can get _much_ closer to 100% than we are today without building large amounts of new storage, because other places are already doing it, and (b) we can get all the way to 100% (or so close as to not signify) by building a modicum of storage. That the amount required would be crazy, crippling, is often alleged on the Internet but not borne out by quantitative studies. For an introductory deeper dive into the practicalities of scaling storage with renewables, see this from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

                You’re quite right that we will need a lot of renewable capacity, and more storage than we have today, to completely kick fossil fuels. Nevertheless, there are a lot of pseudo-common-sense objections to rapidly and radically expanding our use of renewables that just don’t hold water.

                Denmark’s successful reliance on wind/solar for 2/3 of its power surely does prove what I want it to prove — that a highly reliable system deriving at last 2/3of its power from wind/solar can in fact exist. As for the windless night, forget about it! There is no such thing as a wind-free night in winter over the North Sea. Nor over the whole continental US at once. Look at actual wind power output for any year (e.g., here). It doesn’t go to zero.

                Reply
                1. Zamfir

                  @Larry, not to disagree with your overall point, but Denmark is not a good point of reference. It is deeply connected to its neighbours, and the system would not function if those neighbours had the same reliance on wind power.

                  If Europe wants to get close to zero CO2 emissions, then we will definitely face a “low wind in winter” problem at some point, and probably earlier than Denmark-alone numbers suggest. There are good studies, it’s not not hopeless, and we can keep gas plants operational while we work on it, but it’s not really solved yet, not even on paper.

                  The case for the US might be better, I think. Both latitude and population density work in your favour.

                  Reply
                  1. Larry Gilman

                    I appreciate that you agree overall, but I think that Denmark, Germany, Portugal, and others — I’m not fixated on Denmark as an isolated system or case, it’s neither — are fine points of reference for my simple claim that a country can consume large amounts of solar and wind power without batteries and without comprising reliability, and that wind/solar do not, as is often claimed online, destroy grid reliability or deploy in lockstep with batteries. Of course Denmark is interconnected to the rest of Europe, but it signifies that adding masses of wind/solar in Denmark and elsewhere to Europe’s supergrid hasn’t diminished European power reliability, nor is projected to even with highly ambitious ongoing wind/solar deployments in Europe.

                    As power systems approach very high reliance on solar/wind the picture of course shifts. I distinguish between the baby steps that the US is taking, the more advanced changes happening in Europe, and the final steps toward 100% renewable supply that nobody is yet taking anywhere (but which are technically feasible, as many studies show: https://www.dropbox.com/t/qGrHR7NvDfR8JSnT). Diversity of sources and storage modes will be inevitable in the final runup to ~100% renewables.

                    The correct scale of comparison is, in any case, not US to Denmark but US to Europe. The US is more like a weird Europe than like an overweight Denmark. So If people would rather talk Europe than Denmark, Germany, or other particular countries, fine: Europe used 38% renewable electricity in 2020, including 20% wind and solar (twice the US level). This without significant battery deployment. And wind/solar output in Europe continues to grow, with concern centering on whether that growth is too slow (also here).

                    Reply
                    1. Zamfir

                      As I said, I think we agree. I just feel that people use the Denmark example, beyond what it can bear at the moment. Effectively, Denmark exports a large share of that wind power, to areas with lower wind reliance. As a rough estimate, 30% to 40% of domestic consumption is covered by wind and some sun (including some imported wind power), the remainder is domestic or imported dispatchable power. Still a useful example of what’s definitely possible in the real world, just not as strong as the raw numbers say.

                      In my view, people overestimate the risks of intermittency. Suppose that, despite best efforts otherwise, we really run into some stalemate situation. Where renewables have to be curtailed for a good chunk of the time, while gas generators have to be maintained during the year for backup use during parts of it. At some point, the marginal value of more renewable installation might be too low for further expansion, and the expansion of renewables would slow or stop.

                      Then we’re still in a better place then we are today, with with less CO2 emissions, and less dependency on gas imports. And we can work on further improvement, using real world information.

                      It’s not like we have to figure out the intermittency issue at the start, in all details. We can see how far we get, and solve issues along the way.

              2. Zamfir

                Optionality is an important factor here.

                If you have a fossil plant that is losing some not-too-big amount of money, you can keep it open for while, just to see if the market turns in its favour. If the market stays negative, you can also close it later. So you’re paying a small price, to keep multiple options open. But if you close it, it’s usually expensive to bring it back online.

                If the build a solar plant, you have no options. If future prices are lower than you expected, you cannot reverse the investment. So you need much more certainty before you make the decision, or high profits in the first few years.

                If solar power is falling in cost, your plant will eventually have to compete with those future, cheaper plants! Whose output is perfectly correlated with yours…

                There are all kinds of complications like this, and as result developments go slower than you might expect on levelized cost calculations alone.

                Reply
              3. Larry Gilman

                “I recall reading through a study which suggested that switching to gas was the single biggest affordable change we could make to hitting climate goals.”

                You might have understood it perfectly, but it could still be obsolete. Solar cost has declined 90% in the last decade, wind 70% (or slightly smaller figures, depending on the source), and the declines continue: many heads have not yet managed to wrap around these facts, and many older studies have been rendered moot.

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                1. Harry

                  Mr. Gilman, the differences between us are pretty small. The piece was from a consultancy run out of the UK, and was written two years ago. The author was trying to cost carbon reduction. Of course, its very easy to make methodological errors. But at the time I remember thinking that his logic seemed plausible.

                  Reply
      2. Larry Gilman

        “The caveat to this is the intermittency problem. Everyone has some kind of solution to intermittency, no one has a solution which wont require some very expensive power storage, or nuclear.”

        Intermittency is vastly overstated as a problem for grid-scale renewables. Batteries or other dispatchable power sources do not need to be added to the grid at all as wind/solar generators are added, up to some very large fraction of total supply (“penetration”) – a fraction not yet remotely approached in the United States. Denmark got 62% of its electricity from wind and solar in 2020, Germany 37%, without deploying significant new grid-scale storage and while supplying more reliable power than US grids.

        Nuclear is not a solution to intermittency, since it is itself intermittent: all nukes go offline for refueling or unexpected events, often for months. Scale and predictability differ between the intermittency of solar/wind and large thermal plants, but intermittency is a characteristic of all generators. This is why grids are already equipped with the extra capacity (e.g. spinning reserves), and storage (97% pumped hydro, built to serve grids based on large thermal nuke-or-coal plants) needed to handle the intermittency of their generators, and why the world has been able to add so much wind and solar without so far building dedicated dispatchables or storage to compensate for their famous intermittency.

        Storage is relatively expensive but getting cheaper along well-studied curves based on learning and scale of production. It will only be needed in modest quantities to support highly reliable near-100% renewable grids.

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    5. John k

      Nat gas has approximately doubled since pre Covid to $5-6/1000ft3, and already was having hard time w renewables. Not many will be contracting for hew gas builds.
      Trucks, ships planes will take longer, but pax cars are coming fast.

      Reply
  2. bob

    We put the money into building 200 nukes now, and it might stave off some of the massive demand shortages in 10 years and help buy time to shift infrastructure in other directions.

    Meddling at the margins with talks of 5 or 10% doesn’t do anything other than offer up investment opportunities to smug, environmentally conscious investors and consumers.

    Reply
    1. Larry Gilman

      Since you mention money, there’s this: Newbuild nukes, according to Lazard and all other independent analytic outfits I know of, are now by severalfold the most expensive form per kWh of newbuild grid-scale energy generation, while newbuild wind and solar are now cheaper per kWh than gas, coal, or nuclear and continue to get cheaper. Even the operating costs of some US nuke plants are now higher than the cost of replacing them with newbuild wind and solar (see here, p. 238-247). In favorable areas, solar is now “the cheapest source of electricity in history” (IEA World Energy Outlook 2020) — and getting cheaper.

      Using our finite funds to build 200 nukes now, assuming that were technically possible — have you been following the news on reactor build abandonments? — would therefore cost at least several times more than building the same amount of solar and wind generation. Also, build would take on the order of ten-fold longer than for renewables, during which time carbon fuels would be burned to supply that power. We would therefore get less power for our money, and keep less carbon promptly out of the atmosphere (zero during the construction interval), by building those 200 nukes than equivalent renewable supply starting today.

      As for the “meddling at the margins with talk of 5 or 10%,” I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Denmark got 62% of its electricity from wind and solar in 2020, Germany 37% (both without yet deploying significant new grid-scale storage). 100% or near-100% renewable supply is technically feasible and fiscally affordable by well-studied pathways (e.g., here). Ten percent of supply from wind/solar is only where the laggard USA happens to be at this moment.

      Given the alignment of low cost with low carbon with renewables, it’s no wonder that in 2020, 90% of new generation installed globally was renewables, while global nuclear output has remained flat for the last 20 years.

      Hope y’all are enjoying the popcorn . . .

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Even the nuclear industry admits now that renewables are, at the very least, cost competiive. Nuclear power has lost the argument nearly everywhere apart from Russia and Japan (for specific local reasons). But they keep waving unicorns like fusion or modular reactors or fast breeders in the hope that nobody notices. Unfortunately for them, the energy industry has noticed, which is why its entirely dependent on government money, half a century since it would create energy ‘too cheap to meter’.

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        1. Joe Well

          Fusion has nothing to do with the existing nuclear energy industry, or am I badly misinformed?

          Fusion would require entirely different plants that don’t need the cooling and safety mitigations of nuclear fission.

          Fusion would also use different fuels.

          Fusion, currently, has no relationship to the military and extremely little government support (in the US but I assume elsewhere).

          Existing nuclear players would have no advantage in a hypothetical fusion market other than being tied into the grid the same as any other power generator.

          If fusion ever stopped being a pipe dream, it would be the end of nuclear energy and every other kind of electricity generation, though I’m not holding my breath.

          Reply
          1. Larry Gilman

            Fusion technology remains decades from even producing net electricity, much less producing net electricity economically enough to compete with other energy sources, especially solar/wind, which are now cheaper to build than anything else and will be even cheaper decades hence.

            Fusion is a complex way of boiling water to make steam to turn turbine-generators. But solar/wind are already cheaper than newbuild boiling-water generating stations with free thermal islands (steam sources), fission or other: the rest of the plant costs too much. If heat energy from fusion were free, which it will assuredly never be, turning that free heat into electricity would still fail to compete.

            Reply
        2. Eric377

          If renewables can handle demand without availability issues, then the hypothetical need goes away. So this discussion I think is about a future situation where the choice is what makes up a shortfall or backstops availability? I am not pro-nuke really, but my gut is telling me that some are seriously rooting for a “well, we just will get along with less energy and put up with brownouts”. I don’t see that happening in this country for a long time. Stop and think that the surge across the border is frankly substantially driven to get to a life of much higher energy consumption.

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      2. Grumpy Engineer

        @Larry Gilman: The only reason Denmark and Germany can generate as much renewable power as they do without storage is because they have large interconnects with Norway, which has MASSIVE hydro resources. And hydroelectric is unique among renewable energy sources in that we have some control over the time of day when the power is generated. So during the day, Denmark and Germany send surplus power north to Norway, and the Norwegians let water build up behind their dams. And during the night, the Norwegians generate surplus hydro power and send it back south. If you look at power import-export charts for Denmark and Germany, you’ll see that they rely heavily on exchanges with their neighbors to keep things up. If they had isolated grids, it wouldn’t work.

        Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have a neighbor with hydro resources much greater than our own. Both the Canadian and Mexican grids are smaller than ours. So we’ll probably crap out at 20% renewables penetration before excessive curtailments make new deployments pointless.

        And please, don’t link to Mark Jacobson’s “plan” for 100% WWS. It’s crap. I give him credit for recognizing the need to deal with intermittency, but he was completely oblivious to resource limitations that exist in the real world. Increase US hydro by a factor of 10X? No way. Assume that rivers that replenish hydro reservoirs have perfectly consistent flows? Um, no. Droughts and seasonal variations actually do occur. And rapidly deploy a stupendous 540 TWh of energy storage when we currently have less than 0.1% of that amount? Again, no way.

        His paper was so unrealistic that a group of experts felt compelled to publish a formal rebuttal.

        We find that their analysis involves errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions. Their study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses that point to the benefits of considering a broad portfolio of energy system options. A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system.

        Until we have a cost-effective way of generating low-carbon power during periods of unfavorable weather when wind and solar assets are down (i.e., windless winter nights), we don’t have a complete solution.

        Reply
        1. Larry Gilman

          Yes, Denmark buffers its domestic production imports and exports of power, the imports including hydro, solar/wind, and thermal-plant power from its neighbors.

          But first, I’d like to know a technical source for your account of massive diurnal exchanges between Danish wind and Norwegian pumped storage. This seems at odds with what EnAppSys BV director Jean-Paul Harreman says: “It is unlikely that Norway will absorb excess renewable generation from other countries. This would require Norway to import power. The majority of hydropower in Norway is not pumped storage, which means that the flexibility to consume power is very limited. It would not be economical to import power from the continent to run the limited amount of pumped storage [in Norway].” https://www.power-technology.com/features/how-norway-became-europes-biggest-power-exporter/.

          But let’s say you’re right. You still haven’t shown that Denmark needs storage (Norwegian hydro, batteries, or other) to achieve 62% of wind/solar supply, only that to do so it needs some fraction of dispatchable supply — which nobody ever doubted. The fact remains that Denmark got 62% of its power from wind and solar in 2020 — six times more than the US — despite that intermittency which you repeatedly cite as a show-stopping flaw of solar/wind. And it did so while supplying more reliable electricity than the US. And without fast-ramping bulk storage such as batteries.

          At an absolute minimum, therefore, Denmark proves that manyfold higher-than-US reliance on wind/solar is feasible in a grid with some fraction of dispatchables — storage or other. How big must that dispatchable supply be? No more than 38% (where Denmark is at now), probably far less (for existence proof, watch as Denmark continues to aggressively expand its solar/wind fraction). And yes, to get to 90-100% renewables would require some significant amount of storage and/or other dispatchables. Fine, no show-stopper here. The hydro plants that presently supply about 7% of US electricity aren’t going anywhere, and the US has 30 GW of pumped hydro storage capacity that also isn’t going anywhere, and there is eventually going to be a great deal more non-hydro storage coming online: not only lithium batteries but flow batteries, molten salts, other, which at rising levels of penetration will, given technical learning curves and economies of scale, become more and more affordable.

          My own point was and remains that relatively very high penetration of solar/wind compared to the US’s present level (~10%) is feasible without installing large quantities of new dedicated storage, e.g. batteries. Which is true.

          As for the Jacobson paper, I thank you for citing a rebuttal. But I think you make too much of the bare fact that a Group of Experts Felt Compelled to Reply. One could as well say with a flourish that the Group of Experts’ rebuttal was so faulty that Jacobson’s own team of experts felt compelled to publish a formal rebuttal to the rebuttal, which they did. But that desn’t prove anything either, does it? To adjudicate who is in the right, or where both parties are right and/or wrong, we would have to get into the disputed details. Which would be pointless, because if Jacobson really makes you bang your head on your desk, I will instead cite these 15 other studies of 100% renewable energy supply.

          As for the killer problem of the Windless Winter Night, it is (a) a mere hand-waver until/unless models show that such conditions are in the real world a killer for the prospect of 90-100% renewably-sourced grids, even those incorporating existing hydro generation, existing hydro storage, new geothermal, new non-hydro storage, demand-side response, and the like, (b) not nearly as hairy a problem to begin with as you seem to think, partly because real-world grids are very, very large and it is never windless over a whole continent at once.

          I get that solar and wind aren’t unicorn magic. But your view that there are fundamental, obvious obstacles to extremely high (90-100%) reliance on renewables puzzles me. It does not seem to me to be soundly based.

          Reply
          1. Grumpy Engineer

            Norwegian hydro being used as a battery for renewables? Of course it is. See “Norway as a Battery for the Future European Power System—Impacts on the Hydropower System“.

            And as for why high penetration levels are problematic, I’ll point you to studies by Roger Andrews:

            https://euanmearns.com/grid-scale-storage-of-renewable-energy-the-impossible-dream/
            https://euanmearns.com/the-quest-for-100-renewables-can-curtailment-replace-storage/.

            In both of these reports, Andrews looked at supply vs demand on a timeline using scaled-up numbers from actual renewable generation histories and compared it to actual power demand histories. And that’s key. If an analysis looks only at total energy delivered or averages (which are the two most common mistakes), the ability to estimate storage requirements gets lost, and costs are greatly underestimated.

            And Andrews keeps coming up with multi-TWh numbers. [Just like Jacobson did, BTW, with his similar LOADMATCH analysis.] And the handful of battery stations that have been deployed lately hold less than a single GWh each. At this pace, we’ll need thousands of years to deploy enough. This is the show-stopper. And it’s not hand-waving. This type of fine-grained time-domain analysis is the gold standard that truly describes whether or not a power generation scheme is viable.

            Read the second article in particular, which happens to explicitly include Germany and Denmark as examples. 10 TWh between them with 100% over-provisioning of solar and wind? It’s not happening. If the entirety of Europe manages to deploy even 1 TWh of grid storage in the next decade, I’d be astonished.

            Reply
            1. Larry Gilman

              Thank you for the study references. The literature is diverse, with many studies finding deep carbonization of the electrical system or whole energy system feasible and (as you establish) some papers disputing this. I’m in no position to review Andrews in detail on this forum — as you are apparently not in a position to review Jacobson et al.’s response to Clack et al.’s rebuttal. Which is fine. Selected papers do not establish major claims in a field this complex: the trend or sense of the literature is a better guide, and ultimately only what is built cannot be denied.

              The “handful of battery stations that have been deployed lately” are indeed irrelevant to the nascent field of non-hydro grid-scale storage. About as irrelevant, perhaps, as the handful of small turbines generating 1% of US power in 2008 proved to be to the wind systems producing eightfold more power today. Historically, many assertions about what is impossible in this field, including accepted doctrines about what levels of of intermittent renewable penetration not backed by dedicated dispatchables are feasible in grids, have fallen before existence proofs.

              I’m tired and have to get back to work, so I conclude my side of this exchange by noting that pace Andrews, for the US and elsewhere, 100% or near-100% renewable generation has been found to be technically possible by numerous studies (see list of 15 linked in my last post). Cole et al. of NREL find that incremental costs rise nonlinearly for the last few % to 100%, but they suggest that this may motivate demand-side measures to close the gap; in any case, it is a question of cost, not feasibility. Indeed, they find that 90% renewables by 2050 would cost less than maintaining our current generation mix.

              Thank you for a civil and intelligent exchange.

              Reply
      1. Eric377

        This is an example of serious blah-blah. I suspect the number one problem with nuclear is that it would work and then sinners would escape God’s punishment of significantly reduced energy availability. It is not anyone’s imagination that California is already just turning out the lights frequently. The green God has to see people miserable, otherwise how do the elect know they are spiritually superior?

        Reply
        1. PlutoniumKun

          You seem not to have noticed that nuclear plants have been built worldwide for more than half a century. Including in California. Nuclear has stalled for the past 20 years for a simple reason. Its too expensive. And the new Gen V reactors just don’t work very well. France, the most nuclear centred country in the world is moving away from them. They simply can’t afford to build replacements, there are cheaper and more reliable alternatives.

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          1. Eric377

            Well the externalities of carbon fuel generated electricity supposedly threaten life on earth. Anyway, don’t kid yourself thinking that should renewable energy simply not ramp up to cover demand or is intermittent to the extent of routine brownouts that this country won’t simply reconnect the gas lines or restart the Wyoming mines. If the planning isn’t for watt for watt replacement without availability issues (and very likely with growth) there will be some seriously disappointed folks.

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            1. bob

              But we’re going to move to electric cars! We don’t need any more supply for that. Electricity is free at night! /s

              Even at current demand trends, a whole lot of big power is going to be required. Add in cars and every single power demand forecast is toast. Nothing will come close to providing that much power.

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        2. Henry Moon Pie

          It seems to me that the “faithful” in this discussion are the people who ignore all the models and demand they continue to get their Maypo.

          Overshoot is a very unpleasant situation. That’s especially the case where the overshoot reduces the original carrying capacity of a system.

          We can emancipate ourselves from the addiction to conspicuous consumption that was instilled in us by the Madmen, or we can party on until we hit free fall.

          Reply
          1. Susan the other

            I was just thinking how we go in circles. My brain shifts to thoughts of wearing acrylic long underwear made from recycled plastic bottles (requiring high heat) or to combing out snarls rat by rat. Here’s the first requirement for our transition: a safety net. What kind of safety net does a “conspicuous-consumption-world” need to survive at a lower level of energy? At the basic level of consumption for something like survival-security? If world governments would all start to create this safety net simultaneously, so nobody profits from the chump who went first, we might come to understand how the future economy must function to be sustainable. And at that point start to design energy systems to fit. But nobody’s willing to organize the safety net. At least not as far as I can see. All we do is shift into a lower gear, maybe go a little slower for a while and then at our first opportunity we all go on a buying frenzy to make up for it. What would it take for the world to settle on a safety net, to actually effectuate one before we shut off the spigot on energy and excessive consumption? For me, it is first and foremost a question of the safety net.

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            1. Henry Moon Pie

              You have described Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics.

              Think of two concentric circles. The smaller circle comprises what she calls the Social Foundation. It includes basic Maslow-type needs like water, food, health and housing along with social/psychological needs like political voice, peace and justice. The idea is to meet all those needs, which come from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, for everyone.

              Outside the larger circle are nine critical Earth processes that are in danger of overshoot, things like freshwater withdrawals, ocean acidification and climate change. The idea is to stay within the outer circle so that those danger zones are not breached.

              Stay “in the doughnut” is the planning goal. Meet those basic needs (which do not include McMansions, giant pickup trucks or long weekend trips to Rio) and stay below the Earth-system tipping points.

              Reply
          2. Larry Gilman

            I notice you’re using a computer; probably hooked to a grid, certainly manufactured by factories hooked to grids.

            Emancipation incomplete.

            Mine too.

            Reply
            1. Henry Moon Pie

              True enough. Hey, I think I’m getting a glimpse through the mist of your wind power vision. I’ll have to admit the beauty of it appeals to me as a long-time Star Trek person: the wild, chaotic wind captured by human ingenuity and transformed into steady power. That would be amazing even to this tecn skeptic, but thinking back, I can’t remember any American project of that scope except the interstate highway system begun by a much more cohesive, confident nation nearly 70 years ago. Even that turned out to be a boondoggle, especially at the local level, and a weapon of mass destruction against minority communities.

              My read is that slowing the descent is about the best we can do. Or maybe the better metaphor is the Titanic. Things aren’t going down right away. If we work together, we can save more lives and land less catastrophically. There will be a future, and it needn’t be that far a step back in terms of livability. Of course, it’s not going to look like “Modern Family” or “Grace and Frankie.” And that’s better for us anyway.

              The biggest leverage in a system is at the paradigm level as Meadows teaches. The answer to how low we’ll go is found is in how soon the paradigm in our individual systems, i.e. worldview, changes and in how many people.

              We keep hearing the goal for climate change, and even that keeps drifting upward, but the number we don’t hear often is what will happen if we don’t radically change course. Given how we’re doing with the Paris Accords, this is a sobering paragraph from the UN report:

              UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report says that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts.

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        3. fajensen

          No need to “suspect”, the problem with current nuclear reactors is that the technology requires vastly expensive and exacting design, construction, maintenance and decommissioning protocols, some of them performed over inhuman timescales.

          Obviously (one can google the waste dumps in the USA or UK easily enough or the permanent quality problems with current rector builds) this is not being done Now, and Now is actually “The Good Times”. What will happen during a 1920’s crash?

          I France, the state-owned nuclear business can probably keep things ticking over, In the USA and the UK “market forces” will abandon their stranded investments and simply leave them to rot and leak, as they always do and always will.

          PS: The nuke God demands active cooling for 2000 years for some of its blessings, to keep that going for so long, one actually needs to create a church and a religion around it.

          Reply
      1. Eric377

        Apollo is an interesting benchmark. A solid decade of development that involved a tiny fraction of society. This is a much, much larger task, and also involves much more complicated social acceptance issues. “Hey, we are going to launch people to the moon. What do you think?” “Great!”. “Hey, we are going to increase your energy bills a lot and also maybe sometimes it won’t be available. What do you think?” “Not great!”.

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      2. bob

        bob is bob. I’ve always been bob

        I dealt with the lazzard sales brochure above. They deal only with cost. Cost being the same or less doesn’t equal using less hydrocarbons. It just shifts the use of those hydrocarbons. They never deal with that. They just add another graph full of data about-

        “Selected renewable energy generation technologies are cost-competitive with conventional generation technologies under certain circumstances

        Even they aren’t claiming what you are

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        1. Bob

          NO, you are not Bob.

          The facts (Lazard/EIA) as we know them clearly indicate that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels.

          And it is simple renewables have no fuel cost.

          The intermittency argument is a canard promulgated by the utility companies. Think about it -ALL electrical generation is intermittent. Whether it be fossil fueled or renewable.

          Reply
    2. Mikel

      We’re NOT a serious nation about infrastructure maintenance, environmental protection, or public health.

      That kind of tech doesn’t belong in the hands of abject insanity.

      There. Said it.

      Reply
    3. upstater

      Assuming the current $30B cost of Vogtle units 3 and 4 hold, that implies for 200 nuclear units (100 plants) the cost would be $3T. One would think the evaporated nuclear engineering and trades would be redeveloped and suppliers would have incentive to scale up for decades of work, driving down unit costs.

      Compare $3T for 200 nuclear plants to the $6T Cost of the Iraq War.

      Not that I am enthused about nuclear generation… but food for thought

      Reply
  3. PlutoniumKun

    Its hard to know where to even begin with an article like this. Its so vague, its not even wrong. Its just misconcieved. The first bullet point alone shows its confusion. Apparently the future of fossil fuels are assured because…. they are so very expensive. Thats some logic at work there.

    First, some basic facts. Most electricity infrastructure is constructed on a 20-25 year life cycle. Some plant of course can be extended far longer – there are hydro schemes a century or more old still generating power quite happily, but in terms of design life and economic payback, this is the norm. Most older plant (generation and distribution) does operate longer for this, but usually not as the backbone of a system – they gradually go into reserve or get mothballed for emergency use.

    But in general, this means that to replace a system within 2-3 decades is neither a ‘cost’, nor beyond what is economically feasible. It is simply the normal replacement cycle. In this regard, it should be noted that CCGT (gas) plants are likely to have a much shorter life than anticipated, because they were originally designed for ‘peaking’, while they have become the backbone of the system more or less by accident. There have already been major problems in Europe as these plants have gone off-line for many months due to unexpected breakdowns.

    So its only a ‘cost’ if you choose a more expensive generating system. Renewables are, in most circumstances now, the cheapest replacement system. Cheaper than fossil fuels, cheaper than nuclear. This is a simple fact which is generating fundamental changes in electricity investment. As posted above, Lazards (the most widely used industry metric) state this. The European Commission accepts this. Even the International Energy Agency accepts this (a traditionally very pro fossil fuel and nuclear organisation). The IEA sums it up quite clearly:

    In the United States, gas-fired power plants benefit from the expected low fuel prices in the region, although fuel price assumptions are, in general, uncertain. Nevertheless, in terms of the LCOE of the median plant, onshore wind and utility scale solar PV are, assuming emission costs of USD 30/tCO2, the least cost options. Natural gas CCGTs are followed by offshore wind, nuclear new build and, finally, coal.

    In China and India, variable renewables are having the lowest expected levelised generation costs: utility scale solar PV and onshore wind are the least-cost options in both countries. Nuclear energy is also competitive, showing that both countries have promising options to transition out of their currently still highly carbon-intensive electricity generation.

    The simple reality is that the US is something of an outlier, mostly because of the huge political strength of the fossil fuel industry. In most of the rest of the world, the transition is taking place. There is still a lot of momentum behind coal and natural gas for a number of reasons, but the overall trends are very clear. Solar and wind costs are dropping, often far faster than even the most optimistic scenarios. Nuclear costs are stubbornly high. Even the Chinese have failed to significantly bring down capital costs. But the focus of transmission network investment (outside the US) is now strongly biased towards wider integration to allow deeper renewable penetration (its usually significantly cheaper to extend the size of grids than to construct more storage of back up). The Chinese are focusing heavily on DC lines to back up their somewhat fragmented grid, and this will allow for a far higher integration of renewables. In most grids, significant storage will not be required until penetration gets to beyond 50%, and we are very far from this in most large countries. The US is again something of an outlier, mostly because it is political, not economic or technical problems that stop obvious transitional solutions, such as integrating the California and Texan grids with the rest of the country.

    As for other forms of energy use – well, thats an enormously complicated issue. But the car industry outside the US and Japan has seen the writing on the wall. Its pretty clear now that they are focused on extracting maximum profit from existing production lines while they transition to all EV. This is pretty much built into the business plans now of most main car manufacturers, certainly in China and Europe.

    Even in heavy industry (concrete, steel, fertilizers, plastics, etc) and aviation now, it seems generally accepted that the next generation of plant has to be low or zero carbon – but many industries simply don’t know the correct approach to take (its not that there are no options – in many cases its simply that a lot of cards need to fall into place before they can choose the correct option). Most will hedge their bets by trying to slowly transition existing plant before making decisions on new plant. Increasingly, there is a focus on methods of ‘greening’ existing plant, such as using hydrogen or ammonia as fuels, but that is obviously a very contentious area.

    This of course won’t happen overnight – there is tremendous momentum behind some technologies that make it very hard to replace them, even when logic dictates that they should be replaced. You can see this with coal, where investments take place even when its ludicrous, simply because jobs and votes are at stake in coal mining areas, or in big companies that have invested in making high pressure vessels, or whatever. But scale matters, and we are well past the point in most of the world where scale is kicking in with renewables and EV’s. The decline in fossil fuel use will be much sharper than most analysts anticipate, the question is when it will occur.

    Reply
  4. Solarjay

    Unfortunately I agree that it will take far too long with our current rate of renewables to take over from FF.
    A few statistics At the end of 2020
    Total US installed solar 100GW ( billion watts)
    % of US electrical production 2%
    Amount of solar installed per year in 2020 15-17 GW
    Which works out to about .33% increase per year.
    % of fossil fuel in electricity production 60
    ( 40% NG, 20% coal)

    So all of the info that everyone talks about in reducing GHG’s only talks about electricity.
    Electricity makes up about 1/2 of the total energy load in the US, the rest being transportation, heating, industrial, manufacturing.

    I’ve been working in the solar field for 25 years. I’m a believer. But I have come to think that solar alone isn’t going to be enough. So yes I think that gen 4 nuclear designs might be a way out.
    Here in the US with our advanced but aging infrastructure are going to struggle with major electricifcation. What about the rest of the developing world and the 1-2 billion vehicles, generators etc. Does anyone really think that all those vehicles can be powered let alone converted to electric on any kind of a fast timeline? Not me.
    So what options do we have. A number of companies are starting to build E fuel plants. Gas and diesel made from electricity. It actually makes a lot of sense. Rather than convert the world, convert the fuel. The whole world works on a liquid fuel infrastructure. Just replace the fuel source and keep the infrastructure.
    Yes will take mega power plants to do, perfect for Nucs, renewables etc.

    Take the nuclear plants. Settle on a design and then build 500 of them at the same time. It would take 3-5 years. One advantage of the Gen 4 plants such as the is the fuel is uranium 235 instead of 238.

    Here is a link from a talented professor. The backwards writing is amazing to watch.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=47jP4YlqPZ4&t=986s

    Ok more popcorn

    Reply
  5. PKMKII

    The 800 pound gorilla in the room of energy transitioning isn’t the energy sources themselves, it’s the infrastructure. Consumption of gas going up isn’t because consumers have made an independent choice in a free market, it’s because highways and interstates are the only realistic option for getting around for most Americans. And those highways and interstates continue to exist because of state agency and spending. Energy transitioning will require building out a new infrastructure that’s designed around low energy use, not trying to shoehorn green energy into our existing infrastructure designed around cheap fossil fuels.

    Reply
    1. Eric377

      Maybe the 800 pound gorilla is accepting that is not in the cards right now. But I admire what I sense is some implicit honesty. Here we seem to have some folks trying to tell us that non-carbon alternatives are already cheaper. If that’s the case, then we ought to calmly accept even higher per capita energy consumption so long as it does not put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

      Reply
      1. PKMKII

        Question is, what’s the bigger barrier there: the physical reality of deploying and installing all that new infrastructure? Or the prevailing attitude among TPTB that we just don’t do big things like that anymore?

        Reply
        1. Eric377

          If you want to guarantee that we won’t do this big thing well, then go right ahead and explicitly tie energy transition to a low energy future. You would have to be nuts not to immediately understand that Paris and everything else gets trashed for another 15 years if the message really is that the Green New Deal is intending to achieve lower standards of living. Transition to as similar a lifestyle as possible and if people 40 years from now want to take on better living through lower energy usage, that will be their challenge.

          Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          The Merchants of Fossil are the biggest barrier. I remember a few years ago reading about how the City Leaders of Nashville Tennessee worked up a plan to Mass Transitize the whole Greater Nashville Metropolitan Area and decided to put it up for a vote by all the citizens of Greater Nashville. They all expected it to pass.

          The Legions of Koch mobilized to get it defeated with all kinds of heavily subsidised propaganda campaigns to turn the Nashvilleans against the concept.

          Perhaps the Nashvilleans for Mass Transit should study just exactly how the Kochonspiracy organized all its little koch-heads in the field to defeat that initiative. Perhaps they should replicate those methods themselves and when they have done all the pre-organizing they can do, bring it back up for a re-vote all over again. If they could defeat and destroy the koch-heads in Nashville, and deliver the mass transit plan, that would be a heartening victory to build out from and encourage others with.

          The first step to exterminating the fossil carbon economy is to view its supporters and practitioners as the evil enemy among us who must all “die” if we are to survive.

          Reply
  6. joecostello

    “This year, coal demand is rebounding strongly in 2021, driven by the power sector, the agency said in its Global Energy Review 2021 in April. Natural gas demand is also bouncing back and is expected to erase the 2020 loss and push demand 1.3 percent above 2019 levels, as per IEA estimates in the same review.”

    ESTIMATES be a good time for everyone to learn there’s little real time consumption or supply numbers in the oil industry, which controls gas supplies.

    Reply
  7. upstater

    While renewables may have a cost advantage, intermittancy remains a huge problem. Surely there are massive renewables potential in the great Plains or southwest, but the only way that works as a national solution is with construction of a completely new HVDC grid to move electricity thousands of miles. This is no small political, financial, technical or engineering feat. I cannot see how the present system can possibly pull this off…

    Reply
    1. Jtanon

      I believe the answer to this is construction of renewables overcapacity in places with limited sunlight, like New England. When you throw in larger and improved battery storage and some use of nat gas for peak load times, the solutions become achievable.

      Btw, I want to caution against focusing on the US. We are a sideshow and in fact our greenhouse gas emissions have been decreasing. The action on this front is in India and China both of whom emit more greenhouse gases than Europe and the US combined with emissions rising rapidly. Several of the world’s largest solar plants are in India. This technology really needs to take off in Asia.

      Reply
      1. upstater

        There is a building boom of utility scale solar in Central New York State. We average 120″/3m of snow per year. Sometimes roofs or residential houses are covered in snow for weeks, if not months on end. Utility scale PV will contribute next to nothing during much of winter satisfying a grid that has similar winter and summer peak loads. Building overcapacity does nothing to solve intermittancy.

        The US and Europe have simply outsourced carbon emissions to Asia. There is no accounting of how much of world CO2 is attributable to rich countries and individuals.

        Reply
        1. JE

          As someone who has had rooftop solar in MN (80+” snow per year) for 12 years i can tell you that cleaning snow off panels is easy. Especially for utility scale at ground level. A living wage worker could clear an acre of panels in an hour with a push broom easily. Not to mention that utility scale panel installations can tilt to get optimal insolation angle depending on the season which also includes tilt to dump snow. None of the many utility scale installs here have snow on them in the winter. Clouds are obviously another issue.

          Cars don’t seem to have much trouble on the hundreds of miles of roads in upstate new york under that insurmountable pile of 120″ of snow. It’s a matter of priority.

          Your comment without even a modicum of knowledge about solar contributes nothing, rather seeks to cloud (ha!) the issue. Thanks for carrying water for the fossil fuel industry, intentionally or not.

          Reply
      2. Henry Moon Pie

        “We are a sideshow and in fact our greenhouse gas emissions have been decreasing. The action on this front is in India and China both of whom emit more greenhouse gases than Europe and the US combined with emissions rising rapidly.”

        That seems problematic on two fronts:

        1) Do you really consider it just to compare the U.S. and Europe with India and China on an national aggregate basis? Wouldn’t per capita be a little more broad-minded? Here’s a per capita map that shows just internal energy consumption and concrete production. It shows the U.S. among the worst while China’s footprint is lower and India’s much lower.

        2) Another sleight of hand is considering only the domestic footprint. The result of all the job outsourcing to China and India has been not only to export jobs but also to export carbon emissions. When the carbon footprint of imports is considered, carbon emissions have been growing right along with GDP in the Anglo countries and EU.

        The result of what you advocate, letting the U.S. off the hook and clamping down on China and India, will have the usual imperialist and colonialist results.

        Reply
        1. Jtanon

          What are you talking about?

          The US is building out renewables quickly and in fact has the lowest solar construction costs in the world. Europe is moving aggressively to implement renewables. No one is letting the advanced economies off the hook.

          Per capita: the Earth doesn’t care about pet capita emissions, it cares about the absolute level.

          Moralizing is clouding your judgement.

          Reply
          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Your comment is in bad faith and makes other violations of our site Policies. Impressive in a perverse way to engage in so much misconduct in such a short posting.

            You smear HMP As if his position was obviously incomprehensible or absurd, which is it not, as a way to get out of addressing his argument, which is very clearly stated, that the way we look at US emissions ignores the fact that we offshore a huuge amount via having China serve as our factory.

            You violate house rules a second time by, Making Shit Up. You do not substantiate your assertion by providing a link, presumably because it won’t support your claim. Most US solar panels come from Asia, so it seems hard to believe that our costs are the lowest when we import boatloads. And if by “construction costs” you mean installation costs, that’s a deliberate effort to mislead, and so another demonstration of bad faith argumentation.

            I trust you will find your happiness on the Internet elsewhere.

            Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          The way to solve the “outsourced carbon skyflooding” problem is to abolish Free Trade and restore militant belligerent Protectionism.

          We should re-shore all our thing-making and service-providing activity to within our own borders. That way, all the carbon we are responsible for flooding the sky with would once again be flooded from within our own physical borders, where we would have to face up to it honestly.

          But for that to work, we would have to have a hard ban against imports from “cheaper-cost” areas in order to permit our own re-shored industries and activities to survive without being price-undercutting assassinated by carbon-dumping output imposed on us by our trading enemies designed to exterminate our re-shored industries and activities.

          I would expect that they would ban exports from us to them in response to our banning exports from them to us. And that would be fair, as well as being the desirable long-term outcome, because among other things it would stop the carbon skyflooding caused by shipping things from there to here and from here to there.

          Reply
  8. Mikel

    “advanced” economies

    That descriptor just doesn’t due truth justice.
    If this is “advancing,” doom is nearer than previously thought.

    Reply
  9. Mikerw0

    Westinghouse has sold the government on small nuclear reactors — Project Pele. The backdoor is getting DoD to finance them. We’re going to deploy them worldwide. Oh brother, shoot me dead.

    Reply
  10. Guy Hooper

    The first principle here is this: stop burning fossil fuels or die.

    That reality does not even get discussed in fossil fuel boosterism. Yet the individual should always ask “compared to what”. As in, our future with fossil fuels is (something) compared to one based on renewables. Instead, we get articles banging on about the inevitability of fossil fuels supported by business as usual (BAU) analyses.

    BAU is going to “win” IMHO because global elites aren’t about to disturb the fossil fuel based business models that make up the global economy.

    “We could change but we’re not going to so plan for the end of civilization” is the subtitle for all of these articles. The 99.9% are never going to be asked “Do you consent to the destruction of your civilization?” Their leaders know that is the question that cannot be asked. Instead, we get media bombardment telling us that there is no alternative if you want to “keep living in a modern world.” This is clearly a false choice.

    Numerous studies point out that technology will permit a change, but the global commitment must be total. Na ga happen. Instead, the continual cost/price decline in renewables is the only possible ray of hope because “markets” will notice. Not optimistic because existing business models own governments so they will prop up Manchin and ensure he wrecks even modest attempts to get started.

    Do You Consent to the Destruction of Your Civilization….?

    Reply
    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Stop burning fossil fuels or die.

      Unfortunately, the converse of this is true as well: “Stop burning fossil fuels and die.” What do I mean by this?

      Well, if I waved my magic wand and instantaneously halted all fossil fuel burning in the US, what would happen? 99% of the US auto fleet would come screening to a halt. People in rural communities would effectively be cut off from the rest of civilization. Most farm equipment would quit working, and the trucks used for transporting food would be non-operational anyway. Urban communities would promptly begin to starve. And suburban communities? It’d be a mix of both.

      And in colder climates, people’s oil- and gas-fired furnaces would suddenly become defunct. And winter is coming. People would freeze to death. Sure, you could switch to geothermal heat pumps, but those require electricity, and that’ll be in short supply without gas-fired turbines providing power when weather conditions are unfavorable for renewables.

      Right now we can’t do a hard stop on fossil fuels without causing massive human suffering. And given a choice between suffering now and suffering later… Well, I know how human nature works.

      Reply
      1. Guy Hooper

        Strawman argument, GE. Stopping as fast as possible in the manner that has been proposed often by various groups (e.g. Stamford) is the only way ahead. Sudden stop won’t happen for reasons you illustrate, but more to your point, we passed the point of easy choices years ago. What remains in front of us is painful no matter what we do. Fossil fuels have the tail risk of self-extinction. Renewables do not if sustainability becomes part of our economics. Not holding my breath.

        Reply
        1. Grumpy Engineer

          I admit to making an exaggerated argument in terms of the timeline, but it’s not a strawman argument. We can’t get rid of fossil fuels until the devices (e.g., cars and furnaces) that use them have been replaced. Attempting to do so before the demand has been replaced will leave people stranded on the side of the road and/or freezing in the dark.

          The US auto industry manufactures nearly 15 million cars per year, over 97% of which require gasoline or diesel fuel to operate. Notably, those cars will require a steady stream of petroleum-based fuel until they are retired (15+ years from now). The US HVAC industry makes 4.6 million gas-fired water heaters and 3.3 million gas-fired furnaces per year, and these will similarly require a steady stream of fracked natural gas for their 10+ and 20+ year service lives.

          I understand the desire to stop burning fossil fuels. I even share that goal. But I don’t see it happening anytime soon. We’re barely nibbling at the edges of the auto industry today, and hardly anybody is even discussing HVAC equipment, much less making inroads on actual low-carbon replacements.

          Reply
    2. Eric377

      As far as I can tell, there is no example of any public official preventing the adoption of technology that made people more prosperous except in small geographies for a fairly insignificant time. I’m sure you can find some town that felt so invested in a canal in Indiana that they rejected a rail link in 1866, or another that thought running I70 8 miles north of town in the 1950s made sense to preserve a.bustling center. Convince people their lives will be more prosperous, and seriously discount the persuasive impact of hurricane damage photos where there always has been hurricane damage or ‘man is it hot in the desert’ stuff.

      Reply
      1. Henry Moon Pie

        No one can argue that your belief in “progress” and the intrinsic value of consumption is widespread in our society. It’s little wonder since omnipresent hucksters have been pounding these “truths” in our heads for a century using ever more effective psychological tricks and ever more intrusive technology.

        But that religion of Mo Betta is not some sort of genetically determined mindset–quite the contrary. It’s probably of benefit to all of us, as an antidote to the sad “one who dies with the most toys wins” worldview that lies in the “heart and soul of the spender” to listen to an alternative view:

        The greatest evil: wanting more.
        The worst luck: discontent.
        Greed’s the curse of life.

        Tao te Ching #46 (Version by UK Le Guin)

        And before you reject Lao-Tzu’s observations as an anachronism, check out the Easterlin paradox. More is not better, even if we lived on a planet with infinite resources and sinks.

        Reply
        1. Eric377

          I do respect the notion of simpler lives of less consumption. But don’t tie it in any important ways to decarbonizing. It’s a second effort and it will seriously compromise this first part by alienating enough people if they think it is an important goal of this effort. But my point was do not get too stressed that Joe Manchin can stop a transition if that transition is truly improving people’s lives. He can’t. But don’t think for a moment that transitioning to things that make life less enjoyable is going to work. Like don’t think stuff like “well that family just shouldn’t want to go boating, so if we make boating really expensive, it will be okay”. I don’t go boating if that matters.

          Reply
  11. Zamfir

    Based on the article title: are there really people who think that an energy transition is a matter of years instead of decades?

    Reply
    1. Jtanon

      Yes, me. But better to think quantitively than using a vague word like “transition.”

      How about meaningful annual decreases in greenhouse gas emissions? By 2030, I say.

      Reply
      1. Zamfir

        Yeah, that’s a good point. As a proposal to put a number on it: I’d say “transition” implies something like a 70 or 80% reduction in GHG emissions from the peak, with an ongoing trend further down. Not as end point, but as a point where the outlines of the post-transition system would be clear.

        That can then be applied for several targets – electricity generation per kWh, electricity production overall, all primary energy consumers, all GHG emissions including non-energy sources like land use. For a single country, for some large group of countries, for the world as a whole.

        For comparison, the EU is now proposing a target of 55% CO2 reduction in 2030, compared to 1990. That’s about 40% reduction compared to current levels. That falls short of what I would call a transition – the transition would be underway, but large, difficult and uncertain parts would still be in the future.

        And that EU goal is considered ambitious. It might be possible, but I am far from confident that we will achieve it.

        Reply
  12. Sailor Bud

    I’m such a Luddite that I want to return to horses and sailboats and mostly hand-made things, with provision made for the wonderful bicycle. Think I’m in such a minority, I might as well not exist.

    Reply
    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Enough horses for 8 million people all crammed into NYC? Hoo boy. That’s going to be a lot of work for the pooper scoopers.

      Reply
      1. Sailor Bud

        I’m no city planner, but yeah. We used to have horses and cities. I’d take it over all the problems, cancers, pollution, noise, death, highway segmenting of nature, and murder caused by the fossil fuel industry, though, in addition to making a world that feels natural again instead of this Borg sci-fi trash dystopia. I’m on someone else’s prison planet here, for sure.

        Reply
        1. Henry Moon Pie

          I don’t think you need to be apologetic about your instincts. I guess we can all argue about whether the technological advances since the Industrial Revolution have been a plus for humanity or not, but there is absolutely no question that technology has been very bad news for the Earth and all its non-human creatures. And for those people who could give a damn about the Earth and all its creatures, guess what? We’re just one of those creatures ourselves, Earth is our only home, and our arrogant profligacy will come back to bite us in the ass sooner rather than later.

          Reply
        2. JBird4049

          Just before the automobile became widespread, city planners and governments were worried that large and still growing European and American cities like London and New York would become effectively uninhabitable due to the already large and still growing horse made mountains of manure; between the health risk do the ever present rotting horse carcasses and poop, and the occasional blocking of street of streets and sidewalks by both, it was a serious and real problem. IIRC, they had international conferences on the issue.

          However, growing cities require vast resources in items like food, transportation, and just basic, everyday goods. The denser and more sprawling they became the more horses were needed until they could not deal with the sheer number of horses, living and dead, and their stuff. Cramming more horses was making it just worse. Much like modern traffic jams, just without the increasing number of rotting bodies and growing piles of manure. Solving the problem meant reducing the need for horses, and all they could see as practical was telling people to eat or consume less, or move out of the city. Make them less sprawling and dense.

          Yes, there were laws and street cleaners, but with owners often just leaving the corpse and the sanitation departments always falling behind even with armies of cleaners with both the bodies and the poo. Often, the cleaners would only be able to move the manure, like you do with snow, but snow melts, eventually.

          When the first automobiles, gasoline powered trolleys and buses began showing up, people were often ecstatic, not because they loved the loud, smokey, and smelly vehicles, but because the alternative was so, so much worse.

          Reply
          1. Sailor Bud

            I figured someone would post this or similar, about how much cleaner and better cars are, but you’re just explaining that people were terrible at mass implementation or cleanup then as now. Like the other poster, you also ignored the bicycle bit, which would mitigate the need for one horse/one person. We now live in a country with more cars than people, and they’ll keep making more, because they have to, and that’s what’s on display: growth for growth’s sake. Pig people, blithe and blind as hell to our piggishness.

            Just three of my lifetimes (51 now) ago, the US was mostly virgin wilderness. Now it’s a bunch of gated, fenced in, road-strewn trash, same everywhere, stuffed with ad billboards and litter and cars that should be illegal. What will the next 150 bring? Mountains of trash everywhere and a bunch more extinctions?

            ny, london, and Paris are three cities that deserved horsepoop problems, the way they built up.

            Trains preceded cars, as I recall. It is from reading the voices in the past that I know people can be happy without all this consumer crap, without needing fresh bananas in North Dakota 24/7/365, like a-familyblog-holes.

            Reply
          2. Grumpy Engineer

            @JBird4049: As a point of note, the population of NYC has grown nearly three-fold since the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894. There’s definitely a scaling problem with the horse-based solution.

            Reply
  13. Eric377

    Generally, I recommend that if we want a huge energy transformation that we find people who love the energy business and what energy does for our lives and fund them. If we think we’ll get a great result relying on folks who detest energy to the point of even not having a family only because of energy consumption, why we are some of the biggest fools ever.

    Reply
  14. solarjay

    Lets do some math.
    The USA uses around 4 trillion kWh per year: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/use-of-electricity.php
    1 watt of solar (PV) produces around 1-1.5 kWh per year on average.
    Now the easiest way to show this is what I mentioned before. Its about 50 GW of solar per 1% of the electrical consumption. 60% ( the amount of electricity produced by fossil fuels) x 50GW is 3 trillion watts of PV ( yes I’m not counting wind) to produce on a yearly average as much electricity as we use. That is 300 GW per year for 10 years, and to review, last year the US installed about 15 GW, close. And that is just electrical production/consumption. And that is just the US, what about the rest of the developing world that can barely keep the lights on as it is. China installed about 70GW of solar last year, almost as much as the US has in total.

    And that is a yearly average, meaning that some times of the year there is way extra produced per day, other times like oh you know winter with shorter days, storms, cloudy regions of the US etc its way less that what we need. As an off grid solar designer, the winter sizing is much larger 2-3+ times than for a yearly average ( most people who have solar have grid tied without batteries and they bank during the extra production times to use in the low production times) but the grid doesn’t work that way. We need to produce 100% every second of every day.

    Take for example Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California. It produces 2.2GW of power. For solar to produce as much as that plant does on a yearly basis would take about 13 GW. The US installed about 15-17 GW last year, so almost the full US installation to offset 1 large power plant. I mention it because it is going off line in the next 2 years.

    As to the idea that we will reduce our way out of this situation, just take your own personal life. How do you think you’ll be able to reduce your energy consumption 8% per year for 10 years in a row. Heating, cooling, lights, refrigeration, eating, working, etc really?

    The scientists tell us we are out of time, to get this done. I tend to believe them. That is why it means all of the above approach. Its not about what is more cost effective ( nuclear vs solar) we need to get not only to 100% of all our energy produced with non fossil fuels, but we need to spend an additional probably 100% for carbon reduction, again what the IPCC has been saying for the last 6-10 years.

    I’m not pro nuclear, I’m anti climate change.

    Reply
  15. ptb

    This year’s fossil fuels supply drama is short term.

    * reduced oil output from Covid, having the secondary effect of reducing natural gas which increasingly comes as a byprouct of fracking (practically worthless at the site of production)
    * in the case of oil, OPEC+ imperfectly estimating the post-Covid recovery
    * politics (EU vs Russia and Nord Stream delaying buildout needed to replace coal, China vs Australia, again with coal, China trying to score PR points by accelerating de-carbonization)
    * cold weather in 2020 reducing natgas inventory
    * less than ideal market behaviors like hoarding and cross-border complexities in EU natural gas

    It is the normal way of things in energy commodities – periodic melt-ups and melt-downs. That’s why everyone hedges. On timescales of more than a year there will be enough capacity in both transport and supply.

    For electric, the buildout of wind and solar has been much more successful than expected. But China, easily the most significant source of the hardware in all categories of carbon-free generation, is setting the rate on the order of low 100’s of GW of carbon-free generation online each year. Based on that, it is plainly a multi decade timescale. For road vehicles, the 10-20 year life span of the hardware sets the timeline naturally. Industrial and Agriculture processes should be discussed too, I don’t have numbers.

    Reply
  16. Rod

    Trenchant back and forth in the AM, and even better in the PM so far.
    And far from finished.
    I’m with ya Larry and Sailor Bud and HMP.

    Here’s my take:
    We have a Behavior Problem that is way more formidable than the Technical Problem.

    Reply
    1. Henry Moon Pie

      Thanks, Rod.

      Re: the Behavior Problem, my nominee for a partial solution to our dilemma is: change the worldview; change the behavior.

      It’s probably a question of how low we’ll go at this point. I like to believe that we’re not as far down the path as Kunstler saw things, but I’ll admit it could be worse. Let’s hope (a word Arendt doesn’t like) that the way the social glue is dissolving is an opportunity for something new to take hold rather than just the first thing of many to go haywire.

      Reply
      1. Rod

        thanks back for holding ground in a complex dialogue

        Our ‘first world bubble’ of energy requirements differs significantly from ‘third world bubbles’ and that needs recognizing and sorting. I expect there is much to be derived from the latter.

        I firmly believe: change the worldview; change the behavior.. I also see the difficulty in that illustrated by this dialogue created by Yves’s post of this article. But that does not diminish the necessity of engagement to your point, but imo, reinforces the criticle necessity of addressing mindset.

        You responded to SailorBud using “about your instincts.” and I think that was both critical and insightful.
        Instinct has been diminished greatly in the layers of ‘civilazation’ we have let ourselves be enveloped in, as opposed to, say, the Sioux Nation(and their Pipeline Resistance). The more I think about that, the more I think active erasure of Instinct through Culture may be more nefarious than accepted and discussed–clotting the ability to surface the Change the Worldview.

        just looking at the backyard this morning and thinking “what do we humans really need to get through our short run on this wonderful Planet, I had to think Food/Shelter/Clothing–with some of that other really great stuff just being the gravy on top.

        My direct observation is that there is way to much plastic scattered around my neighborhood and in my river..
        My Instict tells me this is not a good thing, despite its proliferated acceptance.

        Reply
  17. drumlin woodchuckles

    Several years ago in a thread at Sic Semper Tyrannis, a contributor who also comments said in a comment thread that America requires vast fluxes of energy to meet its electricity needs. And renewables will never ever produce that much vast energy fluxes.

    So I thought of a way to re-word a possible approach to that problem. If a steady move over the years to come to reduce electricity use lead to our cutting our electricity use in overall-half, then our demand would sink from vast to half-vast. And we would only need half-vast fluxes of energy to meet our new improved half-vast demand for electricity.

    If we turn the ” mass quantities of energy needed” problem from a vast problem into a half-vast problem, then a half-vast solution like renewables will be big enough to solve our new improved half-vast demand problem. if we can shrink our use of electricity from vast to half-vast.

    Reply
    1. fajensen

      The Holiday Inn Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee I stayed in for work had an aircon the size of a normal 800 liter refrigerator under the window in each room -> Enormous potential for cutting their energy usage with about 1/3 just by replacing that crap with a central system and heating the pool with the waste heat.

      And it’s like that all over. The USA is quite similar to Denmark in the 1970’s, before the oil crisis. The difference is that the USA didn’t have to adjust and nothing happened. When it eventually has to anyway, the whining and the tantrums will be like Covid-19 x 10000.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Could one do the central air conditioning retrofit you advocate for that Holiday Inn and also have enough fresh-air ventilation to prevent covid viruses from building up in the air supply to the point of superspreading to some or all of the hotel guests and/or workers?

        Reply
  18. Bob

    While all of this is interesting, don’t lose sight of the fact that Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) are cost plus operations.

    Fuel is the largest cost quotient for fossil fueled generation.

    Renewables such as hydro, wind, and solar have no fuel cost.

    The IOUs have no incentive to invest in renewables.

    So no fossil fuel cost = no cost plus !!!

    Reply
    1. ocop

      I’ve read this a few times by different commenters recently and feel compelled to point out that it is largely* untrue.

      Regulated utilities make money via a guaranteed rate of return on capital spending. AKA building stuff. Fuel costs are considered an O&M cost and get passed through to consumers (generally retrospectively via rate amendments). This is why you had (and still have, lol) multiple Nukes being built in South Carolina. Its not for the profit on the uranium costs.

      The same logic applies to renewables. In theory regulated rate of return utilities should love building new stuff they get to make money on. To the extent you see utility opposition to renewables its usually some combination of (1) inherent conservatism (organizationally, temperamentally), (2) both reflexive and genuine concerns about grid integration, (3) profit motivation–no money to be made from behind the meter generation (e.g. PV on your house)/3rd party ownership of the assets, and (4) operating the power system well is not easy in the real world (looking at you, ERCOT!).

      On (4) Theres plenty of room to run in the vast majority of the U.S. for renewables until we hit serious operating concerns, but we literally don’t have the technology–it doesn’t exist yet–to get rid the fossil generator backbone of the grid. Somewhat arbitrarily, moving past a 30-40% threshold of electricity from wind/solar becomes exponentially more difficult. I also have have EROEI concerns in a highly renewable energy system (although perhaps best categorized as (2)-reflexive for now until further study)

      *obvious caveat that utility cost accounting is its own arcane science, and I am sure subject to all sorts of financial engineering.

      Source: I work for a large electric utility (bulk power system optimization/planning and not in rates or accounting, thank god).

      Reply
      1. Rod

        ocop–thanks for an insider comment.
        Just, um, a couple of things:

        https://theintercept.com/2019/02/06/south-caroline-green-new-deal-south-carolina-nuclear-energy/
        nobody is tickled by this–but if you(or your employer) are interested, Gov Henry is dealing(but, of course its an ‘As Is’ deal)

        then this
        Regulated utilities make money via a guaranteed rate of return on capital spending.

        And which Utility could resist building a multi-billion dollar pipeline to push Sludge to the refinery

        https://truthout.org/articles/energy-regulators-may-reconsider-rules-critics-say-fueled-us-pipeline-glut/
        Since 1997, FERC has allowed certain new pipelines to rake in 14 percent profits — a rate far higher than the returns presently generated by, say, corporate bonds —

        Reply
      2. Harry

        Thanks for this. If you ever feel like fleshing out the points you make here I for one would be quite interested.

        Reply
  19. synoia

    The best way to cut energy use is local work, work at hone, and local production of all necessities.

    Coupled with massive taxes on imported, and luxury goods.

    And if you consider that is very medieval, you would be correct.

    If we do not get there in a managed manner, we will get there in a uncontrolled (unmanaged, or ungoverned) death spiral.

    Reply

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