Limits to Green Energy Are Becoming Much Clearer

Yves here. Quite a few readers are critical of Gail Tverberg, contending that her views about the potential for green energy are too dogmatic and conservative, particularly with respect to improvements in battery technology. Nevertheless, if her data below on the limited output from hydro, solar and wind relative to total demand are remotely correct, it seems questionable as to whether there is enough in the way of specialized raw materials that can be mined and refined at an affordable environmental cost.

Tverberg’s posts serve as forcing devices. She provides a good bit of data and explains her analyses at length. So when members of the commentariat disagree with her, they usually respond in kind, with links and additional reasoning.

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

We have been told that intermittent electricity from wind and solar, perhaps along with hydroelectric generation (hydro), can be the basis of a green economy. Things are increasingly not working out as planned, however. Natural gas or coal used for balancing the intermittent output of renewables is increasingly high-priced or not available. It is becoming clear that modelers who encouraged the view that a smooth transition to wind, solar, and hydro is possible have missed some important points.

Let’s look at some of the issues:

[1] It is becoming clear that intermittent wind and solar cannot be counted on to provide adequate electricity supply when the electrical distribution system needs them.

Early modelers did not expect that the variability of wind and solar would be a huge problem. They seemed to believe that, with the use of enough intermittent renewables, their variability would cancel out. Alternatively, long transmission lines would allow enough transfer of electricity between locations to largely offset variability.

In practice, variability is still a major problem. For example, in the third quarter of 2021, weak winds were a significant contributor to Europe’s power crunch. Europe’s largest wind producers (Britain, Germany and France) produced only 14% of installed capacity during this period, compared with an average of 20% to 26% in previous years. No one had planned for this kind of three-month shortfall.

In 2021, China experienced dry, windless weather so that both its generation from wind and hydro were low. The country found it needed to use rolling blackouts to deal with the situation. This led to traffic lights failing and many families needing to eat candle-lit dinners.

In Europe, with low electricity supply, Kosovo has needed to use rolling blackouts. There is real concern that the need for rolling blackouts will spread to other parts of Europe, as well, either later this winter, or in a future winter. Winters are of special concern because, then, solar energy is low while heating needs are high.

[2] Adequate storage for electricity is not feasible in any reasonable timeframe. This means that if cold countries are not to “freeze in the dark” during winter, fossil fuel backup is likely to be needed for many years in the future.

One workaround for electricity variability is storage. A recent Reuters’ article is titled, Weak winds worsened Europe’s power crunch; utilities need better storage. The article quotes Matthew Jones, lead analyst for EU Power, as saying that low or zero-emissions backup-capacity is “still more than a decade away from being available at scale.” Thus, having huge batteries or hydrogen storage at the scale needed for months of storage is not something that can reasonably be created now or in the next several years.

Today, the amount of electricity storage that is available can be measured in minutes or hours. It is mostly used to buffer short-term changes, such as the wind temporarily ceasing to blow or the rapid transition created when the sun sets and citizens are in the midst of cooking dinner. What is needed is the capacity for multiple months of electricity storage. Such storage would require an amazingly large quantity of materials to produce. Needless to say, if such storage were included, the cost of the overall electrical system would be substantially higher than we have been led to believe. All major types of cost analyses (including the levelized cost of energy, energy return on energy invested, and energy payback period) leave out the need for storage (both short- and long-term) if balancing with other electricity production is not available.

If no solution to inadequate electricity supply can be found, then demand must be reduced by one means or another. One approach is to close businesses or schools. Another approach is rolling blackouts. A third approach is to permit astronomically high electricity prices, squeezing out some buyers of electricity. A fourth balancing approach is to introduce recession, perhaps by raising interest rates; recessions cut back on demand for all non-essential goods and services. Recessions tend to lead to significant job losses, besides cutting back on electricity demand. None of these things are attractive options.

[3] After many years of subsidies and mandates, today’s green electricity is only a tiny fraction of what is needed to keep our current economy operating.

Early modelers did not consider how difficult it would be to ramp up green electricity.

Compared to today’s total world energy consumption (electricity and non-electricity energy, such as oil, combined), wind and solar are truly insignificant. In 2020, wind accounted for 3% of the world’s total energy consumption and solar amounted to 1% of total energy, using BP’s generous way of counting electricity, relative to other types of energy. Thus, the combination of wind and solar produced 4% of world energy in 2020.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) uses a less generous approach for crediting electricity; it only gives credit for the heat energy supplied by the renewable energy. The IEA does not show wind and solar separately in its recent reports. Instead, it shows an “Other” category that includes more than wind and solar. This broader category amounted to 2% of the world’s energy supply in 2018.

Hydro is another type of green electricity that is sometimes considered alongside wind and solar. It is quite a bit larger than either wind or solar; it amounted to 7% of the world’s energy supply in 2020. Taken together, hydro + wind + solar amounted to 11% of the world’s energy supply in 2020, using BP’s methodology. This still isn’t much of the world’s total energy consumption.

Of course, different parts of the world vary with respect to the share of energy created using wind, hydro and solar. Figure 1 shows the percentage of total energy generated by these three renewables combined.

Figure 1. Wind, solar and hydro as a share of total energy consumption for selected parts of the world, based on BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy data. Russia+ is Russia and its affiliates in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

As expected, the world average is about 11%. The European Union is highest at 14%; Russia+ (that is, Russia and its Affiliates, which is equivalent to the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States) is lowest at 6.5%.

[4] Even as a percentage of electricity, rather than total energy, renewables still comprised a relatively small share in 2020.

Wind and solar don’t replace “dispatchable” generation; they provide some temporary electricity supply, but they tend to make the overall electrical system more difficult to operate because of the variability introduced. Renewables are available only part of the time, so other types of electricity suppliers are still needed when supply temporarily isn’t available. In a sense, all they are replacing is part of the fuel required to make electricity. The fixed costs of backup electricity providers are not adequately compensated, nor are the costs of the added complexity introduced into the system.

If analysts give wind and solar full credit for replacing electricity, as BP does, then, on a world basis, wind electricity replaced 6% of total electricity consumed in 2020. Solar electricity replaced 3% of total electricity provided, and hydro replaced 16% of world electricity. On a combined basis, wind and solar provided 9% of world electricity. With hydro included as well, these renewables amounted to 25% of world electricity supply in 2020.

The share of electricity supply provided by wind, solar and hydro varies across the world, as shown in Figure 2. The European Union is highest at 32%; Japan is lowest at 17%.

Figure 2. Wind, solar and hydro as a share of total electricity supply for selected parts of the world, based on BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

The “All Other” grouping of countries shown in Figure 2 includes many of the poorer countries. These countries often use quite a bit of hydro, even though the availability of hydro tends to fluctuate a great deal, depending on weather conditions. If an area is subject to wet seasons and dry seasons, there is likely to be very limited electricity supply during the dry season. In areas with snow melt, very large supplies are often available in spring, and much smaller supplies during the rest of the year.

Thus, while hydro is often thought of as being a reliable source of power, this may or may not be the case. Like wind and solar, hydro often needs fossil fuel back-up if industry is to be able to depend upon having electricity year-around.

[5] Most modelers have not understood that reserve to production ratios greatly overstate the amount of fossil fuels and other minerals that the economy will be able to extract.

Most modelers have not understood how the world economy operates. They have assumed that as long as we have the technical capability to extract fossil fuels or other minerals, we will be able to do so. A popular way of looking at resource availability is as reserve to production ratios. These ratios represent an estimate of how many years of production might continue, if extraction is continued at the same rate as in the most recent year, considering known resources and current technology.

Figure 3. Reserve to production ratios for several minerals, based on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy.

A common belief is that these ratios understate how much of each resource is available, partly because technology keeps improving and partly because exploration for these minerals may not be complete.

In fact, this model of future resource availability greatly overstates the quantity of future resources that can actually be extracted. The problem is that the world economy tends to run short of many types of resources simultaneously. For example, World Bank Commodities Price Data shows that prices were high in January 2022 for many materials, including fossil fuels, fertilizers, aluminum, copper, iron ore, nickel, tin and zinc. Even though prices have run up very high, this is not an indication that producers will be able to use these high prices to extract more of these required materials.

In order to produce more fossil fuels or more minerals of any kind, preparation must be started years in advance. New oil wells must be built in suitable locations; new mines for copper or lithium or rare earth minerals must be built; workers must be trained for all of these areas. High prices for many commodities can be a sign of temporarily high demand, or it can be a sign that something is seriously wrong with the system. There is no way the system can ramp up needed production in a huge number of areas at once. Supply lines will break. Recession is likely to set in.

The problem underlying the recent spike in prices seems to be “diminishing returns.” Such diminishing returns affect nearly all parts of the economy simultaneously. For each type of mineral, miners produced the easiest-t0-extract materials first. They later moved on to deeper oil wells and minerals from lower grade ores. Pollution gradually grew, so, it too, needed greater investment. At the same time, world population has been growing, so the economy has required more food, fresh water and goods of many kinds; these, too, require the investment of resources of many kinds.

The problem that eventually hits the economy is that it cannot maintain economic growth. Too many areas of the economy require investment, simultaneously, because diminishing returns keeps ramping up investment needs. This investment is not simply a financial investment; it is an investment of physical resources (oil, coal, steel, copper, etc.) and an investment of people’s time.

The way in which the economy would run short of investment materials was simulated in the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows and others. The book gave the results of a number of simulations regarding how the world economy would behave in the future. Virtually all of the simulations indicated that eventually the economy would reach limits to growth. A major problem was that too large a share of the output of the economy was needed for reinvestment, leaving too little for other uses. In the base model, such limits to growth came about now, in the middle of the first half of the 21st century. The economy would stop growing and gradually start to collapse.

[6] The world economy seems already to be reaching limits on the extraction of coal and natural gas to be used for balancing electricity provided by intermittent renewables.

Coal and natural gas are expensive to transport so, if they are exported, they primarily tend to be exported to countries that are nearby. For this reason, my analysis groups together exports and imports into large regions where trade is most likely to take place.

If we analyze natural gas imports by part of the world, two regions stand out as having the most out-of-region natural gas imports: Europe and Asia-Pacific. Figure 4 shows that Europe’s out-of region natural gas imports reached peaks in 2007 and 2010, after which they dipped. In recent years, Europe’s imports have barely surpassed their prior peaks. Asia-Pacific’s out-of-region imports have shown a far more consistent growth long-term growth pattern.

Figure 4. Natural gas imports in exajoules per year, based on data from on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy.

The reason why Asia-Pacific’s imports have been growing is to support its growing manufacturing output. Manufacturing output has increasingly been shifted to the Asia-Pacific region, partly because this region can perform this manufacturing cheaply, and partly because rich countries have wanted to reduce their carbon footprint. Moving heavy industry abroad reduces a country’s reported CO2 generation, even if the manufactured items are imported as finished products.

Figure 5 shows that Europe’s own natural gas supply has been falling. This is a major reason for its import requirements from outside the region.

Figure 5. Europe’s natural gas production, consumption and imports based on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 6, below, shows that Asia-Pacific’s total energy consumption per capita has been growing. The new manufacturing jobs transferred to this region have raised standards of living for many workers. Europe, on the other hand, has reduced its local manufacturing. Its people have tended to get poorer, in terms of energy consumption per capita. Service jobs necessitated by reduced energy consumption per capita have tended to pay less well than the manufacturing jobs they have replaced.

Figure 6. Energy consumption per capita for Europe compared to Asia-Pacific, based on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Europe has recently been having conflicts with Russia over natural gas. The world seems to be reaching a situation where there are not enough natural gas exports to go around. The Asia-Pacific Region (or at least the more productive parts of the Asia-Pacific Region) seems to be able to outbid Europe, when local natural gas supply is inadequate.

Figure 7, below, gives a rough idea of the quantity of exports available from Russia+ compared to Europe’s import needs. (In this chart, I compare Europe’s total natural gas imports (including pipeline imports from North Africa and LNG from North Africa) with the natural gas exports of Russia+ (to all nations, not just to Europe, including both by pipeline and as LNG)). On this rough basis, we find that Europe’s natural gas imports are greater than the total natural gas exports of Russia+.

Figure 7. Total natural gas imports of Europe compared to total natural gas exports from Russia+, based on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Europe is already encountering multiple natural gas problems. Its supply from North Africa is not as reliable as in the past. The countries of Russia+ are not delivering as much natural gas as Europe would like, and spot prices, especially, seem to be way too high. There are also pipeline disagreements. Bloomberg reports that Russia will be increasing its exports to China in future years. Unless Russia finds a way to ramp up its gas supplies, greater exports to China are likely to leave less natural gas for Russia to export to Europe in the years ahead.

If we look around the world to see what other sources of natural gas exports are available for Europe, we discover that the choices are limited.

Figure 8. Historical natural gas exports based on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy. Rest of the world includes Africa, the Middle East and the Americas excluding the United States.

The United States is presented as a possible choice for increasing natural gas imports to Europe. One of the catches with growing natural gas exports from the United States is the fact that historically, the US has been a natural gas importer; it is not clear how much exports can rise above the 2022 level. Furthermore, part of US natural gas is co-produced with oil from shale. Oil from shale is not likely to be growing much in future years; in fact, it very likely will be declining because of depleted wells. This may limit the US’s growth in natural gas supplies available for export.

The Rest of the World category on Figure 8 doesn’t seem to have many possibilities for growth in imports to Europe, either, because total exports have been drifting downward. (The Rest of the World includes Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas excluding the United States.) There are many reports of countries, including Iraq and Turkey, not being able to buy the natural gas they would like. There doesn’t seem to be enough natural gas on the market now. There are few reports of supplies ramping up to replace depleted supplies.

With respect to coal, the situation in Europe is only a little different. Figure 9 shows that Europe’s coal supply has been depleting, and imports have not been able to offset this depletion.

Figure 9. Europe’s coal production, consumption and imports, based on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy.

If a person looks around the world for places to get more imports for Europe, there aren’t many choices.

Figure 10. Coal production by part of the world, based on data from BP’s 2021 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 10 shows that most coal production is in the Asia-Pacific region. With China, India and Japan located in the Asia-Pacific Region, and high transit costs, this coal is unlikely to leave the region. The United States has been a big coal producer, but its production has declined in recent years. It still exports a relatively small amount of coal. The most likely possibility for increased coal imports would be from Russia and its affiliates. Here, too, Europe is likely to need to outbid China to purchase this coal. A better relationship with Russia would be helpful, as well.

Figure 10 shows that world coal production has been essentially flat since 2011. A country will only export coal that it doesn’t need itself. Thus, a shortfall in export capability is an early warning sign of inadequate overall supply. With the economies of many Asia-Pacific countries still growing rapidly, demand for coal imports is likely to grow for this region. While modelers may think that there is close to 150 years’ worth of coal supply available, real-world experience suggests that coal limits are being reached already.

[7] Conclusion. Modelers and leaders everywhere have had a basic misunderstanding of how the economy operates and what limits we are up against. This misunderstanding has allowed scientists to put together models that are far from the situation we are actually facing.

The economy operates as an integrated whole, just as the body of a human being operates as an integrated whole, rather than a collection of cells of different types. This is something most modelers don’t understand, and their techniques are not equipped to deal with.

The economy is facing many limits simultaneously: too many people, too much pollution, too few fish in the ocean, more difficult to extract fossil fuels and many others. The way these limits play out seems to be the way the models in the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, suggest: They play out on a combined basis. The real problem is that diminishing returns leads to huge investment needs in many areas simultaneously. One or two of these investment needs could perhaps be handled, but not all of them, all at once.

The approach of modelers, practically everywhere, is to break down a problem into small parts, and assume that each part of the problem can be solved independently. Thus, those concerned about “Peak Oil” have been concerned about running out of oil. Finding substitutes seemed to be important. Those concerned about climate change were convinced that huge amounts of fossil fuels remain to be extracted, even more than the amounts indicated by reserve to production ratios. Their concern was finding substitutes for the huge amount of fossil fuels that they believed remained to be extracted, which could cause climate change.

Politicians could see that there was some sort of huge problem on the horizon, but they didn’t understand what it was. The idea of substituting renewables for fossil fuels seemed to be a solution that would make both Peak Oilers and those concerned about climate change happy. Models based on the substitution of renewables for fossil fuels seemed to please almost everyone. The renewables approach suggested that we have a very long timeframe to deal with, putting the problem off, as long into the future as possible.

Today, we are starting to see that renewables are not able to live up to the promise modelers hoped they would have. Exactly how the situation will play out is not entirely clear, but it looks like we will all have front row seats in finding out.

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  1. BrianM

    Interesting and challenging article. I find the absence of nuclear in the article a strange omission. I have sympathy with several of the arguments, which has made me come round to nuclear as the least bad option. I know the political will mostly isn’t there and, in the west at least, the lead times will be long but seems to be the only way out of the predicament.

    Picking up on two of her points (which may be minor but felt wrong to me)
    – in point 5, I’m not sure she’s correct about the ability to extract resources. Her point about running short of several at the same time to me suggests that supply & demand are broadly in balance and economic shocks to supply or demand affect them all due to the long lead times in adding production. It says nothing about our ability to extract in the long-run.
    – in point 6, (fig 9) she suggests it illustrates supply is depleting. I would have thought its slowing demand? Figure 3 suggests there’s plenty in the ground, but looks like a lot of it will stay there (hurray for small victories!)

    1. Martín

      The absence of nuclear is a glaring ommision. The tough picture that the article presents should have us looking at nuclear as an important contender to tackle the problem. Here is something extra to consider: this picture presents resources needed to generate 1MWh of energy with several energy sources. Shows concrete, steel, aluminum and copper.

      People will still argue that spent fuel is an issue. Which of course it is. But when pressed, we humans tend to come up with new solutions, and smart people are already hard at work on this one (just one example).

      1. The Historian

        Do you think the nuclear industry is immune to resource depletion? That isn’t ‘just steel’ or ‘just aluminum’ that is needed to build reactors – they are some very high tech alloys. For instance, 309 SS for a reactor vessel is alloyed with nickel, chromium and manganese. Other metals are needed such as zirconium, cobalt, molybdenum, etc.
        Do you think that we will never run out of any of them?

        For example:,hit%20as%20soon%20as%202025
        As for copper:,of%202%25%20growth%20per%20year.

        I do admire your faith in the ‘smart people’ to solve all our problems though. I would have more faith myself if I didn’t know that these same ‘smart people’ are the ones that brought us to this brink.

        This article is incredibly important – I’d take it to heart!

        1. Alex

          The question is how close we are to this peak.

          To take your examples (zirconium and copper), in case of zirconium it sprang back nicely after the dip in the early 00’s

          Re copper, it seems like the prices have been pretty stable at least since mid-00’s and possibly even earlier if the inflation is taken into account

          I’m not an expert so maybe there is something I’m missing here…

          1. The Historian

            Yours is a question I can’t answer. I’m talking availability and you are talking economics, i.e., price. At what point does scarcity become a factor in pricing?

            Sadly, the more I learn about economics, the more I know I don’t understand it at all. Perhaps someone who does understand economics will pipe in.

            1. Eclair

              RE: ‘the more I learn about economics, the more I know I don’t understand it at all.’

              Perhaps that’s because, as Matt Stoller has written, the “point of economics as a discipline is to create a language and methodology for governing that hides political assumptions from the public.”

              You are maybe still thinking of economics as ‘science?’ :-)

            2. Alex

              Well, absent the actual decline of the production which we do not observe, the depletion should at least manifest itself in higher prices. There are all kinds of reasons why this common sense logic can break down, but whoever is saying that the peak X is around the corner should explain why we don’t see any signals in the price and the production rate.

              Btw for lithium the prices did go up quite a lot recently so this is something worth keeping an eye on in the next few years.

        2. Martín

          I never said nuclear is immune to resource depletition. I agree that the supply of some resources, particularly zirconium, is a relevant issue. That doesn’t stop nuclear from being one our best chances at tackling the current energy problem. Care about copper supply? Refer to how much copper is needed for nuclear vs. other energy sources in the picture in my previous message – nuclear helps ease copper demand.

          And yes, I will keep my faith in ‘smart people’ working out humanity’s problems (and messing some things up in the way). Though I will disagree when you say that ‘smart people’ brought us to this brink. I believe that that one is on us.

          1. tegnost

            to myself, your “smart people” are greedy people who are intent on creating a dedicated silo from which to profit. Indeed, what makes them considered “smart” is that they made tons of money. You imply a selfless attribute to extremely self interested people.

            1. Martín

              Maybe we are talking about different people? I gave an example as to what kind of people I am referring: people working towards building a nuclear reactor that can use spent nuclear fuel, making power while helping solve the nuclear waste problem. I wouldn’t think this is the greedy lot that you’re referring to?

              1. tegnost

                people working towards building a nuclear reactor that can use spent nuclear fuel, making power while helping solve the nuclear waste problem

                Then maybe refer to them as such, and not as smart people.

                1. Hepativore

                  Another thing to consider…90% of the volume of spent fuel from light water reactors can be reprocessed into MOX fuel to be used as reactor fuel, plus there are many sources of uranium that can be mined but have not due to lack of demand because there is a lot of existing uranium already mined. Uranium is also quite common in the Earth’s crust, around the 49th in terms element concentration.

                  The mining process of choice for uranium is in-situ leeching using something like a sodium bicarbonate solution to dissolve the element from the surrounding rock rather than conventional strip-mining or excavation.

                  Uranium is also a lot more energy dense than other fuel sources. A single gram of uranium is equivalent to around three tons of coal, or 600 gallons of crude oil.

                  This is not even getting into the availability of making more nuclear fuel using breeder reactors which produce more nuclear fuel than they consume and there is also the option of thorium for some reactor designs as well.

        3. Susan the other

          I’ve been wondering if our big mining/extraction push to go to the moon and set up our equipment isn’t ill-fated at best. The moon has lots of minerals, but no atmosphere. And the dust on the moon is razor sharp. What happens when we kick up all that dust? Does it form an ever-bigger cloud around the moon, maybe so dense that machinery no longer works? And is it possible that the moon could actually lose enough mass/gravity that it slowly comes closer to the earth? And then what? Then we’d really be talking climate change.

          1. cfraenkel

            The moon has no atmosphere, but does have gravity. What enables dust clouds here on earth is the atmosphere providing buoyancy to let the dust float on the air. On the moon, dust just falls back down.

          2. Grebo

            When you kick up dust on the Moon it falls back down immediately. No atmosphere to hold it up. It can get into the gears though.

            The Moon is presently moving away from the Earth slowly. If you remove mass from the Moon it will move away faster, unless you transfer that mass to the Earth in which case there will be no net effect. However, there is no plausible scenario in which we could remove enough of the (enormous) Moon to have any appreciable effect.

        4. Ezequiel

          I don’t think material scarcity is an issue with nuclear reactors. They are measured in tens of tons at maximum. Something that can produce GW for decades can surely outbid most other uses of steel, zirconium or manganese.

          The problem with nuclear is long lead times and opposition. It is a great trump card to have if others fail. But if the deal is, “society is blindly running towards collapse”, then it may not work so well. I think that is the gist of Gail’s thesis.

      2. Eclair

        President Macron announced the other day that France plans to build more nuclear reactors.

        The French have a good track record, except for the disposal of nuclear waste.

        But, thinking of building reactors in the US. They need lots of water, for cooling. So, that leaves out the the part of the country that is undergoing the 1200 year drought.

        Probably should not build them on earthquake faults. So, that leaves out the entire West coast. And anywhere around the New Madrid fault.

        And, while they can supposedly be hardened to withstand hurricanes, still ….. that might eliminate the Gulf and southeastern coasts. And, probably don’t want them in the middle of Tornado Alley, especially as those tornados now come in the mile-wide varieties.

        Coastal Maine? It’s sinking.

        How about Michigan’s UP? It borders three Great Lakes and hosts minimal human population.

        1. solarjay

          This is old thinking and does not take into account molten salt designs, nuclear or otherwise.
          Molten salt is used in solar thermal ( power tower) designs. The advantage of this is that the temps are so high that you can use air cooling. This is used in the thermal plant near Tonopah NV.
          Other advantages of this extremely high temperature design is that its easy to store hours or days of energy as heat. No expensive materials, no toxic materials, no rare materials. And steam power generation is a very off the shelf equipment.

          As to your concerns about weather, its very real.
          High winds, tornados, hurricanes, hail etc are extremely destructive to solar and wind farms.

          But not destructive to a bunker built design like most nuclear power plants that have to withstand a large plane hitting it. I”m sure that the power lines leaving the power plant would be damaged, but the plant itself , no. Generation nuclear 2 plants need active cooling, generation 3 plants have passive cooling, generation 4 plants don’t need cooling because physics.

          Earthquakes do provide another design issue. Wind machines very problematic, solar not so much.
          Geothermal could be an issue as it could shear the well pipes or above ground pipes, but then its just steam.

  2. JB

    For intermittency, a globe spanning supergrid is one of the possible ideas put out – but it’s hard to find good academic writing on the big-picture of implementing this on a global scale, specifically for solving intermittency. Here is a good narrow-focus article, which may be a useful source for further reading:

    The general idea is that ultra high voltage power transmission can be very efficient (95+%), making trans-continental power transmission practical – and if there is a such a network spanning the entire globe (quite practical economically), it’s feasible for this to reduce the burden placed on energy storage for resolving intermittency, while maintaining high availability (no blackouts etc.) – power would just be generated where renewables are presently active, and transmitted across the globe to where it is needed.

    This may also make plans for e.g. hydrogen production from renewables obsolete, which is very wasteful in round-trip energy efficiency (< 50% usually – I very strongly dislike proposals for projects like that) – replacing that with high efficiency (95+%) long-distance power transmission.

    It's probably just one part of a solution, rather than the solution – but it’s one of my pet ideas, that I like the sound of a lot – and am very interested in reading good research/writing on.

    1. jefemt

      Bucky Fuller was all over global electric transmission. Obvious issue is our inability to share and cooperate.

      Glbalize energy as a Utility, essential to a dignified life to a human bean. Like clean water, secure shelter, education, base-line health care, and nutritious food-stuffs.

      Just not seeing this as a priority in any nation state, including Cuba, North Korea, or China.

      Ona another note… very little attention to modifying behaviors and expectations of end consumers of energy.
      Simple example: delay / defer running dishwasher and washer/dryer to sunny days mid days, directly using roof-top solar.
      Walking/ riding a bike when possible.
      Telecommuting for work when possible.
      Energy conservation measures on buildings
      Wear a sweater, vest, and beanie hat, lower thermostats.

      Not sure how well we track the energy impact from these lifestyle-modifications, but every incremental action does add up and help. Plus it may enhance one’s world-view to ‘live in the moment’, conscious being/ acting, to the no free energy lunch reality we have been looking at since the first mid-east oil disruptions in the 1970’s

      (fifty years of doubling population and not much real meaningful action to change our trajectory.

      reaping what we sow.

    2. solarjay

      Its an interesting article. The power line transmission costs just happen to leave out land and labor, not minor costs. I do really appreciate the materials break down.
      However UHVDC transmission is significantly more efficient than AC for multiple reasons. Currently there are no UHVDC transmission lines in the USA that I’m aware of or could find.
      The efficiency of the transmission is figured out by the voltage, current/watts, wire size, material and distance. 5% loss for thousands of miles isn’t correct as it would probably be much higher, but might be correct for hundreds of miles. There is always a sweet spot in the design: %loss vs cost. For example going for less %loss, means larger wires, meaning larger/stronger towers and/or less distance between them increasing cost against the delivered energy.

      I just don’t see people putting up with dozens,, hundreds? of extremely large power lines criss crossing the country.
      Here is a link to the largest proposed UHVDC I”m aware of:

      1. JB

        Good point on the additional land/labour costs. That’s true that I’m being a bit optimistic on the efficiency over distance – though the higher the voltage goes, the better this gets, so I think we can expect to see some more advances, there.

        Information on transmission efficiency isn’t readily available for some lines, apparently – but in the case of Xiangjiaba-Shanghai transmission line in China, at 800kV – that covers 2000km, at a stated loss of just 7%:

        Changji-Guquan is a significantly more advanced 1100kV transmission line over ~3,300km, which I think only just became operational – but unfortunately, I can’t find transmission-loss/efficiency numbers for it – would be very interested in that:

        At those efficiency levels, you could nearly approach transmission of energy halfway around the circumference of the Earth (well, a little shorter…), before efficiency falls to the same level as round-trip hydrogen production + usage.

  3. Skunk

    I think it’s important not to turn away from what she’s saying. It may not be pleasant, but it’s the truth. The idea of economic growth is closely connected with the idea of available energy. If energy is not readily available to input into the world economic system, the system will not grow. This is the simple underlying fact. No amount of elegant theory or spin will change this underlying fact. It would be better to look at it clearly rather than to try to theorize it away. Then we could choose at least try to address the problem and choose the least-worst option.

    Unfortunately, People do not always respond well with solid realities. We see this with the pandemic. Pretending there is no virus is a widespread response. I think we can expect something similar when it comes to limits to growth. People will pretend for as long as possible that nothing is wrong. They will create castles-in-the-air theories that somehow make the answer come out differently, even if they suspect it is not true. It will make everyone feel good as the planet crumbles.

    1. juanholio

      Are you familiar with Guy McPherson and Nature Bats Last?

      He has a lot of plausible and frightening predictions on his web zone. It’s all so bleak that he puts a link in his sidebar to help people that become suicidal after realizing what we may be up against.

      My 2¢ is that there is no way any of this is getting fixed, we’re going over the cliff, and nothing I do will change that. Might as well just forget about it, and hope for the best.

      1. Asher Miller

        The climate situation is a 5 alarm fire (not to mention other existential threats to the current system) but the climate science does not corroborate McPherson’s near term extinction views. I’m mostly called a Malthusian Luddite Cassandra doomer but in fact think that there remains a lot of human agency (as long as we are honest about what we face and what’s required) and that fatalism is dangerous. There’s a big difference between 1.5º and 2ºC warming, and even between 2.1º and 2.2º.

      2. Skunk

        I have a friend who says “Mother nature bats last” frequently. I didn’t realize it came from Guy McPherson until now. The idea of going over a cliff shouldn’t just scare us…it should terrify us. What’s odd is that most people seem more afraid of trying to do something about it. Things look bleak, particularly with the Arctic feedback loop really locked in now as methane is belched into the atmosphere ever faster in the wake of melting permafrost. Even so, it seems like the most reasonable approach would be to do whatever we can to mitigate the changes immediately. But we won’t.

        1. Wills Flowers

          It is the end of a baseball analogy that precedes Guy McPhearson by a few years. I think I first heard it sometime in the early 80’s. It’s as apt today as it was then.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I don’t even know where to begin with this. I admired Tverbergs writing since the old Oil Drum days, but her thinking has become more and more confused. This article is full of straw men and factual inaccuracies. As one obvious example coal is not, and never has been used, as balancing load for renewables. Big coal thermal stations provide baseline power, and older semi-mothballed plants are brought on line for anticipated short falls (for example, when winter cold snaps are predicted a week in advance). Only gas CCGT and hydro have the dispatchable immediacy to balance short term fluctuations caused by demand peaks or sudden losses of power.

    First of all, an important clarification. Like many in the industry, Tverberg insists on using the term ‘intermittent’ for renewables. This is highly deceptive. Its a simple point, but often overlooked. Quite simply, all electricity sources are intermittent. There is no such thing as a 100% reliable plant. Nuclear plants can output 98% of the time. Sounds impressive? It is. The problem is that the 2% downtime is frequently unplanned. When that happens, you’ve lost 1GW of power in your system, maybe with only a few minutes warning. Maybe even more if the cause of the outage affects all nuclear plants (for example, a heatwave or drought affecting coolant water supply, or even mass jellyfish attack). You need to balance that. This is basic to all grids. All power sources – coal, oil, gas, hydro, geothermal, wind, solar are ‘intermittent’. They are just intermittent in different ways. The trick of managing grids is in building in overcapacity and back up power. The particular problem with wind and solar is that grids have been designed to address the intermittency of traditional thermal plants, not the particular issue with wind and solar. The latter require more integrated grids (essentially, more low capacity lines rather than a small number of high capacity ones), plus long distance interconnectors. This has been known for decades, which is precisely why the major grids around the world, in particular in Europe and China, have been redesigning how the grids work. this work has been ongoing for at least 2 decades now.

    I have a serious problem with this statement:

    In practice, variability is still a major problem. For example, in the third quarter of 2021, weak winds were a significant contributor to Europe’s power crunch. Europe’s largest wind producers (Britain, Germany and France) produced only 14% of installed capacity during this period, compared with an average of 20% to 26% in previous years. No one had planned for this kind of three-month shortfall.

    In 2021, China experienced dry, windless weather so that both its generation from wind and hydro were low. The country found it needed to use rolling blackouts to deal with the situation. This led to traffic lights failing and many families needing to eat candle-lit dinners.

    This is straight out of the fossil fuel propaganda playbook. Chinese brownouts were caused by coal power generators refusing to pay high coal prices while being unable to increase electricity prices. The problem was caused by coal supply bottlenecks. It seems bizarre to blame renewables for not being able to fix a problem caused by fossil fuel providers. If Tverberg is unaware of this, then she shouldn’t be using this as an example. If she is, then its bad faith argumentation. Likewise, the European situation was primarily caused by well known problems in the gas market as well as supply chain issues leading to an unprecedented number of nuclear and coal plants going offline. Again, problems with fossil fuel and nuclear have suddenly become a problem with renewables. This is bad faith argumentation.

    Tverberg also takes issue with unnamed ‘modellers’. I don’t know who these modellers are, but I do know that the models I’ve been following for decades have consistently underestimated the capacity of renewables to replace fossil fuels. Just check, for example, the much quoted David McKay study from 2009 to see just how wrong they can be on the downside. China built 17GW of offshore wind capacity last year alone. Even five years ago, nobody was predicting that this was possible. A casual reader of this article might think somehow that wind and solar have been heavily subsidised for decades. In reality, the overwhelming weight of subsidies have gone to oil and gas and coal.

    Of course, the basic point made in the article is unarguable – we can’t continue to build a world based on ever rising energy and electricity demands, there is no magic wand out of this. Radical conservation is needed, and its needed urgently. But we can’t have radical conservation without a serious increase in electricity use – this is vital to decarbonise transport systems in particular, but also manufacturing and home heating. And we can only do this by scaling up renewables very rapidly. There are no fundamental technical or economic barriers to this, and this includes resource bottlenecks – even on worse case scenarios we have enough base metals to radically increase renewable supplies – the bottlenecks are at least a decade away.

    1. solarjay

      I’ve heard this point of view before that all sources are intermittent, I don’t agree.
      Power plants based on energy storage ( coal, NG, oil, and to lesser extent nuclear) can all have an issue with energy delivery so they can shut down because the trains didn’t arrive or pipelines got damaged and shut down. But usually there are multiple delivery routes to prevent such a thing and usually they have days/weeks of storage on site. They can all have unforeseen failures that cause a shut down for minutes or even days. As they are mechanical plants they do have maintenance schedules where they are offline.

      That isn’t intermittent.
      Solar and wind are actually intermittent as they have many times through out the year that they are off line or reduced performance due to external inputs: low wind, low sun. IE there is no timeline for when it will be offline or back on line.
      To compare weather/climate related reduced outputs to power plant issues is really stretching the meaning. Also those same renewable power plants have similar added mechanical intermittent issues, with power lines, transformers, inverters etc that fail.

      Its also why there is what is usually called spinning reserve. SR means there are power plants operating but not connected to the grid exactly in case there is a failure: power plant going off line, or transmission line failure etc. SR and the amount of it all depend on the time of day, what sort of reserve is available, etc. In todays world SR could also be DR ( digital reserve) such as solar or SR such as wind.

      You can check out CAISO which is the california independent systems operator. They have an app that you can watch what’s happening in all of CA, its pretty cool actually.

      But getting back to the intermittent nature of solar/wind. In CA for example, large storms can effect the whole of the state, and surrounding states. Some power to CA comes from hydro up north and possibly some energy from east. In a large storm event, that’s not possible, as those folks need the energy. 1-3 day battery storage for CA is beyond the scope for todays equipment.

      Take the upper midwest or NE where storms can last much longer and with snow requiring cleaning of millions of solar panels. While wind might be on line, solar is offline.

      I’ve written before here that just using Diable Canyon ( 2.2 GW base load power plant) and figuring out how much battery storage you need for just overnight is beyond anything ever built. Let alone for 3 days, because weather. And that power plant is just 10% average of CA’s energy use.

      I completely agree that conservation is a part of the solution, but renewables are less than 10% of our energy production. Even a reduction of 25% in our total energy use still puts that non carbon production number way too low if we are actually trying to deal with climate change.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Pretty much every issue you’ve laid out is a grid problem, not a production problem. I’m aware of course of the obstructions in creating a genuinely integrated grid in the US, but this needs to be centred as the problem, not the issues with moving away from big thermal plants, which is a symptom of grid issues, not the cause.

        You are right of course to focus on the problems of base load, which is the weakness of solar/wind, but a base load only strategy causes huge problems for supplying power through the normal daily or seasonal fluctuations. In Europe, this was addressed partially through pricing (night time tariffs and differential tariffs for big industrial users), but also through creating more integrated grids. Frances nuclear heavy mix, for example, would not be sustainable without its integration into the Spanish and Swiss grid, which supplies power for peaking periods. Ireland rejected nuclear in the 1980’s precisely because the pair of nuclear plants proposed for base power (they would have provided about 80%) would have been unsustainable as in a small grid the necessity for storage and back up would be too unreliable. The applicability of any solution is almost always dependent on grid scale and capacity.

        Also, the new boy on the block for renewables is geothermal. Thanks to fracking, there has been a tenfold increase in productivity in deep drilling over the past decade, which has for the first time made it viable in many regions. It has the particular promise of being largely dispatchable power.

        I’d take issue with your focus on ‘batteries’ for storage. Almost all the upcoming storage solutions that are coming online are not battery focused – they are usually thermal, pressure, or gravity based, as this requires much simpler engineering. Electricity storage is a complex issue in itself, but the solutions are likely highly varied. The simplest and most straightforward is simply retrofitting existing hydro plants by building secondary impoundments downstream – this has already been done in Europe (The Alqueva Dam in Portugal, for example). Pump storage of course has been a long term success in small grids.

        1. solarjay

          My first job out of college was doing geophysics for finding geothermal. Many years later it is producing energy, its in Dixie valley nevada.

          I worked for Trans pacific geothermal.
          Most geothermal prospects don’t happen because there is either not enough underground water or heat, rare to have enough of both. But a new design has appeared which is dry geothermal.

          There a few versions but basically you drill a U shaped well, many miles apart. Pump water in one side, get steam out the other. Condense the steam back to water and do it again. The idea that there are more areas of high temp but no water than high temp and water. And like all the renewable power options, 100% site specific.

          I use only what is happening right now. Batteries are the only game in town really for new storage.
          Yes there are many other good options as you point out, but the only one actually ever constructed is pumped storage with water, which requires close proximity to pretty good hight and geological stable ground. Efficiency is pretty low, not that it matters to me. Pressure/air storage requires the right geology, usually old oil/gas wells, again very narrow locations again relatively low efficiency, again don’t care. Gravity could be anywhere and since I’ve not seen anything that shows actual data, still just a VC game.

          As a 25 year designer of off grid solar electric systems I have to take into account how people use their loads, when that occurs during the year, how does that relate to your solar resource.
          The push is for more electric heating, water heating, cooking etc. That requires a lot of energy especially during the cold dark, stormy winter months, and it would be 24/7 during those times.
          In off grid designs yes there is a lot of the year when you have extra energy potential because you don’t need much, but its got to be there for when you do, regardless of how energy efficient you think you can be.
          Much of the country requires large base loads. Moving the base loads to house batteries is backwards, more expensive, more material intensive than central designs.
          Its funny because as an off grid designer you always try to have multiple energy sources to spread out your redundancy/safety and work with your production resources. My old off grid house, I had a small micro hydro system, so when it rained for weeks, I didn’t care I had extra power. But pretty much all my neighbors ran their gas/propane generators because they only had solar panels.

          To me in the end its about time, or lack there of. If we want to attempt to deal with climate change, then we have very few years to actually get things done. If we had 50 years, then so many of these ideas are really cool.

          But its funny as nuclear is just off the table for most on these threads, regardless of the data for how much land area is needed or steel or metals or anything vs old/new designs that actually reduce the most hazardous waste of all the older nuclear power plants or even about the time line of climate change it self.

          Oh well, probably my last post


          1. Soredemos

            “But its funny as nuclear is just off the table for most on these threads, regardless of the data for how much land area is needed or steel or metals or anything vs old/new designs that actually reduce the most hazardous waste of all the older nuclear power plants or even about the time line of climate change it self.”

            Nuclear has been extensively discussed on NC, especially by PlutoniumKun. The gist is that it’s too expensive, takes too long to build one safely, and the new designs are basically crap (and the revolutionary innovations that will make everything not crap are always ‘just around the corner’ but never seem to happen).

    2. John Steinbach

      “But we can’t have radical conservation without a serious increase in electricity use – this is vital to decarbonise transport systems in particular, but also manufacturing and home heating. And we can only do this by scaling up renewables very rapidly. There are no fundamental technical or economic barriers to this, and this includes resource bottlenecks – even on worse case scenarios we have enough base metals to radically increase renewable supplies – the bottlenecks are at least a decade away.”

      IMO, bottlenecks are already here. Renewables are already scaling up at a rapid rate, albeit from a very small baseline, but not sufficiently in time to make a significant difference. We most certainly can, and likely will have radical conservation without a serious increase in electricity use. A technological fix to maintain BAU is an illusion. Build communities of trust and get to know your neighbors better. Hard times coming/here.

    3. Bazarov

      “But we can’t have radical conservation without a serious increase in electricity use – this is vital to decarbonise transport systems in particular, but also manufacturing and home heating”

      This is not true. We can have radical conservation via massive death and destruction. Allowing 3 or 4 billion people to starve, drown, and bake requires no increase in electricity production.

      The elites are doing nothing because they expect the Earth to do the culling for them. This is where we’re headed–I believe it’s called “The Jackpot” around these parts.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        And of course the Overclass expects the Jackpot to succeed even better with a little help from its friends.

        Jackpot Design Engineering.

    4. juno mas

      PK, thanks for saving me the time to respond to this article; it is deceptive in so many ways. In fact, the industrialized world will need to radically transform the way we use energy. That will include lifestyle change AND radical conservation. Renewables are the only way to reduce AGW—TINA!

  5. Louis Fyne

    The limits were always clear, people just needed inflation to listen.

    2022 is shaping to be a train wreck for energy inflation, food inflation, essential goods inflation. Much of this could have been avoided.

  6. thoughtful person

    Radical conservation with enhanced energy efficiency…..vs the jackpot

    Renewables are enough if we reduce consumption to sane levels. With efficiency this can be pretty acceptable standars of living. Remember happiness index indicates a good life does not require ever increasing consumption.

    The 1% who own most of the planet, and are, at present, “the deciders”, are choosing the jackpot ‐ radical conservation through die off.

    1. Louis Fyne

      given current and near-term tech, there isn’t enough mineable lithium and neodymium in the world to wholly use renewables—even with big conservation cuts.

      Fission (and some hydrocarbons) has to be part of the solution, like it or not. along with politically painful usage cuts.

      Don’t shoot the messenger. Flame the thermodynamics.

  7. tindrum

    Its like the episode in Apollo 13 where they have to take over manual control and they can not exceed a current draw of 13Amps (or something like that) and they have to find a sequence of switching on and off of devices which will allow them to both survive and remain under that current draw. We have the same situation on earth, but we don’t have NASA searching for the correct sequence and forcing us to follow it.

  8. The Rev Kev

    I’ll just comment on one paragraph which says-

    ‘If no solution to inadequate electricity supply can be found, then demand must be reduced by one means or another. One approach is to close businesses or schools. Another approach is rolling blackouts. A third approach is to permit astronomically high electricity prices, squeezing out some buyers of electricity. A fourth balancing approach is to introduce recession, perhaps by raising interest rates; recessions cut back on demand for all non-essential goods and services. Recessions tend to lead to significant job losses, besides cutting back on electricity demand. None of these things are attractive options.’

    I’m going to say that not one of those ideas will ever fly and for a very good reason. We are still in the middle of a world-wide pandemic and this was not enough to put off placing the economy over people’s lives. So ‘close businesses or schools’? We are forcing people to still work and are throwing our children with hardly any protection into a virus-breeding grounds known as schools so their parents can go to work. Rolling blackouts and astronomically high electricity? Now that would push our consumer-orientated economy off a cliff and conservative politicians would push against these ideas to win power. Introduce recession? We’re heading that way anyway but do it wrong and we may push ourselves into a full-blown depression. And ‘significant job losses’? That is a proven way for reactionary governments to get into power who would absolutely refute these measures.

    How about this. We learn to cut our power consumption way back. Everybody gets a minimal amount of power for a nominal amount of cost. But the more you use, the more you pay and it starts to get steep if you lose a lot of energy. But so that you do not sabotage this whole idea, you cannot give businesses the saved power as ‘subsidies’ as they would have no incentive to reduce their energy requirements themselves. But based on how we are dealing with the present pandemic, I would not get my hopes up.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      That would be a concept for a new political party-movement to organize itself into existence for and to run candidate for office on. Force the overt choice onto the radar screen of many millions of voting citizens so they have something “real” to consider voting for or against.

      Of course that process may take longer than the time we have remaining to create some kind of mass social survival in. If so, that would be the tragedy of democracy.

    2. BlakeFelix

      Ya, I am for a flat carbon tax, but a progressive carbon tax is arguably better, just IMO enough more complicated that a UBI would be easier.

    3. Susan the other

      And also from Limits to Growth – reinvestment for costly infrastructure/natural resources leaves less and less for discretionary consumption (which formerly drove the economy) so along with a collapse of natural resources there is a collapse of the financial system. So we all know that that “financial system” deserves to collapse. This is the good news – we will have to create an industrial economic system that runs directly as planned-in-advance on natural resources and human resources and, without a doubt, radical conservation. The whole idea of profits (the antithesis to conservation) to keep the economy growing to feed consumption to create more profits is effectively over. Everything will be allocated. So if we are now experiencing an obvious lack of resource reserves as well as mass inequality and unemployment and we have been unable to “grow” ourselves out of this mess since 2008 (because of “too many simultaneous needs and diminishing returns”) – what exactly are we looking at for a solution? There is not a word on creating a planned economy, yet there is no other solution. I suppose it’s possible that “nothing will fundamentally change” suddenly – maybe in a few more years we’ll begin to hear talk of a new planned market for resources, etc. But the groundwork is already going in.

  9. thoughtfulperson

    Exactly, it’s just like the pandemic response or socialized medicine, if the policy doesn’t directly benefit the uber rich, go die. That’s where we’re headed in perhaps a couple decades (sooner?) Forced population reduction (forced by famine, heat waves, plague, war – induced by the policies of the present).

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      It sounds like an opportunity for the forced emergence of a party movement based on “shrink the rich first”.

      Economic decline should be forced to start at the top and work its way down till no more decline is needed.

    2. tegnost

      I doubt musk/beos/gates (imagine that carbon footprint) care. Smart people are designing boston dynamics robot dogs.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Smart laypeople should start designing boston dynamics robot dog traps. What are those dogs really for anyway?

        Beau of the Fifth Column offers his thoughts in a talk. Unfortunately the Beau site has been significantly degraded and we don’t get to see Beau talking any more. We only get to hear a podcast.
        Still, the podcast is worth hearing. If one listens to it, one might see even more need to design robot dog traps and barriers.

  10. Bob

    This is another doom and gloom article based on Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) talking points. It is deliberately designed to frighten.

    If a discussion about electrical power, electrical generation, and electrical distribution is to be had the starting point must be cost. At this point the best cost data is Lazard’s – the levelized cost of electricity.

    Once the levelized cost is known the next step is to determine what resources are available.
    As an example has a good map of the available hydro resources which are 50 GW or about 33 average size nuke plants.

    A further example – about 300 GW or about 200 nuke plants worth of electrical energy could be provided by wind –

    Further from CEBECS / EIA lighting electrical usage is about 25% of the total electrical load. This can be reduced by half through the use of LED lighting. And there are advantages since LED lighting is instant on as opposed to the 15 minute restrike time for Metal halide lighting systems. This means that for security lighting / area lighting (warehouses) lighting can be turned off or on as needed.

    The tired IOU talking points do not match the facts or any even a cursory cost analysis.

    The means to continue to provide electrical power at a reasonable cost using existing resources and technology exists and is easily achievable.

  11. Xiaolei Mu

    There might be a viable technological solution for the energy storage problem and it’s not going to be lithium batteries.

    For more than ten years, MIT material chemistry professor David Sadoway and his team have been working on a molten-metal battery technology optimized for stationary energy grid storage. It offers advantages over lithium batteries, among them longevity, safety (no danger of termal runaway) and cost. They are trying to commercialize this technology through a start-up company called Ambri and there has been a breakthrough in 2020.

  12. Bulfinch

    Not to worry — I suspect this planet will have finally perfected her mixture of misanthrocide before we totally deplete her of the good stuff — shaking us off, burning us off or freezing us off her hide in the meanwhile…

  13. Dave in Austin

    The charts in this article are valuable and generally accurate. Her solutions are those of a technician who underestimates the political problems. My comments:

    The fundamental issue (not problem) is that the world is going through a one-century transition from largely rural to 80% urban and a transition from 10% of the world’s population aspiring to an industrial and high-energy lifestyle to 100% of the worlds population wanting to live like the first world.

    Maybe we can find enough copper for the motors, gas for the cars and jett planes. And maybe even enough cement and steel for the buildings. But we definitely can’t find enough oxygen to combust with the fossil fuels and we probably can’t deal with the CO-2 produced by the combustion needed to supply 8 billion people with a first world living standard. Plus programs to strip mine the ocean’s fish with 50,000 Chinese trawlers and turn most of the world’s nutrient-delivering rivers into hydroelectric lakes will work in the short term but not in the long term.

    The charts indicate that East Asians still use only half the energy per capita of Europeans and the average US consumer uses far more than either. And no democratically elected leader is likely to be elected on a platform that says “No more SUVs for the family and no more 6,000 mile round trips to fly off for a winter vacation”.

    On nuclear… there is far more fuel available that the whole world will use in a century. And nuclear waste… look at Finland. The Finns live in a cold place, have little hydro and are not willing to pay for lots of fossil fuels to heat the place… especially Russian natural gas. For the Finns, being dependent on the good will and competence of the Russians is a historical non-starter. So here is the Finns nuclear plan- well under way:

    As the old children’s riddle used to say “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” The modern answer is :“We’ve developed a model that says…” and “Based on present trends, within 20 years the price of X is projected to be…”.

    Or as Scotty, that famous 19th Century Scottish steam-engineer-parody now in charge of the engine room of 25th Century Starship Enterprise said: “Captain! Captain! The di-lithium crystals… I can’t hold her together much longer!”

    1. Bob

      More disinformation.

      With 50 GW of hydro power available with EXISTING dams which are not now fitted with generation capacity, with dams with hydro generation that could be upgraded it is folly not to use what is available and available at low cost.

      We an’it Finland.

  14. Anthony Stegman

    In the “advanced” economies there is an abiding faith that “innovation “ will solve our most perplexing problems. This faith is looking increasingly misplaced as technological innovations have created at least as many problems as they have sought to solve. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to reduce our overall energy consumption, regardless of energy sources. What we need to focus on is how we do this in the most equitable manner. This should fully occupy our best and brightest minds.

    1. bulfinch

      Really well-stated; however, asking westerners to keep tabs on their consumption is about as sure a way to incur a collective tantrum as anything going; witness Carter.

      Appetite is the order of the day. There are entire industries built around developing the best ratios of light, sound and color to impel our humble glands toward our least inspiring impulses. It’s an odd little marble, this planet.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Those best and brightest minds which belong to members of the lower 90% might focus on what kinds of “changes” to this or that which the lower 90% can achieve right now-ish, and how to weaponize and deploy those changes in such a way as to attrit, degrade and wherever possible destroy revenue streams reaching the top 1% and then the next 9%.

      We need a thousand hate-based initiatives coming from a Thousand Points of Hate. We need to direct those initiatives against the Top Ten Percent, because the Top Ten Percent are using their best and brightest minds on how to preserve the inequity and how to advance the Jackpot.

  15. Dick Burkhart

    A bracing dose of reality – tough times ahead, folks. We’re going to be hard put just to maintain our existing infrastructure as global economic stagnation takes hold over the next decade, then contraction. The pipe dreams of a cheap, green economy will be exposed. The way most people will get by will be to buy less, build less, travel less, etc. Fossil fuel emissions will drop of necessity, as economic activity drops in the face of rising costs, supply disruptions, etc. Limits-to-growth are already becoming visceral.

  16. Trisha

    Professor William Rees – the guy who invented the carbon footprint concept – makes the point that “renewable” energy such as solar, wind, and batteries, are better thought of as “replaceable” since they have a limited life span typically around 20 years or so. The problem is that to manufacture 1kg of solar, wind, or battery material takes about 500kg of material (not including water) that must be excavated, processed, etc., and the only way to do that is with – surprise – fossil fuels.

    So the conundrum is that to create and replace these “renewable” sources takes enormous amounts of material (including water) and fossil fuels, all of which are running out. Also, there is simply not enough energy density in “renewables” to accomplish their replacement. Here’s a link to one of his many excellent youtube videos.

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