Inconvenient Energy Realities
Mark P. Mills. JULY 1, 2019 ENERGY
The math behind “The New Energy Economy: An Exercise in Magical Thinking”
A week doesn’t pass without a mayor, governor, policymaker or pundit joining the rush to demand, or predict, an energy future that is entirely based on wind/solar and batteries, freed from the “burden” of the hydrocarbons that have fueled societies for centuries. Regardless of one’s opinion about whether, or why, an energy “transformation” is called for, the physics and economics of energy combined with scale realities make it clear that there is no possibility of anything resembling a radically “new energy economy” in the foreseeable future.
Bill Gates has said that when it comes to understanding energy realities “we need to bring math to the problem.”
He’s right. So, in my recent Manhattan Institute report, “The New Energy Economy: An Exercise in Magical Thinking,” I did just that.
Herein, then, is a summary of some of bottom-line realities from the underlying math. (See the full report for explanations, documentation and citations.)
Realities About the Scale of Energy Demand
- Hydrocarbons supply over 80% of world energy: If all that were in the form of oil, the barrels would line up from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, and that entire line would grow by the height of the Washington Monument every week.
- The small two percentage-point decline in the hydrocarbon share of world energy use entailed over $2 trillion in cumulative global spending on alternatives over that period; solar and wind today supply less than 2% of the global energy.
- When the world’s four billion poor people increase energy use to just one-third of Europe’s per capita level, global demand rises by an amount equal to twice America’s total consumption.
- A 100x growth in the number of electric vehicles to 400 million on the roads by 2040 would displace 5% of global oil demand.
- Renewable energy would have to expand 90-fold to replace global hydrocarbons in two decades. It took a half-century for global petroleum production to expand “only” 10-fold.
- Replacing U.S. hydrocarbon-based electric generation over the next 30 years would require a construction program building out the grid at a rate 14-fold greater than any time in history.
- Eliminating hydrocarbons to make U.S. electricity (impossible soon, infeasible for decades) would leave untouched 70% of U.S. hydrocarbons use—America uses 16% of world energy.
- Efficiency increases energy demand by making products & services cheaper: since 1990, global energy efficiency improved 33%, the economy grew 80% and global energy use is up 40%.
- Efficiency increases energy demand: Since 1995, aviation fuel use/passenger-mile is down 70%, air traffic rose more than 10-fold, and global aviation fuel use rose over 50%.
- Efficiency increases energy demand: since 1995, energy used per byte is down about 10,000-fold, but global data traffic rose about a million-fold; global electricity used for computing soared.
- Since 1995, total world energy use rose by 50%, an amount equal to adding two entire United States’ worth of demand.
- For security and reliability, an average of two months of national demand for hydrocarbons are in storage at any time. Today, barely two hours of national electricity demand can be stored in all utility-scale batteries plus all batteries in one million electric cars in America.
- Batteries produced annually by the Tesla Gigafactory (world’s biggest battery factory) can store three minutes worth of annual U.S. electric demand.
- To make enough batteries to store two-day’s worth of U.S. electricity demand would require 1,000 years of production by the Gigafactory (world’s biggest battery factory).
- Every $1 billion in aircraft produced leads to some $5 billion in aviation fuel consumed over two decades to operate them. Global spending on new jets is more than $50 billion a year—and rising.
- Every $1 billion spent on datacenters leads to $7 billion in electricity consumed over two decades. Global spending on datatcenters is more than $100 billion a year—and rising.
Realities About Energy Economics
- Over a 30-year period, $1 million worth of utility-scale solar or wind produces 40 million and 55 million kWh respectively: $1 million worth of shale well produces enough natural gas to generate 300 million kWh over 30 years.
- It costs about the same to build one shale well or two wind turbines: the latter, combined, produces 0.7 barrels of oil (equivalent energy) per hour, the shale rig averages 10 barrels of oil per hour.
- It costs less than $0.50 to store a barrel of oil, or its equivalent in natural gas, but it costs $200 to store the equivalent energy of a barrel of oil in batteries.
- Cost models for wind and solar assume, respectively, 41% and 29% capacity factors (i.e., how often they produce electricity). Real-world data reveal as much as 10 percentage points less for both. That translates into $3 million less energy produced than assumed over a 20-year life of a 2-MW $3 million wind turbine.
- In order to compensate for episodic wind/solar output, U.S. utilities are using oil- and gas-burning reciprocating engines (big cruise-ship-like diesels); three times as many have been added to the grid since 2000 as in the 50 years prior to that.
- Wind-farm capacity factors have improving at about 0.7% per year; this small gain comes mainly from reducing the number of turbines per acre leading to 50% increase in average land used to produce a wind-kilowatt-hour.
- Over 90% of America’s electricity, and 99% of the power used in transportation, comes from sources that can easily supply energy to the economy any time the market demands it.
- Wind and solar machines produce energy an average of 25%–30% of the time, and only when nature permits. Conventional power plants can operate nearly continuously and are available when needed.
- The shale revolution collapsed the prices of natural gas & coal, the two fuels that produce 70% of U.S. electricity. But electric rates haven’t gone down, rising instead 20% since 2008. Direct and indirect subsidies for solar and wind consumed those savings.
Energy Physics… Inconvenient Realities
- Politicians and pundits like to invoke “moonshot” language. But transforming the energy economy is not like putting a few people on the moon a few times. It is like putting all of humanity on the moon—permanently.
- The common cliché: an energy tech disruption will echo the digital tech disruption. But information-producing machines and energy-producing machines involve profoundly different physics; the cliché is sillier than comparing apples to bowling balls.
- If solar power scaled like computer-tech, a single postage-stamp-size solar array would power the Empire State Building. That only happens in comic books.
- If batteries scaled like digital tech, a battery the size of a book, costing three cents, could power a jetliner to Asia. That only happens in comic books.
- If combustion engines scaled like computers, a car engine would shrink to the size of an ant and produce a thousand-fold more horsepower; actual ant-sized engines produce 100,000 times less power.
- No digital-like 10x gains exist for solar tech. Physics limit for solar cells (the Shockley-Queisser limit) is a max conversion of about 33% of photons into electrons; commercial cells today are at 26%.
- No digital-like 10x gains exist for wind tech. Physics limit for wind turbines (the Betz limit) is a max capture of 60% of energy in moving air; commercial turbines achieve 45%.
- No digital-like 10x gains exist for batteries: maximum theoretical energy in a pound of oil is 1,500% greater than max theoretical energy in the best pound of battery chemicals.
- About 60 pounds of batteries are needed to store the energy equivalent of one pound of hydrocarbons.
- At least 100 pounds of materials are mined, moved and processed for every pound of battery fabricated.
- Storing the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil, which weighs 300 pounds, requires 20,000 pounds of Tesla batteries ($200,000 worth).
- Carrying the energy equivalent of the aviation fuel used by an aircraft flying to Asia would require $60 million worth of Tesla-type batteries weighing five times more than that aircraft.
- It takes the energy-equivalent of 100 barrels of oil to fabricate a quantity of batteries that can store the energy equivalent of a single barrel of oil.
- A battery-centric grid and car world means mining gigatons more of the earth to access lithium, copper, nickel, graphite, rare earths, cobalt, etc.—and using millions of tons of oil and coal both in mining and to fabricate metals and concrete.
- China dominates global battery production with its grid 70% coal-fueled: EVs using Chinese batteries will create more carbon-dioxide than saved by replacing oil-burning engines.
- One would no more use helicopters for regular trans-Atlantic travel—doable with elaborately expensive logistics—than employ a nuclear reactor to power a train or photovoltaic systems to power a nation.
Mark P. Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a McCormick School of Engineering Faculty Fellow at Northwestern University, and author of Work in the Age of Robots, published by Encounter Books.
25 SIMPLE BULLET POINTS PROVING CO2 DOES NOT CAUSE GLOBAL WARMING:
BY A GEOLOGIST FOR A CHANGE (DR ROGER HIGGS)
JUNE 10, 2019
Dr Roger Higgs, Geoclastica Ltd, Technical Note 2019-11, 6th April 2019, on ResearchGate (LINK HERE)
We urgently need to expose the ‘CO2 = pollutant’ fallacy being forced upon your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces by schools, universities, governments and mainstream media worldwide, and to denounce it in scrupulously truthful terms easily understood by the public, including those youngsters themselves.
Here are the 25 bullet points proving CO2’s innocence:
- Geologists know climate change unrelated to atmospheric CO2 occurred throughout Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. Yet the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has no geologists among the hundreds of appointed authors of its Fifth Assessment Report of 2014 and its Sixth Report due in 2022 (see my Technical Note 2019-10). Thus IPCC incredibly lacks both geological input and long-term perspective.
- IPCC’s very existence relies on public belief in manmade or ‘anthropogenic’ global warming (AGW) by CO2 emissions. Moreover its appointed authors, mostly government and university researchers, are nearly all biased by strong vested interests in AGW, i.e. reputations (publications, lectures) & continuance of salaries & research grants. Similarly, major universities have abandoned their scientiﬁc impartiality & integrity by hosting research institutes mandated to conﬁrm & act on AGW, e.g. Grantham Institute (Imperial College), Tyndall Centre.
- The often-repeated ‘97% consensus among scientists that global warming is man’s fault’ (CO2 emissions) is untrue. It refers in fact to surveys of just a relatively small group of ‘climate scientists’ (a fairly new type of scientist, with strong incentives for bias; see Bullets 2 & 15), moreover only those who are ‘actively publishing’.
- ‘Climate change denier’ & ‘global warming denier’ are despicable & dishonest terms for ‘AGW doubters’. No educated person disputes global warming, as thermometers measured 1°C rise from 1850 to 2016 (with pauses).
- The ‘Greenhouse Hypothesis’, on which IPCC’s belief in AGW is based, is that atmospheric gases trap heat. But this old (19th century) notion is merely an idea, not a hypothesis, because it is untestable, impossible to prove in a laboratory as no experimental container can imitate Earth’s uncontained, well-mixed atmosphere.
- IPCC computer models are so full of assumptions as to be extremely unreliable, e.g. forecast warming for 1995 to 2015 turned out to be 2-3 times too high ! A likely reason is that the greenhouse idea is nonsense, as explained in recent publications by several scientists. See Bullet 19 for an equally drastic failure of IPCC models. See also: https://www.wnd.com/2017/07/study-blows-greenhouse-theory-out-of-the-water/ and https://principia-scientiﬁc.org/r-i-p-greenhouse-gas-theory-1980-2018/
- For about 75% of the last 550 million years, CO2 was 2 to 15 times higher than now. Evolution ﬂourished, CO2 enabling plant photosynthesis, the basis of all life. Extinction events due to overheating by CO2 are unknown. !!
- Through the last 12,000 years (our current Holocene interglacial period), CO2 was a mere 250 to 290 ppm (parts per million), near plant-starvation level, until about 1850 when industrial CO2 emissions began, making CO2 climb steeply. Nevertheless CO2 today it is still only 412ppm, i.e. under half of one-tenth of 1% of our atmosphere
- Until man began adding CO2 about 1850, warming (determined from ‘proxies’ like tree rings) since the 1600AD Little Ice Age peak was accompanied by slowly rising CO2 (measured in ice cores). A simple explanation is CO2 release by ocean water, whose CO2-holding capacity decreases upon warming.
- Supporting this sign that CO2 is a consequence, not cause, of global warming, a published study of 1980-2011 measurements showed that changes in warming rate precede changes in CO2’s growth rate, by about a year.
- Since the 1850 start of man’s additions, CO2’s rise has generally accelerated, without reversals. In stark contrast, the post-1850 to present-day continuance of warming out of the Little Ice Age was interrupted by frequent small coolings of 1-3 years (some relatable to ‘volcanic winters’), plus two 30-year coolings (1878 to 1910, 1944 to 1976), and the famous 1998 to 2013 ‘global-warming pause’ or ‘hiatus’ (Wiki).
- This unsteady modern warming instead resembles the unsteady rise of the sun’s magnetic output from 1901 toward a rare solar ‘Grand Maximum’ peaking in 1991, the ﬁrst in 1700 years !
- Modern warming reached a peak in February 2016. Since then, Earth has cooled for 3 years (now April 2019).
- The ‘Svensmark Theory’ says increased solar magnetic ﬂux warms Earth by deﬂecting cosmic rays, thus reducing cloudiness, allowing more of the sun’s warmth to heat the land and ocean instead of being reﬂected. In support, a NASA study of satellite data spanning 32 years (1979-2011) showed decreasing cloud cover.
- Vociferous IPCC-involved climate scientist Dr Stefan Rahmstorf (Wiki) of the German government’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, recipient of a US$1 million personal research grant from a private foundation, wrongly said in his 2008 article ‘Anthropogenic Climate Change’: “there is no viable alternative … [to CO2 as driver of modern warming from 1940 to 2005 because] … different authors agree that solar activity did not signiﬁcantly increase” during that period. Yet nine years earlier, in 1999, famous physicist Dr Michael Lockwood (Wiki; FRS) wrote, in ‘A Doubling of the Sun’s Coronal Magnetic Field During the Past 100 Years’, published in prestigious Nature journal: “the total magnetic ﬂux leaving the Sun has risen by a factor of 1.4 since 1964” and 2.3 since 1901 !! See for yourselves the striking overall 1964-91 climb in solar-magnetic output, recorded by the strong overall fall in detected neutrons (proportional to cosmic rays), in graph 3 here: https://cosmicrays.oulu.ﬁ
- Lockwood showed averaged solar magnetic ﬂux increased 230% from 1901 to 1995, i.e. more than doubled ! The ﬁnal peak value was 5 times the starting minimum value ! Bullets 17 & 18 likewise back Svensmark’s theory…
- … after the previous solar Grand Maximum (4th century, long before industrial CO2), in the next decades Earth warmed to near or above today’s temperature. Then ‘sawtooth’ cooling proceeded, through the Dark Ages and ‘Medieval Warm Period’, into the Little Ice Age, paralleling a 1,000-year unsteady solar decline; and …
- … before that, between 8000 and 2000BC, Earth was occasionally warmer than today for hundreds if not thousands of years, as shown by tree rings, shrunken glaciers, etc.. Then unsteady cooling from 3000BC into the Little Ice Age paralleled unsteady solar decline following the Holocene’s ‘super-Grand’ Maximum near 3000BC.
- This 4,500-year cooling contradicts IPCC computer models that instead predict warming by the simultaneous (slow) rise in CO2. This is the ‘The Holocene Temperature Conundrum’ of Liu et al. (2014). See also Bullet 6.
- Embarrassingly for AGW promoters, the 8000-2000BC warm interval (Bullet 18) was already, ironically, named the ‘Holocene Climatic Optimum’, before today’s CO2/AGW hysteria began. The warmth probably beneﬁtted human social development. Indeed, it was cold episodes, bringing drought and famine, that ended civilisations.
- Cross-correlating post-1880 graphs of solar-magnetic ﬂux versus Earth’s temperature suggests a 25-year time-lag, such that the 2016 peak temperature corresponds to the 1991 solar peak. The lag is probably due to the ocean’s high thermal inertia due to its enormous volume and high heat capacity, hence slow response to warming.
- IPCC, ignoring the possibility of such a time-lag, claims that simultaneous global warming (until 2016) and solar weakening (since 1991) must mean that warming is driven by CO2 !
- The last interglacial period about 100,000 years ago was warmer than our Holocene interglacial. Humans and polar bears survived ! CO2 was then about 275ppm, i.e. lower than now (Bullet 8).
- The simultaneous rise of temperature & CO2 is a ‘spurious correlation’. Warming’s real cause was a solar build-up to a rare Grand Maximum, which man’s industrialisation accompanied by chance. So IPCC demonising CO2 as a ‘pollutant’ is a colossal blunder, costing trillions of dollars in needless & ineffectual efforts to reduce it.
- Global cooling now in progress since February 2016 can be predicted to last at least 28 years (i.e. to 2044), matching the sun’s 28-year decline from 1991 to today, and allowing for the 25-year time-lag (Bullet 21).
Inescapable conclusion: the IPCC is wrong − the sun, not CO2, drove modern global warming.