41 Inconvenient Truths on the “New Energy Economy”

41 Inconvenient Truths on the “New Energy Economy” by  for Activist Post

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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 the bottom-line realities from the underlying math. (See the full report for explanations, documentation, and citations.)

1. Hydrocarbons supply over 80 percent 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.

2. 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 two percent of the global energy.

3. 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.

4. A 100x growth in the number of electric vehicles to 400 million on the roads by 2040 would displace five percent of global oil demand.

5. 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” ten-fold.

6. 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.

7. Eliminating hydrocarbons to make U.S. electricity (impossible soon, infeasible for decades) would leave untouched 70 percent of U.S. hydrocarbons use—America uses 16 percent of world energy.

8. Efficiency increases energy demand by making products & services cheaper: since 1990, global energy efficiency improved 33 percent, the economy grew 80 percent and global energy use is up 40 percent.

9. Efficiency increases energy demand: Since 1995, aviation fuel use/passenger-mile is down 70 percent, air traffic rose more than 10-fold, and global aviation fuel use rose over 50 percent.

10. 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.

11. Since 1995, total world energy use rose by 50 percent, an amount equal to adding two entire United States’ worth of demand.

12. 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.

13. Batteries produced annually by the Tesla Gigafactory (world’s biggest battery factory) can store three minutes worth of annual U.S. electric demand.

14. 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).

15. 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.

16. Every $1 billion spent on data centers leads to $7 billion in electricity consumed over two decades. Global spending on data centers is more than $100 billion a year—and rising.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. Cost models for wind and solar assume, respectively, 41 percent and 29 percent capacity factors (i.e., how often they produce electricity). Real-world data reveal as much as ten 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.

21. 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.

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